Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Formulaic Pop

Many months ago I discovered Hit Song Science. Polyphonic HMI, a company based in Barcelona, took it upon themselves to develop an artificial intelligence app that could debone a song and:

isolate individual patterns in key aspects of the music that humans detect and that help determine whether or not they like a given song. For example, the dictionary describes melody as a series of notes strung together in a meaningful pattern. But determining what is "meaningful" is a very human and very subjective experience. This technology is able to detect what those melody patterns are as well as decipher patterns in other aspects of the music such as beat, harmony, pitch, octave, fullness of sound, brilliance and chord progression.

A music executive who is working with the technology said the program also identified the "gold content" of a song. This is the part that is supposedly the most likable and can be sampled in television commercials, films and other songs

But the Bigge Idea is not here to reheat an Associated Press story from February, but instead provide a hitherto overlooked adjunct to the Hit Song Science. Thanks to friend and bass player Brendan (who joined Convex, a band featuring yours truly on guitar and vocals, in May of this year), I learned that KLF wrote the book, literally, on hit songs, called The Manual. Check this out:

Unwrap pop's layers and what we are left with is the same old plate of meat and two veg that have kept generations of pop pickers well satisfied. The emotional appetite that chart pop satisfies is constant. The hunger is forever. What does change is the technology this is always on the march. At some point in the future science will develop a commodity that will satisfy this emotional need in a more efficient way. There was a period in our own prehistory when Top Tens and Number Ones didn't exist, when tea time on Sunday wasn't synonymous with the brand new chart run down. For the time being we have our Top Tens and Number Ones and while science marches to the beat that will finally destroy it all, it also comes up with the goods that will satisfy our other endless appetite, that of apparent change. All records in the Top Ten (especially those that get to Number One) have far more in common with each other than with whatever genre they have developed from or sprung out of.

The entire document (a freakin’ novella at 33,000 words) is as brilliant as the passage quoted above, if not moreso. The KLF actually published this thing as a book back in the early 1990s and promised to refund your money if you were unable to achieve a number one single in the official (gallup) U.K. charts within three months of purchase.