Miguel Fuentes & Marco Buongiorno Nardelli on Music, Emergence, and Society

Episode Notes

One way to frame the science of complexity is as a revelation of the hidden order under seemingly separate phenomena — a teasing-out of music from the noise of history and nature. This effort follows centuries of work to find the rules that structure language, music, and society. How strictly analogous are the patterns governing a symphony and those that describe a social transformation? Math and music are old friends, but new statistical and computational techniques afford the possibility of going even deeper. What fundamental insights — and what sounds — emerge by bringing physicists, composers, social scientists, data artists, and biologists together?

Welcome to COMPLEXITY, the official podcast of the Santa Fe Institute. I’m your host, Michael Garfield, and every other week we’ll bring you with us for far-ranging conversations with our worldwide network of rigorous researchers developing new frameworks to explain the deepest mysteries of the universe.

This week on Complexity, we sit with two of SFI’s External Professors — Miguel Fuentes at the Argentine Society for Philosophical Analysis and the Institute of Complex Systems of Valparaiso, and Marco Buongiorno Nardelli at the University of North Texas — for a discussion that roams from their working group on the complexity of music, to fundamental questions about the nature of emergence, to how we might bring all of these ideas together to think about  social transformation as a kind of music in its own right.

A show that spend so much time exploring sense and nonsense would hardly be complete without technical errors, so please accept our apologies for losing some of Miguel’s backstory to a recording glitch. For this reason, be extra sure to check out our extensive show notes with links to all our references at

Note that applications are now open for our Complexity Postdoctoral Fellowships! If you value our research and communication efforts, please subscribe, rate and review us at Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and consider making a donation — or finding other ways to engage with us — at

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Referenced in this episode:

An ‘integrated mess of music lovers in science’
on the 2020 Music & Complexity SFI Working Group
(with YouTube playlist of talks)

Expanding our understanding of musical complexity
on the 2022 Music & Complexity SFI Working Group

Topology of Networks in Generalized Musical Spaces
by Marco Buongiorno Nardelli

Tonal harmony and the topology of dynamical score networks
by Marco Buongiorno Nardelli

a computer-aided data-driven composition environment for the sonification and dramatization of scientific data streams
by Marco Buongiorno Nardelli

Machines that listen: towards a machine listening model based on perceptual descriptors
by Marco Buongiorno Nardelli, Mitsuko Aramaki, Sølvi Ystad, and Richard Kronland-Martinet

Does network complexity help organize Babel’s library?
by Juan Pablo Cárdenas Iván González, Gerardo Vidal, and Miguel Fuentes

Complexity and the Emergence of Physical Properties
by Miguel Fuentes

The Structure of Online Information Behind Social Crises
by Juan Pablo Cárdenas, Gastón Olivares, Gerardo Vidal, Carolina Urbina and Miguel Fuentes

88 - Aviv Bergman on The Evolution of Robustness and Integrating The Disciplines
Complexity Podcast

86 - Dmitri Tymoczko on The Shape of Music: Mathematical Order in Western Tonality
Complexity Podcast

81 - C. Brandon Ogbunu on Epistasis & The Primacy of Context in Complex Systems
Complexity Podcast

67 - Tyler Marghetis on Breakdowns & Breakthroughs: Critical Transitions in Jazz & Mathematics
Complexity Podcast

36 - Geoffrey West on Scaling, Open-Ended Growth, and Accelerating Crisis/Innovation Cycles: Transcendence or Collapse? (Part 2)
Complexity Podcast

27 - COVID-19 & Complex Time in Biology & Economics with David Krakauer (Transmission Series Ep. 2)
Complexity Podcast

Ignorance, Failure, Uncertainty, and the Optimism of Science
by Stuart Firestein (SFI Community Lecture)

SFI’s Operating Principles
by Cormac McCarthy

Episode Transcription

Marco Buongiorno Nardelli (0s): Music is different from language in the sense that like the message that music conveys is not apparently very clear yet. So, I mean, it's clear that music changes our emotional states. It changes our perceptional things, but it's not clear why we have music and all of human society have music. So where is this coming from? And what is the advantage of having music as one of our traits that makes us human?

Miguel Fuentes (28s): You have the cycles of complexity in social dynamics. I think we are of serving now a restructuration of things at different level, from the point of view of the countries. And I will say from the international order soon during this century, probably, and I think this is because we build on increasing the complexity of the complete system. And then we need to kind of find the way to decrease this complexity, to make sense to the individual, the different level of society to live in this complex world.

Michael Garfield (1m 28s): One way to frame the science of complexity is as a revelation of the hidden order under seemingly separate phenomena, a teasing out of music from the noise of history and nature. This effort follows centuries of work to find the rules that structure, language, music, and society. How strictly analogous are patterns governing a symphony and those that describe a social transformation? Math and music are old friends, but new statistical and computational techniques afford the possibility of going even deeper.

