from the world's big
We each have a way of moving to music that is so unique a computer can use it to identify us.
- The way we dance to music is so signature to an individual that a computer can now identify us by our unique dancing "fingerprint" with over 90 percent accuracy.
- The AI had a harder time identifying dancers who were trying to dance to metal and jazz music.
- Researchers say they are interested in what the results of this study reveal about human response to music, rather than potential surveillance uses.
An accidental discovery<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwMzM4Mi9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzODE1MTA3M30.nigQsXssEGwWWBbRHA43qF0Yg0hlZHA4UeFQsXLne68/img.gif?width=980" id="a1835" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e181a18936b549000538b2d3fda72c56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Genre matters a little<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwMzMxMS9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MzY1NzUyOX0.fTXoKAjw8bFS0eOib7y9oQHzKqeDsjqTSfPs97VEzLM/img.gif?width=980" id="e7acc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="eb15b36b3e424bc6a2fcc06ebafd0307" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>The researchers noticed that some genres might have more influence on the way an individual dances than others. For instance, the AI had a harder time identifying dancers who were trying to dance to Metal and Jazz music. They aren't exactly an intuitive genre to groove to, so we all tend to go about it using the same types of movements.</p><p>"There is a strong cultural association between Metal and certain types of movement, like headbanging," Emily Carlson, the first author of the study, <a href="https://www.jyu.fi/fi/ajankohtaista/arkisto/2020/01/tanssityylisi-on-kuin-sormenjalki-ja-tietokone-tunnistaa-sinut-sen-perusteella" target="_blank">explained</a>. "It's probable that Metal caused more dancers to move in similar ways, making it harder to tell them apart.</p>
Will dance-recognition software become a thing?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e4c467869863cc2a2047c8ebe5c70d13"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/FFnC6yJa1mk?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>It's possible that dance-recognition software could become something similar to face-recognition software, but it doesn't seem as practical. For now, researchers say that they are not as interested in possible surveillance uses of this technology, but rather what the results of this study say about how humans respond to music.</p><p>"We have a lot of new questions to ask, like whether our movement signatures stay the same across our lifespan, whether we can detect differences between cultures based on these movement signatures, and how well humans are able to recognize individuals from their dance movements compared to computers," concluded Carlson. </p><p>So don't worry about being identified at nightclub by an AI via your signature dance moves... yet. </p>
The Zen of choreographer Merce Cunningham comes alive in a new documentary about his life.
- In Cunningham, director Alla Kovgan brings the avant-garde dancer to life.
- Merce Cunningham's seven-decade career left behind some of the most important modern dances in the twentieth century.
- In this interview with Big Think, Kovgan discusses how she approached the film while sharing Cunningham's ideas about success.
Cunningham - Official Trailer<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e5c5644adcf8dcc1472b59dfa214db21"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B4t_l5mu9lE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Derek</strong>: What made you want to feature Merce Cunningham's work?</p><p><strong>Alla</strong>: I never wanted to make a movie about Merce Cunningham. He's the kind of choreographer where you have 16 people going in different directions and you cannot make a single shot. I first learned about his work through cinema because I watched a 1965 piece he made. It was very interesting because it had multiple screens, dances, and a lot of electronic music and a lot of feedback loops. And I was like, "Oh my God, who is this person?" </p><p>I thought making a film about him would be impossible, but then 3D came out in a new way. I felt like there was a potential between 3D and dance. It all coincided with the closure of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. It was in 2011 and the company shut down on December 31. I remember going to the last performance and it struck me that 3D and Merce can make a good fit. 3D works really well with space and Merce was very much concerned with working in space. </p><p><strong>Derek</strong>: There is a lot of archival footage, with him being interested in technology throughout his career. You do a lot of work with split screens and the layering of film. Was that an artistic decision?</p><p><strong>Alla</strong>: I was particularly struck by the period between 1942 and 1972—that was the celluloid era. People shot eight-millimeter, 16-millimeter, and 35-millimeter footage. I was impressed how much there was—not only footage but also photographs. Seventy photographers photographed Merce between '42 and '72. This is because he just said yes to things. He was obsessed with being captured and preserved. </p><p>When we got to make the movie, one of the biggest challenges was bringing the material that we shot today in 3D together with the archival material. We were thinking that the archival material should not be just single shots, it should be a collage of elements in space. Although the materials would stay in 2D, they're all placed in different planes. Each kind of archival moment is more like a three-dimensional block that's filled in with elements. Imagine how much more work it was to actually arrange and choreograph and choose those elements within the space.</p>
