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Are we running out of new music/movies/art from a metaphysical perspective?

1 Post author: stephen_s 05 February 2017 05:49PM
It is difficult to judge at first, but it appears that some music genres (classical and jazz especially) have seen a radically slowed or non-existent output of significant works in recent decades. By significant, I mean works that would be seen in league with the most acclaimed artists in the genre (eg Beethoven, John Coltrane). In a similar way, there is a building popular consensus that Hollywood is not pursuing original ideas as much anymore and is relying on rebooting old stories and franchises. But is this because of a fault of the Hollywood system, or is it because there are few significant movie story ideas left that have not been done?

It seems to me that there are limited possibilities in art (or any field) of what we can discover or create. It appears that the matter and rules of the universe (in concert with human nature) manifests itself into these limited possibilities. When we develop a field or genre, we learn and create at an increasing rate but then eventually "complete" the field (in a boom and bust pattern).

I wrote a brief article called The Big Niche to try and explain this concept.

The relevant questions seem to be:
  1. Do you agree that from experience and observation, we can tell that certain genres or fields appear to become completed?
  2. Does this concept or another concept best explain what is happening?

I'm interested if any of you agree with this line of thinking or have other possible explanations of this phenomena.

Comments (93)

Comment author: komponisto 07 February 2017 09:44:41AM 4 points [-]

It is difficult to judge at first, but it appears that some music genres (classical and jazz especially) have seen a radically slowed or non-existent output of significant works in recent decades

With all due respect, how would you know? Most people are so thoroughly ignorant of music that they can't possibly be expected to take notice of significant new works. (This is a general problem in many domains.)

As far as I can tell, the phenomenon you're noticing is simply that mass culture is not a process that optimizes for artistic value. But why should anyone have expected it to be?

The only reason that e.g. Beethoven has the mass-cultural prestige that he does is because he was grandfathered in at the beginning of mass culture, when it was seeded by elite culture. But mass culture eventually developed its own products, which have gradually displaced and eroded the prestige of the original "starters' kit" that included Beethoven.

Luckily, technology has made it possible to avoid relying on mass culture for access to culture. Beethoven may not be on TV but he is on YouTube, in abundance. (The name "YouTube" takes on some appropriate significance in this context.)

But people won't be able to properly enjoy this state of affairs unless they recognize that mass culture isn't a process for producing what they actually want (i.e. stop caring that Beethoven isn't on TV, when he is on YouTube).

All this is by way of explaining that, while you say "there's no one like Beethoven around", the idea that even Beethoven is "around" (present in mass culture) is mostly an illusion; and that a fortiori, you would not expect mass culture to have "noticed" his successors.

Comment author: stephen_s 07 February 2017 04:22:16PM 2 points [-]

Sure, the position I'm coming from is that there is a varied and subjective experience of music, but there is clearly a shared consensus of what is good. That we all share common characteristics of auditory and musical experience because we are all human--not that we all experience music the same way or have the same appreciation of individual songs, but that our experience of music has similarities due to our shared human nature.

So if I hit random piano keys with my hands a few times and call it a song, the consensus of music listeners would be that Beethoven's Fur Elise is a better song. I'm saying that it seems evident to me that there is something objectively different about those two "songs" that in tandem with human nature makes Fur Elise appeal as the better song to the general consensus of human music listeners. (of course outliers could enjoy my random chords more).

So where we might be conflicting, is that I see something objective behind what makes a "good" song by the consensus of human nature. I agree that there are many cultural factors at play as to what is popular according to mass culture. But if song quality is related to something objective, and the general consensus is that the best classical artists are from over 50-100 years ago, why would the rate of "great" classical songs have declined while there is as much or more opportunity to compose classical music as ever? Through the internet, we also have the quickest dissemination of music ever (so it seems unlikely that classical music fans would be unaware of current composers who are performing as great of works as Beethoven or Mozart).

More simply, I'm viewing songs as concepts. So like "you can't reinvent the wheel", you can't reinvent Fur Elise. So it's not that there are not skilled composers currently, but that there is very few remaining concepts (songs) for them to invent. Just like you could reinvent the lightbulb, but you wouldn't get acclaim for that because Thomas Edison already did that.

I agree with you that this is a difficult idea to prove, because what I am claiming are self-evident propositions--upon examination--are very complex. But I done't see a way to break the observation down further into simpler if/then arguments.

Comment author: Han 07 February 2017 04:48:34PM *  3 points [-]

I think two of your premises aren't necessarily true:

So if I hit random piano keys with my hands a few times and call it a song, the consensus of music listeners would be that Beethoven's Fur Elise is a better song.

Probably, but I think your example is a little bit too extreme to demonstrate your point. There are a lot of genres, like taarab, that won't sound like good music to you because of your cultural background. Acid house probably wouldn't sound good to people who were raised in the 1800s, either. There are commonalities between how people appreciate music, but people come up with new ways to introduce musicality to a piece really often, which means that it's hard to enumerate all the songs there could be.

If atonal or microtonal music suddenly got trendy, you'd come up with all kinds of new tone patterns we didn't have before. If people started thinking about timbre differently, we could come up with instruments we don't know how to listen to now. Both of these things happened after the first synthesizers came out. I don't think you can predict in advance what will make people think "this sounds good."

the general consensus is that the best classical artists are from over 50-100 years ago

The great classical artists of the time of Debussy and Ravel were musicians like Chopin and Beethoven. The great classical artists of the time of Stravinsky and Schoenberg were musicians like Debussy and Ravel. Reich and Glass had Stravinsky and Schoenberg. (and maybe Gershwin), and now we're venerating Reich and Glass. Arvo Part is probably going to get canonized real soon now.

I think that when you're talking about "classical music" you're talking about music that most people are only exposed to in curated form. It seems like when that happens, curators stick to examples that are really broadly accessible, which isn't a good way to get a picture of the whole genre. The last trends of really broadly accessible music were 1800s romanticism and 1960s minimalism, and 1960s minimalism doesn't seem old enough for curators to put it on the classical music shelf.

It's not like painting ended with Da Vinci, but today's public doesn't particularly like Liechtenstein, Warhol, Rothko, Picasso, and so on.

This doesn't undermine your point, but I think you might want to investigate modern concert music a little more before you make some of these assertions.

Comment author: stephen_s 07 February 2017 06:26:44PM 2 points [-]

I don't mean to press you on a point, but when you say in reference to musical consensus, "Probably, but I think your example is a little bit too extreme to demonstrate your point", I think it is important to say whether you believe there is any musical consensus of what is good, or if you believe there is zero consensus. The degree does not matter as to whether the point I'm trying to make is true. Is there any consensus based on how shared human nature interacts with physical sounds as to what is agreed upon as "good"? It seems difficult to argue that any consensus is completely arbitrary.

Also, I'm not saying that there is not infinite gradation of sounds or instrumentation, but there is a limit to the distinctness of sounds or instrumentation. Do you believe there are infinite distinct sounds or instruments possible? There isn't clear language for what I'm trying to get at, but think about how a violin is more distinct from a tuba than from a cello. Or think of it in terms of being similar to the visual spectrum of light: there are infinite gradations of color, but there isn't infinite distinctness. There are limits to the range of the visible spectrum of light, with the primary colors being most distinct from each other (but there is an infinite amount of gradation that can be categorized as sub-colors).

The point being that if there is an objective aspect as to what human nature appreciates as a song, and there is a limit to the distinctness of sounds (and other factors like rhythm, song structure etc), then there would be a limit to possible songs and a limit to possible songs that would be considered "good" by the general consensus (which I agree with you is very varied, but it is still non-arbitrary).

I think you are right to bring in painting or other forms of art to the discussion. What I'm really trying to do is explain a phenomena that I've observed in multiple forms of art. There is a pattern that appears to be taking place, that humans start out with very primitive forms of visual or auditory art, and then develop techniques and understanding to increase in complexity and open up new possibilities in art (like you refer to in your first couple paragraphs), but then the speed of development of more distinct works seems to slow down at a certain point and eventually decline. I agree that this observation is difficult to judge, but do you agree that there is a limit to distinctness? On a long enough timescale, (for example) wouldn't all classical music sound like a song that has already come before?

I appreciate the back and forth and your arguments.

Comment author: bogus 07 February 2017 09:59:35PM *  3 points [-]

Also, I'm not saying that there is not infinite gradation of sounds or instrumentation, but there is a limit to the distinctness of sounds or instrumentation. Do you believe there are infinite distinct sounds or instruments possible?

This whole idea that you need "infinite variation", or rather arbitrarily large variation, if artistic endeavors are to be worthwhile in the near term is just weird to me. A big enough space is plenty enough to keep us all busy for the foreseeable future, and this isn't even accounting for the fact that art is in no small part about gaining a thorough understanding of such creative possibilities, as opposed to developing new 'creations' persay. After all, there's already more music in the world than one could feasibly listen to in a lifetime!

Comment author: komponisto 08 February 2017 10:32:43AM 1 point [-]

art is in no small part about gaining a thorough understanding of such creative possibilities, as opposed to developing new 'creations' persay

This is very true.

Comment author: stephen_s 07 February 2017 10:29:04PM 1 point [-]

Sure, I didn't mean to imply that art is just about new creations. There are many other values to art and creativity of course. Also, I agree that we are fortunate to have an abundance of music available. So don't take what I'm saying as a criticism of creativity or art, or not appreciating the value of them apart from newness. I'm more examining this topic in the interest of understanding human progress and discovery in general.