What fundamental insights and what sounds emerge by bringing physicists, composers, social scientists, data artists, and biologists together. Welcome to Complexity, the official podcast of the Santa Fe Institute. I'm your host, Michael Garfield, and every other week, we'll bring you with us for far ranging conversations with our worldwide network of rigorous researchers, developing new frameworks, to explain the deepest mysteries of the universe. This week on Complexity, we sit with two of SFI, external professors, Miguel Fuentes at the Argentine Society for Philosophical Analysis and the Institute of Complex Systems of Valparaiso and Marco Buongiorno Nardelliat the University of North Texas for a discussion that roams from their working group on the complexity of music to fundamental questions about the nature of emergence, to how we might bring all of these ideas together, to think about social transformation as a kind of music in its own, right. A show that spends so much time exploring sense and nonsense would hardly be complete without technical errors.

So please accept our apologies for losing some of Miguel's backstory to a recording glitch. For this reason, be extra sure to check out our extensive show notes with links, to all of ourreferences at complexity.simplecast.comand note that applications are now open for our complexity post-doctoral fellowships. If you value our research and communication efforts, please subscribe, rate, and review us at apple podcasts or Spotify and consider making a donation or finding other ways to engage with us at

Thank you for listening. Miguel, Marco. It's a pleasure to have the two of you on complexity podcast.

Miguel Fuentes (3m 49s): My pleasure, Michael.

Marco Buongiorno Nardelli (3m 50s): Thank you. Great to be here.

Michael Garfield (3m 52s): I have insanely ambitious plans for this conversation with the two of you, but before we dive into all of that, talk about how you got into doing research and how it is that your life became animated by the kind of questions that you're exploring in your work. Miguel, can we have you go first?

Miguel Fuentes (4m 12s): Yes, of course. That's actually a very nice and difficult question for me because I think myself as an eternal student or something like that, very close to being a student all the time, study things all the time. And I feel that during my career, I was searching different question that just appears in the horizon and I moved to that place.

And during that move, the horizon changed. And you can imagine that then there is a new question that I probably or switch or kind of move, you know, in a diagonal direction. So I began my career as a physicist.

Marco Buongiorno Nardelli (5m 6s): Sure. So I have this kind of a dual background that goes from music and physics at the same time. As a matter of fact, I started to study music when I was six years old. So I've been a musician for way longer than I've been a physicist. And I always kind of kept these two passions in parallel. So on my physics side, I'm a compositional material physicist condensed matter problems, mostly development of methods and computational tools.

So I'm a compositional person. And you know, I did my studies in Italy. I did my PhD at the international school for advance studies in Trieste. Then I moved to the us. I became faculty first in North Carolina, and then I moved university of North Texas. And here I kind of managed in the last 10 years to make also my music activities that were always very active. I mean, I always did all things. I was a performer for many years.

I composer. I mean, I've been doing music for forever. And I managed to kind of bring these two things together, basically united by this idea of complexity and this representation that introduce of music as a network system. So for me, it's very satisfying to see how this two ends of the spectrum between art and science can be combined. And we are able to ask meaningful questions both on the artistic side, because we can use these ideas for writing music, but also on kind more the analytic side and the research side where we try to understand and frame the problem in a way that is never been done before.

And so that's kind very adventurous, very exciting, my fail. And we don't know that, but we need to see what happens at the end of the road, so I mean about my background in music, I mean I'm I’m a woodwind player. I play flute recorders saxophones. I played jazz for many years in the past right now. I don't practice much because I used to travel with a, now I travel with a Baton. I mostly direct ensembles rather myself.

So, but I find this, I mean, combining this two and being what we are doing at the Santa Fe Institute and being on the faculty there, there is kind of a dream come true because I kind of get outta this boxes and able to build something that is larger than the individual things. So in a very complex way.

Michael Garfield (7m 48s): Excellent. Thank you. So you mentioned that this kind of work has bearing on both composition and analysis, but it's on analysis where I wanna focus for most of this conversation. Y'all sent me your funding proposal for assembling a working group of people who can approach the problem of the complexity and the structure of music. The two of you are co-organizing this five year working group here at SFI, and I've been lucky enough to sit in on, at least some of this, you know, the sort of preliminary meeting that you held in 2020 and some of the meeting that you held this summer.

And one of the things that comes out of this proposal that I wanna stress and explore with the two of you is the promise that you see for understanding music as you put it through quantitative data centered and complexity based framework for understanding it as the computational cognitive cultural and social agent that has shaped human societies for more than 40,000 years. So what actually brought you together to co-organized this and from there, how it is that the two of you are starting to apply complex systems methods for thinking about music in a way that is more formal and promising than some of the more bespoke ways that people are trying to use geometry in mathematics to do this in the past.

Marco Buongiorno Nardelli (9m 15s): So, I mean, in a way it's by chance that this whole thing started, because I didn't know Miguel until I met him at the end of 2019 when I was visiting SFI for the first time. And I was giving a talk about my work on network structure and music spaces. And we were sharing an office, right, Miguel and from the sharing of this office came all these ideas of how to grow this seed that I was kinda planting within SFI into an actual program.

