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Old 10-30-2009, 06:09 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default The Music Phylogeny Project : Collecting Suggestions for Traits!

Some said it couldn't be done. What do they know - have they studied phylogeny? I don't know. Have I studied phylogeny? Well, yes - a bit. Do I think it can be done? Yes, of course it can! Let's do it!



Above, you can see a phylogenetic tree. It is a hypothesis describing the evolutionary relationship between different kinds of whales, how they diverged from a common ancestry.

Just for fun, I want to do the same for music. Music evolves over time much the same way as species do and if you can identify the characters that have changed over time, making such a tree for bands instead of whales is perfectly possible. I want to make a big phylogenetic tree showing different bands and see how they relate to eachother. Will metal form a monophyletic group? Is King Crimson really ancestral to Nirvana?

Hopefully in the end, I'll end up with one consensus tree and I can publish the results here. Maybe I can even write up a nice article-scientific-style pdf explaining the study along with results and discussion and of course a thank you section to all those who have helped .. Because of course I'm gonna need help!

What I need to do first is to identify the traits from which to compare the relationship between bands. That's where hopefully you come in.



How you can help : Traits and criteria

I'll need to record a number of traits for all bands/artists in the study and use that as a basis to compare bands with eachother. I need you guys to suggest such traits! Suggested traits should fit the following criteria :
  • Binary - For any given band or artist, the trait is either present or absent. They have it or they don't!
  • Is directly defining for the the sound bands and artists have
  • Is so easy to understand that most people can identify whether or not a given band has the trait or not

Example traits :

Good traits : Growling vocals? High pitched screams? Distorted guitar? Untraditional time signatures?
Bad traits : How many band members? are they young? is the production value good? (little direct influence on sound) Do they use pentatonic scales? (too advanced!)

In other words, think of them as yes/no question you can ask about the sound of bands and artists I want to have an outgroup - an ancestral group which posesses mostly ancestral or unevolved characters. For a character like distorted guitar, the most ancestral trait will be to not have distorted guitar since it came later. Therefore, posessing the trait is translated to 1 while not having it shall be 0. The most ancestral band or artist should have lots of zeros in my matrix.



How you can help : How to suggest a trait

If you want to suggest a trait, write up your trait with a short description and then give an example of a band posessing it and a band which does not posess it. If you want, it's also helpful if you can provide a youtube video or something which demonstrates the trait.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Example
Trait : A Capella

Description : Says whether or not a band sometimes uses a capella (music with only voices and not instrumental accompaniment) in their music!

Possesses trait (1): Gentle Giant
Does not possess trait (0) : The Clash

Example :

Don't worry too much about the quality of your suggestion. Hopefully, there will be lots of suggestions and I can select a number (f.ex 20) that I will work with. Eventually, I'll have a bunch of traits along which a bands sound can be defined as a series of 1s and 0s. Gathering that data will be another thread, though.

I really hope you've read this far because I can't do this project without help. I'm quite eager to get crackin' with this, so know that all who help out will forever have my gratitude
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Old 10-30-2009, 06:15 AM   #2 (permalink)
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List of suggested traits :