I agree that this idea is difficult to prove as of now, which is why I'm doing my best to explain my thought process as to what seems evident to me, and I'm appreciating the objections that others are raising. But if we get to the year 2200 and the majority of people still listen to music primarily from 1500-2050 (or whatever), then that does say something about our reality and human progress/discovery. It also is interesting to me that people intuitively view creativity as something open-ended and undefined (at least I did until a few years ago), when perhaps there is something objective and defined and limited about human discovery (which I now believe).

Comment author: Han 07 February 2017 08:54:55PM *  2 points [-]

I really like your thread: thank you for writing me back!

I think you have good intuitions about how sound works. I don't think I can determine whether there's a consensus on what is good: I'd venture to guess that any audio humans can perceive sounds good to someone. A friend of mine sent me an album that was entirely industrial shrieking.

But I agree with you that there's a limit to the distinctness -- humans can only divide the frequency spectrum a certain number of times before they can't hear gradation any more, they can only slice the time domain to a certain extent before they can't hear transitions any more, and you can only slice the loudness domain to a certain extent before you can't hear the difference between slightly louder and slightly quieter.

We can make basically any human-perceivable sound by sampling at 32 bits in 44.1khz. Many of those sounds won't be interesting and they'll sound the same as other sounds, of course. But if nothing else, that puts an upper limit on how much variation you can have. In ten minutes, at 32 bits, in 44.1khz, you have about 840MB of audio data. You could probably express any human-perceivable song in 840MB, and in practice, using psychoacoustic compression like MP3, it would take a lot less space to do the interesting ones.

I think that for us to run out of music, the domain of things that sound good has to be pretty small. Humans probably haven't produced more than a billion pieces of music, but if we pretend all music is monophonic, that there are four possible note lengths, and twelve possible pitches (note: each of these assumptions is too small, based on what we hear in real music), then you only need to string six notes together before you get something that nobody has probably tried.

What I was really responding to were these ideas that I thought were implicit in what you were saying (but I don't think you thought they were implicit):

  • if you try every human-perceptible sound, most of them will sound bad. (we don't know if they'll sound bad because there's a ton of variation in what sounds good)

  • if you try every human-perceptible sound, most of them won't be distinguishable. (The search space is so big that it doesn't matter if 99.99% of them aren't distinguishable. We don't know, in general, what makes music ideas distinguishable, so we don't know how big that is as a portion of the search space. If you think that this comes down to Complex Brain Things, which I imagine most composers do, then figuring out what makes them distinguishable might reduce to SAT. see all the things neural network researchers hate doing)

  • we are good enough at searching for combinations that we have probably tried all the ones that sound good. (there are so many combinations that exhaustively searching for them would take forever. If the problem reduces to SAT, we can't do that much better than exhaustively searching them)

I think that some of the strategies we use to search for musical ideas without having to solve any NP-complete problems have dried up. Minimalism is one technique we used to generate music ideas for a while, and it was easy enough to execute that a lot of people generated good songs very fast. But it only lasted about a decade before composers in that genre brought in elements of other genres to fight the staleness.

After a couple hundred years, Bach-type chorales have dried up. (even though other kinds of medieval polyphony haven't) The well of 1950s-style pop chord progressions appears to have dried up, but the orchestration style doesn't seem to have. (If we think "nothing new under the sun" comes down to Complex Brain Things, then we can't know for sure-- we can just guess by looking around and figuring out if people are having trouble being creative in them.) A lot of conventional classical genres don't appear to have dried up -- new composers release surprising pieces in them all the time. (see e.g. Romantic-style piano. Google even did some really cool work in computer-generating original pieces that sound like that.)

When these search strategies die, a lot of composers are good at coming up with new search strategies for good songs. We don't know exactly how they do that, but modern pop music contains a lot of variation that's yet to filter into concert music, and my gut tells me that means the future is pretty bright.

Thanks!

Comment author: stephen_s 07 February 2017 11:29:45PM 1 point [-]

Yes, you are getting into the heart of what I'm trying to examine. This concept began to form for me as I was writing and recording rock songs and trying to create a distinct sound within that genre. New distinct music is largely created intuitively by people borrowing on the past but adding variation (like you said). But songs contain a more specific balance of factors than I think people realize, which makes a song more like a complex puzzle than just a complex combination of attributes. Many factors must sync together correctly including chord progression, melody, key, rhythm, vocal style, instrumentation, and audio production. But those factors are all limited in their distinctness (limited notes on a scale, limited chords, limited instruments, limited vocal styles). And for a song to work well, all the factors must sync correctly. If you put Elvis' voice instead of Kurt Cobain's on Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", it might be funny but it wouldn't work as well. Kurt sings more like Paul Westerberg of the Replacements (listen to "Bastards of Young"), which is a specific distinct vocal style that they share (which works well for a certain type of style only).

So if you have 1000 (to be simple) vocal styles, 1000 chord progressions, 1000 combinations of instruments,....etc, it's not that each specific vocal style could be paired with each chord progression and with each combination of instruments, etc. In fact, it would be only very specific combinations that would work well. So, the songs that work seem to be extremely sparse within the search space.

Along the same line, if you look at rock bands, they usually have a period of 5-20 years where they produce their best work. It seems to be that they run out of good songs (the possible puzzle combinations of factors within their own style). A band like AC/DC recorded their best songs in the 70s and 80s, and then most of what they released after that just sounded like them repeating their sound but with diminishing results. If there really was a lot of untapped songs within a band's style, it seems like there would be at least a few counter examples of bands who produce the same high level of quality for 30 or 40 or 50 years, but I've never seen that happen.

And once you run out of new distinct factors (voice styles, or production styles, or instrumentation) then it seems like the potential for new distinct songs (as complex puzzles of those factors) also will run out. We have moved through genres over time, including better production in the last 20 years and more electronic aspects etc, but when will the well run dry?

It seems to me that with art (including music), we start with primitive attempts and instruments, but then we develop more complex music theory and new instruments, but then eventually we run out of new and our output will decline. While I was working on writing rock songs, I was noticing at the same time that bands I liked seemed to have declining quality of output, and there weren't new bands in different styles but of equal quality releasing music to fill the void. The rate of creation of new and quality rock songs and styles seemed to be in decline. I don't see there being a different method to unlock many other great songs or new styles than the intuitive method and trial-and-error that has been used for centuries; I think the well is just dry.

Anyway, the idea itself is interesting to me because if this concept applies to music then it seems like it would apply to all things involving creativity and discovery. That we can view all knowledge and creation as one thing (The Big Niche) that exists apart from whether possibilities have been created or not, and that it will all eventually be completed at some point in the future.

Comment author: bogus 07 February 2017 10:09:40PM *  0 points [-]

(see e.g. Romantic-style piano. Google even did some really cool work in computer-generating original pieces that sound like that.)

The best results in computer-generated romantic piano music are actually not from Google but from an unaffiliated researcher - see Composing music with recurrent neural networks. It's true that Google Brain has released some generated piano sounds from their WaveNet, but those (1) are not actual piano sounds, rather they're the network's "dream" of what a piano might sound like; a real piano could never sound like that; also (2) these samples have comparatively little long-term structure, as a natural outcome of working on audio data as opposed to notated music.

These results are actually the reason I don't buy that "strategies we use to search for musical ideas without having to solve any NP-complete problems have dried up". Neural net inference doesn't do any NP problem search, and this network creates rather innovative music simply by virtue of successful generalization, enabled by some very good (I'd even say outstanding) features of the model design.

Comment author: gjm 10 February 2017 01:51:44PM 0 points [-]

That music doesn't sound "rather innovative" to me. It sounds stereotyped, boring, and inept. (For the avoidance of doubt, it is also very impressive to make a computer generate music that isn't a lot more stereotyped, boring and inept than that, and I would not be astonished to see this approach yielding markedly better music in the future.) It seems to me like it falls a long way short of, e.g., the music of "Emily Howell".

Comment author: bogus 10 February 2017 08:40:09PM *  1 point [-]

That music doesn't sound "rather innovative" to me.

Hmm. What sort of music are you most familiar with/like the most? The system does have some very significant shortcomings, which may account for why you find the output boring - however, I think it also has quite a few strong points. It's just hard to point them out here, since I'm not sure what your musical background is, or how much you know already about the formal/scholarly theory of music.

Comment author: gjm 11 February 2017 12:45:06AM 1 point [-]

What sort of music are you most familiar with/like the most?

Western art music (i.e., the sort commonly described as "classical").

how much you know already about the formal/scholarly theory of music.

I know a diminished seventh from a minor third and a ritornello from a ritenuto, I can tell you which bit of a classical sonata-form movement is the exposition, and I have a tolerable understanding of the relationship between timbre and tuning systems. But I couldn't enumerate the different species of counterpoint, express any useful opinions about the relative merits of two serialist works, or write you a convincing musical analysis of "Yesterday". If that (either explicitly or via what I didn't think of mentioning) doesn't tell you what you want to know, feel free to ask more specific questions.

Comment author: bogus 11 February 2017 03:05:52AM *  1 point [-]

Western art music (i.e., the sort commonly described as "classical").

Well, first of all, note that the music that system generates is entirely derived from the model's understanding of a dataset/repertoire of "Western art music". (Do you have any specific preferences about style/period too? That would be useful to know!)