So I'm besides being a composer, I also work as a media artist and I do music installation. And so the first music installation that was presented in Santa Fe was for the Currents New Media International Festival in 2018. And at that time, my friend and colleague David Stout introduced me to Jen Dunne that I didn't know because she came to see the exhibition and David was there and we shot. And, and I always kind of had this dream of becoming part of the environment because I'm very interdisciplinary, all this places where you have people that come from all over the place and share ideas and you can about anything.

It's very fascinating for me. And so, right at the same time, I started to think about this ideas of networks and music. I mean, I was working already a little bit on networks on my condensed physics side, because I was developing with my students some sort of way of using networks to analyze large databases of materials properties. And so I was already kind of working with these tools and it was kind of natural to go from that to the music side.

So then when I visited, Miguel was there, we chat, we went out for dinner, we ate together, we drank together. And then I don't even remember who said it. I think Miguel said, well, we should do a working group about this. And we went to Jen and Jen said, oh, sure, send me a proposal. And it started the whole thing,

Michael Garfield (11m 31s): Both of you in whatever order. Talk a little bit more about how it is that you were actually thinking about networks and the features of generalized musical spaces, rather how you're applying network theory to understanding the melody and harmony in particular. This is where I think the rubber really meets the road in terms of how it is that you get from being a physicist, studying statistical mechanics, to being able to do things like design software that can compose and actually interpret musical patterns, melodic and timbral stuff.

Miguel Fuentes (12m 12s): Yeah. If I can say something about actually, what was something that I was saying Marco, during that time, actually that we meet, I was finishing and I was coming from some work that we did with some colleagues analyzing some text and doing some metrics, using network, trying to study the different properties of text. I was particularly very motivated at that moment to try to imagine, to know nothing.

Actually, this was the idea. And I think this is an idea that is, you know, just there or many people have this idea of, if you do not nothing about the text, can you say something, can you say something about all this information that is there, but you do not know what is saying. Particularly actually at that moment, we were studying the Voynich manuscript. I don't know if you know that, but it's a very famous manuscript. I know that there is some news nowadays, but at that time it was a very peculiar manuscript.

Nobody knows what was there. And we put all the machinery of network, a new metric that we invented at that time. And we could say at that moment that the Voynich text was a text with content using all the metric that we have at that moment. And we analyze not only that, but we analyze poetry, we analyze different texts in Spanish, in English, et cetera. So I was coming from that work and we begin to talk with Marco and Marco have this fascinating idea of kind of thinking in music as data and also going.

And I think this is a very nice actually from data to music, not in a very obvious and not in a very trivial way. And we talk about that. And again, I was coming from that previous work and I was thinking, you know, this is fantastic because music is kind of a linear way of saying something in the same way of text. And so I was jump into that question, some problem, and, you know, we talk and we chat for days actually.

And I think we agree that we can do something related with how we can approach music as data and how we can analyze the music of data at the very beginning, actually, because now I think we open up the working group to other spaces, other dimension of human sensory, I would say, but at that time was, you know, just data analyze musical data, trying to see if we can have new metrics. And I can say now that my approach to network information is building new metrics that explore, and I will say no local properties of the network.

That was more or less my point of view at that moment again, because nowadays the working group and all the ideas that they want to put coming from that working group in Santa Fe Institute that are more broader, I think. They include people that is coming from nav science, human behavior, et cetera, cetera. So nowadays I think we are going beyond this idea of analyzing just the data and music and trying to see what kind of information we can have.

So I don't know if you, Marco can say something about this.

Marco Buongiorno Nardelli (15m 47s): So in a way, when we met, I was already developing this approach of encoding or transcribing the musical data into actual data that could be manipulated as we do in all completion sciences. And I already developed this concept of network, I mean, translation of the score, and the harmonic content of the piece into a network where the relationship between the different notes that correspond to different cords are a manifestation of the ideas.

I mean, the procedure, the composer follows to create that particular piece. So in a way, how particular rules of for instance emerge as a property of the network, rather than kind, if you don't know the rules, you can get those rules you can get those rules from the network, like the same thing that Miguel was saying, if you, the content of text, you can still learn something the text without knowing the, you means that and means something else.

Michael Garfield (16m 52s): So as you've already stated, Miguel, there's an interesting link here between thinking about word strings in this way and thinking about melodies in this way. And I just want to pay dues to conversations that we've had about this on the show already with Dmitri Tymozcko, who's part of this group. And with our recently appointed External Professor Brandon Ogbunu, who is thinking about this in terms of legible or illegible protein sequences.  There's something really profound here.

One of the things that both of you talk about, and, you know, I just wanna quote short passages from your paper Does Network Complexity Help Organize Babel's Library where you reference Jorge Luis Borges who wrote this story La Biblioteca de Babel about this fictional library in which you've got books with every possible sequence of characters. And then the librarians are tasked with finding all of the sensical texts that could ever be written. Similarly, Marco, in your paper, Topology of Networks in Generalized Musical Spaces, you talk about how the traditional chromatic set of the 12 tone equal temperament system if you extend it to quarter tone, 88 keys on a piano, you get three orders of magnitude of possible combinations, more than the avogadro number, the units in the mole of any substance. So we're talking about these enormous conceptual spaces of the possible, and yet, you know, one of the themes that comes up in conversation at SFI again, and again, is how it is that evolution, wherever we look for it, adaptive systems basically manifest in only a very sort of narrow band out of this enormous band, a possibility. And so both of these research threads converge on a horizon about a very, very deep question in complex system science, which is why the vast majority of melodies or protein sequences or organismal anatomies or social orders don't exist.

