Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Workout Wednesdays: An Introduction

What’s that you say? It’s the New Year, and you want to fulfill your resolution to get more exercise? But you can’t get movin’ unless your ears are groovin’, and a playlist just won’t do? Because you need a steady pulse of beats-per-minute, in one long, more or less seamlessly-edited chunk—preferably tailored to one paunchy white guy’s idiosyncratic musical taste?

Well, today’s your lucky day, bunkie!

Three things happened to me in the spring of 2005 that have radically changed the way I experience music; I left behind the day job to write full-time, I got my first MP3 player, and I started going to the gym regularly.

In the writer-cum-house husband gig, radio receded to NPR, murmuring softly in the kitchen. I could listen to music at my desk, of course—as long as I kept the volume low so as not to disturb the kids. What shifted was my context for listening to music privately—from the car to the treadmill—and with it came a shift in what I needed from that private music. I flailed for a while, trying to figure out what that meant, trying to figure out how it worked.

What I needed, basically, was steady four-on-the-floor, something to keep me picking ‘em up and putting ‘em down. The content of my listening morphed to fit the need. Jazz and the odd-metered folk music I love fell away; IDM and electronica crept in. (The white guitar rock that’s always been my lodestar stayed, its stompy-boots left-right translating easily to the new context.)

But playlists, no matter how lovingly assembled, never gave me the steady flow I needed to keep my ticker pumping between 145 and 155. About the time I was realizing this, I discovered two invaluable tools—the free audio editor Audacity, and MixMeister’s free beat-counting tool. The latter, though not perfect, still allowed me to get a ballpark idea of what I needed, and the former gave me the ability to create it.

These mixes have been a blast to make, and I have a blast working out on ‘em. Even cycling through so that I only hear a given mix once every few weeks, I’ve kept on the prowl for suitable material, and that’s led me to a lot of great new music. Some of the old favorites show up, too, and it amuses me to see how the context differs from or cleaves to that of the old mixtapes. And it’s been satisfying to assemble songs, to beatmatch outros and intros by ear and eye, to have happy accidents or inspirations in building a mood or a theme. I’m not laying claim to mad DJ skillz, but I do dig the vibe and the segues in some of these.

The project has continued as the regime has evolved. New disciplines have demanded new beat counts. A six-week cycle has crystallized, five days a week, a different machine each day, and a shedload of custom MP3 mixes—thirty and counting. And over the next half-year or so, I’ll be sharing them with you, one a week.

Or you could just buy the new LCD Soundsystem. It’s your call.

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