Tuesday, May 1, 2007

"The Ultimate Melody" (short story): Why do you like some music tracks, but not others?

This must be one of the very few Clarkian stories that border on being somewhat philosophical.

Story summary (spoiler).
We know about circadian rhythms - those bodily cycles that said to be linked to your body's clock. I am not sure if these are what Clarke means by rhythms of the mind, but let's assume they are the same - for the purpose of this article.

Here is the central thesis of this story: When an ECG machine captures the activity of your brain, what we see on display is a wavy thing that looks like it's rhythmic. And these rhythms vary with stimulus, moods, health, etc. Could likable music's rythms have something in common with these mind rhythms?

So the hero, a doctor specializing in brain activity gets interested in the correlation. And a businessman is interested too - far, how much money can be made by a music publisher if you could always produce hit tunes?

Well - the search for the ultimate melody, to which all hit music is supposed to be but a crude approximation, is ultimately found. And a major disaster results!

Fact sheet.
The Ultimate Melody, short story, review
Author: Arthur C Clarke
First published: 1956
Rating: A

See also.

  1. Henry Kuttner's "Nothing but Gingerbread Left": Uses a similar idea - employing the power of catchy chants as a weapon during an alternate version of World War II.
  2. "Patent Pending": Another story by Clarke that involves a machine that lets you experience virtual reality. But nothing else is common between these two stories.
  3. "Big Game Hunt": Another story involving direct manipulation of nervous system's electrical activity to generate desirable behavior.
Collected in.
  1. "The Collected Stories of Arthur C Clarke"
  2. "Tales from the White Hart"

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