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Repetition factor in music

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Location: Oregon

PostPosted: Sat Jul 12, 2008 7:16 pm    Post subject: Repetition factor in music Reply with quote

Often as not, I post to YRIHF to explain myself to others.

While my reactions to events seem perfectly normal and unremarkable
to myself, I've noticed, from time to time, that they do not appear so
to others. One area where I've noted that my reactions differ
from others' is in the area of music appreciation.

I haven't created a model of my musical tastes that would
distinguish between, say, two different "pop" songs, predicting
why one would leave me unimpressed, while another would
remain on my player for days at a time and return unbidden
years later in my mind. If I had such a model I suppose I could
get a good job in the recording industry. What makes a good
pop song, might be equivalent to asking what makes a good "meme"
(see the forum here on YRIHF), and, so far, appears to be deeply

I first formulated a measurement of music appreciation to describe
my dislike of certain genres (see "measuring musical tastes by
the minute" in this forum), but I found it didn't actually *explain*
much in itself.

Enter "repetition factor in music". Repetition is a natural
component of any musical piece, except, perhaps, the most
experimental. Repetition is reassuring, comfortable, and predictable,
all positive attributes in isolation. However, when I find myself getting
edgy or uncomfortable while listening to music, I now start to
measure the repetitions that I notice while listening. I've
hesitated to post this notion is because it is still, after years of
musical pleasure and annoyance, fairly vague and unsatisfying
to someone with an engineering and scientific background like
myself. The vagueness is in capturing what the unit of repetition
should be.

Certainly, in Celtic music (to use my favorite example), one can
find repetitions of "motifs" that range from very short durations
(under a second long), to very long durations (up to a majority
of the length of a song). A note played in a certain way, on a
particular instrument, almost inevitably will recur during the course
of a musical piece. I don't want to echo the comical critique of
Beethoven's music from the time: "too many notes". For the most
part I am talking about sequences of notes, ranging from 2 to, say,
100, that are repeated during the course of a song. The longer
the sequence, the more noticeable the recurrence. There may be
a 30 note sequence that occurs 7-8 times in the course of a song.
There may also be, in the same song, an 8 note sequence that
occurs 20 or more times. Measuring repetition, then may be akin
to taking a Fourier transform of the music, converting from the
time-domain into the "frequency of sequence" domain for each
possible sequence length.

When I start to notice that repetition is a factor in making me
uncomfortable with a piece of music, I believe that this piece
has crossed a critical threshold, though I have not characterized
the formulation of that threshold precisely. Hence, as they say,
further research is needed.
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