Visualization of the Week: How dance music travels

"The Evolution of Western Dance Music" plots the spread of dance genres.

A new visualization by travel writer Osman Khan charts the “Evolution of Western Dance Music,” tracing music through time and space from Africa and the Caribbean through the development of the Blues, Jazz, Funk, Disco, and, well, you know the story.

Evolution of Western Dance
Screenshot of “The Evolution of Western Dance Music” visualization. Click here for the interactive version.

Khan recognizes the spread of music is open to debate — in terms of how you define genre and influence, for example. (I’d also add, in terms of the size you choose to depict the continents in the associated visualization.) Khan points to his sources: Bass Culture, Last Night A DJ Saved My Life, and The All Music Guide to Electronica, along with Wikipedia.

The data marketplace Infochimps (where I found the link to Khan’s visualization) asks an interesting question: How would a visualization about the spread of music based on something like Infochimps’ Million Song dataset — a dataset about sound and recording metadata — differ from a visualization, like Khan’s, based on stories?

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  • I have to say, as a visualization, I found this to start well, but then descend into a degree of incoherence, starting in the 1970s. The visual metaphor used for the first several decades doesn’t scale well when used to represent the explosion of sub-genres from the ’80s and beyond. The geographic element is somewhat interesting, but I think it’s the fundamental undoing. If it had been done a non-geographical timeline, the influences could be represented more clearly.

    Something I found interesting about this visualization is the point of view of the designer is clearly revealed in the data he chooses to include. For example note that Blues, Jazz, and Rock & Roll are single, monolithic genres, and rock didn’t influence anything. However, by the end, there are more than 20 sub-genres of electronic music shown.

  • Reminds me of Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music which has been around for a few years.

  • Glen Barnes

    And a link since it stripped it from the comment without warning….

  • Matt Whyndham

    It’s clearly extremely biased towards dancey things of the last 10 years, so is useless as a survey. What no Chicago blues? East Coast vs West Coast rock? Whither Folk and Country?

    But it might contain the germ of a technique. As Noah says, the geographic dimension is intriguing, but potentially a distraction (especially now).

    I would be interested in defining the “Influences” arrows with some sort of quantity or data. e.g. along with the arrow, there’s a Track/Album/Artist which shows how one genre transports its ideas to another.