For a start, note that you should not expect the system to capture any structure beyond the phrase level - since it's trained from snippets which are a mere 8 bars long, the average history seen in training is just four bars. Within that limited scope, however, the model reaches quite impressive results.
Next, one should know that every note in the pieces is generated by the exact same rules: the original model has no notion of "bass" or "lead", nor does it generate 'chords' and then voice them in a later step. It's entirely contrapuntal, albeit in the "keyboard" sort of counterpoint which does not organize the music as a fixed ensemble of 'voices' or 'lines'.
Somewhat more interestingly, the network architecture implies nothing whatsoever about such notions as "diatonicism" or "tonality": Every hint of these things you hear in the music is a result of what the model has learned. Moreover, there's basically no pre-existing notion that pieces should "stay within the same key" except when they're "modulating" towards some other area: what the system does is freely driven by what the music itself has been implying about e.g. "key" and "scale degrees", as best judged by the model. If the previous key no longer fits at any given point, this can cue a 'modulation'. In a way, this means that the model is actually generating "freely atonal" music along "tonal" lines!

In my opinion, the most impressive parts are the transitions from one "musical idea" to the "next", which would surely be described as "admirably flowing" and "lyrical" if similarly-clean transitions were found in a real piece of music. The same goes for the free "modulations" and changes in "key": the underlying 'force' that made the system modulate can often be heard musically, and this also makes for a sense of lyricism combined with remote harmonic relationships that's quite reminiscent of "harmonically-innovative" music from, say, the late 19th c. (Note that, by and large, this late-romantic music was not in the dataset! It's simply an 'emergent' feature of what the model is doing.).

Something that I had not heard in previous music is this model's eclecticism in style ("classical" vs. "romantic", with a pinch of "impressionist" added at the last minute) and texture. Even more interesting than the clean transitions involving these elements, there is quite a bit of "creative" generalization arising from the fact that all of these styles were encompassed in the same model. So, we sometimes hear some more-or-less 'classical' elements thrown in a very 'romantic' spot, or vice versa, or music that sounds intermediate between the two.
Finally, the very fact that this model is improvising classical music is worth noting persay. We know that improvisation has historically been a major part of the art-music tradition, and the output of such a system can at least give us some hint of what sort of 'improvisation' can even be musically feasible within that tradition, even after the practice itself has disappeared.

Comment author: Han 08 February 2017 06:35:23AM 0 points [-]

Oh, thanks for the link!

I think you misunderstood me, or maybe I wasn't clear. I meant "of the strategies which we used to search for musical ideas, none of them involved solving NP-complete problems, and some of them have dried up." I think what neural nets do to learn about music are pretty close to what humans do -- once a learning tool finds a local minimum, it keeps attacking that local minimum until it refines it into something neat. I think a lot of strategies to produce music work like that.

I definitely don't think most humans intentionally sit down and try to solve NP-complete problems when they write music, and I don't think humans should do that either.

Comment author: bogus 09 February 2017 01:12:04PM 0 points [-]

Actually, what this network does is a lot closer to pure improvisation than the process of successive refinement you're describing here. Optimization i.e. (search for a local minimum) is used in the training stage, where the network uses a trial-and-error strategy to fit a model of "how music goes". Once the model is fitted however, generating new pieces is a process of linear prediction, based on what the model has 'written' so far - this is actually among the most significant limitations of these models; they're great for pure inspiration, but they'll never reach a local optimum or successfully negotiate broader constraints other than by pure chance. That's why I find it significant that what they come up with is nonetheless innovative and compelling. (There are of course neural-network-based systems that can do a lot more - such as AlphaGo - but I don't know of anyone using these to make new music.)

Comment author: Han 10 February 2017 10:43:19PM *  0 points [-]

Oh, absolutely! It's misleading for me to talk about it like this because there's a couple of different workflows:

  • train for a while to understand existing data. then optimize for a long time to try to impress the activation layer that konws the most about what the data means. (AlphaGo's evaluation network, Deep Dream) Under this process you spend a long time optimizing for one thing (network's ability to recognize) and then a long time optimizing for another thing (how much the network likes your current input)
  • train a neural network to minimize a loss function based on another neural network's evaluation, then sample its output. (DCGAN) Under this process you spend a long time optimizing for one thing (the neural network's loss function) but a short time sampling another thing. (outputs from the neural net)
  • train a neural network to approximate existing data and then just sample its output. (seq2seq, char-rnn, PixelRNN, WaveNet, AlphaGo's policy network) Under this process you spend a long time optimizing for one thing (the loss function again) but a short time sampling another thing. (outputs from the neural net)

It's kind of an important distinction because like with humans, neural networks that can improvise in linear time can be sampled really cheaply (taking deterministic time!), while neural networks that need you to do an optimization task are expensive to sample even though you've trained them.

Comment author: komponisto 08 February 2017 10:15:39AM 0 points [-]

First of all, Beethoven's "Für Elise" isn't a song, it's a bagatelle; let's get the genre right. (The previous sentence also demonstrates the proper use of the word "genre", by the way.)

The rest of your comment is just a reaffirmation of your confusion of mass culture and culture tout court. I (might) agree that mass-culture's greatness-producing capacities have plateaued, but I don't look to mass culture as a source of artistic greatness, so I don't really care.

If you studied music in sufficient depth, you'd see the possibilities for yourself, and your intuition would switch from "music is almost exhausted" to "mass culture is really poor at generating musical value".

Comment author: stephen_s 08 February 2017 03:04:17PM 0 points [-]

You're failing to engage the question of the nature of songs and music as a metaphysical level. I agree that mass culture and dissemination of works is part of the discussion, but it doesn't seem like you're trying to engage with that nature of "what is a song?". (See a number of the longer comment chains by other posters who provided thoughts on this topic if you're not sure what is under examination besides mass culture and dissemination.)

Comment author: bogus 08 February 2017 04:35:26PM *  1 point [-]

but it doesn't seem like you're trying to engage with that nature of "what is a song?"

The comment you're replying to did exactly that, actually. Since you seem to have missed that part, here's a hint: a song is a piece of music that's supposed to be sung by someone, i.e. it has lyrics, and a vocal part. Beethoven's Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor for solo piano (generally known as Für Elise) has neither: hence it's an instrumental piece, not a "song". (It's not even drawing overt inspiration from the song genre as a whole; but if it was, it might be somewhat sensible to call it a song by analogy/extension, as we do with Felix Mendelssohn's Songs without Words).

Comment author: gjm 10 February 2017 01:38:52PM *  1 point [-]

My understanding (which may be defective, because I'm pretty firmly embedded in the art-music context and am not well up on the activities of Popular Beat Combos) is that in some recent musical traditions the term "song" has a different meaning, something like "any piece of music suitable for putting on a single track of a CD". It is unfortunate that this meaning is so different from the other one, and I think the other one is better because it makes a useful distinction (and we could easily use something like "track" for the broader definition), but I think stephen_s is using a different definition of "song" more than he's ignorant of what "song" means.

[EDITED to add:] For the avoidance of doubt, I do agree that stephen_s's use of the word "song" suggests that he is probably not familiar enough with the world of classical music[1] for his pronouncement of its senescence to be taken very seriously.

[1] By which I take it he means, or would if informed a bit more, something like "Western art music". Or maybe not; maybe he really does mean it in the stricter sense, meaning something like "that variety of music running roughly from C P E Bach to Beethoven", in which case it should not be surprising if production of such music is slower than it was in Beethoven's day.

Comment author: stephen_s 08 February 2017 05:34:54PM 0 points [-]

To be more clear, putting pieces of music under different labels (bagatelle, folk song, house track, etc) doesn't have a bearing on this discussion of what is the metaphysical nature of a piece of music. I understand that I was using the word "song" colloquially for a piece of music. I was not attempting to initiate a debate on the dictionary definition of a song or its characteristics in relation to other types of music. Again, I would refer you to the metaphysical discussion that many of the other posters contributed to.

I understand that music categorization and music theory are a separate and important topic of which you may have an expertise in, but that is a different discussion.

Comment author: komponisto 09 February 2017 11:39:17AM *  1 point [-]

I understand that I was using the word "song" colloquially for a piece of music. I was not attempting to initiate a debate on the dictionary definition of a song or its characteristics in relation to other types of music.

The vocabulary you use conveys information about your background, experience, perspective, and conceptual framework -- in short, your epistemic state. Someone who un-self-consciously uses the word "song" in the way that you have is unlikely to be familiar enough with music to have good intuitions about its ultimate philosophical nature. My suggestion to you, therefore, is that before attempting to philosophize about the size of musical space and the proportion of it that is occupied by the mass-cultural products that seem to constitute the entirety of your experience, you acquaint yourself further with the higher realms of human possibility in this domain, if not others as well.

I don't mean this as a slapdown -- I genuinely think your beliefs would change if you had more knowledge.

This all being said, the question of the ultimate information-theoretic limits of interestingness in the universe is (plausibly) an important one, and (this being Less Wrong) I recommend the Fun Theory Sequence as a starting point.

Comment author: stephen_s 09 February 2017 06:16:36PM *  0 points [-]

I understand your point. My experience is in the genre of rock music (which is songs) and not in classical music, so my explorations into the metaphysical nature of music is based on extensive experience with songs (and not in other pieces of music). However, I believe at the metaphysical level that this idea applies to, there is not a substantial difference in examining the nature of songs and other pieces of music. That may make the perspective I'm coming from clearer to you, or we may have to agree to disagree.

I have not read the Fun Theory Sequence article, but you're right that is connected to this topic. I appreciate the link. Thanks for your comments!

Comment author: komponisto 10 February 2017 08:55:28AM 0 points [-]

My experience is in the genre of rock music

Aieee! (The tradition of rock music is what you meant.)

However, I believe at the metaphysical level that this idea applies to, there is not a substantial difference in examining the nature of songs and other pieces of music.

Whether or not there is a substantial difference in the metaphysical nature of songs versus other kinds of musical works, there is certainly a substantial difference in the conclusions about musical possibility that one can draw if one's appreciative apparatus is exclusively (or near-exclusively) derived from mass culture, versus the case where one has a more refined artistic sensibility and greater powers of appreciation.

