Sunday, July 29, 2012

What's the matter with kids today...

It seems that half the blogs I follow are on to this Nature Scientific Reports article, first linked by Kevin Drum, on the decline and fall of popular music. The authors do some kind of fancy mathematical analysis on the million song database and discover that:

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...

Here we study the music evolution under the aforementioned premises and large-scale resources. By exploiting tools and concepts from statistical physics and complex networks16, 17, 18, 19, we unveil a number of statistical patterns and metrics characterizing the general usage of pitch, timbre, and loudness in contemporary western popular music. Many of these patterns and metrics remain consistently stable for a period of more than 50 years, which points towards a great degree of conventionalism in the creation and production of this type of music. Yet, we find three important trends in the evolution of musical discourse: the restriction of pitch sequences (with metrics showing less variety in pitch progressions), the homogenization of the timbral palette (with frequent timbres becoming more frequent), and growing average loudness levels (threatening a dynamic richness that has been conserved until today). This suggests that our perception of the new would be essentially rooted on identifying simpler pitch sequences, fashionable timbral mixtures, and louder volumes. Hence, an old tune with slightly simpler chord progressions, new instrument sonorities that were in agreement with current tendencies, and recorded with modern techniques that allowed for increased loudness levels could be easily perceived as novel, fashionable, and groundbreaking.

Yeah, whatever. Old music is boring. That might be because I've heard it too many times.

If you don't find novelty in modern music, you might be measuring the wrong dimensions. The overwhelmingly dominant influence in most pop today is hip-hop, which has produced much more vocal complexity.

For what it's worth, Scientific Reports gave the article the buzzwords:

Evolution, Mathematics and computing, Applied physics, Statistical physics, thermodynamics and nonlinear dynamics