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« Blues for Doc Watson | Main | continuity and change in jazz »

June 25, 2012



Yah, this whole story struck me as either really pointless or really badly conveyed. It appears that the conclusion - that audience choices influence compositional results - comes from an experiment that is built precisely to have audience choices influence compositional results. Big surprise.


@Jon Sure, we (the authors) had a hunch that it would work with a "large" audience but we still wanted to test it as rigorously as possible and of course find out what kind of music emerges. I'd say, subjectively, that the results of the last 3000 generations (since the PNAS paper + associated publicity) have been the most interesting. We addressed a technical issue with the genetic mechanisms that was probably causing the plateau in the published results and now it seems we have proper melodies, counterpoint (occasionally) and more.

@stringtheorymedia of course we know we're not making a nuanced symphony (and probably never will in a purely selection-driven approach) - loops are pretty the only way we can go at the moment. It's an experiment - you don't have to have everything exactly like the real world, as long as the controls are there.

Furthermore, with one (or two) evolving populations driven by effectively the whole of internet-connected humanity, we know it's going to turn out rather bland and unoffensive. You state that niche "markets" such as jazz exist in "real" music - there's no reason why they can't in a future evolutionary music ecosystem which would sit happily alongside all other forms of music. I haven't stopped listening to human composed and performed music and Armand Leroi is on record saying the same thing (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/audio/2012/jun/25/science-weekly-podcast-darwintunes-naturally-selected-music at around 30mins).

Finally, we think musical works do breed and recombine their inner code - not to the total exclusion of human composition - but enough to let audience selection have some effect. How much effect? We didn't address that question. You'd have to look at the corpus of "real" music for that. We've just shown that audience selection can be a reasonably powerful force. Listening to the stream right now, I think it's quite amazing to be listening to listeners and not a composer.

Alec K

You took this too far to heart. They aren't attacking the institution that is your music they are just adding to it. You can argue that this music is not pleasing you in some way but that would be further validating that it is music. No one is seriously suggesting that this is how all future music will be written. It's just a tag line to generate interest in the story. I'll admit one that is not needed because the real story should focus on how this is one of the first times people who have no connection in real life are coming together to democratically make music....doesn't really mean anymore than that and if you had made this point instead of bluntly attacking a phenomena that is actually pretty cool maybe you could get more people to read. Don't want to lose YOUR job to a computer? Then boil a story down to its bones. Just the straight facts about what is going on...that's more interesting than your opinion about how these people are "wasting" their time.

Adam Criswell

Good points ... I am almost always on the side of nature/humanity/complexity over technology/artificial intelligence/mastery ... I get in heated discussions about this a lot with people who claim that humans will be physically augmented by technology in the near future. We have such a limited understanding of the human conscious, neurology, and higher order processing like music, and it reeks of hubris for people to claim we do (such as in this article). I'm in medicine, and all you have to do is look at the tiny (relatively speaking) dent we've put in cancer over the last 100 years of modern medicine to understand the ways we have to go. Let's figure out a way to deal with small cell lung cancer before we plant computer chips in people's brains.


I left for vacation and didn't check in here to see several great comments waiting in the approval queue (an unwanted setting made necessary by a big spam comment problem). I'm very pleased a study author thought enough to reply and I appreciate your notes. I think I'd have been writing about this study with enthusiasm if the coverage and commentary from Leroi and co. had been more clear about its limits. I see Darwin Tunes more like a user interface than a source of insight about how music "evolves" in arts history. It's a way of teaching a computer a few basic rules, chiefly that consonance beats dissonance and rhythmic beats chaotic. (Of course those rules were made to be broken and are all the time to powerful musical effect.) I also think the general spirit of the findings use language that implies that if a composer took two successful works and actively blended them they could make something successful, even more successful than the original works. But believe me, I hear that happen all the time on Music Row, and that's why we critics treat the word "derivative" as a pejorative and not a compliment. All that said, all research is good, and heavens, maybe one day your hive mind/machine will "compose" something that truly amazes me. I've been surprised by computers before!

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