Even from the birds-eye view of larger genres, the interrelations and ongoing transformation of music is dynamic, complex, and inter-connected. That’s the view in The Evolution of Western Dance Music, a map of musical styles in five-year chunks across the 19th and 20th Centuries, through Africa, Europe, the Americas, and Asia. The project is the work of London/Seattle/New York Web agency Distilled, pulling genre births from Bass Culture, Last Night A DJ Saved My Life,The All Music Guide to Electronica, and Wikipedia.

Having just edited a book entitled The Evolution of Electronic Dance Music, I find it extremely interesting to watch in this visualization the way in which European synth pop and Jamaican dub can become, at once, vessels for a lot of these other musical idioms, just in terms of their ability to carry musical ideas across geography.

What is peculiar: this is more a selection of a few threads than it is any kind of comprehensive history, and many of those threads in turn trace backwards from a few modern styles more than they do forwards over those 200 years. If you accept that, though, there’s still something interesting to watch. Even hand-picking a few genres shows some fascinating connections.

But before I say any more, I think any methodology here will raise questions, and I’m as interested in reader questions as I am commenting myself. Mark Johnstone of Distilled has offered to answer questions, so from the intricacies of how the data visualization and mapping work to thoughts on how one untangles this musical history, I’d love to start a conversation.

Specifics of the genres aside, I think it’s the geographical connections that are in many ways the most interesting – all the more so as we can inexpensively get on trains and planes, cross increasingly-open borders (with some admitted major caveats), and be somewhere altogether different – or do the same from the comfort of our chair. Appropriately, I now see Thomson are a travel/vacation agency.


How Music Travels – The Evolution of Western Dance Music [Thomson blog]

Interactive Music Map [Thomson]