And one of the things that you both talk about is that there is a syntactic structure that you identify through applying these network theoretical approaches, and that at least in the Western composition tradition, and apparently across all of the linguistic corporate you examined, you don't get reversible letter or melodic sequences, that there is a kind of think about it in terms of like a music theory approach, there is a dominant or a tonic or in language, you have these words that are at the hub, that things kind of circle out from and back to, you know, they have greater centrality.

So yeah, I'd just love to hear you talk about that thing. You know, that pattern that we observe and its relationship to this notion of the unequal distribution of things over a landscape of possibility.

Marco Buongiorno Nardelli (19m 46s): So it's funny that you started by mentioning Jorge Luis Borges because there is a, a talk that I give where I make the similarity between the approach of Borges in the library Babel and my kind starting point of looking at the harmonic spaces and using the 12 or the using the keys of the piano and so on, because in a way we can, if we want to be completely deterministic and just, you know, build all the possibilities and then go from there.

But on one hand, we know that there are structure that most likely evolved from our perception of music as you know, how music evolved with us over the course of thousands and thousands years, but also on the artistic point of view, it's a space that is open to exploration. And so one of the things that fascinate me is to see what happens if I use say patterns or structures that come from the evolution of music as we know it, but apply to a set of completely different units in a way that are not part of the traditional music theory of music tools that we use.

So, I mean, it's a very interesting question of various levels. It's very complex in the sense that music is different from language in the sense that the message that music conveys is not apparently very clear yet. So, I mean, it's clear that music changes our emotional states. It changes our perceptional things, but it's not clear why we have music and all of human society have music. So where is this coming from? And what is the advantage of having music as one of our traits that makes us human.

And the other thing that from here again goes through another kind of framework that I use in some of my talk, there is okay, let's propose that we have. I mean, I, this similarities, this idea of the voyage. Now, the voyager is going outside of solar system. And for some reason they decided that have to have a with music recordings and some very kinda stylized distractions on how to hear this recording or make a device that can make you hear what is in this disc.

But what if this disc goes into the hands of another civilization, another planet where they don't have music as part of the trait traits, but they're super good with data, better than us. Can they appreciate the structure of what we are sending them by looking at the data in an aesthetic way. And so this is also another thing that adds to the plate and this discussion and connects this data. And I mean, all these things about artificial intelligence and art.

So it brings another element to this table of music and structure and topologies and evolution and cultures and societies and so on.

Miguel Fuentes (23m 1s): Yes. And also I will add and Marco, please jump into this comment if you want, because there was something very amazing for me that happened during the working group that we have in person and was, I would say something very trivial for some people, but, you know, for us that we were then discussing music. And for me actually was very surprising just to know, and to hear that for the people that was there in that working group, the most important thing that happened in their life relating with music was some sound, not just music, but particular sound.

Do you remember that Marco? And that for me was kind very impressive. So, you know, it was something there that still, I'm kind of processing that information because the importance of sound in our human culture, I will say not just music, but the importance of sound, and then this more complex structure of sound that is music. Let's say, you know, I'm just being a little bit fussy here, but anyway, and that was something very important for me too, that I want to, at some point doing something with that, probably studying something related with that.

And, you know, the relationship with sound really sound and the human experience of sound, not just, you know, looking at music per se. And that was something very important for me during the working group, actually.

Michael Garfield (24m 35s): So to that point, Miguel, you've actually kind of led me by the hand directly into the next question that I had for the two of you, which has to do if we can double back all the way to 2014 and this paper that you wrote for the entropy journal on complexity and the emergence of physical properties, a lot of these questions about music and, you know, a huge piece of the conversation I had earlier this summer with Dmitri touches on the experience of music and the aesthetic properties in music and why it is that music is perceived as being good, you know, and people are, you know, have for centuries been on the hunt for, you know, objective ontological kind of answers to, you know, what constitutes good music, but there's something in all of this conversation that always doubles back to this question of a balance between, you know, the role of expectation and the role of surprise, which is very, very deep in the way that information theory has been articulated in the way that you see these arguments around the notion of emergence and specifically emerging properties as characteristics of systems that surprise us because they're not predictable from an analysis of the parts of those systems.

Yes. And so I'd love to hear you talk about this particular piece because you come up with the way of formalizing this, and then at the end, you quote Carl Hempel and Paul Oppenheim, which something that I really love, I'm kind of putting the cart before the horse here, but I love this quote “emergence of a characteristic is not an ontological trait inherent in some phenomena, rather it is indicative of the scope of our knowledge at a given time. Thus it has no absolute, but a relative character. And what is emergent with respect to the theories available today may lose its emergent status tomorrow.”

