Music in the Corporatocene (It's a Shame)

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In 1996-1997 the artist duo Komar & Melamid hired professional polling companies to conduct a worldwide survey of musical tastes. Based on the averaged results, they partnered with musician Dave Soldier to create "The Most Wanted Song" (described as "Celine-Dion-esque") and "The Most Unwanted Song" (bagpipes, children's choir) in the world. This project, part of their series People's Choice (which included a net art commission for the Dia), was at once an earnest attempt to better understand mainstream aesthetic tastes and an ironic statement about the absurdity of trying to quantify those tastes via statistical averages.

Cover art for The People's Choice Music by Komar & Melamid and Dave Soldier.

In April 2015, a group of British biologists published a study in The Royal Society journal that similarly compresses musical trends into data, in this case applying much more technology and much less humor. In the survey "The Evolution of Popular Music: USA 1960-2010," Matthias Mauch, Robert M. MacCallum et al. analyze the chord and tone patterns of 30-second clips from over 17,000 songs appearing on the Billboard Hot 100 chart within that 50 year period, applying, according to them, a similar approach to paleontologists examining the fossil record. Besides giving insight to pop history, they hope to point "the way to a quantitative science of cultural change." Why, the researchers ask, can't musicology be more like evolutionary biology?

The study makes several claims about musical trends, such as that there have been three major music "revolutions" since 1960: a big spike in 1991 and two smaller peaks in 1964 and 1983. There were also lulls: 1986 was the least diverse musical year they identified, which they attributed to the introduction of drum machines and synthesizers. And in terms of major movements over that whole time span, they discovered, lo and behold, that "rise of RAP and related genres appears […] to be the single most important event that has shaped the musical structure of the American charts."

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Larping Off the Grid

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Courtesy of Isaac Eddy

The year is 2020, and four months ago, a federal mandate required everyone to wear a biometric device that would not only track physiological and behavioral characteristics, but transmit this personal data to the public and the government in real time.

The company that invented this device—ePublik—never intended for their technology to be used for government surveillance. Acting in protest, its engineers have found a way to unlawfully hack the device and temporarily disable the live stream. Those courageous enough to disobey government surveillance for brief moments of unmonitored alone time are joining what the media has called the Aloneing Movement.

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MRAs and WTFs: A Context for "Nice Guys of OKCupid"

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''We're not psychologists. We're math guys,” remarked Sam Yagan, the chief executive of OKCupid. He wasn’t being self-deprecating.

OKC suggests romantic pairings based on information gathered from a sprawling, seemingly endless questionnaire. When filling out the questionnaire, users are also asked to rank the relative importance of each question and to say which answer or answers they would prefer in a partner. Users, in other words, describe to the OKCupid database their ideal “match” as a set of data points.

Because users are generally able to intuit the basic parameters of how the system works, they upvote the questions most likely to be useful in narrowing down a pool of millions of strangers—that is, the questions most likely to be incredibly divisive. A good OKCupid question is like a good question in a game of “Guess Who?”--one that eliminates the most candidates.

The questionnaire asks users to provide their own definitive standards for in-group and out-group belonging. Then, in their profiles, users are expected to distinguish themselves within their chosen group or groups through a combination of photographs and prompted text.

OKCupid profiles are sort of like really long pick-up lines pitched at an imaginary “perfect match.” In general, they show humanity in a humiliating light, and various OKCupid users have taken it upon themselves to liberate the profiles of others, condensing them into image macros and sharing them outside the context of the site. The ethics of this are out of focus, because the culture has not yet decided where sites like OKCupid fall in terms of public vs. private space, and what reasonable expectations people can have when they join these sites.

The found OKCupid profile has become one of the Internet’s most unsettling genres. Part Cindy Sherman film still, part Robert Browning monologue, the best found profiles match the uncanny visual embodiment of a cultural type with an elliptically unraveling text of unconscious self-revelation.

For example:

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