Comment author: stephen_s 10 February 2017 09:35:05PM 0 points [-]

I understand what you are saying, but I am still curious if you agree that there is a limit of distinctness in music? It seems difficult to argue that there is unlimited distinctness in music, and I don't think you are, but that you are instead arguing that it requires a certain level of the artistic sensibility to gauge the limits of musical possibility.

If so, who do you think / what type of person would have the requisite artistic sensibility to make such a judgment with some accuracy (but still imperfect)?

If you have the requisite artistic sensibility (I'm not saying you asserted that but I'm curious if you do think that), what is your position on where our current collective body of musical works is in relationship to an objective limit in the distinctiveness of new music?

If you do not think you have the requisite artistic sensibility, are you saying that from your perspective and my perspective that we can make no predictions on whether humanity reaches a certain limit of distinctiveness in music this decade vs in 10,000 years? What I mean is, is your position that there is no way for someone without the necessary artistic sensibility to estimate any limit in the distinctness of music?

Thanks

Comment author: stephen_s 08 February 2017 05:15:21PM 0 points [-]

IE "what is a piece of music?" from a metaphysical perspective.

Comment author: bogus 07 February 2017 12:57:30PM *  1 point [-]

As far as I can tell, the phenomenon you're noticing is simply that mass culture is not a process that optimizes for artistic value. But why should anyone have expected it to be?

I just can't figure out what 'mass culture', 'elite culture' and 'artistic value' are supposed to mean in your argument. Taking music as an example, AFAICT, the main way in which our current 'mass culture' music differs 'artistically' from the 'elite music' of centuries past is that the latter was a literate genre, relying on the written medium of 'sheet music' in contrast to audio records. It's also true that music being distributed in recorded form implies a very different mode of consumption; music is no longer seen these days as something that the average person might want to actively engage with, in stark contrast to the past.

But even these facts do not seem to fully justify a conflation of "elite" status with "artistic value". For one thing, surely a lot of the "elite" music we now choose to value was consumed passively, e.g. in opera houses or as inoffensive background music to elite social gatherings (the latter spawning the entire subgenre of "chamber music"!), whereas the earliest forms of "mass music" (which in fact were first available in notated form, in contrast to later audio records) would be engaged with actively, mainly through amateur performance by middle- and sometimes lower-class folks. More generally, it often happens that we choose to value "elite" things of the past more, simply because they were associated with a social elite, even though these niche practices aren't actually very significant historically; and some of this seems to be going on here.

Comment author: komponisto 08 February 2017 10:24:37AM 1 point [-]

I just can't figure out what 'mass culture', 'elite culture' and 'artistic value' are supposed to mean in your argument.

I don't believe you, at least with respect to the first two (I'll grant that "artistic value" is harder to pin down, and I didn't make any attempt). Rather, I think you're (perhaps reflexively) attempting to enforce norms of discourse that are designed to prevent certain kinds of thoughts from being thought, or at least stated. Because I, on the contrary, think it's important for those thoughts to be heard, I'm consciously rebelling against those norms, which is why the style of my comments now is different from what it was in the past.

Comment author: 9eB1 06 February 2017 12:49:34AM 4 points [-]

You may be interested in a post on gwern's site related to this topic.

Comment author: komponisto 07 February 2017 08:48:10AM 0 points [-]

That essay -- or perhaps its rebuttal -- should be titled "Culture is Not About Consumption". Making heavy implicit use of an assumed dichotomy between production and consumption, it's a good example of the sort of Straw-Economist reasoning that plagues the LessWrongosphere.

Comment author: stephen_s 06 February 2017 01:25:27AM 0 points [-]

Great, thanks for the link. I've read a fair amount of his stuff, but I didn't know he had an article on this topic.

Comment author: Erfeyah 05 February 2017 09:33:03PM 3 points [-]

I would argue that you are taking a narrow view of what music is. The fascination with the collection and intellectual understanding of information, as well as an addiction to emotional impact is something that is characteristic of our culture. And of course the music produced by a culture will be a reflection of the mind of its people.

I recommend that you examine carefully the wide variety of functions that music (and art in general) has in traditional cultures. Emotional, medicinal, social, as an aid to memorisation (see the Australian aborigines or vedic chanting), religious and spiritual, war and discipline and the list goes on. It is an extremely complex, and actually not yet understood, subject. In my opinion what you see in mainstream art is the exaggeration of our cultural characteristics mediated by the ability to record, manipulate and reproduce 'art' en mass.

Comment author: stephen_s 05 February 2017 10:01:01PM 1 point [-]

Sure, I didn't mean to take a narrow view of music, just to narrowly examine "newness" in music, which is a different question. I agree that music serves many purposes besides pop consumption of new songs or works. That is something I would want to explore further at some point.

I was aiming to understand the metaphysical question: is there is a limit to newness in music, and if so what does that imply about our universe? Could examining that question give us greater clarity in understanding the limits of other discovery or creation?

Comment author: Erfeyah 05 February 2017 11:16:04PM *  3 points [-]

I see. It does still feel to me that you are asking a misguided question. I will try to unpack my thought so we can see where we are.

There are two concepts that are part of your question: genre and newness. Before examining these though, let's give an (inevitably inadequate) definition of art for the purpose of our discussion. Let's say that art is "the arranging and reproduction of sensory objects perceivable by humans, with the intention of producing an effect on a human being". This is as general as I can think of at the moment and it is important to point to the fact that the human being and its current state (instincts, language, culture, knowledge, conditioning, etc.) is part of the definition. I would argue that in this definition the permutations of possible artworks are essentially infinite.

But to get a bit closer to what you are trying to explore let's now carve out a subspace that you call 'genre'. This is where we are going to find a problem. I was, actually, just having this discussion with a friend of mine that is completing his PhD in Musicology and specifically in Jazz. He came to a point where he got really confused about what 'Jazz' means. Is it only trumpet, sax, double bass, piano etc. bebop style jazz? Is it still jazz if you play with electronic or traditional instruments? Is it still Jazz when there is improvisation but no theme melody? What about improvised traditional music of Turkey? You get the point. What is a genre anyway? I offered my opinion on the subject by saying that you are confusing a label with the thing itself. Naming a genre is useful for organising your database and communicating certain characteristics but a genre is not a real thing, it is a communication/organisation tool.

This can then clarify our question on 'newness'. If you can define a genre in a way that is restricted enough to seem limited then yes, it will be. But you should take care to avoid confusing a limited, artificial concept for the universe itself.

Comment author: stephen_s 05 February 2017 11:57:12PM 1 point [-]

Ok great, yes this is what I'm trying to get at. First of all, I think your definition of art is good.

To your first point, I would say that I believe instincts, language, culture, knowledge, and conditioning are factors in art. But I believe that they are all limited in possibilities as well. So the manifestation of those limited factors into different art would lead to limited possibilities of art.

Let me try and clarify that by addressing your next points. I agree that genres are not real things. Like all language, it is imperfect labeling for a practical purpose. To simplify the problem even more, lets take out the concept of genre. In the creation of music over time, songs share characteristics (instrumentation, sounds, structures, rhythms, etc), and the common characteristics of music shift and change over human history. Certain songs in a realm of shared characteristics appear to have a period of greater creation of significant works before songs with those characteristics eventually decline in quality. What I'm trying to get at is that it doesn't matter where you draw the lines for genres to determine whether there are limited possibilities in music as a whole.

The individual factors/characteristics of music are limited and therefore manifest into limited workable combinations (songs).

The article I link to "The Big Niche" is a three minute read and tries to explain the concept in totality if you have the time. I'm enjoying this back and forth.

Comment author: Erfeyah 06 February 2017 01:22:22AM *  1 point [-]

Thank you for your answer. I reread your article more carefully. I think I can see what you are trying to do, though I am not sure what the utility of it is. I have disagreements based on epistemological and ontological grounds but I would like for start to focus on your example of music as to me it fails to demonstrate, if not contradict, your very point.

As I said in the previous post, there is no real completion of a genre. A completion can only be defined by defining a genre so the reasoning is circular. To give you another example, a huge chunk of modern music such as jazz, blues, rock, pop and the thousands of derivatives like metal, prog rock etc. are all using the same framework that Bach was using so can be conceptualised as being in the same genre. In other words you are creating boundaries by your definition and then offering your boundaries as evidence of completeness. That is not to say that my rebuttal proves that completeness is not possible. Just that the example is not working.

Now, no matter what you do, how much you flex your definition, I can always take you one level of abstraction out until we reach the definition of art I gave you in my previous post. And even further. But If you want, as a start, to focus on art, can you argue completeness from that definition?

If we can agree on that maybe we can debate the core of your argument.

Comment author: stephen_s 06 February 2017 04:38:56AM 0 points [-]

Thanks for taking the time to read the article and continue responding. To progress further, maybe the idea I need to address is distinct points vs gradation.

Would you agree in music that there are limited factors involved in what makes a song? There are probably more than I can name (rhythm, chords, melody, instrumentation, etc), but there is a limit to how many factors are at play. These factors exist in limited distinct manifestations but that have infinite gradation. For example, look at the factor of instruments in an orchestra. There may be infinite gradations of each type of orchestral instrument (in the sound that it makes), but there are not infinite distinct types of instruments. Think about why there are around 24 instruments (I believe) in an orchestra--there are infinite gradations of instruments but a limit to distinct instruments.

The laws and matter of the universe manifests itself into limited distinct factors at play in music, which then manifests into limited distinct songs (those combinations of factors that produce a musical effect on a human being--related to our hearing and mental nature).