  1. A Capella - Does the band sometimes use a capella? (ex. Gentle Giant)
  2. Accents second/fourth beat - The second and fourth beat are accented, typically by guitar chords (Bob Marley and the Wailers)
  3. Acoustic - Is acoustic instrumentation central to the sound? (ex. Cat Stevens)
  4. Amazing Vocal Prowess - Does the singer have an amazing vocal prowess and delivery? (ex. Mariah Carey)
  5. Ambient Soundscapes - Are there often ambient soundscapes in the music? (ex. Brian Eno)
  6. Anger - Does the artist or bands' music vent feelings of anger? (Rage Against the Machine)
  7. Banjo - Does the band ever use the banjo in their music? (ex. Flatt and Scruggs)
  8. Blues - Is the music blues or strongly blues influenced? (ex. Led Zeppelin)
  9. Catchy - Does the band/artist ever make songs which are instantly likeable/will stick after the first listening? (ex. Katy Perry)
  10. Choir - Is or does the band/artist ever employ a choir? (ex. Sisters of Mercy)
  11. Dark - Is the music dark? (ex. Moonspell)
  12. Distortion Guitar - Does the band/artist use distorted guitar? (ex. Cream)
  13. Drum Machine - Did or does the band or artist sometimes use a drum machine instead of a live drummer? (ex. Buckethead)
  14. Epic - Does the music sometimes have a very epic feel to it? (ex. Dream Theater)
  15. Fast Tempo - Is the music fast? (ex. Megadeth)
  16. Flute - Is flute ever important to the sound? (ex. Jethro Tull)
  17. Growling vocals - Are lyrics often growled? (ex. Pig Destroyer)
  18. Guitar band - Is guitar clearly the dominant melodic instrument? (ex. Mahavishnu Orchestra)
  19. Guitar solos - Does the band play extended guitar solos? (ex. Pink Floyd)
  20. Happy - Does the band/artist express feelings of happiness through their music? (ex. Caravan)
  21. Horn Riffs - Does the band use horn riffs? (ex. Save Ferris)
  22. Heavy - Does the music have a heavy oompfy feel? (ex. Nirvana)
  23. Improvisational - Is the sound ever improvisational? (ex. Return to Forever)
  24. Instrumental Skill - Does the band flaunt their instrumental skills? (ex. Yes)
  25. Electronica - Does the band use mainly electronic instruments, music programs and samples? (ex. The Prodigy)
  26. Danceable - Can you dance to much of the music by this band? (ex. Jamiroquai)
  27. Hypnotic Beats - Does the band have a droning beat with a sort of hypnotic or danceable feel? (ex. Sisters of Mercy)
  28. Instrumentalists - Is the band's music mainly instrumental as in non-verbal and lacking lyrics? (ex. Ozric Tentacles)
  29. Layered vocal harmonies - Does the band have layered vocal harmonies, either with several singers or overdubbing? (ex. Queen)
  30. Long songs - Does the band sometimes make songs over 10 minutes long? (ex. Genesis)
  31. Miminalist instrumentation - Does or has the band or artist gotten by with very few instruments, ex. no more than one or two? (ex. Leonard Cohen)
  32. Medieval - Does the music sometimes have medieval qualities? (ex. Kamelot)
  33. Metal Screams - Does the artist or bands singer sometimes do high-pitched metal screams? (ex. Judas Priest)
  34. Orchestral instrumentation - Is orchestral instrumentation like string, brass and woodwind instruments essential to the sound? (ex. Henry Cow)
  35. Overdub - Does the band somtimes use overdubbing? (ex. The Alan Parsons Project)
  36. Piano - Does piano ever take the center-stage as an instrument? (ex. Tori Amos)
  37. Quiet/Loud dynamics - Does the band or artist often use quiet parts constrasted by louder parts? (ex. The Pixies)
  38. Rapped lyrics - Are the lyrics sometimes or always rapped? (ex. Linkin Park)
  39. Sad - Would you describe the music as often sad or melancholic? (ex. Pink Floyd)
  40. Sampled drums - Does the artist or band sometimes use breakbeats along with more traditional methods? (ex. Sublime)
  41. Scary - Would you describe the band/artists music as sometimes scary? (ex. The Residents)
  42. Shrieked Vocals - Are vocals sometimes delivered in a high-pitched screeching manner? (ex. Cradle of Filth)
  43. Sluggish - Is the music often heavy and slow, sorta sluggish? (ex. Black Sabbath)
  44. Standards - Does the band/artist ever play or have made a jazz standard? (ex. Miles Davis)
  45. Superfast Bass Drums - Are the drums often played in an aggressive, superfast double-kickin' fashion? (ex. Gorgoroth)
  46. Symphonic - Does the band sometimes employ symphony orchestras? (ex. Mighty Rhapsody)
  47. Thematic Shifts - Is the music highly thematic and shifts between themes? (Emerson, Lake & Palmer)
  48. Turntablism - Does the band/artist ever use a turntable for stuff like scratching or beat juggling? (ex. Beastie Boys)
  49. Untraditional time signatures - Does the band sometimes use untraditional time signatures? (ex. King Crimson)
  50. Whimsicality - Is the music often whimsical and a bit silly? (ex. Samla Mammas Manna)
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Old 10-30-2009, 11:25 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by toretorden View Post
Just for fun, I want to do the same for music. Music evolves over time much the same way as species do and if you can identify the characters that have changed over time, making such a tree for bands instead of whales is perfectly possible. I want to make a big phylogenetic tree showing different bands and see how they relate to eachother. Will metal form a monophyletic group? Is King Crimson really ancestral to Nirvana?
I think it is very difficult to make a cladogram of Rock bands because almost every band claims more then one band as an influence.

Over-dubbing (esp. guitar and vocals)
Les Paul & Mary Ford. (yes)
early Elvis Presley (no)
Basicly straight live recording of a band in a studio versus heavily processed studio sound, something hard to reporduce live.

NB I'm not saying Elvis is better then other artist, I'm using him as an example of a simple live perfomance in studio that is recorded. It was Elvis acoustic guitar, Scotty Moore on electric guitar and Bill Black on stand-up bass.

I wouldn't consider King Crimson ancestral to Nirvana, unless you are thinking of something else. I heard Grunge discribes a Rock band influence by Punk, (not the other way around). Punk was diametricly opposed to Prog at least in the 70's. When combine your bands and you look at them of complex compositions and recording versus simple compositions and recording; King Crimson would be closer to Les Paul, Nirvana would be closer to early Elvis.
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Old 10-31-2009, 04:02 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Thanks for the suggestion!

