The question isn't whether all good music will have already been written when I sit down to write a new tune. Rather it is when I have maximally absorbed music from the past, am I still able to write what is to me an original good tune? I'm pretty sure the answer is yes. My main point is it is the capacity of the human mind to store music which is the proper limit, not the amount of music already written which could never concievably be processed by a single human musical author anyway.

Even cosidering the broader pile of original music, it seems likely that there are more good tunes out there of finite length than there are baryons in the universe (about 10 to the 60th if I recall correctly), which also must put some practical measure of infinity on the number of good tunes.

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An excellent point of course...but I have to point out that there are in fact twelve different notes within the octave in the standard Western pitch space. (As every student of twentieth-century music knows...)

Leonard Bernstein presented a similar calculation (involving twelve-tone rows, if I recall correctly) in a book called The Infinite Variety of Music.

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I wish I could assume this post was intended as parody.

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Adam Ozimek caught you here: we're not concerned about the sustainability of original music because its exhaustion does not reduce our material welfare. Nor does it mean that we run out of new music on a personal level, since we must first hear the entire catalog. Moreover, as long as derivative works are better, we're still marginally increasing utility by upgrading songs.

It's not the same for raw materials because it becomes progressively harder to repurpose them in terms of the quantity of individual consumption. Rivalrousness prevents us from all having as much of the available copper as we'd like (well, provided there isn't a limit on how much copper we might desire). Music, old or new, is rapidly repurposed to new users without diminishing the resources of old ones; I did it this morning to Dvorak and to Depeche Mode, you simply copy and listen.

In order for your analogy to work, you'd be arguing that the consumer level of the good is actually the processor of ores and maker of music. There might be an argument there, but I think most environmentalists have just enough Frauenfelderism in them at this point that they'd agree that the gradual exhaustion of human(ish) labor utility is a problem.

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I could be wrong, though... and maybe I'm just gett'n "uppity" -'cuz my jaw gets tense sometimes -when I hear people talk about the "finite availability of originality in music".

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I imagine the problem with the idea of "Sustainable Original Music" -is that each note can be held for an unlimited, and infinitey different amount of time.-And each note can be played with other notes -which can be held for infinitely different amounts of time.

Plus, different instruments resonate differently.-so, you can use a different instrument to make completely different sounds... which can be held for infinitely different amounts of time... while being played simultaneously with other instruments playing notes for infinitely different amounts of time.....

This creates a spectrum in which the availability of original "sounds" -is infinite.-What "sounds" we classify as "music" is a mental construct.-You could say it requires a consistent, fairly reoccuring "beat" -which I think is acceptable....even then, I don't see how that would reduce Originality of a potentially finite number of notes -which can be played for infinitely different amounts of time -with an infinite combination of other notes doing the same -with an infinite number of acoustical resonances --to the realm of "Finite"... and if something isn't "Finite" -and is "Infinite" -then I don't think "sustainability" of "originality" is an issue.

-In summary:I like yer argument -and I don't think music was an effective example.

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damn. I think you said that well.

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The entire "sustainability" meme is bogus. If something is not sustainable, it will not be sustained. QED.

As Ron Popeil would say: But wait! There's more!

If a resource is diminishing, the free market mechanism steps in and raises the price, resulting in greater production; problem solved.

The real problem is way too much government, resulting in too much unnecessary, costly regulation. Government used to govern for us. Now they want to govern us. There's a big difference, and it's not in our best interest.

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It's a question of amounts. Most geologists appear to think there is maybe enough oil, to take one example, left to last about 30 years at current usage rates. Even assuming they're off by a factor of ten, 300 years is not all that long in the grand scheme of things.

But to take music, let's just have a look at a lower bound for the number of melodies. Assume that we only allow melodies within normal Western tonality. Further assume we don't care at all about harmony, counterpoint, timbre, lyrics, or anything other than pure single-line melody. And to just reduce this to utter absurdity, let's limit all the melodies we're interested in to ones within a single octave, that are exactly eight bars long, in common time and contain nothing but quavers (eighth-notes).

That gives us 11^63 possible unique melodies (eleven notes within a one octave range, sixty four notes within eight bars, divide the lot by eleven to give only those melodies that aren't just a transposition of another one to a different key).

11^63 is 4.05265062 × 10^65 different possible melodies. Assume there are seven billion people on the planet, and they all come up with one new melody every minute. That would mean it would take 1.10074928 × 10^50 years to exhaust the space of possible melodies - even of that ridiculously limited type. And that's *without anyone actually ever having a chance to ever listen to any of them*!

