Evolution in Music: The Origin of Pieces

Evolution in Music, The Origin of Pieces Darwin's theories of selection and adaptation have been applied to almost every process that changes over time. It is obvious, thus, to address similar analysis to the evolution of music, or in other words, the evolution of pieces of music. Like any other process, we can note gradual changes over time in the presentation and use of music performances, instrumentation, style and societal function. But what about the songs themselves? If we were to make a grand comparison to Darwin's theory, the live music performance of a song would be the "individual." The "species" is the piece itself. Using mostly artificial selection, that is, decisions made by the human performers before and during the song, the song could change gradually over time, in each repeated performance. What makes a song a hit? Usually a lasting hit is a song that other musicians want to reproduce. And they do, and the song is heard, it gains popularity. The species proliferates. Now it could be said that the creative process is a mystery and each new song simply, inexplicably, almost magically, appears on the scene and has its first "individual" in the species. But upon reflection, it is obvious that every song is written using the "ingredients" of the available physical and technical components. In addition, when writing each new piece, the composer must respond to a certain set of parameters, including instrumentation, elaboration, purpose and intent. Thus there are external factors that are present that could be said to be the "niche" that the song fills. And if the performance matches the "niche," the likelihood that the song would be reproduced increases, thus proliferating the "species" that is this song. This comparison can also be applied to the performance of already written pieces. The performer selects the piece to play based on the demands of the performance environment. What song is perfect for the mood of the room? What is the perfect song for the occasion? Selecting the song to perfore, is a mixture of artificial and natural selection. Artificial in that there are humans making the decision to perform the piece, and "natural" as there are some factors that play a role in the selection that are purely random and are situation-based. These discussions can also apply to recorded music. Which pieces are replicated? How does this apply to your average musician? Well, if she is programming a concert, it's the factors that lead to the songs she chooses to play. If he is a song-writer, we can look at how his song responds to the needs, musically, of his situation. In every case, one can follow a specific song and note the environment in which the song is thriving, and note gradual changes of the song over time in response to different environmental factors. So how do you choose the perfect song for this moment? As song structures change we can see the use of improvisation as similar to a mutation, for example the subtle changes to a traditional, or folk, song over time, is akin to the mutations in the genes that happen in one individual. A great musician friend of mine said you could almost consider "mistakes" as mutations in the song. They don't destroy the individual, but they are mostly NOT passed on. If you look at the grand arch of the history of music, you could almost say that every musical "mistake" was a small mutation that has lead to the incredibly diverse array of songs we have around us in the world today. For the struggling musicians, if he can see trends in music, perhaps he can use that information to his advantage. Please send me a message or write a comment if this application of evolutionary analysis to music resonates with you. More about this later, -- Edward Grigassy