Sunday, 25 November 2012

Music; imagination with a cap

'Rocketship music' by
mark sebastian under
a CC license.
One more post that has, really, nothing to do with food and very little - if any - with innovation.

The other day I came across an old post on Covered in Bees asking the question "How many songs are there?". The post tries to answer the question by calculating the number of bit value combinations that are possible within the total bit of a 5-minute song on a typical CD, which is sampled at 44.1 KHz at a 16-bit depth. The resulting number of combinations is 2211,680,000. That is a really a big, VERY big number. It is a number over 63 MILLION digits long. In comparison, as the post in Covered in Bees points out, the number of atoms that comprise Earth is a figure of some 50 digits in length.

The calculation above comes with several working hypotheses, such as sampling rate, sampling depth and duration. That makes calculation easy for digital recordings. For analogue recordings things would be a bit more complicated but, given that we humans do have practical thresholds in telling tones apart, the key outcome would be the same: The number of "compositions" lasting a finite amount of time is, practically, finite.

The number of "melodies", however, is debatable and is much, much smaller than the figure 2211,680,000. You see, that figure includes ANY combination of sounds with duration of 5 minutes: all music of all kinds ever conceived, discussions of any topic, sounds of nature, white noise, even silence. What the figure does NOT take into consideration is whether the outcome would sound like "music" to us, not to mention "pleasant music".

Well, at this point things become a bit more complicated. Obviously tastes in music vary. Age, character, culture, tradition, instruments and transmission media available are amongst factors that affect perception of what constitutes "pleasant music". A recent scientific paper (NJ Hudson, "Musical beauty and information compression: Complex to the ear but simple to the mind?", BMC Res Notes. 2011; 4: 9) argued that appealing music, regardless its complexity to the ear, is the one that in fact is simple to the min.

On the funnier side of things, Axis of Awesome suggest that major hits of our time have in fact been based on just 4 (four) chords. Yes, 4. No need to elaborate on that. Feel free to watch the corresponding video:

To be fair, the Axis of Awesome talk about the "pillars" of melody and NOT about the main melody itself. If you want to look closer to similarities between songs, go check out

At any rate, however, regardless of the math involved, the hard truth is that the tunes we like are finite and - most probably - few. Which sort of explains why the same (or similar) music resurfaces from time to time, usually accompanied by different lyrics. Personally, I'm quite surprised that IPR lawyers and IPR trolls haven't heavily headed that way, yet. But, hey, for common people like us, the point of music is to have fun, make ourselves feel a bit better and - altogether - "talk to the soul", isn't it?

Sunday, 18 November 2012


'cell phone' by
samantha celera under
a CC license
Despite being a Sunday today, I woke up early. It's one of the side effects of having to be at work at 07.30 on a daily basis, I guess.

I wasn't feeling particularly lazy so I had breakfast, did a bit of tidying-up (ouch!) and browsed the news. At about 11.30, I got in the mood picking up my mobile and catching up with friends.

So I try calling the first on the list.... no reply. OK. 11.30 might still be early for some. Another one came to my mind - and that was a phone call I had to do at some point during the day, regardless - but, again, no luck. Moving onto the third one, well, no luck there, as well. At that point I thought that, given the time of the day, I was really trying to get hold of the wrong kind of crowd. So I tried calling an uncle of mine and "volunteer" for an errand. And nope. Nobody there, too.

For some weird reason, knock-knock jokes started coming to my mind but I soon pulled myself together and went on with my day....

So, the key messages of today's experience are:
  • Sunday mornings can be very quiet if you happen to wake up early.
  • Sunday mornings can be very noisy, if you happen to choose to stay in bed but have a friend who tends to wake up early.
  • Sunday mornings is the ideal time to be anti-social. Most likely, nobody will disturb you but, even if somebody does, you can just ignore them and they'll be OK with it.
  • Still, Sunday mornings are waaaay better than Sunday evenings, with the exception of those Sunday evenings that are followed by a bank holiday Monday.

Note: I re-tried calling those people in the afternoon and, that time, my success rate was significantly higher.