Friday, January 31, 2020

Universality and diversity in human song

In the same vein as the previous post on cultural variation and universal structures in music, another massive research collective reports on their study of universality and diversity in human music, emphasizing different dimensions of experience. They provide interactive graphic tools providing detailed descriptions and samples of songs. The tools pointed to in this and the previous MindBlog post give readers access hundreds (probably thousands) of different music samples, and their variety is astonishing. Here is a summary description done by Science magazine:
It is unclear whether there are universal patterns to music across cultures. Mehr et al. examined ethnographic data and observed music in every society sampled (see the Perspective by Fitch and Popescu). For songs specifically, three dimensions characterize more than 25% of the performances studied: formality of the performance, arousal level, and religiosity. There is more variation in musical behavior within societies than between societies, and societies show similar levels of within-society variation in musical behavior. At the same time, one-third of societies significantly differ from average for any given dimension, and half of all societies differ from average on at least one dimension, indicating variability across cultures.

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