So that again, speaks to the way that our theory of our perception of music and the experience of music has changed over time and changes between cultures. And so, yeah, I'd love to hear you, get into the more like, kind of a mathier piece about this paper, cuz then I think from there we have a, a stronger place to stand.


Miguel Fuentes (26m 45s): So, you know, that piece of work actually was some effort that I was trying to do for years. Actually I was studying some aspect of philosophy and complexity science. And the thing is that I don't know if I can really say what I really think now also related with music and that in connection with that piece, the idea basically is that I was using a lot of information and a lot of insight coming for Murray Gell-Mann, actually Murray Gelman in relation with that particular discussion is very, very important.



And amazingly that relates and I will say that is in the core of complexity science because it's relate with a complexity metrics that Murray Gell-Mann produced around 1918, 1919 or something like that in his famous book, to try to understand something, you need to have a theory, fair thing. You need to have a theory. You need to have an idea of how the war is working.

If you have that theory, you can put that thing that you see outside there in the world and using some symbols or not using an algorithm, you can put that particular phenomena in a piece of paper, let's say, and you can say, how complex is your theory related to that phenomena? And the idea is that then if you have something that you do not understand very well, you will need a lot of information to understand that thing that you do not understand very well.

So the complexity of that phenomena or that object increase a lot. And I will say that in music, probably we can have the same thing that when you have an innovation in music or a new type of way of doing in music, what is happening is basically that you have someone that in some way, and this is the funny thing, decrease the complexity of his composition a lot, creating something new.

But if you are using the previous theory or the previous way of looking at that piece of music, you will need a lot of information or a lot of knowledge to cover that. And that is not a trivial way because you can produce something very simple, very simple, but it's mean a lot. I don't know if you understand what I'm saying, but it has not related with the number of bits of your composition, it's related with the knowledge or the different information that you want to say with the new composition.

And that relate with the piece of work that I was doing at that time. I don't remember the year, but that piece of work that you mentioned, Michael, the immersion of physical properties,

Michael Garfield (29m 45s): That was 2014.

Miguel Fuentes (29m 47s): Yeah. 2014.

Michael Garfield (29m 48s): Well, I mean, there is a question that I have following up on this and it has to do with, you know, I wanna link all of this back to the work on, you know, networks and language and in music. And then through that to work that you've done on social crisis and the evolution of society, because in this piece that you did on Babel's library, you basically say, you know, now we have a way to argue that there are these network structure in and otherwise inevitable text or something that we think might be a text.

It seems like in a way that these two statements kind of contradict one another, because you're leaving this opening where it says that even if you think that there is no pattern, there may well be one, but there's this paper that I feel like I mention all to frequently on this show by Michael Lachmann and Cris Moore and Mark Newman about the physical limits of communication, where they demonstrate mathematically that you might be looking right at an encrypted alien broadcast without realizing it because it would be indistinguishable from black body radiation.

So, you know, there's this sense in which if our own ability to observe things at a more and more kind of powerful and complete way is always evolving. And you know, you get like every generation says the music of the next generation is noise, but then like you train on that and you find the next generation coming up knows what to expect in jazz or what to expect in rock and roll. And I'm curious if you think there really is a conflict between these different ways of seeing it when, as you've already made really clear in this paper, that subjectivity plays such a big role in this.

And then, you know, from there, I hope, you know, I can start to ask you some questions about what this means when we reflect on the experience of living through a moment, like our moment historically, where the structures that we've inherited for making sense of the world seem to be deeply challenged and new structures have to come into being in order to adapt to all of this transformation. So that's, I don't know that's a lot, but yeah.

Miguel Fuentes (32m 5s): Yeah. You know, just to begin with, I mean, for sure you can do random piece of music. I mean, random noise piece of music. Let's say let's put it that name, but the context is very, very important. So, you know, it is not just the piece. So there is a lot of information around that piece that is very important. So I will not say that this type of piece of work is living itself out there, but you know, you need some context.  Again, you need enough server that the server could have, or not that information of that context, which is very, very important.

So I will say that always you are playing that game of, do I have all the information that I need?

Marco Buongiorno Nardelli (32m 53s): Yeah. This is like a continuous debate about art and you know, the next generation of artists that are criticized by all the older audiences and visitors of museums or galleries that say, oh, but this is not art. This is junk, whatever. I mean, it's always, this is, I think it's university in the history of human culture in a way, and this is true for music that, I mean, as well. I mean, right now we listen to Stravinsky, 

The Rite of Spring 

as a great masterpiece. And when it premiered in 1911, I think it was like a great failure and people were shouting and theater and throwing rocks and stuff, big ride.

So, I mean, that's part of the revolution now, how, I mean, definitely there are ways that we can connect this in quantitative way to a mathematical framework or a network framework, or generally compressed design framework. Did we do this for this particular project? Not yet. We don't have yet answers. We have a lot of questions and that's a great starting point because if you have the questions, there is work ahead done.

