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DarwinTunes finds the natural selection in music styles

June 22, 2012 |  2:19 pm


Music fans like to imagine that a great melody or arrangement comes as a bolt from the muses. But what if it can arise from a more natural process -- like evolution?

Discover magazine's Not Exactly Rocket Science blog blog highlights an innovative experiment and paper from two researchers at Imperial College London called DarwinTunes. They collected a series of 100 randomly-generated noise loops and gave each what they described as a "digital genome," a quantified set of traits like rhythmic and melodic structure, tone, tempo and so on.

Listeners were then invited to rate them on a scale of 1 to 5, and the top 20 would "mate" and produce loop offspring with a mix of their sonic traits (and allowing for some random mutations). The parent loops would then die off so that only 100 loops remained in the gene pool.

After a few hundred generations, some coherent musical structures began to form, providing a kind of condensed model of how musical preferences might have evolved over time. After 3,000 generations, the study's authors noted that the current batch of loops evolved to be more accessible (but hit a wall of peak pleasantness after 500 or so generations), favored Western modalities and chords, and were prone to surprisingly involved rhythms.

We think the current tracks kind of sound like the band Postal Service, which wouldn't be bad road-trip music on the HMS Beagle. But if you don't like what evolved, you're free to use your own properties of natural selection and head down to the record store.



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-- August Brown

Photo: Charles Darwin. Credit: Associated Press