Second sound

Russell‘s been writing about second screens and second sounds, the apps and devices which attempt to engage with ‘secondary attention’. And he’s been building things too. I’ve got the afternoon off and I’m building another Lego iPhone stand as I type, because building things is great. But what Russell’s built doesn’t quite work as far as what I’d like from low attention audio.

Part of the ‘second screen’ process is about tuning your attention, and deciding when to focus. While I agree with him that objects present a much much more compelling future than more bloody screens, what you tune an object to is super-significant. I don’t want my second sound to be something I have to punch in, pre-program, editorially curate or limit, even if it is a ‘disposable’ iPod; I want it to be just as effortless as a screen with a Twitter feed on it.

Phil‘s been playing my Last.fm library radio a bit recently (and I hope that’s working out for him), but I wish he could play it alongside me. He sort of can.

On Fridays the people I share a room with at Last.HQ and I all pool our Last.fm usernames into ‘Clientroom radio’; we build a station URL out of the three or four of us in the room and scrobble the songs it plays to its very own account.

We’ve set up a Twitter feed for it too – of course – so it publishes the tracks as we play them. Occasionally ‘it’ comments alongside the automated tweets. Often that comment is a shout-out to Jonty‘s Overhere.me hackday app, which plugs a Last.fm listener’s ‘recently played’ list into Spotify, sort of allowing you to listen along.

It’s imperfect. It drops out now and again when it either catches up, can’t find the track or simply gets confused… but it provides exactly what I want from secondary sounds. It places the inputs in the hands of someone else, and while it feels random I know that it’s ultimately controlled by that person. It’s not just an iPod on shuffle. And when I pay attention to it, because the music is extraordinarily beautiful or just deeply irritating, I know that those moments that are part of someone else’s listening experience.

I want that in a box. I want to drop in and out of someone else’s headphones for a little while. That’s what low-attention audio would mean to me.

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