Michael Garfield (34m 3s): So actually before we get into the work on social crisis, Miguel, I'd like to just hair pin out for a moment because there's cuz Marco, you've got this interesting piece on materials, sound music, computer aided,data driven composition environment for the sonification and dramatization of scientific data streams. Like everything that we're talking about here seems to come up in conversations about sonifying data. Because as you note in this piece, the sonification of scientific data is a compositional process.

It starts with initial choices made by the scientist or composer. And so there you have that interpreter or the way that maybe David Krakauer would put it is that natural selection is a kind of diffuse intelligence. And, you know, we need a better way of thinking about this, of theorizing what natural selection really even is. And so when we're talking about composers as something that nature does, that's the framing I wanna kind of drop on this and I'd love to hear you talk about the systems that you've actually designed for this and where you're applying them, because that links us back to work that you've done on materials.

And then we can zag back.

Marco Buongiorno Nardelli (35m 11s): I mean, it might become a very long conversation because well, in short that are various interpretation of the word certification and various ways that people use data in different contexts. And so the game becomes a matter of context. So the issue itself as a scientific method should be as objective as possible. I mean, it's like you are, plotting your data and you are seeing trends or you are listening to your data and you are hearing the same trends and you learn how to interpret those in an objective way or a scientific way.

And what I'm talking about instead, the use of data as kind of building block of composition, I'm using in approaches is creative and is basically detached from the actual meaning of the data in that sense. It maintains the structure or maintains some characteristics that makes this data so interesting from a creative point of view, but it loses the connection with the actual things. You are not doing an experiment anymore. You are not probing reality. You are basically interpreting something in terms of your own kinda frame of mind in terms of creative process.

Now this said, though, when we look at music and music structures as data structures, then you have an extra layer of connection because you are using data that are already part of the framework. It's kind of a, self-reference in a way because you're using data that are coming from the place where you are, but you are interpreting them in a different way. And this is always related to a creative process. In an analytic sense, we basically try to build tools that allow us to analyze the data in a way that tells us something about the music.

So that's kind of my perspective on this. And what the media would say is that things that we are finding with this analysis might be well known to musicologists because they've been trained for years, recognize the structure. But what Michael was saying earlier, we want to be agnostic in this. We don't want to infuse our prior knowledge and get, you know, the results that confirm our conception of the structure we are looking at, but we want to see if we can like use of the tools to kind of see the composition as an emerging property in a way that then tells us something about what the composer was doing or what the context of the piece was in a general sense.

And it's a very complicated thing because there is not just one element that you need to look at. Right now we are just looking at one element. There is harmony, but I mean, there are musical elements that we are not considering. There are social elements, cultural elements, environmental elements. I mean, you name it. I mean, art is not something that exists in the mind of the artist but exists in a conference.

Michael Garfield (38m 11s): It seems very akin to, based on everything you're saying the question of how do we identify, say life on Mars and know that we didn't contaminate the sample, right? So like, in what ways are you applying all of this to things like the data that you're getting about the structure of materials and then what are you learning from that? And how is that different? In what ways are you seeing the sonified data coming out in a way that shows like a distinct qualitative difference from something that you might recognize as like a human composition?

Marco Buongiorno Nardelli (38m 44s): Well, I think that these are two different layers, not separated, but distinct. So, and again, it has to do with the artistic interpretation of the data that you are extracting. When I talk about certification, I really talk about the way of translating or transuing data in a way that I can appreciate the structure of the data set or the information in the data, through an analysis based on, and I'm not talking about music here, I'm talking about, as I was saying before, I mean, our way of understanding data is biased by cartesian coordinates.

We basically plot everything to dimensions. We look at curves, we say, oh, this curve picks here, picks there, means that and that, but for me, an effective sonification strategy is a strategy that allows me to hear the data and get the same information or more because I can encode more information inside that I can on a two dimensional graph in a way that allows me to make scientific prediction or scientific particular phenomenon. So I think this is a completely different level of layer of complexity in a way that has to do in the way, which we perceive sound as sound.

And so this goes in what Miguel was saying about, you know, sound perception, what it means us perception of sound, how we adapt sound in minds, brains. And that the question about the music and the data is more a cultural question. A creative aspect question is an artistic question that has intersections with what I was talking about solidification before, but not necessarily means the same thing. So for instance, that people say, yeah, we are here in the ball zone because there is this guy that takes, you know, the bass guitar and plays basically maps the peaks of the experiment, the result of the experiment on the stuff paper, that's not certification because doesn't tell me anything about the expose and maybe it's bad music, but, but it guess the headlines like, oh, the music of the expose, the music of the sound doesn't mean anything.

The sound doesn't make any sound and the expose doesn't make any sound. It's our interpretation of these things. That, again, it's a matter of, I'm a scientist that I cannot see because I have I'm blind for instance. And there is a very famous example of this astrophysicist, whom she started this whole program on certification of observational data in astronomy, because then she could basically analyze the data through the years, rather than through the eyes and are example of this.

This is a true scientific certification in a way. We are not trying to write this outta this process. We're trying to understand, you know, this particular galaxy or that particular constellation of stars.