The adaptations required to adapt to running out of oil, or having to recycle copper, or whatever, may well come within the lifetime of people alive today. The adaptation required to adapt to not having any new melodies will never have to come, as should humanity or some humanity-descended lifeform even exist at that distant point, it will be so different from us as to quite possibly not even understand the concept of music.

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If we run out of new music, we may be bored (unlikely).

If we run out of a certain type of raw material, we may miss opportunities presented by unknown future uses for the raw material which may exceed the value of our present uses.

In addition, "stuff" produced may not last forever. Our future selves might deplore past wasteful dispensation of precious raw materials to generate wealth for our younger selves or ancestors which we can no longer enjoy.

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There's no problem with the "sustainability" of original music, because the objective originality of music doesn't actually matter in practice.

The only originality that is of practical significance is originality in an individual's perception. "Have I heard music like this before?" As the amount of music grows, the chance of hearing objectively original music decreases, but people will still stumble upon a new band that sounds totally different from everything they've heard before and get the experience of originality.

Objective originality doesn't matter with regard to music, what matters is that listeners enjoy the music. A parallel problem to environmental sustainability with music would be a problem that would cause music to no longer be enjoyable. Because practical originality is subjective--and objective originality has little role in our enjoyment of music--human beings will continue to enjoy music indefinitely (barring some kind of radical brain transformation). So there's not a problem with music's originality that's analogous to the environmental problem described by sustainability.

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That's nice. Unfortunately, you don't get to ignore the "running out of humanity-vital stuff" issue just because you said nothing about it, given as that is the entire reason people care more about industrial/ag production sustainability than "music sustainability".

The answer is obvious, and I don't see why it's even puzzling in the first place. But please, feel free to convince me I'm missing something important here, and I'll give you a gold-plated apology. As it stands, though, you're just drawing a really bizarre analogy.

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The impact of exhausting all possibilities of original music on the non-composer will be very small until we extend our life-range quite a bit.

Each listener can listen to all original songs known at least once. I expect the space of original music to be large enough to cover more than a human life-time even if the songs would play without any pauses.

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What is your take on negentropy in general and useful energy in particular? Recycling requires useful energy, right?

Do you mention Energy Return on Energy Invested in your environmental economics class? It is a primary concern of the scientist and engineer types who populate the oil drum.

These guys are into calculation of sustainability with many charts and simple, but boring mathematical calculations. These calculations are definitely in the near mode, and not in the far mode. You might be correct that the average person's concern for sustainability is far, but there are a substantial fraction of people who've done the math and have concluded a malthusian future - a malthusian future in the next few decades, not the far malthusian future of your projections.

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There’s a huge untapped well of innovative music found in sounds that aren’t based on the harmonic series. For a long time the only notable example was traditional Indonesian music, but researcher William Sethares formalized...principles allowing for composition of enjoyable music based on arbitrary sounds.

With all due respect to William Sethares -- whose work no doubt contains interesting insights -- this is hugely misleading and absurdly overstates the contribution of a particular individual publishing in the early 1990s. Composers in the Western tradition have been experimenting with "music based on arbitrary sounds" ever since the advent of electronic media in the early 20th century; Indonesian gamelan music -- itself by the way an inspiration to many Western composers -- is far from being "the only notable example" of music with whatever specific property you're thinking of. See electronic music, musique concrète, and more generally the history of 20th-century and contemporary art music. Theorists, meanwhile have been busy at work for decades publishing on this stuff; frankly, if William Sethares' contribution were as unique as you imply, I'd have heard about it long before now.

But that isn't the most important point by a long shot. The most important mistake implicit in comments like the above is the assumption that musical innovation requires innovation in the acoustical inventory of musical sounds -- and, even more fundamentally, the notion of a tight one-to-one correspondence between acoustical properties and musical properties, as if there weren't a gigantic layer of complex human psychology intervening in the middle. It's understandable if, a few thousand years ago, Pythagoras thought that the secret to musical understanding was classifying intervals into "consonant" and "dissonant", but, good heavens, music theory -- for all that discipline's faults! -- has long since moved on.

Seriously, imagine suggesting that the (only) way to write original novels is to expand the phonetic inventory of the English language!

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You beat me to it.. "Melancholy Elephants" directly addresses the problem, and that of continually extending copyrights. I thought of it halfway through Robin's post. It also mentions another problem with creativity and copyright that is often overlooked - that of derivative works. In Spider's story one character points out that "West Side Story" could only be produced because "Romeo and Juliet" was not copyrighted.

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