Mozart, a genius? New research shows that we are all able to compose perfect tunes. British biologists wondered whether “consumer choice is the real force behind the relentless march of pop”, instead of talented composers. They developed a website, Darwin Tunes, which has allowed visitors to shape their own preferred music using Darwinian principles.
“Every time someone downloads one track rather than another they are exercising a choice, and a million choices is a million creative acts,” says Armand Leroi, co-author of the study. “After all, that’s how natural selection created all of life on earth, and if blind variation and selection can do that, then we reckoned it should be able to make a pop tune. So we set up an experiment to explain it.”
About 7000 people have visited the website and were asked to rate short audio loops – ranging from chime sounds to buzzing and beeping – for its appeal generated at random by a computer program. Then the disliked sounds dropped out and the ‘loved’ tracks were randomly mixed with one another by the program to create a second generation of tunes.
This selection process continued, with the noise samples going extinct and the surviving generated songs becoming more and more tuneful and ryhtmic. After approximately 2500 generations under natural selection, the authors found that the loops quickly evolved from noise into appealing music. By getting listeners to rate songs taken at random from different generations, they demonstrated that the most likeable songs were those that had undergone the most evolution.
“Whether they would make the charts I have my doubts,” says Leroi. “The songs are only 8 seconds long, but if you had them in a medley, you get something that sounds quite good, perhaps a really good ringtone, or an OK piece of electronica.”
The experiment still continues. You can listen to all tunes evolved so far and continue the experiment by visiting the website here.
Evolution of Electronic Dance Music, by Peter Kirn
Photo via Vogue
MacCallum, R.M., Mauch, M., Burt, A., & Leroia, A.M. (2012). Evolution of music by public choice Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1203182109