In response to your comments, it is perfectly possible to make a phylogenetic tree. If you know the basic method, you know it's basically down to simple maths - you put the data through an analysis and you get a tree. If you have data, you can do it. A phylogenetic tree is a hypothesis of the relationship - it doesn't say "this is it!" but I'd be interested to see what it would look like.

As for King Crimson being ancestral to Nirvana, this is a claim made by Kurt Cobain himself. Specifically, he cited the KC album Red as a major influence .. just a bit of trivia.
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Old 11-01-2009, 03:34 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Not many have posted here yet, so I've come up with some traits that I've put up in the list. Hopefully, people can use that as a source of inspiration to come up with more.

I'll present one of my suggestions here in a formal manner :


Trait : Whimsicality

Description : Says whether or not the music is silly or sometimes has a whimsical feel to it.

Possesses trait (1) : Samla Mammas Manna
Does not possess trait (0) : Metallica

Example :




Eventually, I'll ask people to help me gather data. Basically, that would be listing a band as a series of 1s and 0s.
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Old 11-01-2009, 05:38 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Pandora internet radio was actually created in this very manner. They created what they called The Music Genome Project where they essentially mapped out musical criteria of ALL music, (well not all obviously, but when you consider how inclusive they have been combined with how tedious the work must be...). They essentially used it to create an algorhythm that allows listeners to create stations based on individual taste. I havent been able to find anything that actually illustrates this, but I remember before Pandora was up and running the site with the interactive "phylogeny" was available to mess around with. It was pretty amazing. Maybe someone can find it.
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Old 11-01-2009, 10:08 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SATCHMO View Post
Pandora internet radio was actually created in this very manner. They created what they called The Music Genome Project where they essentially mapped out musical criteria of ALL music, (well not all obviously, but when you consider how inclusive they have been combined with how tedious the work must be...). They essentially used it to create an algorhythm that allows listeners to create stations based on individual taste. I havent been able to find anything that actually illustrates this, but I remember before Pandora was up and running the site with the interactive "phylogeny" was available to mess around with. It was pretty amazing. Maybe someone can find it.
Interesting!

And yeah, this is the way to do it I guess if you wanna generate playlists for people. I would love to get my hands on some of that data Wonder if its available anywhere ..
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Old 11-01-2009, 12:12 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by toretorden View Post
Interesting!

And yeah, this is the way to do it I guess if you wanna generate playlists for people. I would love to get my hands on some of that data Wonder if its available anywhere ..
Pandora has already done something like this, but not in terms of looking at where artists took influence from. Because we can't actually see a tree of how their project goes from older to newer, all that you know about each band is what traits they consider it to have (not even sure if you can view all those) and the related music that they list for each song. So, I think we should still do the project. Now, of course it won't be exact, but if my knowledge of the concept is correct you should be able to just get a better and better path of where someone's sound is coming from by using more and more traits. So, you might be interested in this tore:

List of Music Genome Project attributes - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

That's a list of the traits they used for the Music Genome Project. It does say it's incomplete, but there's a hell of a lot on there. I think MB should do it's own project though. It sounds like a lot of fun to me. Also, if you just go to the page on wikipedia, it explains a bit more how they grouped the songs and all. It'd probably be useful for this project, if you trust wikipedia as a source.
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Old 11-01-2009, 02:52 PM   #9 (permalink)
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^Ah, that's a lovely list

You're right, the tree will be more reliable the more traits it has. Of course, I can't use too many and I have to find some easy ones, but I'm sure this list is gonna be ripe with good suggestions. Thanks a lot!
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Old 11-01-2009, 04:23 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Yeah, I think they used a lot more than we would really need Are you still interested in suggestions for traits that would actually work for this project (a smaller list)? I think it would be useful to have:

Samples - Does the artist use samples? (ex. DJ Shadow, MF Doom) I'd say put this in addition to the one for electronica, because samples are very important in rap and grouping it in with electronica would skip a lot of artists that use them. If you don't want to include every band that ever uses a sample, you could change it to something like extensive sampling I suppose.

I'm not sure how to phrase this one; perhaps nostalgic? Trying to think of a trait that would work for the post-genres; post rock and post metal have a very unique feel to them that isn't really present in a lot of other music.

Perhaps you could also add a trait for horns? They get a fair amount of use these days, personally I think it would be reasonable to add a separate section outside of the Untraditional Rock Instrumentation.

Just a few suggestions, feel free to use them or change them or not.

EDIT: I didn't write them up in your format because I wasn't really sure what to call them... I can do it if you want if you decide to use them.
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