Friday 13th November 2009


i beg you to follow me again down the rabbit-hole of my thoughtcrime. in this episode, i argue that at some point far in our future, original creative endeavor will have been exhausted simply because it's all been done.

to illustrate what i mean, take a piano. any piano. then pick a key on that piano and hit it with some amount of force, and hold the note for an arbitrary amount of time. there, you've composed a bit of music. a very simplistic bit of music, but it'll serve.

now repeat the experiment above, but this time adding another tone—either in parallel or in series—again arbitrarily. the complexity of our musical composition has increased by some factor due to the larger number of options (number of piano keys, plus the volume and duration of the incremental tone) we have added with the additional strike.

continue in this manner, evaluating with each additional strike of the keys whether the piece (a) continues to build toward, or (b) has achieved a "sufficiently artistic" (definition t.b.d.) end. if neither, alter something about what you've done or add a new note. if (a), repeat. if (b), halt. see? it's an algorithm.

you must agree with me that there is some theoretical maximum human endurance for absorption—four hours? ish?—of a single musical work, no matter its beauty, and given the limits of the number of keys available on a standard piano (most have just the eighty-eight), of human fingers both in quantity (most have just the ten) and in key-striking speed measured in notes per second (fifty at a sprint? shot in the dark). also, we must assume that to human ears there is neither an uncountably infinite spectrum of volumes (you can't tell the difference between 76.393 dB and 76.394 dB no matter who you are, you pretentious audiophile) nor an uncountably infinite spectrum of tone durations (ibid., 38.08 ms and 38.09 ms).

if you grant me my assumptions, it follows that the theoretical number of works of music that can be composed is countable, which is to say, given a sufficiently long amount of time and a sufficiently large amount of humans willing to slog through them, we'll write them all. sooner or later, any interesting tune you can hum will have already been composed, and you'll be in violation of someone's copyright.

posted by mAtt @ 21.02 (gmt+0000)
to /geek/unhappiness


[+] Comment by CëRïSë

My uncle, a musician, used to like to point out that there are only 12 notes. Amusing.

This makes me think about how when I was a kid, I would wonder if, given the unfathomable size of the human population, there were someone out there who looked exactly like me. My mom said there was. I don't know if that's true or not, but I do still wonder about it and how many potential twins, if any, I might have out there.

[+] Comment by goblinbox

Awesome! You've invented the infinite monkey theorem! Only with a piano instead of a typewriter! *chuckle*

As both a geek and a musician, I can attest that you are quite correct: there is indeed a finite number of possible number of songs. Ever. (Well, in the mode we use in the West. There are seven modes, some have quarter tones so that = moar useable notez.)

Um, and I was gonna say something terribly clever here but I just got distracted by a routing discussion with a co-worker about some customer's fux0red DMZ.


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