By Carlos Ncube
Researchers from the Queen Mary University of London in a recent comparative study on outliers in music found that Botswana has the most distinct catalogue of recordings compared to other countries in the world.
The research aimed to identify unique musical traits in 8 200 recordings from 137 countries by using signal processing to retrieve musical information. The study looked at rhythmic, timbral, melodic and harmonic content in recordings, and recordings with unique characteristics were called ‘the outliers’.
The retrieval process also involved datamining as well as spatial data to identify the geographical outliers in relation to their neighbouring countries.
“This is the first study to investigate outliers in world music with such a large scale and tracing the geographic origin of these recordings could help identify areas of the world that have developed a unique musical character,” Queen Mary’s School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science PhD candidate Maria Panteli said.
Researchers Panteli, Emmanouil Benetos and Simon Dixon used 6 132 audio recordings of folk and traditional music from the Smithsonian Folkways in the US, which has a corpus of 40 000, and 2 068 from the British Library Sound Archive.
The study focussed on 30-second sound segments from each of the 8 200 recordings because Smithsonian Folkways only allowed a preview of that length of each song in its archive. Each country in the study was allocated a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 100 recordings. Some 1 706 out of the 8 200 recordings were identified as outliers.
The study found 61% of the Botswana recordings as outliers. The study says the high outlier percentage of Botswana’s recordings was contributed to by “solo performances of the mouth bow and dance songs featuring group singing accompanied with handclapping or other percussion”.
Other African countries with a high outlier count include Côte d’Ivoire (60%), Chad (55%) and Benin (54%).
The spatial statistics were used to compare each country’s recording to its neighbours. In this part of the research, China, which borders 12 countries, had 21% of its records identified as outliers from recordings of the butterfly harp string instrument and singing examples from the Han cultural group.
Countries that had the most outliers in the individual categories included Zimbabwe (melody), French Guiana (timbre) and Benin (harmony and rhythm).
“There is a lot to be explored yet and we believe continuing on this line of research will help us understand better the music cultures of the world,” Panteli said. – Music In Africa