Within those possibilities of combinations of musical factors that can be put together and called a song, not all are equal in their effect on a human being. I can play a few chords randomly on the guitar, record the audio, and call it a song. But what separates that recording from The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction"? There are a limited number of distinct songs that we have recorded up until the present that can produce the same level of effect on a human being as "Satisfaction".

How can there then be an infinite number of distinct songs to create in the future that would have an equal or greater effect on a human being as "Satisfaction"?

Again, I'm not saying that we will stop creating music in the future. Just that at some point there will be a general consensus that our best works are behind us--the idea that "you can't reinvent the wheel". We will keep creating songs with infinite gradations, but they won't be infinitely distinct with as much of an effect on humans as the songs that came before. And while different songs have different levels of effect on different people, there is a non-perfect but non-arbitrary consensus on certain songs or artists having more of an effect than others (the extreme example being my random chords recorded have little effect vs "Satisfaction" having great effect).

As far as the utility of the idea, if we can view the sum of all possibilities as The Big Niche, then we can view all uncompleted possibilities as the remaining problems in the goal of human advancement. This can apply at a personal level to anyone looking to accomplish something great or contribute to human progress. For example, if you were a songwriter looking to make a significant contribution, it would be better to pursue an uncompleted genre (pop, hip hop, electronic, etc) instead of a mostly completed genre (classical, jazz, rock). But it also would apply to science, business, and technology: just like new instruments helped create new genres, a new technology or concept may create a new niche of possibilities in which to further explore in that field. Granted, progress in these fields already progresses in this way at an intuitive level, but it seems like having a stronger grasp of what is happening in human progress at a metaphysical level could only help (and couldn't hurt).

It also follows that if The Big Niche is the sum of all possibilities, then we could view an Ideal Niche as the interplay of the big niche with human nature--an ideal configuration of all possibilities for human benefit. So the goal of humanity would be to discover all knowledge, and then be able to remake society to find the distinct ideal equilibrium in all things. Like a great song is a distinct point in the niche of music, there is a distinct point in all facets of society as to what the ideal configuration for humans would be.

Comment author: Erfeyah 06 February 2017 12:03:51PM *  1 point [-]

Would you agree in music that there are limited factors involved in what makes a song?

Not really. There are limited factors if you define 'song' in a limited way (see previous post). What if I define a song as 'the arranging and reproduction of sonic sensory objects perceivable by humans, with the intention of producing an effect on a human being' ?

There are probably more than I can name (rhythm, chords, melody, instrumentation, etc), but there is a limit to how many factors are at play. These factors exist in limited distinct manifestations but that have infinite gradation. For example, look at the factor of instruments in an orchestra. There may be infinite gradations of each type of orchestral instrument (in the sound that it makes), but there are not infinite distinct types of instruments. Think about why there are around 24 instruments (I believe) in an orchestra--there are infinite gradations of instruments but a limit to distinct instruments.

Why are you choosing to focus on the limited factors (of our own defining) instead of the infinite gradations and permutations? And don't forget that music is created by the permutations. There are 12 tones in an octave in the western system but music is created, among many other things, by their arrangement in time. It is a completely different thing to play an A and then a C to playing a C and then an A. Also, why are there 24 instruments in an orchestra? Assuming that is true, it would be because people decided they liked the balance and it became a convention. But there is nothing that stops you using any number of instruments as a composer. You could decide that you want a dog in the middle of the orchestra that you have trained to bark when the maestro signs. Cool, now you have a dog concerto (sorry, too much avant garde exposure :P).

The laws and matter of the universe manifests itself into limited distinct factors at play in music, which then manifests into limited distinct songs (those combinations of factors that produce a musical effect on a human being--related to our hearing and mental nature).

Now, here is an, apparently, general statement. I would rephrase as: 'The laws and matter of the universe allow for sound waves, the permutations of which are experienced by humans through what we could define as 'songs' (those combinations of sound waves that produce an effect on a human being)'. I find this more accurate as I am being descriptive without sneaking in conclusions in my definition. The word 'limited' you will have to offer supporting arguments about.

There are a limited number of distinct songs that we have recorded up until the present that can produce the same level of effect on a human being as "Satisfaction". How can there then be an infinite number of distinct songs to create in the future that would have an equal or greater effect on a human being as "Satisfaction"?

A piece of music is experienced very differently from different people. We actually do not fully understand how it works. There are linguistic components, musical components, social components etc. Could you explain what you mean by 'effect'?

And while different songs have different levels of effect on different people, there is a non-perfect but non-arbitrary consensus on certain songs or artists having more of an effect than others (the extreme example being my random chords recorded have little effect vs "Satisfaction" having great effect).

Is this really true? This is related to defining 'effect' in my previous question. After we do that, we can ask about consensus. It is here where the rabbit hole goes on forever. There are people (I have met them) that would get much more 'effect' from your random chords recording than from "Satisfaction". For them "Satisfaction" draws them towards passivity but randomness excites them as a new sonic stimulus. They might connect this to philosophical schools and derive intellectual satisfaction, or just have a connection to a self-image of 'avant-garde' that craves non-convention. This you could argue is pathological but it is undeniable that you would get an 'effect' through the arrangement of sound waves. Is this art? Who's to say. We do not know what art is and that is what you will find in front of you one way or another.

Well it seems that, if I continue, I will end up in an ontological question. It was inevitable wasn't it? I think I will stop here for now ;)

P.S: Your argument for 'completeness' might have been easier if you did not focus on art.

Comment author: stephen_s 06 February 2017 02:46:22PM 0 points [-]

Yes, I think we are stuck at this point. It seems that you are saying that it is self-evident that all relevant factors are unlimited and completely subjective, but from the points I was making I was trying to show why to me it is self-evident that the relevant factors are limited and objective. Just because something can have unlimited gradation, doesn't mean that something like "instrumentation" or "melody" is indistinct and has no boundaries. And the distinctness is what leads to its perceived limit.

Along the same lines, you are arguing against absolute objectivity in musical appreciation, but that is not what I was asserting. I was arguing that there is an absolute limit to the number of distinct songs with a certain combination of distinct factors, and that because human nature between people has commonalities, there is consensus and similar subjective experience (within a range) of what has a greater enjoyment or emotional effect on listeners (I was using the word effect in reference to your own definition). To argue that art or music is absolutely subjective and indistinct seems the exact opposite of what is self-evident to me. You would also have to deny any shared human nature as to what sounds or songs have an emotional or mental effect on people.

I think those two points are where we truly disagree and won't get past. Thanks for your input and the back and forth! I enjoyed the conversation.

Comment author: Erfeyah 06 February 2017 03:12:24PM *  1 point [-]

Just to clarify on your last comments:

It seems that you are saying that it is self-evident that all relevant factors are unlimited and completely subjective.

To argue that art or music is absolutely subjective and indistinct seems the exact opposite of what is self-evident to me.

I am not saying that. It is actually a mixture. The human nature part is objective. For example, as far as I can tell the perception of the octave is a human universal in music. But a large part of art, is undeniably subjective. This is easily demonstrated by exploring traditional music and checking studies on different cultures perception of each others music. You can think of the way art functions as linked to the nature / nurture human characteristic.

Thanks for your input and the back and forth! I enjoyed the conversation.

Thank you too. It was fun! :)

Comment author: ike 05 February 2017 08:17:04PM 2 points [-]

But is this because of a fault of the Hollywood system, or is it because there are few significant movie story ideas left that have not been done?

Neither: revealed preferences of consumers are in favor of reboots so that's what gets made. That's only a "fault" if your preferences differ from that of most consumers.

(Although I've heard someone argue that piracy made independent films less viable: to the extent consumers would be willing to pay were no pirate option available, but lack of such payments causes fewer films to be made, that would be a market failure argument. I don't really have enough knowledge to judge that as an explanation.)

Comment author: Jiro 06 February 2017 05:26:52PM 2 points [-]

Customers can only show revealed preferences based on what studios put out. It is possible that studios don't put out things that the customers would spend the most money on. (For instance, if studios are risk-averse and would release movies that on the average make less money, as long as the worst case is less likely.)

Comment author: bogus 07 February 2017 12:19:05PM 1 point [-]

Although I've heard someone argue that piracy made independent films less viable: to the extent consumers would be willing to pay were no pirate option available, but lack of such payments causes fewer films to be made

Piracy is not an issue these days, but the inflexibility of current distribution arrangements still is. Part of the issue is that making a movie - even an indie one - is a lot more costly than most backers would expect, so indie creators generally set inadequate crowdfunding targets, expecting that they'll be able to make up the difference by signing on to a traditional distributor. However, all this does is compound problems. (Compare this to the games sector, where high-stakes crowdfunding campaigns have in fact become relatively common.)

Comment author: stephen_s 05 February 2017 08:48:02PM 1 point [-]

Yes, you're definitely right about reboots reflecting the preference of customers. But what leads to shifts in movie customer preferences?

It seems to me that movie audiences want to see a combination of newer, bigger, and better. A movie that doesn't seem like a new story, or a similar story but a bigger scale, or a similar story told better, doesn't seem to interest audiences in general. It's that feeling of "I've seen all of this before."

Is there a limit to how many new stories we can create, how big in scale the stories are, and how well we can tell the stories? Marvel / Star Wars / Disney are having massive success retelling similar stories but in larger scale and with better CGI and technology than before. How can they keep getting bigger or better indefinitely though?

(This is besides other current market factors like a larger international audience which has its own preference for movies which changes demand for certain types of films. Also I don't mean that we will every stop making movies, just that it will be clear to us that the most significant films are in the past at some point.)

