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See (and hear) Spotify's dizzying map of same-time listening

What does a worldwide digital music festival of strangers look and sound like? According to an artist at Spotify, it's a cacophonous map that swirls like it's drunk. It's fascinating, too.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
Expertise Streaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation online Credentials
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Joan E. Solsman

Artist Kyle McDonald built an animated world map for Spotify that shows when two people listen to the same song at the same time. Spotify

Put in your headphones and maybe pop some Dramamine: The first fruit of Spotify's media-artist-in-residence program is a vertigo-inducing cacophony. Watch out, it's also absorbing.

Called "Serendipity" by interactive artist Kyle McDonald, the artwork swirls from point to point on a world map to show two places globally where two Spotify users hit play on the same song at the same time. You hear a snippet of that track wherever the map lands, giving it a soundtrack like a radio-dial scanner for the digital age.

"Even though listening to music can be a very private experience, I wanted to see how often this experience is shared," McDonald said in a blog post. "I've heard estimates that half a million people are in airplanes at any moment, forming a sort of city in the sky...Maybe Serendipity shows a similar sort of never-ending worldwide music festival."

Fitting for Spotify -- a music-streaming service that has an algorithmic, technological underbelly to honing how people enjoy another kind of art, music -- the map is based on real data. The tracks on the Serendipity map were recorded over the course of one hour of one day and are composed of instances where two people started playing the same song on Spotify within a tenth of a second of each other.

Sit back, relax (if you can), and listen into what a global music fest sounds like.