yoOver the break I had the pleasure of celebrating my birthday which never fails to fall as inconveniently as it possibly can two days after Christmas. Never one to be bitter (and aware that a long line of great people have similarly lived the lives in Jesus's shadow... John the Baptist, Brian, Anubis god of the dead, Jesus Jones) I always make the most of unfortunate circumstances and spend a quiet one with the family field, while toying with Christmas treats. And this year I had the treatiest of all treats as my parents, shot to brimming with Christmas spirit, went that extra fiscal mile and gifted me with an ipod nano.
My deep, deep love of music in the past always tempered by my broad, broad propensity for cheapness, this was the first time that I had experienced such a device and for those yet to visit the promised land, it is a life-defining experience. And this is no hyperbole, I assure you. Let me explain...
What makes the ipod and its variants such an epochal device is that at its tiny electronic heart sit dedication and chance in blissfully perfect symetry. For the true glory of the ipod is not how many albums it can hold (there are others than can do the same), nor its undeniable sexiness, but the option at the bottom of the main menue simply entitled "shuffle songs".
Here all our careful planning, our hours of meticulous listening and selecting, uploading and downloading, the whole glorious gamut of our music-loving history is whisked from its musty throne and danced back to life by serendipity. The shuffle re-engages us with our music. Like an empty metapor, grown stale and meaningless through repetition, our music is rendered unlistenable by habit and familiarity. Enter the shuffle, mixing, juxtaposing, messing around; through our engagement with its abitrary selections we create new experiences, we give our music new meanings.
We also make this music ours. True there may well be 20,000,000 other people
who also feel a lump rising in their throat at The Beatle's Penny Lane, but no one else is listening to as part of a medley that started with The Arcade Fire's Rebellion (Lies), went through Dylan's 1975 live performance of Romance in Durango and climaxed with Aqua's Dr Jones - this is your glorious chaotic compilation. It is yours alone. You are engaging with this music in a away no one before ever has. And everyone likes to secretly think that their music means more to them than to anyone else who has ever heard it.
In my humble opinion the shuffle should be a template for life. Embracing chance (within a carefully constructed artistic framework) to yield a totally engaging, totally unique relationship to the work (or works) of art.
And what medium has the potential to embrace chance as much as theatre? Look, for example, at the power of site-specific theatre, taking theatre outside the confines of the nominally neutral, nominally 'empty' space. In doing so it embraces chance, forging an intimate, personal relationship to the work.
When I saw Punchdrunk's Faust I found myself in a small room on my own with a dancer throwing himself against the wall, lit only by a swinging bare lightbulb, the next minute I followed him into a space with several other actors and dozens of saudience members, this was suddenly a very public spectacle; though we were now all together, our relationships to this space and this event were completely different, it meant something unique to all of us. I saw this public scene in the light of the intimate solo dance I had just scene, others saw it from the perspective of their own chance encounters.
It is in this way that theatre can become (or remain depending on who you speak to) the most adventurous and appropriate mode of art for a generation of shufflers.