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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Duetting musicians are linked by math

"Musicians playing a duet don’t just make beautiful music—they make beautiful math. A new study finds that as two players mesh, tiny hiccups in their rhythms follow repeating patterns. The study has implications for “humanizing” computer-generated music and helps reveal the complex mathematics underlying the common ways in which we interact." continues Science AAAS.

Playing in sync. Study shows the surprising amount of math underlying a musical duet
Photo: Science AAAS

Study author Holger Hennig, a physicist at Harvard University, became interested in the mathematics of human rhythms while listening to the electronic drums in the song Sexy Love” by Ne-Yo. He guessed that no human could produce a beat as precise as a computer could, and in a 2012 study he showed that even professional musicians keep imperfect time—an early beat here, a late beat there, all on the order of milliseconds. What’s more, Hennig found that these tiny deviations from a steady beat aren’t random; they follow repeated, statistical patterns.

“It actually shows part of the beauty and richness that is in humans, which is based on their imperfections,” Hennig says. Although listeners may not be aware of the deviations, they still tend to hear the difference between human-produced and computer-generated music.

In the new study, Hennig took advantage of these human imperfections to explore not just rhythm, but rhythmic interaction. He brought pairs of players—some professional, some with no musical training—into a recording studio and watched as they played simple rhythms together on the same keyboard. He tracked the players’ rhythmic deviations as they synchronized over 6 to 8 minutes. In one way, the players interacted as Hennig expected, with a continual give-and-take. For example, when one player sped up even a tiny bit, the other would also speed up, and together they’d reestablish rhythmic equilibrium.
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Related link
Webpage of Dr. Holger Hennig

Source: Science AAAS

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