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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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Everything You Need to Know About Record Store Day
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The unlikely resurgence of vinyl as an alternative to digital music formats is made up of more than just a small subculture of purists. Today, more than 1400 independent record stores deal in both vintage and current releases. Those store owners and community supporters created Record Store Day in 2007 as a way of celebrating the grassroots movement that’s allowed a once-dying medium to thrive.

To commemorate this year’s Record Store Day on Saturday, April 21, a number of stores (a searchable list can be found here) will be offering promotional items, live music, signings, and more. While events vary widely by store, a number of artists will be issuing exclusive LPs that will be distributed around the country.

For Grateful Dead fans, a live recording of a February 27, 1969 show at Fillmore West in San Francisco will be released and limited to 6700 copies; Arcade Fire’s 2003 EP album will see a vinyl release for the first time, limited to 3000 copies; "Roxanne," the Police single celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, will see a 7-inch single release with the original jacket art.

The day also promises to be a big one for David Bowie fans. A special white vinyl version of 1977’s Bowie Now will be on shelves, along with Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78), a previously-unreleased, three-record set. Jimmy Page, Frank Zappa, Neil Young, and dozens of other artists will also be contributing releases.

No store is likely to carry everything you might want, so before making the stop, it might be best to call ahead and then plan on getting there early. If you’re one of the unlucky vinyl supporters without a brick and mortar store nearby, you can check out Discogs.com, which will be selling the special releases online.

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Jim Henson's Labyrinth Is Being Adapted Into a Stage Musical
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More than 30 years after its cinematic debut, Labyrinth could be hitting the stage. In an interview with Forbes, Jim Henson's son and Henson Company CEO Brian Henson shared plans to transform the cult classic into a live musical.

While the new musical would be missing David Bowie in his starring role as Jareth the Goblin King, it would hopefully feature the soundtrack Bowie helped write. Brian Henson says there isn't a set timeline for the project yet, but the stage adaptation of the original film is already in the works.

As for a location, Henson told Forbes he envisions it running, "Not necessarily [on] Broadway, it could be for London's West End, but it will be a stage show, a big theatrical version. It’s very exciting."

Labyrinth premiered in 1986 to measly box office earnings and tepid reviews, but Jim Henson's fairytale has since grown into a phenomenon beloved by nostalgic '80s kids and younger generations alike. In the same Forbes interview, Brian Henson also confirmed the 2017 news that a long-anticipated Labyrinth sequel is apparently in development. Though he couldn't give any specifics, Henson confirmed that, "we are still excited about it but the process moves very slowly and very carefully. We're still excited about the idea of a sequel, we are working on something, but nothing that's close enough to say it's about to be in pre-production or anything like that."

While fans eagerly await those projects to come out, they can get their fix when the film returns to theaters across the U.S. on April 29, May 1, and May 2. Don't forget to wear your best Labyrinth swag to the event.

[h/t Forbes]

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