One of the less well-remembered aspects of the society created by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four is the way in which popular entertainment is manufactured in that dark, dystopian world. Orwell imagined machines which could easily churn out cheap, trashy films and pop music which had been programmed to fit the simple, undeveloped tastes of the masses. While there are probably some people who’d argue that we already live in such a world, it would be pretty hard to claim that we’re not – at the very least – heading towards a world where music is increasingly manufactured using computers.
Recent months have seen a fair bit of talk about Music Xray, a piece of software designed to ‘allow music professionals to see their music and their market in ways that were impossible until now’. According to the Platinum Blue Music Intelligence website:
Research has shown strong evidence that most hit songs conform to a limited number of mathematical patterns… Now, we are able to point to the mathematical properties of the song as a strong indicator of potential success.
A less well known, but arguably more interesting, piece of software has been developed here in Barcelona. PolyphonicHMI is marketing a music intelligence application for use in recording studios. Designed to guide musicians, record producers and label executives even during the creative stages, the software can spot if there are mathematical problems with a new song before it’s even complete.
While this is obviously good news for record companies, it remains to be seen just what effect it will have on the record-buying public. In a world where music is already nearly completely mechanised, is this just one small step closer to a time when most popular music is literally manufactured by a computer? If the public are already happy enough with such entertainment, perhaps it’s just producers with their special talent for creating hits who stand to lose out. Then again, it’s been noted many times that the music which is remembered and revered most after a few decades have passed isn’t necessarily what topped the charts at the time… perhaps we’d better hold on to those human record producers for a little bit longer.