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Cultre & Music
The Billboard Top 100
Finally, we investigate whether pop musical development was gradual or choppy. We show that although the pop music has continuously evolved, it did so that particularly quickly during three stylistic “revolutions” around 1964, 1983, and 1991. We conclude by discussing how our study points the way to the quantitative science of cultural change.
History of Pop Music
Until recently, the biggest impediment to a scholarly account of musical history was the lack of data. That has changed with the advent of large, digital collections of audio recordings, notes, and lyrics. Quantitative studies of musical development followed quickly. Here, we use a collection of digital music to research the history of American popular music. Drawing inspiration from studies of organic and cultural evolution, we look at pop music history as a “fossil record” and ask the kinds of questions a paleontologist might have: Has the diversity of popular music increased or decreased over time? Is evolutionary change in popular music continuous or sporadic? And if it is intermittent, when did the interruptions occur?
Like previous studies of pop music history, ours is based on features extracted from sound rather than findings. However, as these early studies focused on technical aspects of sound such as loudness, vocabulary statistics, and sequential complexity, we have attempted to identify features with musical meaning. To this end, we have adopted an approach inspired by recent developments in text mining. We began by measuring our songs for a series of quantitative phonemic features, 12 descriptors of tonal content and 14 timbres (electronics supplementary material, M2–3). They were then categorized into ‘words’ resulting in a harmonic lexicon (H lexicon) for chord changes, and a timbre lexicon (T lexicon) for timbre combinations (Supplementary Electronic Material, M4).
We take an in-depth look at interesting (at least we think they are!) takes on popular cultural topics.