June 19, 2012

Evolving music

I would say that this is a good indirect argument for democracy; by pooling raters' opinions, a compromise that wasn't too horrible was arrived at. Of course, democracy won't produce Bach, but it will also not produce something as horrible as Schoenberg.

The coverage of this paper in Science NOW has sample audio.

PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1203182109


Evolution of music by public choice

Robert M. MacCallum et al.

Abstract

Music evolves as composers, performers, and consumers favor some musical variants over others. To investigate the role of consumer selection, we constructed a Darwinian music engine consisting of a population of short audio loops that sexually reproduce and mutate. This population evolved for 2,513 generations under the selective influence of 6,931 consumers who rated the loops’ aesthetic qualities. We found that the loops quickly evolved into music attributable, in part, to the evolution of aesthetically pleasing chords and rhythms. Later, however, evolution slowed. Applying the Price equation, a general description of evolutionary processes, we found that this stasis was mostly attributable to a decrease in the fidelity of transmission. Our experiment shows how cultural dynamics can be explained in terms of competing evolutionary forces.

Link

6 comments:

Ezr said...

Great. Now, we need a model for the evolution of payola...

I'm only half-joking, as everybody can see the effect that advertising and commercial interests have on musical "tastes", at least in the short term.

A new Bach might as well be ignored forever, and a new Schoenberg promoted to "cool" status and turned into a cultural icon selling gizmos and soda.

I don't think this "spontaneous order" model sound very realistic.

Ezr said...

sorry, just to clarify my previous comment: I don't think this is recent at all. In pre-payola centuries we'd have patronage, for example.
My point is just that cultural evolution can never be completely democratic anyway. Some individuals or groups always have a greater say, and others blithely follow.

shenandoah said...

Of the classical composers, I vote for Chopin :)

Gui S said...

Some people -albeit a rare set- prefer Schoenberg over Bach (or like the both of them as much).
Perhaps remembering this will also remind us that be it for music or species, their evolutionary advantages remain relative and dependent to a specific environment.

It would be interesting to see whether the music phrases generated differ among different population samples (based on income, cultural background, etc...)

This could be the source for the perfect targeted advertising jingles, as ezr suggests.

Charles Nydorf said...

If you love Mahler and R. Strauss please take the opportunity to listen to some of the earlier Schoenberg. I especially recommend his Pelleas.
I am not so comfortable with his later work because I think that tonality has a biological basis. Still its remarkable how much beauty he sometimes still gets by starting from a flawed premiss.

DocG said...

If you based your conclusions on reality rather than someone's "neat" computer model, you'd find that it is indeed the despised Schoenberg who in fact had the widest influence on 20th Century music. Stravinsky was profoundly influenced by him, as was even Copland.

If you are talking about the evolution of pop music, then I suggest you consult a marketing rather than a musical model.