Musical Clusters

March 9, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

I took the Jeopardy test two weekends ago. They were giving it during the New York Times Travel Expo at the Javits Center. This was one of the questions, and definitely not my category. I guessed Jay-Z. Go ahead, laugh.

That guess, as I later discovered, was off. But I didn’t realize how far off. Now I know.

(Click on the image for a larger, legible view.)

You are looking at a section of a map of clustering created by Emden Gansner, Yifan Hu, Stephen Kobourov, and Chris Volinsky of AT&T Labs. It’s based on data from, a website that allows you to create, in effect, your own radio station, one that plays only the music you like. The clustering and connecting lines are based on the data set of listener preferences (the equivalent of Amazon’s “people who liked X also liked Y”). Jay-Z clusters near Kanye and OutKast, with links to several other rappers as well. No surprises there. But Eminem is something of a loner, down near the Jazzland border, divorced not just from Kim but from everyone except D12.

The entire map looks like this.

That gray archiplelago in the southeast corner is Classical (mostly composers rather than performers). The island in the Northeast is international, mostly Reggae. Neither has a link to the mainland.

Last July, I posted graphic of music performers arrayed on the London Underground map (here). That one was fun but idiosyncratic. This one is based on data. Some of the results are curious – Eminem’s isolation, or Solange apparently a more nodal figure than BeyoncĂ©.

The full map is here. It’s a pdf, and you can search for a musician the way you would search for text in a document. You can also expand the map without losing resolution. But be warned, you can spend a lot more time there than you might have intended.


Allex said...

I would like to get the image from lastfm but the link is not funtionning anymore. Could I please get this image?

Jay Livingston said...

I fixed the link (I think). Try it now.