WTF Fun Fact 13611 – Turning Data Into Music

Scientists are turning data into music to see if it can help us understand large and intricate datasets in new and interesting ways.

Tampere University and Eastern Washington University’s groundbreaking “data-to-music” algorithm research transforms intricate digital data into captivating sounds. And the researchers have presented a novel and potentially revolutionary approach to data comprehension.

Sonic Data Interpretation

At TAUCHI (Tampere Unit for Computer-Human Interaction) in Finland and Eastern Washington University in the USA, a dynamic research group dedicated half a decade to exploring the merits of data conversion into musical sounds. Funded by Business Finland, their groundbreaking findings have been encapsulated in a recent research paper.

Jonathan Middleton, DMA, the main contributor to the study, serves as a professor of music theory and composition at Eastern Washington University. Simultaneously, he is recognized as a visiting researcher at Tampere University. Under his guidance, the research pivoted on enhancing user engagement with intricate data variables using “data-to-music” algorithms. To exemplify their approach, the team utilized data extracted from Finnish meteorological records.

Middleton emphasizes the transformative potential of their findings. “In today’s digital era, as data collection and deciphering become intertwined with our routine, introducing fresh avenues for data interpretation becomes crucial.” So, he champions the concept of a ‘fourth’ dimension in data interpretation, emphasizing the potential of musical characteristics.

Turning Data Into Music

Music is not just an art form; it captivates, entertains, and resonates with human emotions. It enhances the experience of films, video games, live performances, and more. Now, imagine the potential of harnessing music’s emotive power to make sense of complex data sets.

Picture a basic linear graph displaying heart rate data. Now, amplify that visualization with a three-dimensional representation enriched with numbers, hues, and patterns. But the true marvel unfolds when a fourth dimension is introduced, where one can audibly engage with this data. Middleton’s quest revolves around identifying which mode or dimension maximizes understanding and interpretation of the data.

For businesses and entities that anchor their strategies on data interpretation to tailor offerings, Middleton’s research presents profound implications. So he believes that their findings lay the groundwork for data analysts worldwide to tap into this fourth, audial dimension, enhancing understanding and decision-making.

A Symphony of Data Possibilities

As data continues to drive decision-making processes across industries, the quest for innovative interpretation techniques remains relentless. Tampere University and Eastern Washington University’s “data-to-music” research illuminates a path forward. With the potential to hear and emotionally connect with data, industries can achieve a deeper understanding, making data analysis not just a technical task but also an engaging sensory experience.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Complex data becomes easier to interpret when transformed into music” — ScienceDaily

WTF Fun Fact 13497 – “Weightless,” The Most Relaxing Song

Every so often, a song stands out for its ability to profoundly affect listeners. One such track is “Weightless” by Marconi Union. This is widely known as the most relaxing song ever. But what makes it so uniquely tranquilizing?

The Creation of “Weightless”

The British ambient music trio Marconi Union collaborated with sound therapists when composing “Weightless.” Their objective was straightforward: to create a song that would induce a tangible state of relaxation in listeners. The track wasn’t just randomly composed; every element was intentionally selected to produce a calming effect.

The Science of Stress Reduction and the Most Relaxing Song

Research has shown that music has a direct effect on our physiological and emotional states. Fast beats can elevate heart rate and blood pressure. Slower, more mellow rhythms typically induce relaxation.

In a unique study, neuroscientists wanted to determine the most relaxing songs and how they influence stress markers. Among the tracks tested, “Weightless” stood out, reducing anxiety levels by up to 65%.

Sonic Components of “Weightless”

So, what components of “Weightless” make it an aural sedative? Here are a few:

  • Rhythm: The track begins at a tempo of 60 beats per minute and gradually decreases to around 50. As listeners sync with this rhythm, their heart rate and blood pressure drop, inducing a state of calm.
  • Tonal Arrangement: Harmonious patterns and lack of sudden tonal changes mean the brain doesn’t need to predict or process any jarring shifts in the music. This reduces the brain’s cognitive load, leading to relaxation.
  • Bass Frequencies: Deep, resonating undertones create a soothing atmosphere.

The Most Relaxing Song is Not Good Driving Music

The effects of “Weightless” were so potent that some participants in studies reported feeling drowsy. As a result, people were advised not to listen to the song while driving. This speaks volumes about the song’s relaxation capabilities; it can be likened to the effects of certain medicinal interventions.

