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The “Listening Tree” Brings Serendipity Back To Music Fans

A Las Vegas art project brings back the days when discovering music was a matter of luck and chance and not just algorithms.

In a downtown Las Vegas courtyard, 15 headphones dangle from the branches of a huge old tree. As people walk by–many headed to the newly reopened Bunkhouse Saloon, one of the city’s classic music venues–they can pull on a pair and treat themselves to a random song.

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The art installation, one tiny part of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s $350 million plan to revitalize Vegas, is the brainchild of George Zisiadis, the artist known for urban experiments like the Mistletoe Drone and Pulse of the City.

Set in a corner of downtown that is designed to become a ‘music village,’ with a record store and music venues like the Bunkhouse, Zisiadis wanted to capture the experience of discovering a new song.

“Today, in our digital environment, the opportunity for musical spontaneity and serendipity is increasingly diminishing,” he says. “You have Spotify, where you’re looking up something specific, or Pandora, where you kind of know what you’re getting because you’re putting a specific genre. But I was really interested in those moments of complete randomness and complete chance, where you have no idea what you’re going to get.”

At any given moment, each of the headphones is playing different music, so everyone wandering around the courtyard will have a different experience. When the installation opened on August 25, it was an immediate hit, with most people stopping to listen to songs on five or six different headphones.

“It was one of those rare moments where people truly forget where they are,” says Zisiadis. “There was just kind of a ceaseless sense of exploration in people that really came out. It was really just magical seeing everybody just taking time to explore rather than going from point A to point B.”

There’s a catch, however: If you discover a song you happen to love but you’ve never heard before, you may never find out what it is. Zisiadis wanted to create a fleeting experience, so none of the songs are listed anywhere.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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