Tonal Emergence: An agent-based model of tonal coordination

Setzler, M., & Goldstone, R. L. (2022). Tonal Emergence: An Agent-Based Model of Tonal Coordination. Cognition, 221, 1-19. 104968.

 Humans have a remarkable capacity for coordination. Our ability to interact and act jointly in groups is crucial to our success as a species. Joint Action (JA) research has often concerned itself with simplistic behaviors in highly constrained laboratory tasks. But there has been a growing interest in understanding complex coordination in more open-ended contexts. In this regard, collective music improvisation has emerged as a fascinating model domain for studying basic JA mechanisms in an unconstrained and highly sophisticated setting. A number of empirical studies have begun to elucidate coordination mechanisms underlying joint musical improvisation, but these findings have yet to be cached out in a working computational model. The present work fills this gap by presenting Tonal Emergence, an idealized agent-based model of improvised musical coordination. Tonal Emergence models the coordination of notes played by improvisers to generate harmony (i.e., tonality), by simulating agents that stochastically generate notes biased towards maximizing harmonic consonance given their partner’s previous notes. The model replicates an interesting empirical result from a previous study of professional jazz pianists: feedback loops of mutual adaptation between interacting agents support the production of consonant harmony. The model is further explored to show how complex tonal dynamics, such as the production and dissolution of stable tonal centers, are supported by agents that are characterized by (i) a tendency to strive toward consonance, (ii) stochasticity, and (iii) a limited memory for previously played notes. Tonal Emergence thus provides a grounded computational model to simulate and probe the coordination mechanisms underpinning one of the more remarkable feats of human cognition: collective music improvisation. 

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