The Two Brothers: Reconciling perceptual-cognitive and statistical models of musical evolution

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While the "units, events and dynamics" of memetic evolution have been abstractly theorized (Lynch, 1998), they have not been applied systematically to real corpora in music. Some researchers, convinced of the validity of cultural evolution in more than the metaphorical sense adopted by much musicology, but perhaps skeptical of some or all of the claims of memetics, have attempted statistically based corpus-analysis techniques of music drawn from molecular biology, and these have offered strong evidence in favor of system-level change over time (Savage, 2017). This article argues that such statistical approaches, while illuminating, ignore the psychological realities of music-information grouping, the transmission of such groups with varying degrees of fidelity, their selection according to relative perceptual-cognitive salience, and the power of this Darwinian process to drive the systemic changes (such as the development over time of systems of tonal organization in music) that statistical methodologies measure. It asserts that a synthesis between such statistical approaches to the study of music-cultural change and the theory of memetics as applied to music (Jan, 2007), in particular the latter's perceptual-cognitive elements, would harness the strengths of each approach and deepen understanding of cultural evolution in music.

Original languageEnglish
Article number344
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberAPR
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2018


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