A couple of mornings ago, me and one of my music nerd friends were having a good chuckle over the results of a recent scientific study, the distillation of which was published online at The Economist. The study employed all manner of swank statistical analysis on the sound levels, beats, chords, and melodies of half a gabillion popular songs. They came to the conclusion that modern popular music (since 1955) has gotten louder and more homogeneous. Or, to use the words of your parents, it all sounds the same.
Well, fricken DUH! They needed somebody from the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute in Barcelona to churn through the data to tell us that?
Kudos really should go to The Economist for providing the “For Dummies” version of the original report. (You can read here if you’d like. Go ahead, put that sucker up on your big flat screen monitor at work. Ooooh, frequency-rank distributions in full color! Impress your colleagues!) I read the thing and can see what they’re getting at, but our ears have known this for years. And who knows? Maybe the complexity will swing back in the other direction after a bit.
I’ve grown kind of impatient when it comes to scientific analysis of music. There are so many books on related topics and while they do have their interesting points, they tend to take the mystery out of what is for me, the ultimate entertainment. So while I can see the good coming out of this kind of research (the field of music therapy is particularly promising), sometimes the technology overshadows the art.
There are times when I hear a particular series of notes — or maybe even a single interval — and I’m moved to tears. I really don’t want to know the why of this. I’m sure it’s all very complicated and fascinating…but it just needs to be left alone.