Musical Distance

As of most of you, I play my music through the computer. One of the popular settings for music players is the “shuffle” or “random” mode. That is the next song is randomly (or semi-randomly) selected from the playlist. This was a great innovation for listening to overlooked song in your music collection.

The only problem is that the “shuffle” mode mixes clashing genres that is different genres are played next to each other. This is avoidable by filtering your playlist to include only a specific genre (say rock) and then use the “shuffle” mode to play only rock songs. But for me that’s only a partial solution. Because when the music player lists only rock songs it includes songs by “Rammstein” (heavy metal) and songs by “Jonathon Coulton” (folk rock). In particular I consider Rammstein “hard” music and “Jonathon Coulton” soft music.

I think “Rammstein” and “Jonathon Coulton” are musically far apart. Not as far apart as Classical Music and Rap. But not as close as Classical Music and Jazz. The idea of music genres quantifies the idea of musical closeness to some degree. But I want a quantitative measurement for how close two songs are musically. Similar to how we say that a song is “soft” or “loud/hard”.

The idea of musical distance is that if two songs are musically close together then their musical distance is a small number. Conversely if two songs are musically far apart then their musical distance is large. That is I want a metric (in the mathematical sense) for songs.

The only trouble is I know nothing about audio analysis. I know what a spectrum is but that’s about it. Julius O. Smith III at Stanford has been kind enough to post online his textbooks on the topic of music/audio processing and analysis at Mathematics of the Discrete Fourier Transform with Audio Applications, Introduction to Digital Filter with Audio Applications, and Physical Audio Signal Processing
for Virtual Musical Instruments and Audio Effects
. When I have a couple of weeks to spare (hah) I’ll try giving the books a read to see what I can come up with.

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