Dr Sally Street

The role of population size in the cultural evolution of folk tunes

1:00pm - 2:00pm / Thursday 21st October 2021
Type: Webinar / Category: Department / Series: Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology Seminar Series
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Multiple lines of evidence suggest that large populations are necessary to support complex cultural repertoires. However, support for a positive correlation between population size and cultural complexity is not universal, and previous evidence is largely based on a limited range of case studies from the realm of technology. For the first time (to our knowledge), we investigate the role of population size in the complexity of music, using Irish folk session tunes as a case study. Using analyses of a large online folk tune dataset, we find that tunes played by larger communities of musicians have diversified into a greater number of different versions but are intermediate in melodic complexity. These results suggest that larger populations create more opportunities for musical innovation, but drive stronger convergence towards tunes with an optimal balance of learnability and aesthetic interest. Our results suggest that the relationship between population size and cultural complexity is domain-dependent, rather than universal, and demonstrate the utility of a cultural evolutionary approach for understanding large scale trends in traditional music.

Speaker: Dr Sally Street

In affiliation with Durham University.

Zoom registration information: contact Lucy Timbrell lucy.timbrell@liverpool.ac.uk