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Open Thread, October 4th, 2015
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ASHG-2015-meeting-logo The big thing in the near future is that I’ll be at ASHG 2015. More precisely Wednesday through Friday. I’m planning on checking on the Friday evening session of Lazaridis et al. where they review their findings in regards to the ancient Anatolian genomes. Aside from that the focus is on posters (methods in particular) and eating crab with David Mittleman somewhere good in Baltimore.

41uvqsrV3HL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ Just listened to The Scandinavian Secret Behind All Your Favorite Songs, which is an interview with John Seabrook on The Tom Ashbrook Show. The general story is somewhat known, but Seabrook digs deep in his book, The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory. Some of the elements of the story are actually interesting. Scandinavians are generally fluent in English, but Seabrook points out that they don’t always have a good grasp of idiomatic English, so their phrasing may seem strange. This is apparently the backstory behind the Britney Spears’ hit …Baby One More Time, as a native English speaker would probably not be as open to a phrase such as “hit me one more time” in a mainstream song. For the lyricist Max Martin it was just an allusion to being called back. This issue also continues down the present, as Arianna Grande objected to grammatically incorrect phrases in vain with Martin. This probably explains why the lyrics of so many hits are cryptic and require deep exegesis to extract comprehensible meaning.

Taylor_Swift_043_(18117777270) But, it brings to the fore a more general issue: is the rise of the industrial production of “pop music” an irreversible trend of economic perfection of the transmission of particular services to the populace, or is this a fad which will abate? The latter is not a hypothetical, as there have been previous reactions to excessive artificiality, perceived or real. To name two, the almost shattering collapse of “glam rock” ~1990 and the rise of “grunge.” Nirvana was good, but it was really just a trigger for a shift away from a metastable equilibrium. Authenticity, and musicians who exhibited virtuosity in classical instrumental skills were prized in the early 1990s, as fixation on aesthetic accoutrements such as hair, makeup, and clothes were frowned upon and reflected the values of the early era of the late 1980s. But this itself gave way in ~1995 to a new wave of pop music as the “Seattle sound” of the early 1990s birthed carbon-copy imitators of authenticity, as a thousand Stone Temple Pilots bloomed before our eyes and assaulted our ears. As if to pay penance for the false authenticity of mid-1990s grunge we were treated to the naked and unabashed artificiality of the late 1990s boy band era. This is the period when Max Martin came to the fore, and these bands were churning out music where they were simply point-of-delivery devices for a product which they themselves wouldn’t have been willing to pop into their CD-players.

Katy_Perry_UNICEF_2012 So are we caught in an eternal recurrence? Will a new wave of authenticity burst the pop-music bubble-gum factory of 2015? Probably. But, we need to not get confused here and in assuming that every wave of synthesis and artifice recapitulates what has come before: it’s getting better. Compare the highly produced music today to the synth-pop of the early 1980s. I think one can argue that modern pop-music is better at tickling the immediate gratification centers of our brains, our lowest common denominator human nature. The music factories are getting better on the margin at capturing our interest and extracting money from us in a more competitive post-CD landscape. They’ve already figured out that certain sounds and sights are going to extract the most bang for the buck, and are now recycling, doing away with even the pretense of creativity.

pid_23082 My point is that we may be approaching the post-artist era of music. Yes, there will be “artisan music,” but it will be one flavor against a tapestry of single factories which will use their economies of scale and technological resources to delivery “just-in-time” music unit at a time through streaming services. There will be backlashes against this, and periodic renaissance of “old school” reliance on singular artistic voices, but it will be analogous to the emergence “slow food,” niche products with appeal to post-materialist affluent consumers who signal their taste.

Pseudoerasmus has a very long post up, Where do pro-social institutions come from?. You should read the whole thing. You should also read Garett Jones’ Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own . It comes out early next month. A week before Garett’s book, Joe Henrich’s The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter, is coming out. You should read it too!

 
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  1. Radio pop is probably permanently in thrall to a shadowy cabal of nordic hitmakers but there’s still an enormous amount of antipathy toward ghostwriting in the rap community (even radio rap). See: The Drake/Meek Mill beef of the last few months.

