If you lived through an era of music on LPs to CDs to now MP3s, you may be experiencing a syndrome I have felt myself… you’re listening nicely to a song on your digital music player, and your past patterns of listening to the order of songs on a fixed medium cause you to expect the next song on an album to show up, and BAM! You get a different song by a different artist! I deem this syndrome Audiosequentialdisruptus.

Like I might be listening to my collection of ancient rock songs– I get to the end of Baba O’Riley on Who’s Next, and my mind is fully expecting to launch into the next track. But instead of sliding into Bargain I get, unexpectedly, the Clash belting out Magnificent Seven! My audio sequencing has been disrupted!

It is a bit dis-orienting! You even begin to sing the next song and end of horribly mis-matched. You’ve been programmed to receive music in a fixed order, and that whole world has been rip-mixed / mashed up to a more random stew.

But how random are the mixes? On my iPod Shuffle, I regularly do the Autofill to get a mix (which provides some secret weighting according to my ratings), and I play it usually in shuffle mode, but at least a few times I have gotten three songs in a row by the same artist. The new iTunes 5.x offers a new “smart playlist” that has a slide to adjust a preference to give more or less probability of getting two tracks in a row from the same album…. I’l be trying it out. Still the algorithm of shuffling seems mysterious, and I am wondering if the technology inside is some sort of Flinstones type contraption of some little bird inside manually pulling songs from a playlist.

More randomness, good thing or not?

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Apparently selecting more random is actually less random becasue you are telling iTunes to make sure you don’t get songs from the same artist in a row. Whereas random means it
    sure is possible to get them.

  2. Thanks for the serendipitious article, Martha.

    Random is not ranomd like we expect- the randomness of coin flips still allows for a fairly frequent return of say 10 heads in a row, more than we expect. So as far as music we want something better than pure randomness, we want an algorithm that does not allow two sonds in a row by the same artist… is that impossible?

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