The original track spans over eight minutes, a deliberate choice. This extended playtime allows listeners to sink deeper into relaxation as they become more immersed in the soundscapes. The ebb and flow of its harmonies gives listeners time to truly disengage from any immediate stresses and focus solely on the music.

“Weightless” also incorporates the gentle sounds of nature. The distant chirping of birds and the soft murmuring of water both contribute to a soundscape that recalls tranquil natural settings, further promoting relaxation.

The Power of Expectation

There’s also a psychological element to consider. As “Weightless” gained fame as the most relaxing track, listeners approached it with an expectation of calm. This priming can enhance the song’s effects. If you believe something will relax you, it’s more likely to do so.

Want to see what effect is has on you? Have a listen:

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Weightless by Marconi Union: ‘World’s most relaxing song’ used to calm patients before surgery” — The Independent

WTF Fun Fact 13403 – The Resurgence of Cassette Tapes

The recent resurgence of cassette tapes among music fans has come as a surprise to many. In fact, sales of cassette tapes have reached a level not seen in two decades, according to research conducted by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). While cassette sales still trail behind vinyl records in overall numbers, their popularity has been steadily rising for the last decade.

Why cassette tapes?

There are a few driving forces behind this surge in cassette tape sales. Some of it can be attributed to the recent releases of notable acts like Arctic Monkeys, Harry Styles, and Florence + the Machine. These artists have embraced the format, and their latest offerings have propelled cassette sales to new heights. In fact, the BPI reports that all twenty of last year’s top-selling cassettes were released in 2022. So, music enthusiasts are not only embracing the nostalgia of vintage cassettes but also seeking out new releases in this format.

The allure of cassette tapes among younger music fans seems to lie in their appeal as collectible items. Mark Burgess, the founder of Flashback Records in north London, observed a significant uptick in cassette sales following the pandemic. He told NME (cited below) that the smaller size of cassettes makes them easier to collect. This gives enthusiasts an opportunity to curate a personal music library. And many fans appreciate the sequential nature of cassette albums, allowing them to experience the music as the artist originally intended.

Vinyl revival

The resurgence of cassettes follows a similar trajectory to the vinyl revival that took place a few years ago. In 2022, vinyl sales surpassed CD sales for the first time in 35 years. Clearly, many people prefer physical music formats (or at least want the option). Paul Williams, a spokesperson for the BPI, drew parallels between the vinyl market’s resurgence and cassette popularity.

The renewed interest in physical music formats also gives artists the opportunity to establish a deeper connection with their fans. Releasing music on cassettes allows artists to create something tangible. It gives fans a tactile connection to the music.

The contemporary fascination with nostalgia across popular culture may play a role in the cassette’s revival. People are increasingly drawn to revisiting old TV shows, films, and music, seeking comfort and familiarity in the past. The cassette tape evokes a sense of nostalgia and adds to the overall sensory experience.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Cassette tape sales at 20-year high” — NME

WTF Fun Fact 13191 – Shel Silverstein Is The Father of A Boy Named Sue

You may know the song “A Boy Named Sue,” by Johnny Cash. It’s about a boy who seeks revenge against his father for giving him a traditional girl’s name. But did you know Shel Silverstein is the father of A Boy Named Sue? No, not the biological father, but the person who wrote the lyrics.

How is Shel Silverstein the Father of A Boy Named Sue?

According to a history of the song by The Capital Repertory Theater (cited below):

“In 1969, it was a guitar pull – a get together where songwriters try out new songs – that brought together Cash and renowned children’s book author Shel Silverstein. The guest list for the gathering also included Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, but it was Silverstein who shined with his song which centered around a man named Sue, whose long-sought revenge on his father for giving him a girl’s name ends in a bar fight and ultimately understanding.”

Silverstein is a beloved children’s author, and the lyrics are unlike anything else he wrote. He was inspired by a friend named Jean Shepherd who was made fun of as a child for his feminine-sounding name.

Silverstein wrote a follow-up named “The Father of a Boy Named Sue” from the father’s point of view.

The debut Sue

Cash even played the song at the White House (for Nixon) and on his show next to the lyricist/poet himself. But the first debut of the song was at Cash’s iconic show at San Quentin Prison in California.