Michael Garfield (41m 44s): Whatever. Thanks for clarifying this for me. I hope I'm not forcing a fit here by inquiring with you Miguel. Cause where I want take this is ever since David Krakauer brought up your work on social crisis back in our transmission series on COVID like March, 2020, I've been fascinated by your findings that there are early warning indicators that a society is going through a transformation in the way that it handles information, the structures by which it organizes itself.

And in the piece that you coauthored led by Juan Pablo Cardenas, you say at the beginning “despite the loss of order in the social organization questioned by the crisis, we observed the emergence of new complex ephemeral structures of information, which seem to be early warning signals of profound social transformations” in that there seems to be to me anyway, a strong analogy between what you're observing here and what Gustavo Martinez noted in the 2020 working group about applying quantitative approaches to understanding harmonic structure in music and identifying that there was an arrow of time.

If you look at five centuries of classical music, you actually see it increasing in structural complexity. I'd love to hear both of you riff on what I hope leaves us in a kind of optimistic place that the epistemic crisis or the sense making crisis, these terms that people apply to the challenges to our knowledge structures by the internet, which seem kind of similar to the challenges that were posed centuries ago by the printing press and led to breakdown and the ways that we understood things and resulted in stuff like the 30 Years War, that there might be a way out of this or that all of this perceived chaos might actually be a passing dissonance on the way to a harmonic resolution into a new and more complex logical order.

But I guess in order to get there, we've gotta talk about this paper on how you used Twitter data to understand social discord in Chile and what you discovered network.

Miguel Fuentes (43m 57s): Yes. Well, thank you, Michael. The idea of using first Chile was because Chile was an ease actually in a great transformation, social transformation. So with our team here, we thought that this was very nice to look at Chile during the complete process and still is in a process. But you know, the process is with a new constitution that's happening this weekend actually. I mean, there is a rotation to see if the people will want to have the new constitution or not this weekend.

So we thought it was a good idea to focus on Chile because it's a very kind of little country compared with another ones in the region. And we studied this Twitter dynamics just to see if we can have an idea of how information is changing during this crisis process. We knew there will be some very, very particular days, hours of a huge amount of social crisis in the street, you know, financial crisis.

We knew that because really the country was going through this process. So we put all the machinery to see Twitter. And actually we found looking at and producing again, metrics coming from complexity science that we were able to see early warning signal hours before, probably the day before that a new crisis happens in the street. That was fascinating. And at the same time was kind of, you know, very kind of, you know, surprising, fascinating everything.

And when we analyze at the end, the data, the idea is very simple, actually that you have a lot of information building up in small groups with a lot of content. And this was a kind of attained reaction. I'm using a metaphor now. Tt's like looking at a chain reaction in society where you can have, you know, a start point of this conversation in this digital platform and this chain reaction was happening.

And then, you know, it's finally kind of fading out during this crisis moment that people was in the street, you know, doing things. I will not say problem because you know, people was kind of manifesting there in the street. Sometimes with a huge impact in different dimension of society, you know, transport sometime problem in commercial, part of the capital, et cetera. Now actually we are building this idea actually. And I think the basic, I will not say theory, but the basic idea is there in the air that I'm with you in that Michael, that what we think is happening at least in Chile and places like Chile is that you increase the complexity of society.

I mean, the individual, when it's putting in this new society, new, I mean this modern society, the individual need to fight with lot of things, the amount of complexity of living in this capital is huge. And we think actually that this increasing of complexity at some point go through a maximum level and then there is something, and that is your point I think Michael, where you need to have a new type of social agreement and it's complexity decrease a little bit or decrease by a huge amount.

And then you build again, this new type of complexity through social agreement, et cetera, et cetera. So the idea that we are having now in our little group here now is that you have the cycles of complexity in social dynamics where you kind of build a society, you increase the complexity and you need to have a new agreement. And then you decrease the complexity, kind of this reset of Geoffrey West on innovations.

I say kind of, because we are talking now as social agreement, I mean really social agreement. And that also is a, a dynamic that we observe in a different scale. The Western society have passed through that over the times. You can imagine the league of nations, something really interesting. Now I'm kind of studying this nowadays. They produced a legal nation. There was a big failure during the second war, and then you have the United Nations.

It was a big crisis during the last conflict in Europe. I think we are observing now a restructuration of things at different level, again, from the point of view of the countries. And I will say from the international order, I will say pretty soon, soon during decent century, probably. And again, and I think this is because we build on increasing the complexity of the complete system. And then we need to kind of find a way to decrease this complexity, to make sense to the individual, the different level of society to live in this complex world, actually complex dynamics.

Marco Buongiorno Nardelli (49m 24s): I mean, in the context of music and that we are talking about here, we see things that are similar to this, both in our work and in general. If you look at these sort Western music, there is always kinda cycle of increasing complexity. I mean, one of the results of this premier work in which we are proposing, we get ways of measuring complexity, or at least are complexity at some level using mechanics ideas shows us that there indeed there is this kind of trend of increased complexity and then drops and then increase and drop again.

So this behavior is more, I mean, clearly is the composers and the people that make music that make this happen. But I mean, we see this in the history of jazz, we see it in the history of classical music pop and so on. What I find kinda very interesting, and this also links to this idea of the internet and you know, how our society will be changed by that. I see there is a lot of music out there, music by people that are not necessarily the one that kind of lead the field.

