I recently read this very interesting article from Nature magazine. It analyzes the evolution certain aspects of western popular music during the last 50 years or so. Its conclusions:
- The melodic and harmonic variety of popular music has decreased. It means, music now has simpler melodies and harmonies.
- Timbre has become more homogeneous. In other words, there is less diversity in the use of sounds / instruments.
- Overall loudness has increased: music is increasingly louder, with the inherent consequence that music is every time less dynamic.
I think it is also interesting how these conclusion might also reflect the evolution of our musical taste.
We like a piece of music because of its dual nature; because it surprises us but at the same time it conveys familiar feelings. Without this dichotomy, music is either hard to digest or boring and predictable (the article also mentions this fundamental feature of music). But according to these findings, it appears to be that we are every time less interested in surprise, and growingly conformist about what we expect from the music we listen to.
As time passes, we like music which is simpler and louder. We bother less in trying to assimilate music that sounds different from what we are used to. We go to a bar and complain if a band is playing their own songs instead of the covers we already know.
On the other hand, if we believe that the music industry is meant to satisfy our taste, it is giving us what we ask for: music which is essentially the same we have heard before, with every time less variations.
In other words, we are less interested in discovering new music. And the record industry is happily less interested in giving new music.
Maybe our musical taste is becoming less “fit”. I’d like to point to a very different article, which exposes this interesting argument related to the process of getting physically fit:
“(…) [for getting in shape] each week, you have to stress your body a little more than last time – lift a little heavier, run a little harder. Muscles weaken with exhaustion after a workout, but then they recover and typically, a few days later, go into what’s known as “supercompensation,” a fancy word that just means bouncing back a little stronger than before.”
The opposite is true and well known: if we don’t excercise a muscle, it eventually athrophies.
Now let’s think about musical taste as a muscle: maybe we are under-exersing it. We have become so lazy that our musical taste is becoming more and more sedentary, slowly shrinking, atrophying. We are not demanding enough from mainstream radio and TV stations, from bars and discos, from record companies.
And the record industry takes anvantage of it. After all, why should it bother in sponsoring interesting and innovative artists when we keep asking for the same Britney Spears clones they we always heard?
I propose we should exercise our listening muscle. We should always be looking forward to know new artists, new music. And I think it is a good idea to support more independent musicians.
Of course, pretending to listen to music completely unrelated to what we like is difficult. Again, music is all about tension between familiarity and surprise. But as happens with knowledge in general (and with health in particular), it is always better to be “fit”.
I’m interesting in knowing about your thoughts on this. Do you think we need to exercise our musical taste more?
- Serra, Joan. Corral, Alvaro. Boguna, Marian. Haro, Martin. Arcos, Josep Ll. Measuring the Evolution of Contemporary Western Popular Music. Sci. Rep. 2012/07/26/online. Vol. 2. Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
- Duane, Daniel. Everything You Know About Fitness Is a Lie. Men’s Journal. Nov 2010.
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