It was June Carter Cash who convinced him to try out the song on his tough audience. But Cash didn’t quite know the lyrics yet. He read them off a piece of paper. In fact, you can hear him laughing along with the audience on the track.

Not only did his prison audience love it, but the song also became a national hit, climbing to number 2 on the charts.  WTF fun facts

Source: “A Boy Named Sue” — Capital Repertory Theater

WTF Fun Fact 13189 – I Hate Elvis Badges

Meme sites and Reddit boards have long shared a tidbit of Elvis’s history that people find hard to believe. Elvis Presley’s manager once sold “I Hate Elvis” badges so he could make money off of people who hated The King just as he did with fans. And it appears to be true.

Selling I Hate Elvis badges

Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker was quite the marketing genius. He was also excellent at making himself money in any way possible. Many of Elvis’s early music and performance deals paid Parker half of the money.

By the end of 1956, Elvis’s merchandise was bringing in $22 million! For this, Parker got 25% of the profits. But it was a little reverse psychology that made him even more money.

Not everyone loved Elvis. And we all know that when something or someone is super popular, people take great pride in outwardly hating it to somehow set themselves apart from the “masses.” (Not to mention that older generations saw Elvis as a corrupting influence.)

As a result, Colonel Parker decided to make both sides happy and created “I Hate Elvis” badges for non-fans. That way he could make money off of the other side too. (Too bad he didn’t come up with an “I feel ambivalent about Elvis” badge – he could have covered all his bases.)

In a book titled Colonel (The True Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley), author Alanna Nash mentions the badges. She states:

“Parker, who tied on a vendor’s apron to peddle both I LOVE ELVIS and I HATE ELVIS buttons to folks who reacted strongly one way or another, didn’t care what the newsmen said as long as they said it — and paid their own admission to the shows.”

All press is good press if you’re making money off of it, apparently! You can still find vintage “I hate Elvis” buttons online.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Did Elvis Presley’s Manager Sell ‘I Hate Elvis’ Buttons to Profit From ‘Haters’?” — Truth or Fiction

WTF Fun Fact 13121 – Nightmare Disorder

Chances are you’ve had at least one nightmare before – and perhaps even one bad enough to wake you up from your slumber. While nightmares are common, nightmare disorder is (luckily) not.

What is nightmare disorder?

According to the Mayo Clinic (cited below), “Nightmare disorder is when nightmares happen often, cause distress, disrupt sleep, cause problems with daytime functioning or create fear of going to sleep.”

Sounds stressful!

For those with the disorder, the bad dreams ten to occur in the second half of the sleep cycle. And while they’re brief, they’re bad enough to wake you up and cause enough anxiety to prevent you from getting back to sleep. You may even experience a slowly unfolding nightmare that gets worse as it continues or one that causes you to suffer from palpitations.

This disorder is only diagnosed in people who have frequent enough nightmares that it interferes with their normal days due to distress or lack of sleep. In children, it can lead to a fear of the dark or behavioral problems.

Music for nightmares

According to Smithsonian Magazine, there is new hope for sufferers of nightmare disorder, who may number somewhere between 10 million in the U.S. alone.

A study showed those people might be able to take charge of their dreams and change their tone using music.

“Sounds played during sleep may reduce the frequency of nightmares and promote positive emotions that can help lead to a better slumber. Existing therapies coach sleepers to imagine and rehearse alternate happy endings to their nightmares before bed, a practice known to significantly reduce bad dreams. Now, Swiss scientists aim to supercharge this idea by associating those happy endings with an audio cue that will trigger them during sleep. When nightmare disorder sufferers listened to a piano chord while they practiced imagining a good dream, then heard that same chord while they were in REM sleep, bad dreams were frequently kept at bay.”

This is called imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT), and it’s a cognitive-behavioral technique that only takes about 5 or 10 minutes a day.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Nightmare Disorder” — Mayo Clinic

WTF Fun Fact 12913 – St. Hildegard of Bingen

Being a medieval nun didn’t come with many perks – and it certainly didn’t come with much power. Well, unless you’re the (now St.) Hildegard of Bingen.

Who is Hildegard of Bingen?

The 12th-century abbess was given to the church by her noble family at age 8 and took her vows at age 15. She was an enclosed “anchorite,” which, according to Atlas Obscura (cited below) “were metaphorically “buried” in a small cell or structure attached to a monastery or church. They were often given food through grilles, and were allowed little or no communication with the outside world.”

