Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Take studies with a grain of salt

Especially when they are about subjective topics like art and music.  So this article breaks through with the  news that a recent study shows the Beatles and the Rolling Stone eclipsed by Hip-Hop.  That's the headline.  What could it mean?  Hip Hop is more popular?  More critically acclaimed?  More influential?  More people like Hip-Hop?

Well, nothing really.  It was based on "a computer analysis of 17,000 songs."  What does that even mean?  Did it include only rock songs?  All rock songs?  All recorded music?  Probably not the last one, as I doubt there have only been 17,000 songs recorded.

But what does it mean?  Not a damn thing, that's what.  It is, in keeping with the modern 'science and computer models know all' mentality, the latest in attempts to get headlines by saying nothing at all.  And as if to reinforce the uselessness is a statement by the study's author touting the supremacy of a scientific approach to music analysis:
"For the first time we can measure musical properties in recordings on a large scale," he said. "We can actually go beyond what music experts tell us, or what we know ourselves about them, by looking directly into the songs, measuring their make-up, and understanding how they have changed."
This assumes that the computer woke up one day and suddenly decided to study 17,000 songs, as opposed to being programmed by rather subjective and biased programmers setting the parameters of the study.  Once again, the idea that where lab coats are, all biased and personal preference have been eliminated.

Again, it says nothing.  Nothing, except perhaps that the individuals who programmed the study may need to look at influence versus inspiration in the arts a little more closely.

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