Comment author: siIver 05 February 2017 07:28:15PM *  2 points [-]

I'd say no to both. I don't think any genre has come meaningfully close to completion, though I don't know classic of jazz very well.

Let's talk film. If I take a random movie that I didn't like, I find it very similar to others. If, however, I take one that I really like, I find that frustratingly few movies exist that are even similar.

I consider the possibility space to be a function of creativity/intelligence/competence (let's call it skill) of writing, and one that grows faster-than-linearly. The space of medium-skill writing may be nearing completion (though I think this is arguable, too), but the space for more intelligent writing is vast and largely unexplored.

Just think of how many similarities most movies have, starting with the Hero's Journey archetype. This need not be. My two favorite non-animated pieces in film both don't have a main character.

Comment author: stephen_s 05 February 2017 08:59:25PM 0 points [-]

The reason that I bring up classical and jazz, is that there has been a clear slowdown in meaningful additions to the genres over the past few decades. So, if music genres reach a limit of possibilities, then it seems likely to apply to other areas of art as well.

Yes, I agree that there are more intelligent (or less simple) stories that haven't been written yet. I'm not sure if you are saying that you agree that there is a limit of possible stories, or that you think there is no limit? If there is a limit, what do you think would be the signs that we are reaching it?

I would agree that it seems from intuition that there are a lot of available stories still left to be written, but what would explain the slowdown in original properties being created or finding an audience currently (than in previous decades)?

Comment author: Hal 05 February 2017 11:16:52PM 2 points [-]

In the specific cases of jazz and classical music, it seems like a slowdown in creation of original properties could be pretty plausibly explained by those types of music not being very popular anymore (why that is so is a more complicated question), and so not attracting as many of the talented musical minds of the most recent generations. The people who were going into jazz and classical music 50 years ago could be going into rap and electronica now, and it would look pretty much like our world, I think.

I'm not sure if this is actually true, as I know very little about the general state of the music world and how it works, but it seems like a reasonably possible explanation at first, and certainly comes to mind before "we ran out of jazz". Another possibility is that the music industry has changed greatly over the last few decades, and what qualifies as a "meaningful addition" to a genre is less clear than it ever was, as genres splinter and people's musical tastes are given the option to diverge. I much prefer Snarky Puppy's "Shofukan" to, say, "Take the A Train", but there's no way it could reach the same level of cultural saturation because people have so many other choices now (it's not just listening to the one or two jazz stations on your local radio or going to live music if you have a chance, it's Spotify, Soundcloud, YouTube, and probably more).

I float both of these as just ideas; I haven't thought very hard about either of them, but at first glance, at least, they both seem more plausible than "we have made all of the good jazz and classical music already". Yes, such a theoretical limit exists, but music is so incredibly complicated that it's really unlikely we've hit it yet. It seems more reasonable to think this slowdown is due to something else, unless there's good evidence that the limit specifically is the cause.

I could very well be wrong, though. I'm not very confident about any of this because it's a tricky topic.

Comment author: stephen_s 05 February 2017 11:35:34PM 0 points [-]

That's an interesting idea, and yes I'm still thinking through the idea myself. But couldn't the lack of popularity of a genre could be caused by the slowdown in release of substantial new works? Declining quality leads to less popularity?

I'm thinking of it in terms of the idea that "you can't reinvent the wheel." Each song or style is a concept that once created can't be recreated, and in the case of art it loses its freshness eventually.

I think it works at the level of a single band or artist as well. Take AC/DC for example. They released most of their "classic" material in the 70s and 80s. They continued to release albums through the 90s and 2000s, but the songwriting didn't seem to be as high of quality to most fans. Is it possible that their specific hard rock / blues rock sound had a limit to how many "great" songs they could write and they exhausted them by the 90s? Could that be a microcosm of music as a whole having a limit of styles and great songs that are eventually completed?

Comment author: Hal 06 February 2017 03:09:35AM 1 point [-]

Yeah, whether the lack of popularity of jazz and classical music is caused by their slowdown or their slowdown is caused by their lack of popularity is one of those tricky questions. There's definitely causation going both ways, but it's really hard to tell which part has more impact, or which one changed first to start off the decline (and if they're both driving each other now, does it even matter which one started things off?). If I had to guess, I'd say that the rise of rock, pop, and (slightly later) hip-hop music gave people new musical options, and this led to the decline in popularity of jazz and classical because, for social reasons, their new competitors were more appealing to most people. This would then cause talented musicians to be attracted to the newer genres, making the older ones worse and less popular, and kicking off that whole vicious cycle. I'm completely speculating here, though; music history is not my forte.

The example of a single band like AC/DC is interesting, and them running out of good music is quite plausible, but other plausible explanations exist too. It would make just as much sense to say that the band members and their relationships changed with time, and since most ways in which a band can exist do not lead to the highest quality music, these changes made them worse. This would explain their declining quality just as well as your hypothesis, and it's hard to tell which is true.

It is certainly true that each song is unique, and once made, that point in song-space will no longer be fresh for the rest of time. The question is whether or not the space of good songs is so large that we don't care about specific points; if it is, your concern is unfounded. I'm not really sure what the truth is here, but I'm leaning toward the space being quite large. Music has a lot of different knobs to turn to make songs original (even while staying within the same genre), and I think you'd need more convincing evidence than "these genres' good output is reducing along with their popularity" to conclude that we've made all the good stuff already.

A bit of supporting evidence for this: classical music can probably be reasonably considered to be a more constrained genre than jazz, with less options for songs because of its stricter style, and therefore a smaller total number of "substantial works". It has existed for hundreds of years longer than jazz music has, so it would be very odd for both genres to be running out of good ideas at the same time, because, based on its longevity, you'd expect jazz music to last much longer than a few decades. Granted, those few decades were in the 20th century only, when much more music was being created than in previous centuries, but the point still stands, if a bit weaker than it could have been. This seems to imply that it's not actually running out of ideas that's causing the decline in substantial new work, if I'm understanding it right. As to what it actually is, though, I don't feel qualified to say.

Comment author: komponisto 07 February 2017 10:11:37AM 1 point [-]

classical music can probably be reasonably considered to be a more constrained genre than jazz, with less options for songs because of its stricter style, and therefore a smaller total number of "substantial works".

FYI: you make some good points, but this is very, very false.

No musical tradition in the world has ever encompassed a wider range of musical possibilities than that of Western art music (what you refer to as "classical music").

Comment author: Hal 08 February 2017 03:00:00AM 0 points [-]

Ah, I was worried about that, thanks for the feedback.

I don't know that much about any kind of music, but to the extent that I do know anything I'm much more knowledgeable about jazz than "classical". This is a common failure mode, I think: underestimating the complexity of things you're unfamiliar with compared to those you know better. (It also doesn't help that I learned about jazz into the context of playing it, while I learned about "classical" in the context of learning rule-oriented music theory).

This might completely invalidate my point, then, but I think jazz can at least come close to "classical"'s range of possibilities. Granted, that might be only because of the vast range of free jazz-y stuff that's unlikely to ever become widely popular. If the point does still stand (since, after all, jazz has existed for significantly less time), it is only in a weakened form.

Also, I'm inclined to believe what you're saying about "no musical tradition in the world" ever being as wide-ranging as "classical" music, but it is a pretty substantial claim. Do you mind elaborating on why you think that's so? I'm honestly mostly asking out of personal interest, not doubt; I want to learn more about this.

Comment author: komponisto 08 February 2017 09:31:30AM 0 points [-]

This might completely invalidate my point, then, but I think jazz can at least come close to "classical"'s range of possibilities

It comes the closest of any popular tradition, certainly, but not really that close in absolute terms.

Also, I'm inclined to believe what you're saying about "no musical tradition in the world" ever being as wide-ranging as "classical" music, but it is a pretty substantial claim. Do you mind elaborating on why you think that's so?

It's similar to the reason that Western civilization is the most diverse and heterogeneous of civilizations: because it eventually absorbs everything else.

Art music in the Western tradition has had over a millennium to develop, during which time it has come into contact with all other known traditions and incorporated their possibilities into its own possibility-space.

There is almost no property you can name that every piece of "classical" music must have; to my knowledge it's the only kind of music that doesn't even require sound. (Could you imagine a silent jazz piece?)

Comment author: bogus 08 February 2017 06:40:10PM *  0 points [-]

It's similar to the reason that Western civilization is the most diverse and heterogeneous of civilizations: because it eventually absorbs everything else.

Art music in the Western tradition has had over a millennium to develop, during which time it has come into contact with all other known traditions and incorporated their possibilities into its own possibility-space.

That's a compelling vision/ideal, but I'm not sure that it's a good description of the reality. Most people in 'Western art music' focus their attention on a very small repertoire - much of it from central Europe, much dating to the 19th or late-18th century. Now, I'm obviously not arguing that this traditional repertoire is wholly undeserving of our attention, but surely we would expect to see more variety than that.
For good measure, even the folks who are composing new 'Western art music' with no connection to that traditional repertoire, are hardly doing a good job of being in "contact with all other known traditions and incorporat[ing] their possibilities"! By and large, they seem lost in their own variety of free-wheeling experimentation, much of which is of no lasting value whatsoever. (That is, the results of this experimentation are by and large not popular, not musically interesting, and not even valuable as achievements of pure technical prowess!) Sure, sometimes a few people from that community manage to produce something worthwhile - Arvo Pärt; John Cage, at least for his 4'33'' - the only piece of music I'd listen to all day long! - Einojuhani Rautavaara; Kaija Saariaho, etc. So, maybe we should indeed celebrate these folks as our own star composers - the Mozart's and Beethoven's of our time. But with "mass music" at the same time having undergone a veritable Cambrian explosion of diversity since the mid-20th century, without sacrificing either popular appeal or musical interest, is this really the best we can do?

