What Is The Evolution Of Rock?
The Evolution of Rock is an exploration into the relationships between 100 of the many subgenres of rock music. The goal of the project was to take the convoluted, rather abstract amount of rock subgenres, and organize them is a biologically specific way: with a phylogenetic tree. Presenting the end result online, in an interactive, digital format, the project fully encompasses the multi-disciplinary focus of the DCC program, as well as my own interests. To learn how to read a phylogenetic tree, or to link to the tree itself, see below. To see how I went about creating this project, click here.
How do I read a phylogenetic tree?
Phylogenetic trees are most commonly used to chart evolution, and adaptations, of a species of organism.
Each tree has a set of ‘leaves’ at the end which have the names of the different species that evolved from the ancestor, and in this tree the ‘leaves’ are the individual subgenres of rock music that evolved from my chosen ancestor: Rock ‘N’ Roll (for a justification of this choice see below). In this tree, when you hover over a subgenre’s name a pop-up appears which gives a brief discription/origin of the subgenre, a list of characteristics that determined its place in the tree, and a couple of examples of music within the genre.
Example pop-up window:
The lines covered in colorful dots, leading to the ‘leaves’, are the ‘branches’ of the tree. Each dot on each ‘branch’ is a certain trait that developed over time. The traits are what cause splits in the tree. In a phylogenetic tree of animals you might see a split where animals to the left have grown wings, and animals to the right have not. In this tree the only difference is that instead of wings, the trait may be a certain vocal style, or whether bands in the genre typically use pianos. You can hover over any dot to see what trait it is.
Example trait pop-up window:
The “Value” in the picture above is the trait.
At this point you should be ready to explore the tree, so enjoy! The link is below.
Link to the tree: The Evolution of Rock
– Justification of Rock ‘N’ Roll as the ancestor:
“Rock and roll” can mean two different things; the all-encompassing genre of rock, including all subgenres, or a subgenre of its own, characteristic of the transitional period from jazz combos with dominant piano and saxophone, to more guitar-heavy styles spurred by the post WWII availability of a cheap electric guitar. For the purposes of this tree it refers to the latter. Since the electric guitar is the key instrument of rock music, with the Fender Telecaster being the first of its kind, it makes logical sense that the transitional genre during which the guitar gained prominence would be the point at which to start analyzing rock music. Temporally Rock ‘N’ Roll is also the most logical choice, as it was spearheaded by acknowledged rock legends such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Bill Haley, all of which fit the description of these transitional jazz combo-based groups with an increasing guitar presence, and was still new enough to be condemned by moral authorities. Overall, musical genres develop on a spectrum, where one genre fades into the creation of the next, with no sudden jump, such as the fade from blues and jazz into rock ‘n’ roll. Since rock ‘n’ roll seems to represent the turning point in that spectrum, into the new genre of rock, it seemed like an appropriate choice to compare all subsequent subgenres to.
– Justification of Order of Traits:
When building the tree I created a draft tree based on general amounts of common traits between subgenres, and then I went through each trait and proceeded to add them the tree, consequently creating more divisions in the tree. The order in which I added the traits no doubt had an effect on the final shape of the tree. I chose to first begin with band-layout, adding traits such as the number of guitars and whether the bass was upright or electric. I then went through stylistic characteristics, such as vocal style, lyric content, and guitar effects. Lastly, I looked at traits that I deemed less consequential (ex. sound effects), and traits that were ambiguous to define in the first place (ex. hi-fi/lo-fi). In my opinion this order resulted in the most accurate, well-divided tree possible with my data.
With the amount of convergent similarities (traits that develop at multiple different places on the tree and not just at one, earlier, point) the predictions I can make are more general than specific. I am also limited by the need to acknowledge the timeline perspective in order to make predictions, while a main goal of the tree itself was to stray from the generic timeline structure. Based off of patterns in regards to the number of ancestral traits a genre has it seems that the amount fluctuates similar to a tide. As genres develop that stray farther and farther from the ancestral qualities, such as post-rock or psychedelic rock, other genres develop in response that make a return to those ancestral qualities, such as roots rock, often with a sense of nostalgia. Another prediction that can be made is that the use of electronic/digital instruments will continue to increase to match the current expansion of technology. The addition of digital instruments and sound effects seemed to be more prevalent in more ‘modern’ genres, and many genres were specifically tied to the latest electronic instrument development, whether it was a guitar, keyboard, synthesizer, etc.
1. When examining genres it is crucial to keep in mind that a band does not (often) fit within a single genre. Many times different albums, even different songs, by the same artist can fall within different genres. Think about The Beatles, or David Bowie.
2. All research done for this data was the personal, unbiased, listening research of one student done over the course of little over a semester. As such, keep in mind that this is in no way the end-all-be-all of genre definitions.
3. YouTube video examples were chosen at my own digression, based off what songs I thought would portray the genre well. However, there were always numerous options and I had to choose only two, so the video selection, while accurate, often reflects my own musical preferences to a degree.
4. All determined traits are averages of my own personal listening research.
–itol.embl.de – host of final result, and platform for creation/editing
–YouTube.com – source for listening research and embedded videos
–Wikipedia.com – source of original list of rock subgenres, of which 100 were chosen