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Music Evolves: Survival of the Catchiest

Pop stars around the world, rejoice: the production of new hit singles may soon require only the push of a button, forever banishing those moody and overpaid songwriters. Researchers in London have transposed the law of natural selection onto the world of music, devising a program to evolve simple tunes out of scattered sounds:

The Telegraph reports:

The researchers, from Imperial College London, tested their theory by combining a series of random noises into 100 eight-second loops, before asking 7,000 internet users to listen to them and rate how much they enjoyed them.

A computer programme picked out the most popular clips, then paired them up in various combinations to produce a set of new “offspring” loops which incorporated some aspects from each of their “parent” tracks.

The result isn’t exactly Tchaikovsky, but listening to the samples move from cacophony to harmony is truly striking.

Thanks to these kinds of simulations, we may yet reach the day when we’ll know how long any given number of many monkeys typing would take to hammer out the complete works of Shakespeare. Or perhaps—a strange, ghastly, yet not completely unappealing thought—machines will start composing new Shakespearean plays guided by cleverly organized evolutionary rules.

Roll over, Beethoven, tell Tchaikovsky the news.

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  • Emerson

    This music has been around for decades. It’s usually called things like Minimlism, Avant-Gard Classical, and Modern Classical.

  • Todd Fletcher

    Computers have been able to string together words to make poems for decades, but I don’t think Homer has anything to fear. Same thing here.

  • Jim.

    You know, this may not be a bad inspiration-shop. The first “Variations on a Theme by Windows 7” may be tongue-in-cheek, but I would be surprised if a talented composer couldn’t turn it into something worthwhile.

  • John

    I continue to not understand the enthusiasm of WRM (or whoever is writing these post) about this stuff. How can anyone actually think that making more and more humans obsolete and redundant is a good thing?

  • Kris

    John@4: Darn that Edmund Cartwright!

  • Gary L

    As usual, George Orwell’ 1984 anticipated it all: “And the Ministry had not only to supply the multifarious needs of the party, but also to repeat the whole operation at a lower level for the benefit of the proletariat. There was a whole chain of separate departments dealing with proletarian literature, music, drama, and entertainment generally. Here were produced rubbishy newspapers containing almost nothing except sport, crime and astrology, sensational five-cent novelettes, films oozing with sex, and sentimental songs which were composed entirely by mechanical means on a special kind of kaleidoscope known as a versificator.

    Later in the book, Winston Smith in his hide-out at Mr. Charrington’s shop, hears a female prole belting out a recent versificator hit:

    It was only an ‘opeless fancy.
    It passed like an Ipril dye,
    But a look an’ a word an’ the dreams they stirred
    They ‘ave stolen my ‘eart awye!

    Emerson goes:
    This music has been around for decades. It’s usually called things like Minimlism [sic] , Avant-Gard [sic] Classical, and Modern Classical

    I’m an avid consumer of Minimalism and Modern Classical in general, except the stuff I listen to is generally attributed to such human agents such as Philip Glass, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, John Adams, etc., and not to sundry software programs.

    Arthur C. Clarke once noted that since computers were now able to compose music, hopefully someone would soon design a computer that could listen to it as well, thus relieving humans of the task.

  • John


    I especially like it when people use erroneous historical examples to justify their positions. Guess what – this time it is different, as there is somehow a signifficant difference between not-very-scalable tools that still require humans to opperate them and Artificial Intelligence that can serve the whole world via Internet connection. And that, accidentally, in the future may require no human oversight or any interaction at all.

  • Kris

    John@7: The higher the productivity, the greater the overall wealth; that be good. As you mention in a comment in another post, we will most definitely need to deal with the societal repercussions. Fine; I’d rather deal with the problems of wealth than the alternative. Not easy, but simple.

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