If you’ve ever used music streaming on Spotify (or there are probably similar platforms that I’m not familiar with) then you will have encountered their very clever algorithms that suggest music based on what you’ve just been listening to.
So, if you happen to play something very different to your norm and you like it enough to continue, Spotify will proceed to suggest more tracks based on the particular nuance of that one thing, turning something which seemed rarefied when you first heard it into a continuous play list of other new music with a similar feel, yet with its own discernible identity that takes you off in a new direction. This can launch you on a whole voyage of discovery that feels precisely orchestrated for you and some as-yet unexplored aspect of yourself that is reaching for the surface. In fact, the way Spotify’s taste assessment brings up music you adore on first listen, though you’ve never heard it before in your life, can be quite uncanny…as though divinely orchestrated. You feel excited, like the universe is magically working with you, to provide you with something new enough to be stimulating and yet somehow perfectly preordained to match your preferences, somehow matching your very newest mood to the letter in a way an old record collection can never do, since this is open-ended and not a closed-system. Yet its you that set all this in motion, from that very first choice (like taking a step in a particular direction) and the algorithms underlying the software simply do the rest, meeting you where you are. This makes you very aware of the power of your influence. You can become almost afraid of interfering to choose a more familiar piece of music in case the magic spell is broken.
So I’ve been enjoying some exquisitely appropriate and genre-mixing music all week, following a flow on Spotify, all filtered to a taste I didn’t quite know I had since it’s all pretty new to even my diverse ears. In fact, this has been an ongoing thing for two or three years now and yet the growth factor is exponential; there is always more “new” waiting to be discovered just as soon as I venture around a slightly divergent corner from my “norm”, which is already far from mainstream. Of course, those underlying algorithms only direct certain music to me based on some bizarre mixes of genre I already like to listen to (my taste is very broad…so its having to work quite hard to find these tastes mixed together in one bundle; so in a sense the more diverse you are to start with, the more “interesting” the music it throws back at you). Also, clearly, it uses the taste of other listeners and artists who like similar music to me; the self-learning process of a super-mind which, of course, is all a computer really is. The beauty of this, of course, is that the “super-mind” that seems to be external is really all of us, combined in our humanity, feeding our divergent tastes, thoughts and perspectives into a vast pool. The more receptive people become to mixed-up and spread-out music genres (as with divergent anything), the more there is a demand for it and so the more it becomes available, with those more playful, cross-disciplinary artists who deliver its material thriving like never before, encouraged to be even more playful. So our horizons are also opening-up like never before…barely a fence left standing along what used to be the traditional hard-edged tracks of musical “type”, which is wonderful for a synesthete listener like me.
Timelines are like that. You take a step and your whole life goes off at a particular trajectory. If that way feels exciting and inviting, you don’t want it to stop…but what about all those other possible timelines including the one you were about to choose, with all the logic in your head, when this “accidental” new route opened up? What if you want to change direction, just for a moment, to experience something more familiar or that you already had “planned”? Will you lose the moment; will the spell be broken? What if doing that takes you backwards into a world where it’s as though the new choices no longer reveal themselves ever again; lost forever because you weren’t responsive enough to their invitation? Is this a time-sensitve offer…will it vanish in the mist? You can become paralysed by all the dilemma. Most of all, you’re beguiled by how all this newness presenting itself feels like such a perfect fit to…well, you’re not sure what but its something quite beautiful in its abstraction, like some part of you as yet explored, wanting to see light of day. So you feel compelled to find out more yet at what cost to what you were planning to do a moment earlier? The arrival of so much that was previously outside of your experience can feel like a deconstructive urge; which, in a sense, it is until we see its burgeoning potential. So, of course, your mind tries to tell you to regain control, like some sort of emergency is underway.
These two, apparently contradictory, undercurrents are ever-present in our lives, though we may not notice them in action most of the time. Left under the surface, they can enact a clumsy dance of beguilement by, yet profound fear of, the new thus unknown and a tendency to grip so rigidly onto what we already think we know, which looks (by comparison) more solid thus reliable to our logical, familiarity-seeking eyes. Whether we proceed along a newer route very much depends on whether it feels so good when it presents itself that we almost can’t resist; even if it seems to take us off our previously devised track. Also, the more we become aware of others taking those least-trodden tracks into the wilderness and thriving on the experience (again, thank you internet) the more we dare to be the explorers in our own lives; thus our landscape opens up, dropping all of its old fences and walls. The key is to balance these two aspects, dispensing with the oft-held delusion that staying in balance is achieved by holding on with white-knuckle determination to all your old ways, like someone trying to balance too many teacups and plates in their hands; rather, its a case of knowing what to let go of and when…
So computer software beautifully mimics the way we are (often the accidental) creators in our own lives; I notice it all the time when I’m working with Photoshop. Layering, masking, merging…all those life traits are there and I’ve become ever-more aware of them, and how to work with them deliberately yet still allow beautiful accidents to occur (those two, apparently opposite, factors appreciated in balance), through being a digital artist. Perhaps this is why I prefer digital processing to painting these days, though the same clues were there in the layers of paint on a canvas, just denser thus slower to evolve.
When we start to crystallise, we notice these patterns so much more and we can start to work with them…but the trick is to work with them just enough but not to try control (which is to limit) them. We need some of the flow and the randomness; though, as in the Spotify case, how much is ever really random anyway? I suppose you could say there is always a divine orchestrator who wrote those original algorithms. Yet just because we discern there is a piper calling a particular tune on the wind doesn’t make us any less beguiled when we hear it. In fact, if it is timed well, we may find ourselves longing for its different tempo after years of feeling caught up in all the rigidity of routine and expectations. Our ideas about whether or why there is a God get easier around this time in our processing, helped along by the timeliness of the piper’s appearance and the well-matched choice of the very-different tune they are playing, as though composed just for us. There may be an algorithm or a piper at work here, yet we set it in motion in a particular way through our particular choices; nobody else is hearing quite the same tune. Thus we can encompass the paradox of freedom within design since we are the living proof for it. The way we choose to respond to the potential to dance to a different tune is our part in that equation; as is our renewed appreciation of form that is beautiful and constructive. We become that living balance, held poised in flesh, and consciously aware of all this as it occurs, which is the three-in-one perfection of the realised human being. If these two sides of us are now the equliateral base-corners of a triangle (or triskele, once this is set in dynamic motion…), we become its capstone; a pyramid of self-realised synergy.
So though we now discern the algorithms that brought this “accident” our way; whether we regard it as God, fate or our higher self, we see its beauty and we make a choice to take part from now on. No longer fearing what lies outside the walls of our previous experience (thus understanding), we choose to uphold the importance of flow since it is this divine union of flow with structure, of randomness with direction, that keeps us in perfect balance. Being aware of it is the crystalline factor, like gaining an overview of both sides and watching as they dance together gracefully, across all aspects of our lives; just as a crystal seems rock-solid yet it is the unseen frequency it holds which is harder to fathom but which makes it so very powerful. We now know we can step in to choose other outcomes if we really want to; but we’re also prepared to wait and see, to go on instinct, not demanding the answer in advance, which was the pitfall and limiting factor of our previous iteration.
In short, we relish surprise as much as we relish beautiful structure and the result is like an exquisite and functional piece of architecture placed in a natural setting, full of light, water and organic features that bring the surprise of nature into and around the space. So, of course, we love living there; its (as ever with the crystal experience) like experiencing the best of both worlds in perfect synergy.