I came across this article a while ago, called Does Pop Sound Louder, Dumber, and More and More the Same? on Slate. The article summarizes a study revealing how algorithms were used to analyze pop songs of the 1950s to now, based on 3 metrics of harmonic complexity, timbral diversity, and loudness. The article states that “on the whole, popular music over the past half-century has become blander and louder than it used to be.” I think most of us are not surprised by that. But what I found interesting, and a prospective tie-in to my literature reviews/thesis topic is the particular fact that the study found that melodies and chords have gotten super simplistic. For example, the four-chord sequence I-V-vi-IV is everywhere. There is a hilarious YouTube video demonstrating the ubiquity of this sequence by mashing together a number of disparate songs using this chord sequence.
The video is funny, but it’s got me thinking about the practical applications of my exploration. This kind of chord sequence study would be very interesting to explore visually using a system that can represent musical behaviors through the transcription of music via design elements. It is making me think of all the possibilities of visual representations. For instance, songs with this chord structure could quickly be located if the visual “translations” were catalogued into a digital bank. Songs could then be compared to examine the use of the chord sequence, context, variations in melody, or to analyze them across or within genres/styles. If the output were available on mobile device, such as phone or iPad, perhaps some kind of analyzation capability could be built into it where users could quickly pull songs and compare them with each other. Perhaps they could manipulate them to see what they would look like (literally) in different keys, or to see how compatible different song combinations would be in a mashup. The applications range from didactic to practical. Teachers could use a digital application in the classroom to illustrate the behavior of music. It could be a tool to sharpen students’ ears and give them a different way of seeing music other than musical notation. Although such a system of visual representation could be prescriptive, it could also be descriptive. Musicians who doesn’t read music would have an alternate tool at their fingertips to allow them to take a detailed look at music and the different components of song for a myriad of uses. Although I originally was thinking of a more fine art approach to the output of my visual thesis, I think there are also a great number of possibilities with a digital application. Because I don’t have a strong background in interactive design or digital media (besides web design), if I decide to go this route, I’ll have to find a way to bring in some expertise. But the whole prospect of possibilities is very exciting!