Another Point for Hume

by F.

“If, in the sound state of the organ,” wrote Hume in 1757, “there be an entire or considerable uniformity of sentiment among men, we may thence derive an idea of the perfect beauty.”

And now it seems an example of such uniformity has been found, at least for music, based on research in an area known as “music intelligence.” Music intelligence software looks at underlying patterns in hit songs from different times. The software, according to The Economist,

uses a process called “spectral deconvolution” to isolate and analyse around 30 parameters that define a piece of music, including such things as sonic brilliance, octave, cadence, frequency range, fullness of sound, chord progression, timbre and “bend” (variations in pitch at the beginning and end of the same note). “Songs conform to a limited number of mathematical equations,” says Mike McCready of Platinum Blue, a music-intelligence company based in New York, that he founded last December. Platinum Blue has compiled a database of more than 3m successful musical arrangements, including data on their popularity in different markets.

This software, apparently, detects patterns and regularities that most people don’t notice:

According to Platinum Blue’s software, called Music Science, for example, a number of hit songs by U2 have a close kinship to some of Beethoven’ s compositions. If a song written today has parameters similar to those of a number of past hits, it could well be a hit too.

What is surprising about this is not that there are regularities underlying aesthetic preferences, but rather that the patterns (at least in music) can be recognized by (non-human) machines. Meat-machines have been doing this forever. I mean, What is Tommy Iovine but a meat version of the Platinum Blue software?

Apparently, the majors are using this technology, and while Platinum Blue and Polyphonic HMI (a competitor) no doubt require NDAs to be signed, some customers are known. They include “Capitol Records, Universal Music Group, Sony Music, EMI and Casablanca Records. Labels sometimes don’t tell even their established artists when they use music intelligence to help decide which singles to promote,” according to the same Economist article.

Still, for now I’d give the edge to Iovine.

P.S., the full Economist article is behind their paywall, but a copy can, for some reason, be found here.