Photo by Martin Misere / Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures<p><strong>Derek</strong>: Besides ballet, what other styles influenced Merce?</p><p><strong>Alla</strong>: I'm not a Merce expert, but he took ballet and modern dance and tried to make a new dancer. Of course, he did a lot of yoga, and he has seen a lot of different dances, from Native American to Indian. He danced with Martha Graham for some time and she was a big influence. He developed a technique to not only be influenced by different styles and distill things for himself, but he also had to create a system that would train the bodies of the dancers. That's a tall order.</p><p><strong>Derek</strong>: How much freedom did the dancers have within his instruction to express themselves?</p><p><strong>Alla</strong>: All the freedom they could have. He wanted them to do the movement, and then, at least in my impression, is that he was quite open. He was quite interested in our flaws as dancers. Of course, things would change, depending on who was doing it. He was looking for individuals. They were not just realizing his vision, they were manifesting their personality through his work. It was a very stable company. People stuck around, sometimes for decades, which is a long time within the contemporary dance world. It wasn't easy; you had to accept not knowing and have a sense of uncertainty. But if you think about it, are we really certain about anything? </p><p><strong>Derek</strong>: I try not to be certain about anything.</p><p><strong>Alla</strong>: Good.</p><p><strong>Derek</strong>: What struck you most about Merce's work during the period you cover in the film? </p><p><span></span><strong>Alla</strong>: There was a kind of spirit that we're missing, or maybe it's only possible when you're young, and maybe it's only possible in some period and place. New York was definitely that place where everything was possible. You could actually have a loft with $20 a month and you could just to get together and do things because you just wanted to do them and be kind of poor. It was very romantic in a way. At the same time, I was incredibly struck by Merce's humanity and perseverance. He didn't have anything. He didn't have audience support, money, press, nothing. He persevered for two to three decades in that condition. His success comes when he's 45 years old.</p>
John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Robert Rauschenberg.
Photo by Douglas Jeffrey / Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures<p><strong>Derek</strong>: How did his dancers and friends feel about him as a human and as an artist?</p><p><strong></strong><strong>Alla</strong>: He influenced them incredibly. There were two different generations. The dancers who knew him in the early years experienced his pain. The dancers who knew him later knew him as this generous old man who was kind and loving. It was interesting in comparison to the dancers who were there back in the fifties, but both generations revere him and were inspired by him.</p><p><strong>Derek</strong>: Speaking of pain, there were moments in your film that reminded of the dancer, Sergei Polunin, trying to evolve a dance form but getting stuck by convention in the process. How did Merce feel when audiences didn't take to him? There was a moment in the film where they talked about having tomatoes thrown at them at the end of a performance. </p><p><strong>Alla</strong>: The reason he survived is because he had friends, and the number of those friends grew over years. Merce created dances and then waited for people to be able to see them. It took a while for people to understand what he was doing, and to understand you have to have a background. The reason Europeans got into this is because they have backgrounds; they take their kids to see modern dance since the age of five.</p><p>Because Merce had this community and friends, he always felt supported. That's one thing. But criticism was also part of the deal. He accepted what that was. He was not oriented for this kind of success, because everything now is measured by success. He was willing to take a risk. He was willing to gamble. He was willing to not be successful because when you work like that, when you have a choreographer making choreography, musicians making music, and visual artists making things, and they meet at the premiere, what is the calculated success? </p><p>They would always say sometimes things worked and sometimes they didn't, and they were willing to accept those times when things didn't work. You also have allow situations where things don't work. It affects you dramatically.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a>. His next book is </em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy.</p>
A new study finds that societies use the same acoustic features for the same types of songs, suggesting universal cognitive mechanisms underpinning world music.
