How music evolves

November 9, 2013Byens Lys Copenhagen
Music Evolution
Doors open: 19:00
Start programme: 20:00
Byens Lys
Fabriksområdet 99

Why do humans make music and most animals don't? Where does the human music making instinct comes from? Is the information contained in music similar to a population's DNA? Can we reconstruct the songs that we sang thousands of years ago from the songs we have today?

Like DNA, music is transmitted from person to person, from generation to generation and like all things that are transmitted, it is modified. Darwin called this 'modification by descent'. So music changes like DNA changes, like languages change. So why shouldn't we be able to reconstruct the distant past with songs like we do with DNA?

In the 60's, Alan Lomax and other researchers developed the method of Cantometrics: how to measure songs not just based on melodies but on performance qualities. Properties like vocal attack, if the song is sung with open mouth, closed mouth, in a step wise fashion, etc. Lomax gathered a data bank of 5000 songs of 800 different cultures and put it in a big machine of the size of a building trying to understand patterns in music.

Today, evolutionary biologist Armand Leroi has developed a better system and new methods to analyze large data banks of songs. The evolution process of music is more complicated than DNA because it mutates quite fast and hides the history tree that began far in the past. Can we distinguish two cultures by listening to one song? Armand Leroi is slowly making progress in reconstructing the music that we sang in the early days of human history.

Afterwards, -80°C instant dry ice cocktails and then a Solhorn performance, which consists of a demonstration by a manual operated sculptural installation. It is a concrete form of experiment where the focus shifts from sound to performer and to visual images. A performance to seeks to exhibit reduction and abstraction by means of the interaction between sound, light, shadow, bodily movement in space, technology and magic.

Photo: Waves installation by Daniel Palacios

Talk by

Armand Leroi

Armand Leroi is an author, broadcaster, and professor of evolutionary biology at Imperial College in London. His book Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body won the Guardian First Book Award in 2004. His recent research consists on applying evolutionary biology techniques to the history of songs.

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Music by


Composer, multi-instrumentalist and light designer, creating interactive sound sculptures manually operated. His main focus is on establishing a framework for an interdisciplinary synesthesia between sound and image.