60-Second Science

Audience Guides Music Evolution

A study makes the case for the public's taste exerting Darwinian selection pressure on music composition. Evelyn Lamb reports

[Music] That’s Generation Zero of DarwinTunes. It’s a Web site researchers are using to study how listener preferences affect the evolution of music.

A new study claims that the taste of the public exerts a force on music similar to natural selection. The findings support the theory that culture and art are shaped not only by their producers, but by consumers too. The report is in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Robert M. MacCallum et al., "Evolution of music by public choice"]

Researchers created short tunes and allowed them to procreate—that is, they’d combine aspects of the parent tunes to produce a new generation of music. User ratings on the DarwinTunes site provided the evolutionary selection, with only the most appealing tunes allowed to create progeny.

The researchers found that quality increased quickly at the beginning: the random sounds rapidly gave rise to something an awful lot like music. Here’s generation 600. [Music]

But after a while things stagnated. The researchers plan to update the program to drive evolution further. Meanwhile, here’s DarwinTunes generation 3000.

—Evelyn Lamb

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Special Universe

Get the latest Special Collector's edition

Secrets of the Universe: Past, Present, Future

Order Now >


Email this Article