She spent the next three decades learning about music, botany, health, and healing. It wasn’t until she was in her 40s that she was called by God to start writing things down, after which she became a prolific writer and composer.

Hildegard could have easily been seen as a heretic because she was an openly vocal critic of Church abuses of wealth and power who unapologetically insisted she had visions and received prophecies sent by God. But the Church believed her and needed her intellect.

Why is St. Hildegarde famous?

After Hildegard began writing, a monk friend of hers began translating her words into proper Latin, and in 1147 her work Scivas was given to Pope Eugenius III. He declared her work important to the church and later called on her to start preaching.

While the word “feminist” didn’t exist at the time, she did use her visions to empower herself and carve out a place for herself in the Church. And she could be highly critical of the institution as well, calling out their desire for power and prestige over piety. She believe Church corruption was destroying the faith.

Atlas Obscura notes that “Hildegard became an advisor and honest critic of Kings, Queens, Emperors, Popes and priests. Over 400 of her letters survive, and according to biographer Fiona Maddocks, they offer fascinating insight into the different ways she portrayed herself. To men, she was but a poor, frail woman, who was speaking what God had told her. In her correspondence with women, she was much more straightforward and honest, often dispensing practical advice from one of her many areas of expertise.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Medieval Prophetess Who Used Her Visions to Criticize the Church” — Atlas Obscura

WTF Fun Fact 12745 – Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young”

While it’s hard to tell if a story about Billy Joel and Notre Dame is real or an urban legend, one thing we do know is that the seat of the Catholic controversy over Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young” was Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

The offending verses

The song brings up a bit about Catholic guilt, but three verses, in particular, offended the Catholic dioceses in places like New Jersey and Boston:

“Come out Virginia, don’t let me wait
You Catholic girls start much too late
Aw, but sooner or later it comes down to fate
I might as well be the one”

“The stained glass curtain you’re hiding behind
Never lets in the sun”

“They say there’s a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it’s better but I say it ain’t
I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
The sinners are much more fun”

Joel told the magazine Performing Songwriter in 2008 that he didn’t write the song to be anti-Catholic but rather “pro-lust.” But that was enough for the Church.

Joel told the magazine:

“The song came out on The Stranger and was no big deal. But then Columbia decided to put it out as a single, and that’s when there were problems. There was a radio station at Seton Hall College in New Jersey. They banned it.”

After that, it got banned in Boston and Joel got a mini-reputation as being anti-Catholic. But that only made the song more popular.

Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young” gains steam

“The single had been out a short amount of time and wasn’t doing well. The minute they banned it, it starting shooting up the charts, because nothing sells a record like a ban or a boycott. This record would have died out. Nobody would’ve heard it if they hadn’t tried to cut people off from it. As soon as the kids found out there was some authority that didn’t want them to hear it, they bought it in droves and it became this big hit.”

But some adults weren’t amused and sent the singer death threats. Of course, that didn’t stop him from playing it at concerts AND on Saturday Night Live. As Billy Joel recalled of “Only the Good Die Young”:

“I did it on Saturday Night Live and everybody was all freaked out,” Joel said. “They were saying, ‘You can’t do that on TV.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ Some people took offense at it, but there were all these novels written about Jewish guilt, so why not a song about Catholic guilt? Every Catholic I know is still recovering from this incredibly guilty upbringing they had. The song was supposed to be lighthearted. It was taken out of context with the rest of the album.”

The rumors that might be true

Joel also told the magazine that he “ wrote letters to the arch-bishops and the president of Seton Hall saying, ‘Please ban my next record.’”

As for the Notre Dame story/urban legend, people still tell the story that Joel was invited to play a concert at the university in the 70s on the condition that he did not play the song. Then, he proceeded to play it 6 times in a row, earning him a ban from campus. While that latter part is not true (he visited for a talk and played a concert on May 25, 2022), he certainly did play the song in the 70s – but it may only be the case that he played the opening notes about 5 times throughout the concert before playing the whole song in one of his encores (and even changed out some lyrics to specifically address “Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s girls”).

Oh, and another fun fact: the song was originally written as a reggae song, but Joel’s drummer hated it so much that he threw his drumsticks at the singer after they played it for the first time. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Billy Joel’s ‘Only The Good Die Young'” — Performing Songwriter