Comment author: komponisto 09 February 2017 10:31:21AM 0 points [-]

That's a compelling vision/ideal, but I'm not sure that it's a good description of the reality. Most people in 'Western art music' focus their attention on a very small repertoire

The nice thing about artistic visions is that they don't require permission from "most people"; all they have to do is make sense. Art is not a slave to sociology. (The idea that we should be obsessed with sociology is one of mass culture's memetic imprints.)

Notwithstanding its detailed appearance, your second paragraph is written in far mode (it sounds like a political statement, and doesn't seem informed by a model of your interlocutor); what is needed to understand this topic is a lot more of near mode.

Comment author: stephen_s 06 February 2017 04:10:47AM 0 points [-]

These are good points. I agree with you that we can view songs within a "song-space", but I think that specific points (songs) of a certain value or effect on humans are actually very sparse in the song-space. I can strum a few random chords, record it, and call it a song, but that is very different from the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction". If you take all the factors that comprise a song, it is only very specific combinations that turn out to be songs that have a strong effect on people. So the song-space would be large, but the specific points would be limited and sparse.

I think you bring up a good problem that it is hard to make judgments based on observations currently in music--it's hard to say for sure while new music is still being created. I do think that all music is closer than we think to completion, with the current popular genres of rap, pop, electronic etc being the final genres to be substantially completed. I predict that in the next 5-10 years, it will become more evident that music as a whole has reached a point where all of the most significant songs are in the past. Only time will tell to some extent. Even then I think it won't be clear to most people until we have experienced decades of lack of musical progress.

Thanks for your thoughts by the way.

Comment author: Hal 08 February 2017 03:20:43AM 1 point [-]

Right, that's a good point you're making about most points in song-space being worthless, and it maybe even shows that the multidimensional-space way of looking at things isn't really appropriate in this situation. Since I can't think of anything better, though, we might as well just keep talking about a "sparsely populated" space.

I think that distinction comes to core of the problem here: we're talking about a hugely vast space, where a hugely vast proportion of points in it are inconsequential. There's a battle going on between those intuitions of "hugeness;" for me, the space wins out, for you, the sparseness. It's probably not possible to reconcile these intuitions easily, as they're not immediately based on anything concrete. As unfortunate as the phrase is, I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree (unless I'm totally wrong here, which is a possibility). For what it's worth, I'm less confident now in my opinion that music genres like "classical" and jazz aren't close to being filled up.

You're making a bit of a different point in this comment, though, which I think it's important to clarify. It seems to me to be far more likely that a specific genre that has existed for decades or centuries is filling up, than that music as a whole is anywhere close to completion. The two are very different claims.

You mention rap and electronica as being some of the "final genres" to be substantially completed, but think of where they came from, and why they are the most recent genres. Rap (or hip-hop, not really sure which is the more accurate term for what I'm talking about) came out of a period of profound social change, while electronica is only possible due to technological advances in the last 30 or so years. I don't think anyone would have been able to predict Skrillex, or anything like it, in the '60s or maybe even the '70s (though I'm unconfident about exactly when because my history is lacking).

Doesn't this suggest that it's most prudent to "expect the unexpected" when it comes to musical progress? I only gave a couple of examples, but I'm sure that more exist; generally, it seems like the emergence of new genres of music is a much less predictable process than the creation of songs within a given genre. You'd need quite convincing evidence to suggest that this time is different (barring some kind of civilizational collapse or "end of history"-style cultural equilibrium, of course).

Comment author: stephen_s 08 February 2017 05:34:28AM 0 points [-]

Even though we are of slightly different opinions, I'm glad we are on the same page of what I was trying to discuss and get thoughts on--this has been good. You're right that the sparseness I'm proposing is hard to judge and you can't break down the argument further. My perception comes from my experience in attempting songwriting in the genre of rock where I felt like after spending many hours songwriting that I could understand and perceive the boundaries of the genre/niche at an intuitive level from much trial-and-error--which isn't an argument to convince you or someone else (of course), but just to explain to you why it seems self-evident to me that the songs are very sparse in the space. That in addition to observing the factors I had mentioned before (limited period of best work for each band, declining output of distinct new styles/bands, etc).

Yes, you are right that there is a big difference between addressing older genres like classical and jazz vs current genres, but applying the same concept has led me to believe that the remaining genres will soon be completed as well--which I will do my best to explain, bear with me.

With rock music, much of my experience comes from time spent songwriting and exploring the niche, but also from observing the progression of rock music. One of the simplest factors to see in progression of the opening up of new styles in rock was changes / advances in production styles. So in the 50s, songs by rock acts like Elvis, Buddy Holly, etc were all recorded in Mono sound. That proceeded into the Beatles early work (eg "I Wanna Hold Your Hand"). Mono sound gave songs a distinct sound different than stereo sound, but was also more limited in general. Phil Spector's Wall of Sound technique did allow complexity in Mono (as best used by the Beach Boys in Pet Sounds) but it did not have as much potential as stereo in general. The Beatles then started recording in stereo sound. Partially because of the new larger stereo space, and partially just in tandem development, they (and others) opened up the door for much more varied sounds and instrumentation and styles. Led Zeppelin and early metal figured out how to record heavier sounding drums and fuller distorted guitars. The 80s brought reverb (big room sound) and synthesizers and different guitar sounds into rock (Van Halen etc). Nirvana's Nevermind's production helped usher in even heavier drums and bigger distorted guitar alternative rock sound that persisted into grunge and post-grunge sounds. In the 2000s, indie rock like Animal Collective, TV on the Radio, etc explored additional sonic textures, combining distorted guitar with heavy reverb and big spaces (along with many bands who pulled from sonic and production styles of previous decades within an indie rock sound). But from my judgment, 2009 was the last peak of new distinct indie rock bands and sounds (it was starting to decline after that).

In a way, the simplest way to view running out of rock music was to see that there was no further places to go with production techniques or the sonic environment or instrumentation of a song (in a distinct way). At the same time, Indie rock in the 2000s was more democratized than rock ever was before because technology and the internet allowed anyone to write and record music. But I think that democratization allows completion to happen at a faster rate.

In a similar way, rap appears to have maxed out production advances and is starting to run out of distinct sonic textures. Current rap, electronic, and pop music use similar modern production elements that are different than what was 10 years ago or in the 90s or in the 80s. It takes examination of production and the progress up until now, but it seems evident to me that there isn't going to be another large production breakthrough. That in tandem with the fact that current rap, electronic, and pop (or any music) is more democratized as ever, with millions of people trying to create the next great style of song, and it seems likely that these genres will be substantially completed in the next 5-10 years as well (somewhat using rock completion as a metric).

I agree that it is difficult to explain or prove, because most of the evidence that I'm explaining is really a complex picture of what I see as self-evident but can't be broken down further into a simpler argument. We probably will have to agree to disagree, but I'm glad you brought it down to this level of detail. Thanks!

Comment author: CronoDAS 06 February 2017 02:59:44AM *  1 point [-]

Yeah, if you can write great-sounding music in the style of Bach or some other long dead composer, that doesn't make you as great as them, that makes you an unoriginal hack. (I can solve lots of math problems that Newton never could because I've read textbooks written long after he died, but that doesn't make me a better mathematician...)

Comment author: stephen_s 06 February 2017 03:56:59AM 0 points [-]

Yea exactly, that's the point I'm trying to get at. It seems like there is a limit to the possibilities of "great" contributions to any field, and if that is so then it makes sense that eventually each field will be completed. Completion is the point where humanity has completed every field and discovered all knowledge (and could be viewed as the biggest goal for humanity in a way).

Comment author: siIver 05 February 2017 09:20:37PM *  2 points [-]

Well, there is a provably finite possibility space for stories. You only have so many ways to arrange letters in a script. The question is whether it's meaningful.

To use some completely made-up numbers, I think the current possibility space for movies produced by the bottom 80% of people with the current style may be 90% covered. The space for the top 2%, on the other hand, is probably covered for less than 0.1% (and I resisted putting in more zeros there).

To get more concrete, I'll name some pieces (which I avoided doing in my initial post). Take Game of Thrones. It's a huge deal – why? Well, because there isn't really anything like it, But when you get rid of all the typical story tropes, like main characters with invulnerability, predictable plot progressions, a heroic minority lucking out against an evil majority, typical villains, etc etc, not only does the result get better, the possibility space actually widens. (I'm not saying scripts of this quality don't exist, but it seems to be the only show where a great script and a huge budget and a competent team came together. There could be thousands of shows like this, and there is just one).

Or take the movie Being John Malkovich. Basically, there is one supernatural element placed in an otherwise scientifically operating world, and you have a bunch of character who act like normal humans, meaning largely selfish and emotionally driven, acting over that element. Just thinking about how much you could do following that formula opens up a large area in that seems to be largely untouched.

I think we're shooting at Pluto over and over again while (for the most part) ignoring the rest of the universe. And it still works, because production quality and effects are still improving.

(edited)

Comment author: stephen_s 05 February 2017 09:51:53PM 1 point [-]

Interesting points, yea you're getting at the heart of what I'm trying to figure out. I think you're right, that it's easy to see how the story possibilities that use the simplest story types (Hero's Journey, etc) have possibly been ~90% completed.