And there are very interesting ideas that are coming out. There are some new outlets for music. If you think about it, when I was growing up, there was one TV channel. Now there are, you know, Netflix and Prime Video and all this. I mean, there are some TV series that if you listen carefully to the music, the music is very interesting. It's new, it combines different aspects. It's something that we never heard before. And, you know, I'm very optimistic that this process will continue.

And I'm also very optimistic that eventually is through that. Once Ember started to print the Bible in German, there was a war, but then afterwards, now we have books before we didn't and all of can have books. And here we are, this overflow knowledge that if you get from the internet, you can get, and you have to be very careful about what is real knowledge, what is fake, what is made up. But I think that eventually all this will produce an organization in the arts and society that I would positive on this planet for more thousand years.

Marco Buongiorno Nardelli (51m 48s): Optimistic.

Michael Garfield (51m 50s): Good. I mean, it's actually funny cuz you know, Stuart Firestein on our faculty gave that talk earlier the summer, the community lecture where he said that basically uncertainty is a kinda a prerequisite for optimism. Like yeah, you don't know, you have to believe that things are gonna be different. 

Marco Buongiorno Nardelli (52m 5s): You have to believe that things will be better.

Michael Garfield (52m 8s): Yeah. So I mean, in closing and to give you kind of just one last thing to riff on it, maybe this is kind of like propagandistic or institutionally self-serving to even note this, but it strikes me that Miguel, in your work, when you're talking about what you actually observe as foreshadowing of social transformation, it's the way that the network of associations between different topics and themes proliferates, and that we're seeing something very much like this that is embodied in the growing popularity of inter slash cross slash transdisciplinary work broadly and instantiated in organizations like SFI and more specifically in the music and complexity working group itself, which, you know, very deliberately makes this point to engage a recombination algorithm and like bringing all of these different people together to ignore the legacy silos in which all of them would've historically that it's almost like what we're seeing is sort of like idea sex emerging out of the need for mametic rather than genetic information to be exchanged much more rapidly as a response to a even faster paced and a wildlier environment.

So I don't know if you have any thoughts on that or you can just open response and let me know what else you think has been unaddressed in this conversation that would be worth noting before we bounce?

Miguel Fuentes (53m 37s): No, just a little note on that. It was not easy to take this working group and going through this level that we are now actually Michael, and that, that is something that is, I would like to stress because you know, sometimes you think that it's very not you. I mean people and probably me too. I mean, sometimes you underestimate this place where we live as a, you know, researcher or people that is in academia, that is our comfort zone.

But you know, during this working group, I think we try hard and I think we are now kind of a little bit more comfortable with the people that we can exchange ideas in a more or less free way, more or less. I say, just because, you know, you have this boundary of disciplines, et cetera, it was not easy. And I'm very happy that this is happening now. I'm very happy where we are now, actually. We are looking forward to have, you know, a new event such as the one we have.

It was a kind of, I will not say difficult, but you know, it was hard at the beginning and now I think I'm very happy for that. I mean that is happening.

Marco Buongiorno Nardelli (54m 45s): Yeah. I think that the, I mean, going back to what you were saying that disciplinary and across the disciplinary, I think these are, there is it's inevitable that we need to go towards this kind of framework for doing science, for doing innovation technology and knowledge and art and music. I mean, I, myself, I'm super traditionalist, I teach courses in physics and in composition in two different colleges and I'm kind of pushing this idea of interdisciplinary to my students who are doing things in both reals so that they grow with a kind, a wider perspective that goes beyond the fact that, oh, I need to do this project because if not, I can graduate. So we need to kind of build a new workforce or general, you know, kind of conscience of humanity that we can't keep doing things isolated. And eventually I think we should have some economies in our working group on music because music is part of the economy and the fabric of society. So it goes beyond, you know, what is the structure of what it means and what it means in a particular context, in a particular political situation in a particular time and the way in which I mean, there is only through a really interdisciplinary and crossdisciplinary group of people that you can address all these issues and make kind of a model or make a theory, make a new actually I'm advocating for making a new discipline within music, music, complexity that encompasses all this different aspects and it's quantitative, you know, and brings together all these ideas and people from all work life basically, or the science and the arts.

Michael Garfield (56m 34s): Well, that's an ennobling and inspiring place to land this conversation. I wanna thank you both for taking the time to sit down and indulge us with all of this. Yeah. Thanks so much.

Marco Buongiorno Nardelli (56m 46s): Well, thank you, Michael. I hope to see you soon.

Miguel Fuentes (56m 49s): Yeah. Thank you, Michael. The same and nice to see you, Marco.

Marco Buongiorno Nardelli (56m 54s): Nice to see Miguel. 

Michael Garfield (56m 58s): Thank you for listening. Complexities produced by the Santa Fe Institute, a nonprofit hub for complex systems science located in the high desert of New Mexico. For more information, including transcripts research links and educational resources, or to support our science and communication efforts. Visit