Darwin Tunes, an experiment by the Imperial College London, explores the evolution of music by generating random sounds and using a voting system to evolve the music people like. It’s a brave idea culturally, given the creative ethos of music.
Science Daily explains:
The scientists set out to test a theory that cultural changes in language, art and music evolve through Darwinian natural selection, in a similar way to how living things evolve. They simulated this cultural evolution by harnessing the power of a 7,000 strong internet audience in an experiment that was designed to answer several questions. Can music exist without being the product of a conscious, creative act? If so, what would that music sound like? Does everyone's ideal tune sound the same?
If you’re a musician, you can’t help being fascinated by this approach. If you know a bit about traditional music forms, like ragas, jigs and the vast array of trad musical forms, you’ll know the relationships. Brahms was one of the first to put this into practice, orchestrating traditional folk forms, and other composers have used them in many different ways.
The fact is that music cross pollinates, and the Imperial College has created a mechanism to visualize the pollination process. What people like is the natural driver for musical evolution. Darwin Tunes has a dryly witty introduction to the “breeding process of creating generations of loops which is well worth a listen in itself.
You’ll see a graphic player halfway down the home page, which includes some of the generations of music Darwin Tunes has created. They’re now up to 3630 generations of music and counting, and you can participate in the natural selection process. Download the file, and you’ll open your media player. The media player will tell you which loops are being played so you can vote for specific loops.
What interests me is that the computer was at the one thousand generations stage focusing on melodic frames, but has since developed into rhythmic melodies with tonal backups. You can hear the techno tastes, but you can also hear the depth of audience hearing in some tones where there’s a strong suggestion of grand piano. One of the older generations has something that sounds like very simple Mozart, circa Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, (which is actually a Mozart element in Mozart: Variations On "Ah Vous Dirai-Je Maman", K 265), simple but much sped up.
I don’t think Beethoven, Tchaikovsky or the others are at much risk for a while yet, but think what a few million generations of music might sound like.
It might also be a good idea to compare evolutionary trends in relation to musical environments by compartmentalizing the public inputs through music lovers, kids and other categories. Time signatures would also be an interesting development.
Judging by the current generations, people prefer brighter music and penetrant higher register hooks. I heard some very familiar two chord rhythms at 1900 generations, and generation 3630 has altered its emphases to some degree, broadening its bass/treble range. The note sequences for melodies are still comparatively basic, but they’ve integrated into a more complete sound in some ways.
The new version, with drums and percussion, is pretty familiar, and its current generation is doing a lot of stuff which sounds very 70s-80s. I’m a bit of a drums purist, definitely not a pattern/rhythm addict, so I’m not particularly comfortable with these loops.
Percussion is an area which is a musical universal. At some point, someone started banging sticks together, then figured out how to be making more sounds. The sheer range of percussion sounds is well worth exploring like this, perhaps with longer sequences to differentiate the sounds more expressively.
Computers will become musicians when they say “To hell with you, I’m playing what I like!” That may take a few weeks, but you can hear it coming.
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