Hitching A Ride On A Darwinian Music Engine

Humans like noise, but have a discriminatory ability, which leads them to music. Different cultures have produced different musical traditions and by definition, a tradition is something that is passed on generationally, but the question arises as to how it started, developed, and ended up sounding different as it’s an aesthetic choice and not essential for direct communication as is the spoken word.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science by MacCallum et al, there is a description of how the vox populi drive the evolution of noise to music with sound produced by a Darwinian music engine hidden inside a computer (1). The computer was seeded with 100 8s loops of randomized sound by the Big Designer looking down at his computer and deciding it was good.

Now each loop had is own polyphonic ‘DNA’ tree and almost 7000 people made up the vox pop that would give thumbs up or thumbs down. 20 loops made up a breeding loop group and the highest rated 10 loops were allowed to pair up to breed 2 daughters for each loop. Needless to say, the thumbs down 10 were sent immediately to the delete button in the sky, while the breeding pairs followed after their offspring were extant.

The selection pressure was the vox pop and over the generations the loops were more ‘musical’, that is in terms of rhythmicity and chordality standards of a Western undergraduate vox pop. As in any replicatory evolutionary process, replication is not always perfect and in the end transmission imperfections resulted in leveling off of perceived quality. Evolution had come to a halt after 400 to 500 generations although the process was watched out to 2500 in the first case.

Nowadays, of course, we write things down and have our music archived in the Library of Congress so our genetic drift (musically naturally) isn’t due to transmission errors, but the wallets of the vox pop is still presumably the major selection pressure. For Darwin music engine buffs example outputs are available to drool over (2).

  1. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/06/12/1203182109.full.pdf
  2. http://soundcloud.com/uncoolbob/sets/darwintunes/

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