- Every culture in the world creates music, though stylistic diversity hides their core similarities.
- A new study in Science finds that cultures use identifiable acoustic features in the same types of songs and that tonality exists worldwide.
- Music is one of hundreds of human universals ethnographers have discovered.
The universal qualities of world music<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjExMzgwNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNzA0ODkwMn0.kn6h3Y4O8NH_xymsbrdRuQXNkWC-LAVTFLIYCIG-MtM/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C187%2C0%2C12&height=700" id="da9e0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1d52f66e4fc3ab559196e2fa621b5bfe" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The researchers focused on vocal songs because it is the most ubiquitous instrument available to world music.
Far from tone deaf<p>Of course, we all know that music varies, and the study did find three dimensions that explained the variability across the four song types: formality, arousal, and religiosity. For example, dance songs were found to be high in formality, high in arousal, but low in religiosity. Meanwhile, healing songs were high in all three dimensions, and lullabies were the lowest.</p><p>"Crucially, variability of song context within cultures is much greater than that between cultures, indicating that despite the diversity of music, humans use similar music in similar ways around the world," write Fitch and Popescu.</p><p>In addition, all of the studied songs showed tonality—that is, they built melodies by composing from a fixed set of tones. </p><p>To test this, the researchers asked 30 musical experts to listen to sample of songs and state whether they heard at least one tonal center. Of the 118 songs listened to, 113 were rated as tonal by 90 percent of the experts. These results suggest the widespread, perhaps universal, nature of tonality.</p><p>With all that said, the writers still recognize avenues of future research. They point out that the current database doesn't explain the variance in societal contexts and acoustic variables. The vocal-only nature of the data also leaves an immense library of instrumental and rhythmic music unexplored. And as with any research into human universals, the database cannot hope to be comprehensive enough to support evidence from every human culture. Additional cultures and musical styles remain to be investigated.</p><p>However, Fitch and Popescu note, Mehr and his colleagues have provided a deeper understanding of a potential universal cognitive mechanism for music and a blueprint for future empirical tests. </p><p>"Today, with smartphones and the internet, we can easily imagine a comprehensive future database, including recordings of all cultures and styles, richly annotated with video and text, being assembled in a citizen science initiative," they write.</p>
The universals that bind us<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="KBOneGNW" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="70be6188c96629290e363e875942d4c9"> <div id="botr_KBOneGNW_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/KBOneGNW-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/KBOneGNW-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/KBOneGNW-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Music is hardly the only human universal. Scientists have identified hundreds of cultural, societal, behavioral, and mental universals that have been identified among all known peoples, contemporary and historic. These include language, tool usage, death rituals, and, of course, music.</p><p><a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170620093153.htm" target="_blank">Study of fossils</a> has discovered that <em>Homo heidelbergensis</em>, a common ancestor of <em>Homo sapiens</em> and Neanderthals, had the ability to control pitch (or "sing") at least a million years ago. But having the ability in tandem with the cognitive capabilities to control it is another matter. Humans are the only <em>Homo genus </em>we know has met all the musical requirements, and we can't be certain when these coalesced in our evolutionary history.</p><p>Additionally, archaeologists have found bone pipes made from swan and vulture bones dating back between 39,000 and 43,000 years ago. However, these were likely the result of a long creative process, likely preceded by instruments crafted by grasses, reeds, and wood, materials that are not as well preserved in the fossil record.