Using math to find new music

Last Updated on September 30, 2010 by Dave Farquhar

Wednesday, 5/17/00
MongoMusic [may be defunct now–DF] is a service where you punch in a song title, and it’ll generate a list of songs that are in some way similar. It also works for artists and albums. I punched in Up by R.E.M., and it suggested albums by XTC, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust. I think they’re all a reach, but agree that if you like Up there’s a pretty good chance you’ll like those others.

So, let’s try a song. While we’re being obscure, we’ll analyze “I’ll Fall With Your Knife,” by Peter Murphy. We get “Good God’s://Urge,” by Porno For Pyros (Perry Farrell’s post-Jane’s Addiction band). I know that one. I have no idea what they’re thinking. Perry Farrell’s even weirder than Peter Murphy. “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by Crash Test Dummies is #2. I don’t see it. #3 is “Listen,” by Collective Soul. I don’t think I’ve heard that one. #4 is “Bushfire,” by Midnight Oil. I haven’t heard that, but knowing Midnight Oil, maybe. #5 is another Murphy track. That’s cheating. #6 is “Letting the Cables Sleep,” by Bush. Gavin “I think I’m a Pretty Boy Kurt Cobain” Rossdale isn’t even worthy of passing The Great Peter Murphy on the street, let alone being mentioned alongside him. Next. #7 is “Californication,” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. No idea where they’re getting that one. #8 is “Father of Mine,” by Everclear–a song of slightly higher caliber than the average Bush song. Exit. Next. #9 is “The Body,” by Public Image Ltd. No idea on that, but Johnny Rotten may have done something like that. And #10 is another Murphy track, this one from the same album. What was that I said about cheating?

Let’s try an artist. Echo and the Bunnymen. #1 is Television. They were an underground British band around the same time. I’ve heard them mentioned in the same context. #2 is Mekons. I’ve heard the name. #3 is The Teardrop Explodes. Ditto. #4 is The Bolshoi. No idea. #5 is The Lemonheads. I’m thinking on that one. Their singers sing in the same vocal range… I don’t dislike The Lemonheads, but I wouldn’t pay money to go see them. #6 is Morrissey. I can see that one, but Morrissey’s a space cadet. #7 is Play Dead. Who? #8 is Soul Coughing. Reaching a bit, aren’t we? #9 and #10 are UK Subs and The Southern Death Cult. Cool names. I’d have remembered them if I’d heard of them. #11 and #12 are Television Personalities and Sleepers. Ditto. #13 is Sponge. Detroit punk updated for the ’90s. I don’t see the similarity, except that both bands came from industrial cities (Echo is from Manchester, England). #14 is The Church. Now that I see, big time. #15-17 I can see almost as much: Joy Division, The Smiths (Morrissey’s old band), The Cure.

Well, a computer can analyze a work’s mathematical qualities characteristics (I refuse to use the word “qualities” when referring to works by Bush) and try to find something possessing one or more of the same characteristics, but the results here show that musicmaking is more art than science, as you can probably see by my harsh reaction to comparing Peter Murphy with Bush. Most Bush fans wouldn’t like Peter Murphy either.

The analysis seems to work a lot better with albums, and still better with artists.

Mail. The mail pours in, but I’m sore and it’s a couple of hours before I can do another dose of ibuprofen, so it’ll wait for tomorrow. Methinks I got a bit carried away here.

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