An interesting piece on repetition and music has appeared on NPR recently discussing the work of music psychologist Dr Elizabeth Margulis. The main thread recounts how she randomly cut up and editing the work of classical composer Luciano Berio, creating short pieces which were far more repetitive than the originals. On the basis this has been reported at all it’s probably pretty clear that listeners preferred the new repetitive pieces over the originals.

Of real interest, however, is the statistic that 90% of the music we hear is music we’ve already heard before. In some ways that can appear a little insidious, like when you consider the unconscious manner we can hear a few instrumental bars of a song in an advert and then instantly know we like the same song when the single turns up on the radio weeks later. We don’t even know we’ve heard it before but our exposure to it allows us to feel more comfortable with it, and thus make us more susceptible to giving it the time of day. On the other hand take a look through your iTunes, your record collection or consider your favourite radio station. How many plays have your top tracks, favourite albums and go to radio stations had over the years? Why?

Repetition is a strange thing in the modern era. We associate it with the mechanical, the digital and even with manipulation yet it is something that has developed throughout human history. Language, musical notation, and the manner in which we learn are all underpinned by repetition. Consider that statistic the next time you hear a track that feels like it’s brand new and ask yourself, ‘where might I have heard this before?’

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