</p><p>This makes it difficult to pinpoint when music entered our evolutionary history and therefore to pinpoint its evolutionary advantage. <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsoc.2017.00008/full" target="_blank">According to Jeremy Montagu</a>, former musicologist at Oxford, one proposal is social bonding:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">[M]usic is not only cohesive on society but almost adhesive. Music leads to bonding, bonding between mother and child, bonding between groups who are working together or who are together for any other purpose. Work songs are a cohesive element in most pre-industrial societies, for they mean that everyone of the group moves together and thus increases the force of their work. […] Dancing or singing together before a hunt or warfare binds the participants into a cohesive group, and we all know how walking or marching in step helps to keep one going.</p><p><a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/20027944?seq=1" target="_blank">According to anthropologist Donald Brown</a>, despite human universals' widespread nature, they result from relatively few processes or conditions. These include diffusion of ancient cultural traits or cultures meeting the demands of our physical reality. They can also stem from the operation and structure of the human mind, and therefore can result from said mind's evolution.</p><p>Which is it for music? We don't yet know.</p><p>The Science study authors suggest a picture emerging that music is an evolutionary adaptation—though, whether music is its own specific adaptation or a byproduct of other adaptations remains even more unclear. However, Montagu suggests a more cultural origin when he writes: "Each culture develops the tuning system that best suits its ideas of musicality. It is up to the cognitive scientists to determine why this should be so, but they have to admit, if they are willing to listen to the exotic musics of the world, that these differences exist."</p><p>Further complicating the matter is the fact that while every human can appreciate music, not everyone can create it or even desires to (unlike language or other innate universals).</p>
"In so far as bodily movements build the brain, every movement a human makes matters."
Dancing is a human universal, but why?
Throughout history, hundreds — sometimes thousands — of people have been spontaneously compelled to dance until collapsing or dying from exhaustion. What explanations are there for this bizarre phenomenon?
- In 1518, Strasbourg, 400 men and women danced until collapsing from exhaustion.
- These "dancing plagues" occurred throughout the Middle Ages.
- Similar spontaneous, mass compulsions have occurred throughout history, some very recently. What are they, and why do they happen?
Medieval boogies<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTEzMjM4Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MzA1NDcxNH0.gztGwyx0UYTqJJWuaKVLh216oxfhUSH05ag6QBrs0ds/img.jpg?width=980" id="8f459" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d13c6e7f0a21cd8912c63a256cfba27a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Dancing mania" />
A painting by Pieter Brughel the Younger depicting an instance of dancing mania.
Wikimedia Commons<p>That the "dancing plague" of 1518 occurred is certain. Numerous historical documents from various sources confirm that, indeed, hundreds of Strasbourgeoise began to uncontrollably dance—doctor's notes, church sermons, notes from the city council, and other texts all confirm similar details.</p><p>What isn't clear is what caused this to happen. Ergot poisoning is one culprit: The fungi grows on rye and, when baked into bread and consumed, acts very similarly to LSD, albeit deadlier. Although ergot poisoning does produce psychoactive effects, it's far more likely to kill its victims than to give them the stamina to dance for a month straight. </p><p>Rather than attribute the dancing plague to one easily understood culprit, other scholars assert that it belongs to a class of poorly understood psychological phenomena called mass psychogenic illnesses — more commonly known as mass hysteria.</p><p>Mass psychogenic illnesses are thought to come about as a group response to stress, and Strasbourg had certainly had plenty of things to be stressed about in 1518. John Waller explained in an article for <em><a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2809%2960386-X/fulltext" target="_blank">The Lancet</a></em>:</p><blockquote>The people of Strasbourg and its environs were […] experiencing acute distress in 1518, after a succession of appalling harvests, the highest grain prices for over a generation, the advent of syphilis, and the recurrence of such old killers as leprosy and the plague. Even by the gruelling standards of the Middle Ages, these were bitterly harsh years for the people of Alsace.</blockquote>