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  2. I am no expert on pop music, but putting that image of Taylor Swift is not fair. She is apparently a real talented artist who writes her own music and can play instruments. Katy Perry on the other hand is just an autotunes talent.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    the transition from country to pop has seen taylor teem up on the music factories.

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/10/16/taylor-swift-s-secret-music-man-max-martin-elusive-hitmaker.html

    she is becoming what katy always was.
    , @Razib Khan
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Martin#Taylor_Swift
  3. @neutral
    I am no expert on pop music, but putting that image of Taylor Swift is not fair. She is apparently a real talented artist who writes her own music and can play instruments. Katy Perry on the other hand is just an autotunes talent.

    the transition from country to pop has seen taylor teem up on the music factories.

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/10/16/taylor-swift-s-secret-music-man-max-martin-elusive-hitmaker.html

    she is becoming what katy always was.

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  4. @neutral
    I am no expert on pop music, but putting that image of Taylor Swift is not fair. She is apparently a real talented artist who writes her own music and can play instruments. Katy Perry on the other hand is just an autotunes talent.
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  5. I wonder what gnxp readers would make of this article: http://jayarava.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-failure-to-communicate-evolution.html

    Attwood begins by stipulating evolution, then proceeds to criticise specific theories of the mechanism of evolution. He suggests that the shortcomings of evolutionary theory as presented in high school textbooks, etc. is part of the reason for the freakishly large number of people who don’t believe in evolution at all.

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  6. But, it brings to the fore a more general issue: is the rise of the industrial production of “pop music” an irreversible trend of economic perfection of the transmission of particular services to the populace, or is this a fad which will abate?

    I know very little to nothing about pop music, but when I read the above sentence, the K-pop industry came to my mind: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/10/08/factory-girls-2

    Apparently, in South Korea, they have almost a production line-like process for making pop music stars.

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  7. I don’t know the answer to your questions, Razib, though I am gratified to see you interested in this sort of thing. But, let me just twit you mildly: profound questions such as these are no longer the subject of idle speculation, but can, in principle, be addressed scientifically: http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/royopensci/2/5/150081.full.pdf
    You need to start crunching some data!

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  8. Yeah, Lazaridis et al., nice one.

    Btw, there’s a new version of that abstract with a PIE homeland angle…

    “We suggest that the language spoken by the homogeneous Anatolian-European Neolithic farmers is unlikely to have been the same as that spoken by the Yamnaya steppe pastoralists whose ancestry was derived from eastern Europe and a different population from the Caucasus/Near East [Haak et al. 2015], and discuss implications for alternative models of Indo-European dispersals.”

    http://www.shh.mpg.de/105110/lag_conference

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  9. Prior to the internet, rock music was the most direct way that ideas were communicated amongst young people. No other communication channel was really available that wasn’t heavily filtered by people over thirties. Thus, direct communication from relatively young artists to the even younger audience was highly valued. I guess this is what people mean by authenticity.

    These days, kids have so many channels 0n the internet to communicate with each other, peer-to-peer and otherwise, they don’t need rock music anymore. Instead, they go to mass entertainment to escape all the amateurism on the internet.

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  10. Should we read those books because you have read them and know they are good, or because they are–as Tyler Cowen would say–”self-recommending”?

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    haven't read them. but joe and garrett's books are at the top of my stack. i've been following joe for 10 years. he's a big deal. i know garrett somewhat personally, so i'm biased, but i think his scholarship will be something people will know in the future.
  11. This might interest readers of this blog. BBC Radio 4′s program “In Our Time” will be discussing Indo-European this week. The podcast should be avaiable on this page:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qykl/episodes/downloads

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  12. My point is that we may be approaching the post-artist era of music. Yes, there will be “artisan music,” but it will be one flavor against a tapestry of single factories which will use their economies of scale and technological resources to delivery “just-in-time” music unit at a time through streaming services.

    Isn’t this what the Korean and Japanese music industries have become?

