One of my favorite pieces of Mark Richardson’s writing is his 2012 essay “I Wanna Live: Two Songs About Freedom” for the now-dead column Resonant Frequency. In it, he waxes eloquent on the two-chord song, especially Bowie’s “Heroes,” Cat Power’s “Nothin But Time,” and LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends”:
[There] is something especially powerful about music with this harmonic structure. In my mind, when I’m listening — and especially if it’s a song that wants to comment on something about “life” — the two chords seem to say, “Sometimes it’s like this, and then other times it’s like this.” Day and night, love and fear, yin and yang, life and death.
“And I said to Mabel, I said, ‘computational aesthetics, super-short. Jürgen Schmidhuber’s Theory Jürgen Schmidhuber, an AI theorist and theoretical computer scientist, has proposed a computational account of aesthetic judgments. In his view, a stimulus is judged to be beautiful or attractive by a subject T to the extent that the stimulus is compressible for T. Schmidhuber’s notion of compressibility is taken from algorithmic information theory, but concerns actual rather than ideal compression: it refers to the actual # of bits in T’s mental representation of the stimulus, bounded and fallible as T may be. Beholden to the limitations of T’s computational resources, two kinds of stimuli should be the most compressible: stimuli with evident internal structure (e.g. fractals or a chessboard), and stimuli with noticeable similarities to stimuli already stored in T’s history (e.g. English words or a the sight of a friend’s face). Experimental psychology supports both a preference for stimuli with internal patterns and a preference for stimuli with a similarity to past stimuli.”
— Peli Grietzer, Amerikkkkka