I've made exactly one mix tape I truly enjoy. I knew why the instant I made it, but only recently figured out that that's also why all my other mix tapes have been utterly forgettable.

This unimaginatively-named mix was assembled one evening when I was in a miserable mood, needed to scream or pound on something. Of course, it's always much less damaging to put on some loud music that'll do the screaming and punching for you, so that's what I headed to the stereo to do: a bit of musical therapy, putting on single after single until all the mad was gone.

But I was getting sick and tired of having to rummage through my CD collection every time I felt like this, so I began to put my bad mood to constructive use and mixed a tape with 'em all for posterity. One manic, thrust-your-fists-at-the-sky-and-damn-the-world song after another, with just enough calmer music in between to catch my breath before launching into another salvo.

Of course, it's hard to stay mad at nothing in particular for ninety minutes straight. By the end of the second side, I was mellowing out and feeling just a bit more upbeat. When I was done, I had a complete recording of my emotional state, highs and lows, all through the roller coaster of angry and including the slowdown at the end. This wouldn't have worked with MP3s and a CD burner, mind you; I had to listen to the songs as I compiled them, or they never would have ended up in the right order. The tape probably wouldn't mean anything to anyone else, but for me it was Perfect.

I still pull this tape out whenever I'm in a sour mood, angry and everything and nothing in particular. I can't start it in the middle, though. I have to rewind it to the start of Side A and play out my emotional recording from beginning to end, or at least most of the way to it. It's the only way it has any theraputic value for me.

Science fiction always comes up with different ideas about how to record human memories and emotions to a disk or a computer. But I've learned that it's possible to do it today, with music, given enough time and a suitably vast CD collection.