Science Interviews


Tue, 10th Jul 2012

Evolution of music

Nell Barrie

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Hacking biology - synthetic DNA and experimental evolution

Nell::  First one that we thought was exciting was a really interesting study looking at the evolution of music and this was published in the PNAS and it was led by Robert MacCallum and Armand LeRoi from Imperial College and what they’ve done is essentially, they’ve got some random sections of - I guess you wouldn’t even call it music - just notes, random notes put together.  

And they’re getting people to select them on the basis of what they like to hear, what sounds the most pleasant and then they're getting these little selected bits of music to mate together and make babies, and make new music by just randomly combining bits in the tune and they're going to see if that can lead to music evolving over time which is very interesting.

Kat::  So, we can listen to a bit of this.  So, we’ve got some of the tracks, the Darwin tunes as they're called.  So here’s the first track – Generation Zero.  So, these are just randomly generated noises… And here, we have them after about 400 generations…And now, here after about 1,200 generations, quite like the sound of this one…And finally, after about 5,500 generations, so these are really quite long and developed now… Do you think this is really natural selection and evolution though?

Nell::  I think it’s really interesting model, I guess, but it’s not really the way that natural selection and evolution works with animals and organisms because you're basing the selection on one very specific criteria which is whether the particular person listening to it actually likes it and in reality, if you're looking at an animal in its environment, there's all kinds of other things that will act to select whether it fits that environment or not I suppose.  And also, this isn’t really over a long period of time because you normally look at how the environment changes over time, what does that do to the organisms within it.

Kat::  Exactly, it’s a very split second thing – do I like this?  Do I not? – I think quite interestingly, they're all very major, quite bland really.  I think if this is the future of music, I'm not sure about this.

Nell::  No, it definitely sounds kind of like something out of Pacman maybe and I mean, I like it from that point of view and it does sound like real music I suppose, but it’s not – yeah, it’s not going to set the world on fire any time soon.



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