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  13. Are they getting better or were they already good? My parents “music collection” used to be literally nothing but an enormous pile of 78 or 45rpm singles. There was no pretense for “artisan” music because there wasn’t room on a record to sell it anyway. Everybody was just lookin’ for that one hit!

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  14. A while ago, I read Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music (by Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor) – the thesis of the book is that there’s a cycle between “authenticity” and over-produced music – disco and the (mostly heavy-metal) reaction against it were a previous cycle before boy-bands and grunge.

    But I think future waves will still emphasize the “artist”, even if the actual contribution of the artist in the “inauthentic” swings of the cycle becomes less and less. People want stars. People want a connection to the person making the music. Even in classical music, symphonies make stars out of their conductors, or particular soloists. So as the public face of music, the “artist” will remain important, even if his actual contribution to the making of the art diminishes.

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  15. @Armand
    I don't know the answer to your questions, Razib, though I am gratified to see you interested in this sort of thing. But, let me just twit you mildly: profound questions such as these are no longer the subject of idle speculation, but can, in principle, be addressed scientifically: http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/royopensci/2/5/150081.full.pdf
    You need to start crunching some data!

    touche. ;-)

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  16. @Roger Sweeny
    Should we read those books because you have read them and know they are good, or because they are--as Tyler Cowen would say--"self-recommending"?

    haven’t read them. but joe and garrett’s books are at the top of my stack. i’ve been following joe for 10 years. he’s a big deal. i know garrett somewhat personally, so i’m biased, but i think his scholarship will be something people will know in the future.

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  17. I would argue that the long term secular trend in music styles is towards balkanization.

    When I was a kid there were basically two music communities – one that fed into the Top 40, and the other that fed into county-western. There are now far more effective music communities that are more or less independent of each other, while the modal nodes of Top 40 and Country-Western have far less market share.

    Ditto TV. The market share of the four dominant broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS) has withered and spawned a huge diversity in content.

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  18. The discussion on music (and more specifically 80s vs 90s) almost seems calculated to elicit a response from agnostic.

    Interesting links both to pseudoerasmus and Mauch, MacCallum, Levy & Leroi.

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  19. With modern pop music is interesting because the production techniques often come from the stripped back, but very dance / impact oriented electronic dance music genres – a lot of it is rip offs of House and Rap techniques.

    To some extent I wonder if modern pop is what the music record companies ever wanted to make, or they are undermined by their own fear of competition from independent dance music, with the attenuation of their own production and distribution advantages (via computers). It’s not so much that corporations are getting better, but that they are getting relatively worse over time, and its harder for them to dictate than respond to consumer demand.

    Still, modern mass pop music is a thin stream in the YouTube (and back catalogue of iTunes), and what is sold and concerted is probably specifically what cannot be got cheaply (free) via the YouTube memory banks across history and the huge edifice of amateur / semi professional (yet often highly technically skilled) musicians, DJs and producers out there.

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  20. A new paper at Nature Communications offers a new statistical method for distinguishing between causation and coincidences in complex geographic systems over periods of time that has the potential to greatly clarify the historical implications of DNA data.

    http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2015/151007/ncomms9502/full/ncomms9502.html

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  21. Is genetics at the point where in the foreseeable future (say two or three decades) it will be possible to develop biological weapons that are gene specific (say ones that target white Europeans but not Chinese)?

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  22. The CRISPR / untested gene therapy treatments abroad thread is closed, so just in case if the following story didn’t reach you yet:

    Both treatments (telomerase and follistatin) appear to use adenoviral vectors rather than CRISPR. The target market seems to be cosmetic surgery / anti-aging-like, with a potential to tap into Alzheimer’s as well. Obviously there is a higher propensity to seek quack treatments in all of these fields, and the only named physician in the current story dabbled in another such quack-magnet field (stem cell therapies for back pain) where patients’ deaths seem to have already been reported.

    http://www.technologyreview.com/news/542371/a-tale-of-do-it-yourself-gene-therapy/?utm_campaign=socialsync&utm_medium=social-post&utm_source=facebook

    http://www.nature.com/mt/journal/v23/n1/full/mt2014200a.html

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