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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Will it gain webbed feet?

Unfeeling technology cut HHB adrift from her blog but her still small voice continues to make itself heard via beguiling email links. Given she lives in Perth, Western Australia, I am put to shame by a link which takes me to a radio programme, Darwin Tunes, broadcast in my own backyard by BBC4.

The proposition is this: Is music subject to natural selection? Does it evolve?

Don’t worry, there’s more to this than blether. A computer programme generates a hundred loops of “funny sounds”. These are made accessible via the web and listeners are invited to record their reactions. Listener ratings are quantified and applied to the loops and, lo, the “funny sounds” start turning into something recognisable as music. More reactions and more modifications lead to an independent bass line emerging and the lengthening of the melodic line.

Calling it “the most democratic music ever created” the evolutionary biologist presenter optimistically lauds this composer-less tune as “sublime”. Others found it “static”, although an expert in digital music grudgingly rated it “pleasant”.

There is a serious point here. The presenter admitted this is more like cultural selection than natural selection but listeners do play a part in the development of music, especially in fast-moving pop. One fashion replaces another; the latest arrival is either accepted or rejected depending on audience response. Of course, there’s rather more to it than this, plus a bit of tongue-in-cheek, but I haven’t the space or the intellect to pursue it further.

Musical developments in posh music are more obvious because of the longer time scales. But yet again these changes are to some extent controlled by our presence in the paying seats. Why else would Beethoven’s Fourth (rather than his First) be the least played of his symphonies?


  1. ...And why else do we never hear Troglodyti's Concerto for Horn d'Taureau and Orc in B#?

  2. AnonPassant: Actually, I sort of liked that one. But hated Guillaume Merde-de-Boeuf's Chansons des Troubadours, one of which was adapted by Cliff Richard and emerged as We're All Going on A Summer Holiday.