Monday, April 28, 2008

Music

I've written a lot of on-topic essays and thrown them all away. Here's an interesting but random, pointless one. Edit: It has been pointed out that this post might be total crap. Lemme know what you think!

Something about me you might not know: I really love music. I'm one of the people who gets a physical reaction to music - certain songs make my skin prickle, and not in a figurative sense. I always associate it with good music, and it only happens when I'm focusing on the music. The more prickling, the more I like the music. I couldn't really tell what caused it, all I knew is that it always starts somewhere a chunk before or after the middle of the songs in question.

The point is golden proportions in music.

Yeah, a little investigation. It turns out that almost every song on my hard drive that makes me prickle has its central shift at 62% of the way into the song, or at 38% of the way, plus or minus a bit. I don't think this is just chance, because many of the songs that don't cause me to prickle don't time this right, and the more off they are, the less I prickle.

For example, Chrono Cross: Time's Scar. A game I didn't even like, but man, I love this song. It fires up proper at 57 seconds in, out of 149 seconds. 149 * 0.382 = 57. Kwoon's "I lived on the moon" - the only song of his that I really like - is 272 seconds long. It switches gears at 105 seconds. 272 * 0.382 = 104.

It's not just weird songs. Even good rock songs...

"Heavy Fuel", by Dire Straits, is a song I love, but it doesn't make me tingle. It's 301 seconds long. That gives 114 seconds in, or 186 seconds in. There is a shift, but it's nearly ten seconds late and not the big shift in the song.

"Sultans of Swing" is a song that does make me tingle, but only a little bit. It's 350 seconds long, which means we should have a big shift at either 134 (2:17) or 216 (3:36). The solo starts at 3:30, which is a significant error even in a song this long, which would theoretically explain the smaller reaction. :D

"Footloose", a song I'm not proud tingle to, is 229 seconds long. It should shift at 87 (1:27) or 142 (2:22). Yeah, the song shift is at precisely 2:22. Like Sultans of Swing, it's not a big reaction, but since the song shift culminates fifteen seconds later, I would probably consider that to be what "should have been" at 2:22.

Cake. I hate Cake, but I can't help listening to them. The Distance is 3 minutes even, 180 seconds. 69 seconds or 111 seconds. There's a major shift at 67 seconds, and another at 110 seconds. Actually, the last two seconds of the song are silence, so it's an even better fit. That cannot have been on accident...

White Rabbit doesn't make me tingle, but I love it. It's 153 seconds long, so 58 seconds or 95 seconds is the theory, but since it doesn't make me tingle... the shift is at 85 seconds, very early. The peak is at 105 seconds, very late...

It's definitely true that I have a much stronger reaction to songs that peak at the late ratio (0.618) rather than the early ratio (0.382). I haven't included many examples here, because they're mostly game music or really obscure music. I wonder why?

Interesting, at any rate. It's a strong correlation: I think I have a strong reaction to the golden ratio! I bet there are miniature examples, too, like golden ratios within a progression or golden ratios of frequency... it's interesting.

How about you?

(Warning: If you're going to check timing yourself, VLC gets the time marker wrong if you jump to a position in the song... or, at least, it gives a different time reading than if you play from the start.)

9 comments:

Olick said...

I decided to pick a song I enjoyed at random to see how well this conforms. Buckethead's Binge and Grab, a 5:15 guitar piece.

The song changes moods, from the main riff to the relaxed solo, to the intense solo. The mood changes first at 2:16 = 136 seconds = 43.17%. However, the transition to the fast solo happens at 3:13 = 193 seconds = 61.26%. I guess it can't be doubted that the golden proportion is a good way to compose a song. I'm willing to bet that a lot of songs (especially rock songs, often composed in verse chorus verse chorus bridge chorus) have the bridge part somewhere near 62%.

I think though that I don't have a strong reaction to it, but I do have a reasonable appreciation of songs that have golden ratios.

Why do you throw away essay's? I'm curious.

Craig Perko said...

Sometimes I write up an essay on something interesting, but I can't hone it down to a single nugget. I don't want to post rambling, five-page essays!

Unfortunately, I'm not feeling especially coherent these days. I'm learning a bunch of non-game stuff and preparing for a serious vacation, so...

Adrian Lopez said...

Then again, maybe not. And another.

That first piece is credited to a "Mark Gardner", but it should probably say "Martin Gardner" instead.

Craig Perko said...

I'll look into your links, but it's quite a correlation...

Craig Perko said...

Oh, it should be noted that I don't believe that there is anything mystical about the golden ratio - or anything else, for that matter. I don't believe it has merit because it's old.

I'm just looking at correlations...

Adrian Lopez said...

I haven't listened to the contents of your hard drive, so I can't really comment on your particular results. All I can say is that the popular notion that the golden ratio is naturally associated with pleasing forms in works of art is rather suspect.

Craig Perko said...

I see that, now. I may have fallen into an illusion...

After all, how is it possible for your mind to know when the break should be before you've even heard the song all the way through? How does it know when you're 62% through?

I'm listening through my music, and I'm finding some songs that make my skin prickle without adhering to the law... but the songs that make me tingle a lot are all, so far, perfectly adherent.

There are a lot of ways to convince yourself. For example, "Fa fa" by Guster has a significant change at the right moment (just under 3 minutes in), but is it THE change? The focus of the song? I THINK so, but I might just be rationalizing... you could consider the second refrain start with full instrumental support at 3:33 to be the main shift...

Still, it may be like that homeopathic discussion from last post: maybe there are confounding factors. Maybe people who write songs with the golden ratio (whether purposefully or not) also use some other technique that makes me react, and it's that I'm sensing?

I'll keep monitoring. Maybe I'll post on it again, if I figure anything out.

Christian said...

Hey there,

This is Christian from The Tanooki, I wrote the Zelda article you referenced. I found your own article to be quite an interesting read, especially since you not only incorporated the positive golden section, but its inverse.

In response to some of the odd numbers you've come up with and are questioning in both the article and comments, I would suggest breaking each song down even further by form. Look and see if the parts you hear as significant are actually the golden sections of a smaller portion of the piece that's still clearly defined by musical form.

Craig Perko said...

Well, I think it's something structural about the song, but it's not something I have to hear the whole song to recognize. Frequently, I may only be a few seconds into the song on the first listen.

However, the overall structure of a song is usually reflected in its first few moments, so...

I don't know what it is, exactly. But I've got it in mind.