The computer as music critic
Source:The New York Times (2012)
Thanks to advances in computing power, we can analyze music in radically new and different ways. Computers are still far from grasping some of the deep and often unexpected nuances that release our most intimate emotions. However, by processing vast amounts of raw data and performing unprecedented large-scale analyses beyond the reach of teams of human experts, they can provide valuable insight into some of the most basic aspects of musical discourse, including the evolution of popular music over the years. Has there been an evolution? Can we measure it? And if so, what do we observe?
Measuring the evolution of contemporary western popular music
Publication Type:Journal Article
Source:Scientific Reports, Nature, Volume 2, p.521 (2012)
Keywords:Big data; Music; Power laws; Complex networks; Evolution
Popular music is a key cultural expression that has captured listeners' attention for ages. Many of the structural regularities underlying musical discourse are yet to be discovered and, accordingly, their historical evolution remains formally unknown. Here we unveil a number of patterns and metrics characterizing the generic usage of primary musical facets such as pitch, timbre, and loudness in contemporary western popular music. Many of these patterns and metrics have been consistently stable for a period of more than fifty years. However, we prove important changes or trends related to the restriction of pitch transitions, the homogenization of the timbral palette, and the growing loudness levels. This suggests that our perception of the new would be rooted on these changing characteristics. Hence, an old tune could perfectly sound novel and fashionable, provided that it consisted of common harmonic progressions, changed the instrumentation, and increased the average loudness.