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What Differentiates Human Drummers From Machines? Fractals.

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Robots are replacing humans in all sorts of jobs. But when it comes to creative fields, human beings still seem to have the upper hand. Take music, for example. It isn't just that robots don't exude the same sex appeal as rock stars—people actually prefer songs with human error. The reason for this, scientists say, is because in every man-made performance, there are tiny flaws that follow an appealing fractal pattern.

A 2011 study led by Holger Hennig, a physicist at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen, Germany, looked at the differences between man-made music and computer-generated tunes. First, they found that people prefer man-made music, with all its inherent imperfections, to computer-generated, technically-perfect beats. However, they also determined that when songs were digitally altered to include imperfections, listeners still preferred the organically "flawed" songs.

The so-called "humanizing" aspect available in some professional audio software applications adds random miscues in an attempt to make the sound more organic. But when humans make music, their natural divergence from perfection doesn't occur randomly, the research showed. Rather, these deviations create a fractal—a never-ending, self-similar pattern seen throughout nature, such as in the spirals of a seashell or the veins of a leaf.

More recently, a team of scientists, including Hennig, put their theory to the test by examining the drum beat of a popular song. (Granted, this means the study is incredibly limited in its scope.) The team chose pro drummer Jeff Porcaro for its focus—as a session musician, he was responsible for keeping time for the likes of Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Michael Jackson, and Madonna. From there, they honed in on one particular song—the 1982 hit "I Keep Forgettin'" by Michael McDonald.

The study measured the deviations in the four-per-beat tink-tink-tink-tink on the hi-hat throughout the song, both in timing and in volume. The imperfect intervals between the sixteenth notes, as well as their volume, varied throughout. And when the researchers considered just these deviations, either in pacing or volume, they noticed the pattern was the same, whether they were examining just a few seconds or the song's full 3:40. As Hennig described it to Science Magazine, "It seems that the timekeeper in the brain not only produces fractal timing, but likely also fractal intensity or, in this case, loudness." Although both the intervals and the volume exhibited fractal variations, the patterns didn't correspond—meaning Porcaro wasn't just playing louder when he was also playing faster. 

This tendency towards fractals seems to be what gives music its artful, human quality. Although now that the curtain has been pulled back on the magic happening in a talented musician's brain, Hennig says this should allow artificial humanizing software to become even more, well, human-like. Better watch out, rock stars.

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Your Library Has a Free Music Service That You Probably Didn't Know About
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Did you know that you can download free music from your local library? Music that you can keep. That's right: not borrow, keep.

It's all possible thanks to a service called Freegal (a portmanteau of free and legal), which gives patrons of participating libraries access to 15 million songs from 40,000 labels, notably including the Sony Music Entertainment catalog. All you need is a library card.

Here's how it works: You can download a few songs a week, and, in many areas, enjoy several hours of streaming, too (the precise number of songs and hours of streaming varies by library). Once you download MP3 files, they're yours. You're free to put them on iTunes, your iPhone, your tablet, and more. You don't have to return them and they don't expire. The counter resets on Mondays at 12:01 a.m. Central Time, so if you hit your limit, you won't have long to wait before you get more downloads. And Freegal has some great stuff: A quick scan of the front page reveals music from Beyoncé, Michael Jackson, Cardi B, Simon & Garfunkel, Childish Gambino, The Avett Brothers, Lykke Li, and Sara Bareilles.

Freegal has been around since 2010 and is offered at libraries worldwide. In the U.S., that includes the New York Public Library, Queens Library, Los Angeles Public Library, West Chicago Public Library, Houston Public Library, and more. In the past few years, libraries have debuted some other amazing free digital services, from classic films streaming on Kanopy to audiobooks and e-books available to borrow on SimplyE and OverDrive. But the thing that's so exciting about Freegal is that you can keep the MP3 files, unlike services that limit you to borrowing.

Freegal's site is easy to navigate: You can browse playlists and make your own, check out the most popular tunes, and save songs to your wishlist for when you get more credits. In the old days, music fans would check out CDs from the library and upload them onto their computers before returning them. But Freegal eliminates the need to go to your local branch, check out an album, and bring it back when you're done.

Freegal app
Freegal

To find out if your local library has Freegal, go to freegalmusic.com and click login, then search for your area. It's important to note: Your library's contract might not have both streaming and downloading privileges. You can use Freegal on the web or as an app available on the App Store, Google Play, and Amazon. Of course, the service doesn't have everything. And sometimes, when it does have an artist, it will only have a few of their most popular albums. But if you frequently buy music on iTunes or elsewhere, checking Freegal first may save you a bit of money.

If you don't yet have a library card, Freegal is just one more reason why you should get one ASAP.

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An Anthology Series Based on Dolly Parton's Songs Is Coming to Netflix
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Though she may be best known for her music career, Dolly Parton is a Hollywood powerhouse. In addition to starring in more than a few contemporary classics, from 9 to 5 to Steel Magnolias, she's also been partly responsible for some of your favorite TV series. As part owner of Sandollar Entertainment, a film and television production company, she's been a silent figure behind shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now, the queen of country music is preparing to return to the small screen once again—this time on Netflix.

The beloved singer is partnering with Warner Bros. Television to produce an anthology series for Netflix, Engadget reports. Set to debut in 2019, each of the eight episodes will have a theme based on a song by Parton, who will serve as executive producer and singer-songwriter in addition to appearing in the series.

"As a songwriter, I have always enjoyed telling stories through my music," Parton said in a statement. "I am thrilled to be bringing some of my favorite songs to life with Netflix. We hope our show will inspire and entertain families and folks of all generations, and I want to thank the good folks at Netflix and Warner Bros. TV for their incredible support."

The list of songs hasn’t yet been released, but I Will Always Love You, Jolene, and The Bargain Store are among Parton’s greatest hits.

Parton previously worked with Warner Bros. to produce the made-for-television movies Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors (2015) and Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love (2016). She has also nearly finished the music for the upcoming film Dumplin'—based on a novel by Julie Murphy and starring Jennifer Aniston—and the soundtrack will be released via Dolly Records and Sony Music Nashville, according to Parton’s website.

[h/t Engadget]

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