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Bomb Garden 

by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & A Note on Control & r & & r & Last weekend, I was invited to a barbecue. "What should I bring?" I asked. "The music," came the reply, touching off a primal fear deep within me. It happens every time. Fear that, if the mix doesn't go off well, I'll be seen as some kind of hack, obliterating in one fell swoop whatever reputation I've built as a writer and journalist.

I imagine the news spreading like wildfire. People saying things like, "It's bad enough kid doesn't play an instrument -- but he can't make a mix, either?"

Sounds vapid, but these are my worries. I over-think and over-plan as a result. For this barbecue, which would require music from 6 pm until possibly 11 pm (when the noise ordinance kicks in) -- five hours -- my initial mix clocked in at over nine hours. Too much. So I started excluding songs based on certain criteria. Untoward profanity (losing me much of my hip-hop, sadly). Too-direct political messages (losing much punk and hardcore). Cacophony (losing much post-rock and some prog). And on and on. That got things down to about six hours. I'd whittle the rest, I thought, on the fly, fast-forwarding with the little remote that controls my laptop. This would also allow me to subtly, inconspicuously adjust the volume.

Funny thing happened on the way to compulsively controlling everyone's musical experience, though. Within an hour, I realized no one cared. Or rather, they cared on something close to a precognitive level. Rather than actively yaying or naying the selections, the music acted, to a degree, like an intensity dial. The louder, the more up-tempo the music got, the more animated conversations became, the more jovial the spirit of the party was.

It's easy to forget, especially in a world where literally anyone can be a music critic -- judging it and having those opinions instantly readable by millions of people -- that we access music most naturally not by analyzing it, but feeling it. When we let it move us. When I put down the remote, basically, the night got a lot better.
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