Malcolm is at it again

One reading pleasure that I get is when I open up the New Yorker magazine and there, in the table of contents, I see the byline: Malcolm Gladwell. The author of Blink and Tipping Point (both of which were built from articles in the magazine, I believe) writes with such clarity and insight about a wide variety of issues, it becomes like a little journey of the mind to follow where he is leading you.

In last week’s New Yorker, Malcolm is on the trail of software that can be used to predict the success or failure of movies. It all has to do with indentifying attributes, categorizing them in certain ways and then letting the computer analyze the structure of movies. Some movie companies are now channeling movie scripts through the computer program and pressuring for changes before the actors are even hired. There is something sterile about that process, I think, but that is another post.

What I was interested in was almost an aside in the article: the use of software to help musicians and producers analyze music, using mathematical formulas based upon beat, harmony, pitch, chord progression and cadence. The software called “Platinum Blue” can pick “whether a song is likely to become a hit with eighty-percent accuracy,” according to Malcolm. The creator of the software is not interested in the songs, per se. “He cared only about a song’s underlying mathematical structure,” according to Malcolm.

This is all very interesting but then the creator of the software comments: “We think we’ve figured out how the brain works regarding musical taste.” I wonder how that can be? And if true, does this mean that we are moving towards some uniform musical taste analysis? Interesting.

The program did predict that the song Crazy by Gnarls Barkely would be a hit. I wonder if they have put Beck into their machine? (Which reminds me of a Sesame Street skit in which Bert creates a sound machine for the letter “P” and Ernie makes it explode by feeding to many letters into it — that’s what I think Beck would do to the software — cause it to implode.)

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