Beethoven may indeed be rolling in his grave, but not for the reasons some Darwin-loving reporters think.

“Roll over Beethoven: you’re no longer needed,” began Andy Coghlan on New Scientist.  “From now on, the great unwashed masses can evolve their own compositions – no composers, songwriters or musical training required.”  His article, “How to Evolve Your Own Musical Melodies,” reports on a project by Bob MacCallum and Armand Leroi at Imperial College London to “evolve” music by “natural selection.”  PhysOrg joined in the overture, writing about “On the origin of music by natural selection.”

MacCallum and Leroi invite public participation in their DarwinTunes website.  There, using an evolutionary algorithm, a selection of random 8-second sound loops can be “selected” by users for the most pleasing sound, producing more complex patterns over time.  The selected loops are allowed to reproduce until something the listener enjoys results.  On PhysOrg, Bob MacCallum explains on a recording how the process works (the BBC News adds video).  MacCallum goes so far as to say that the winning loops have sex and reproduce, while the unpleasing loops get killed off.  “It’s brutal, but that’s evolution for you,” he smirks.  The article continues,

The scientists set out to test a theory that cultural changes in language, art and music evolve through Darwinian natural selection, in a similar way to how living things evolve. They simulated this cultural evolution by harnessing the power of a 7,000 strong internet audience in an experiment that was designed to answer several questions. Can music exist without being the product of a conscious, creative act? If so, what would that music sound like? Does everyone’s ideal tune sound the same?.…

Dr Bob MacCallum, another co-author and a mosquito genomics bioinformatician in the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London, said: “We knew our evolutionary music engine could make pretty good music in the hands of one user, but what we really wanted to know was if it could do so in a more Darwinian setting, with hundreds of listeners providing their feedback. Thanks to our students’ and the general public’s valuable input, we can confidently say it does.”….

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