But what makes you think that more complex story types allow many more possibilities? Along the lines of your point, Game of Thrones is a fantasy epic with a much darker tone that breaks storytelling conventions, but wouldn't any fantasy epic series with similar attributes in the future seem less groundbreaking than Game of Thrones? I agree that you could apply similar attributes to a Sci Fi epic series, or another type of series, but it seems like that type of story would begin to get old in the near future as well. On the television front, there are so many shows being created that it's hard to see how they can keep being groundbreaking.

With arty / more complex films like Being John Malkovich or Adaptation or Eternal Sunshine (I'm a fan of those Kaufman movies), does complexity lead to more possibilities of these types of movies or less? There seems to be a slowdown in more arty / complex stories this decade (than compared to the 90's for example).

With film and television creation being more democratized than ever, I don't see a reason why the creation of these type of films would slow down apart from the remaining stories requiring more complexity and skill to write than ever. I think we agree on the necessity of higher skill in writing currently. But, it seems to me that a slowdown in the category of non-traditional or unique stories would mean that we are running out of those story possibilities as well.

Comment author: siIver 06 February 2017 02:33:16AM *  1 point [-]

But what makes you think that more complex story types allow many more possibilities?

Isn't that an inherent property of complexity? A larger set of elements -> a larger powerset of elements -> more possibilities. In fact the size of the powerset grows at 2^x. I think a second game of thrones would be less groundbreaking, but doesn't have to be worse... and the same goes for the 1000th GoT.

There seems to be a slowdown in more arty / complex stories this decade (than compared to the 90's for example).

With film and television creation being more democratized than ever, I don't see a reason why the creation of these type of films would slow down apart from the remaining stories requiring more complexity and skill to write than ever.

I don't know as much as you about the industry. These sound worrisome.

I still think it is more likely that there is another reason (not that bold of an assumption) than that we really run out of complex things to write, because that just doesn't seem to be true looking at how complexity works and how much seems to be doable just by tweaking those more complex pieces we have. Adaption is another great example.

But, I might be suffering from bias here, because I much prefer the world where I'm right to the one where I'm wrong.

Comment author: stephen_s 06 February 2017 04:54:17AM 0 points [-]

Yes I see what you're saying. I think a larger set of elements does not mean that all combination of those elements "works" as a movie story. It seems better to view possibilities as limited and sparse distinct points. A movie like Star Wars requires the correct combination of thousands of factors, and if you only had the right balance of half of the factors then there wouldn't necessarily be another workable story there.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that there seems to be a certain number of distinct point possibilities of movie stories that isn't directly a factor of the set of elements involved.

I agree with you though, I'm not sure there is an iron-clad proof of this idea. I think it being proved right will depend on reaching a point where many people start to view our greatest works as being behind us, and wonder why that is the case.

Comment author: Lumifer 06 February 2017 01:17:09AM 0 points [-]

Take Game of Thrones. It's a huge deal – why?

I always thought it's because of blood and boobs. No?

Comment author: CronoDAS 06 February 2017 02:15:09AM *  2 points [-]

Nah, there are lots of other ways to see blood and boobs. And it was a big deal as a book series too.

Comment author: gjm 10 February 2017 02:03:15PM 0 points [-]

I think you're right, but it's worth noting that being a socially acceptable source of blood and boobs could go a long way.

Comment author: Lumifer 15 February 2017 06:12:15PM 1 point [-]

Nominated for the "Best Thread I've Read This Year" award.

Comment author: philh 07 February 2017 03:10:53PM 1 point [-]

In a similar way, there is a building popular consensus that Hollywood is not pursuing original ideas as much anymore and is relying on rebooting old stories and franchises.

I'm not sure this is a recent thing. For example, I think it's relevant that if you look at the IMDB top 250, you see an awful lot of sequels and adaptations, including 9 out of the top 10. (The exception is Pulp Fiction; in the top 25, we also get Inception, Seven Samurai, Se7en and The Usual Suspects).

Comment author: satt 07 February 2017 09:16:35PM *  1 point [-]

Delightfully, both the Internet Archive and IMDb are venerable enough that we can see how IMDb's top 250 looked 13 years ago. That lets us do a rough test of whether sequel 'n' adaptation spam clogging the chart is a new phenomenon.

IMDb's top 10, as of June 6, 2004:

  1. Godfather, The (1972)
  2. Shawshank Redemption, The (1994)
  3. Godfather: Part II, The (1974)
  4. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The (2003)
  5. Schindler's List (1993)
  6. Shichinin no samurai (1954)
  7. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The (2002)
  8. Casablanca (1942)
  9. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The (2001)
  10. Star Wars (1977)

Of these, I think 8 are sequels or adaptations (the original two are Shichinin no samurai and Star Wars).

Adding the next 15 films, things are slightly more complicated: Citizen Kane, Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo, and Amélie look pretty clearly original, but Raiders of the Lost Ark is more arguable, 'cause apparently it's an uncredited ripoff of Secret of the Incas. That makes 7½ originals out of 25.

Comparing to now, we've gone from 2/10 and 7½/25 originals to 1/10 and 5/25. That does suggest a recent trend towards more sequels and adaptations, but there were already a lot in '04.

Edit, 4 days later: see below for some corrections.

Comment author: philh 08 February 2017 10:33:15AM 1 point [-]

Good thinking! I agree this is evidence that the phenomenon is stronger today than in the past.

I think the 2004 numbers are actually higher than you suggest. Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo is the third in the Man With No Name trilogy, but North by Northwest and Memento seem to be original. I'm also not sure how to count Casablanca, which apparently was based on an unproduced play.

Comment author: satt 11 February 2017 02:50:43PM *  1 point [-]

I think the 2004 numbers are actually higher than you suggest. Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo is the third in the Man With No Name trilogy, but North by Northwest and Memento seem to be original.

Oops, thanks for picking me up on those. You're correct about IBIBIC and North by Northwest (maybe I mixed up the second with Psycho?). I'm not sure about Memento. On first Google it looked like Jonathan Nolan had written a short story with a similar premise, and that his brother Christopher had developed the film from the same premise, but without adapting the short story in the usual sense. Further reading convinced me that, actually, Christopher had adapted the film loosely from the short story, so I counted it as an adaptation.

Now I look a third time, I see from some guy's student paper that the film [edit: allegedly] wasn't adapted from the short story after all:

However, in an interview on the DVD, Chris Nolan reveals an interesting fact: the short story was not completed until well after filming of the movie had started. His brother Jonathan explained the idea to him on a cross-country roadtrip and granted him permission to extend it into a film. Here we see that "Memento Mori" is not the primary, hypotext we have been assuming. Instead, both the short story and the film are different readings or interpretations of Jonathan Nolan's original idea, as explained during that car ride.

Maybe I'll just give Memento a half point!

[Edit: forgot to acknowledge you on Casablanca. I decided it wasn't original because of the unproduced play you mention, but since the play wasn't produced my decision is kind of arguable.]

Comment author: sleepingthinker 07 February 2017 09:33:58PM 0 points [-]

Well, if you look at it most stories since prehistory have a similar structure. Guys like Vladimir Propp or Joseph Campbell analyzed old stories and came up with basic elements that almost all of the different stories shared.

George Lucas was actually inspired to create Star Wars by reading Campbell's "A Hero with a Thousand Faces".

This shows that all stories share a common structure, so it is hard to be totally original. However the structure is so versatile that it allows a huge number of different stories to come out and seem fresh and original.

We have to separate this from what Hollywood is producing today. Studios have gotten lazy and are just chasing after the big bucks. So instead of taking a risk on something new, they instead invest in a plethora of sequels, reboots and sequels to reboots. I think that's where the problem is, not in being able to come up with anything new.

Comment author: stephen_s 08 February 2017 12:00:54AM 0 points [-]

Yea, I'm a fan of Joseph Campbell's ideas, and of course the great monomyth movies (Star Wars, LOTR, The Matrix, Harry Potter, etc). I agree that every story relies on structures that other stories use and nothing is fully original. Star Wars is a great example because it borrowed not only from the monomyth story, but from westerns, samurai movies, WWII movies, space operas, high fantasy (LOTR), science fiction epics (Dune), etc. Star Wars was great because it was really the perfection of the space opera genre, just like The Matrix was the ideal cyberpunk movie.

What I'm trying to get at is that on a long enough timescale, there is a limit to the distinct movie stories we can create. A great story like Star Wars is really like a complex puzzle, with hundreds of factors working together to make it a great movie. Do you think there are an infinite number of potential movies as unique/distinct/fresh as Star Wars or do you think the number is limited? Once I believed that the number is limited, then I started to wonder about how many distinct/fresh stories are left. And then I started to think of the possibility that perhaps movie studios are not putting money into trying to make the next new Star Wars or The Matrix because no one is writing those scripts, because there actually isn't a new Star Wars or The Matrix to create. In other words, the decline in new properties made more sense to me in terms of my idea on completion than that the studios have just gotten lazy or more conservative (which could be true as well).

The more in depth explanations in other replies are a better justification of the idea, this is more just the observation in relation to movies. Hopefully you get what I'm trying to get at. It is conceptual and not easy to explain, for sure.

Comment author: lifelonglearner 06 February 2017 05:08:25PM 0 points [-]

Unsure about the argument that people today just aren't measuring up to the most acclaimed artists of previous generations. There's probably some survivorship bias there, where only the most extraordinary of each generation survives, meaning our yardsticks from the past were the very very best they had to offer.

So I don't think it's too big of a problem that most people today don't measure up to them.

Comment author: ChristianKl 06 February 2017 08:45:05AM 0 points [-]

Hollywood films cost a lot of money and running new films is risky. It's less risk to invest in franchises or stories that are already known to work.