Tag Archives: Music

Silent Line-Videos Pick Music Winners

[In] classical music competitions, … nearly all participants — including highly trained musicians — were better able to identify the winners of competitions by watching silent video clips than by listening to audio recordings. … The effect held up even in high-level international competitions, which often feature not only top performers, but also highly trained musicians as judges. (more; HT Hugh Parsonage)

I give lots of quotes from the original study below the fold. Ordinary people and classical piano experts were rewarded for picking the winner from the top three candidates in ten prestigious international classical music competitions. People said and bet that they would guess better using sound only, but they in fact guessed better using video only, even when the video was reduced to line drawings like:


They guessed worse when they had both audio and video. When they rated videos on various keywords, the word that best predicted winners was “passion.”

This strongly suggests that people are reluctant to admit to themselves how much the passion and energy of motion of pianists influences their evaluation of such pianists. I recently puzzled over why people pay so much more attention to lead singers relative to backup singers when by most accounts the musical skill difference, if any, is very small. (Here’s a recent movie on this.) This new result suggests those usual musical skills are only a minor part of what people want from a singer — lead singers get most of the attention because they give most of what folks want – a vivid passionate attractive character to relate to.

I suspect we’d find similar results hold for novelists and academics – people think they rate them mostly on content, but even experts usually put more weight on style, i.e., on energy and control relative to plot, setting, characters, problem choice, analysis, etc.

Overall this fits into the homo hypocritus framework, as it seems less licit or admirable to like musicians, novelists, or academics mainly because we like to affiliate with people with lots of energy and control. We prefer instead to think that what we like is nice music or words, and that artists are just instruments to get us those things.

Those promised quotes: Continue reading "Silent Line-Videos Pick Music Winners" »

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Classical Music As Tax

Imagine that the government required people to wear a nice suit in public spaces like sidewalks, airports, and parks. Or required a precise haircut (e.g., within the last three days). Or imagine that signs had to be most easily read in latin. Or that Mormon sermons were loudly broadcast. Such policies would reduce the rate of crime and related complaints in public spaces, by imposing higher costs on the sorts of people who commit crimes (and on many others). Is that a good enough reason to implement such policies? Now consider that some public spaces play classical music to push away undesirables:

The Port Authority is one of many public spaces across the country that uses classical music to help control vagrancy: to drive the homeless away. … [In] the mid-1980s … a 7-Eleven began playing music in the parking lot as a deterrent to the crowds of teenagers congregating there. Plenty of stores continue to use the technique. … In 2001, police in West Palm Beach, Fla., blasted Mozart and Beethoven on a crime-ridden street corner and saw incidents dwindle dramatically. In 2010, the transit authority in Portland, Ore., began playing classical music at light-rail stops, and calls to police dropped. When the London Underground started piping classical music into its stations in 2005, physical and verbal abuse by young people declined by 33 percent. … Some sources report that Barry Manilow is as effective as Mozart in driving away unwanted groups of teens. (more)

The basic question: when is it ok for the government to impose costs on some subset of people in public, because that subset contains a higher fraction of those who commit crimes? Should there be any limits on the types of people a government can favor in public spaces?

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Seek Superstar Slavery

The latest Review of Economic Studies has a great article (ungated here) by Marko Tervio.  I'll summarize.

CEOs, actors, directors, musicians, authors, and athletes make big bucks because:

  1. Desired abilities are rare and lasting.
  2. It is very expensive to try someone new.
  3. Everyone can see which trials worked or not.
  4. Winners are free to demand more money or walk.

Given these conditions, a few proven winners make big bucks, and few new folks get tried.  After all, a new trial who wins will soon demand as much as other winners.  Here winners avoid retirement to keep milking their gravy train, and small biases in weak signals on new guys to try can magnify into great social injustice. 

Condition 4 is crucial.  When long term deals are allowed, more folks are tried, because a few successes can pay for lots of failures.  Folks being tried get paid more, and there are more better winners who retire earlier and are paid less even when free to walk.  Distorted signals about who to try matter less.  Such long term deal gains were realized, for example, in the US movie studio system of the 1920-40s, the old US American baseball club system, and even now via exclusive long-term music album deals.

Over the last century, however, legislatures and courts have consistently moved to limit and prohibit such long term contracts, thereby increasing inequality and decreasing productivity.  France even forbids artists from selling the full value of their paintings.  The key tipping factor here seems to me to be a public displeased by seeing gains by admired musicians, actors, athletes, artists etc. going to less admired others.  The word "slavery" is often invoked. For example, music fans can be outraged to see their favorite musicians shackled to ungenerous album deals. 

So our vast wage inequality of superstar CEOs, artists, athletes, etc. is caused not by a lack of sensible regulation to limit random cruelties of unfettered markets, but by a public preferring its heroes unshackled, even if those heros had preferred otherwise. Now maybe insuring heroes against financial variations imposes a negative externality on wider admiring publics, one large enough to justify preventing long term deals.  But for now count me as skeptical; I'd rather allow CEO and other superhero "slavery," for their good and ours. 

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I’ll Think of a Reason Later

I just got a lovely gift of a song called "I'll Think of a Reason Later" by Lee Ann Womack.  Maybe some of you already know it.  Here is the chorus:

It may be my family's redneck nature 
Rubbin' off, bringin' out unlady-like behavior 
It sure ain't Christian to judge a stranger 
But I don't like her 
She may be an angel who spends all winter 
Bringin' the homeless blankets and dinner 
A regular Nobel Peace Prize winner 
But I really hate her 
I'll think of a reason later


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