Perfecting the Not Quite Perfect

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Science  02 Dec 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6060, pp. 1183
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6060.1183-c

Even the best musicians make slight errors when playing a rhythm. We find this frailty to be appealing, as evidenced by the fact that computer-generated perfect rhythms are often perceived as sterile or artificial. Having known this phenomenon for a long time, software engineers have added slight rhythmic fluctuations to make computer-generated music sound more human. These fluctuations are usually produced by a random number generator. Hennig et al. have now analyzed the statistical properties of music produced by professional musicians. They found that there are long-range fluctuations when humans produce all sorts of rhythms. A small rhythmic fluctuation at some point in time not only influenced fluctuations shortly thereafter, but even after tens of seconds. When given the choice, listeners clearly preferred music produced according to these criteria over the random number-generated fluctuations. The authors conclude that these results may not only have practical implications such as improved techniques for audio editing and humanizing music, but they may also provide new insights into the neurophysiology of time perception and timing of actions.

PLoS One 6, e26457 (2011).

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