Saturday 4 June 2016

Music of the Mundial Final

This post studies the music used in the final of the Mundial de Tango in the years 2012-2015. I have no information about how or why the music is chosen, or whether any guidelines exist for the person or committee choosing the music. In this post I simply observe what they actually chose.


I compiled this data by watching the videos in this playlist. They are kindly provided by Aires de Milonga, a website I recommend; they provide these videos for nothing, but they offer additional services to those who subscribe a very small annual sum via Paypal.

Each final consists of approximately forty couples, and is divided into four Rondas. For each ronda, three tracks are played. Only tangos are used; no milonga or vals.

Over the four years, this gives a total of 3 x 4 x 4 = 48 tracks, but there are actually 49, because in the first ronda of 2013 something happens off-camera during track 3 that bumps the floor and disturbs the competitors' concentration. A fourth track is played, in the same style.

To begin with, I noted the orchestra, singer, and title of each track.  I then searched for the tracks on and on YouTube until I was reasonably satisfied that I had identified them correctly.

The full data set can be downloaded here: if you notice an error, please describe it in the comments. The tracks are announced at about the 3-minute mark of each ronda, immediately after the couples do their preliminary walk around the floor so the judges can see their numbers.


Style rotation

I perceived the tracks for each ronda as covering a predominantly dramatic style, a predominantly rhythmic style, and an in-between, lyrical, or other style, in no particular order. I have added these wholly subjective categorisations in the full data set. You will probably disagree with at least some of them, perhaps many. The word "Lyrical" is fairly meaningless and just refers to the in-between or mixed or melody-led style of track that isn't either of the others; often it is the track that would allow competitors to show off the technical achievement of a slow, smooth, graceful walk. I may update my classifications to make them a bit more meaningful and regular.

The use of these three broad styles in each ronda makes sense on the basis that each couple gets the chance to show off a broad range of technical and musical powers. Each ronda in each final obviously needs to be stylistically similar to the other two. I note, though, that 40 couples seems a lot for a 'final'; the naive observer might have expected to see, say, only ten different couples, and see them dance for a little longer or to a wider range of music.


The orchestras used looked like this.

Orchestras of recordings used in the final of the Mundial de Tango, 2012-2015

It seems notable to me that there is absolutely no Biagi, and absolutely no Canaro.

Given the volume and excellence of their output, if they were going to be used at all, you'd think they'd be in there somewhere, over the four years. If you were practicing for the final, and you didn't have this data, you might spend time with those guys; but it seems you'd be wrong.

It can imagine a pretty good argument for not using any Biagi. There's no reasonable substitute, so if you used, say, one of the great Biagi instrumentals in one ronda, it might seem very unfair not to use another in each of the four Rondas. Everybody needs a roughly equal chance to either shine or make fools of themselves; and that would make Biagi too prominent and would mean you had to sacrifice something else. I hypothesise that if there were a vals competition, there'd be plenty of Biagi in there.

There is already a widely-held belief that Argentinians consider Canaro a bit 'common'. Nothing in this data really supports or dispels such an idea; but they don't use any in the final. Nor do they use any of the orchestras that come to mind as stylistically similar to Canaro's most currently-popular output; Lomuto, OTV, Carabelli, Típica Porteña, etc. So it does support the idea that this style of music is not considered appropriate for competition. And again, if there were a milonga competition, we'd see Canaro.

Years of Recording

This is what the years of recording look like.

Year of recordings used in the final of the Mundial de Tango, 2012-2015
It's notable that there's a long tail to the right, stretching all the way to 1959, but nothing at all on the left earlier than 1934.

Decade of recordings used in the final of the Mundial de Tango, 2012-2015
It's no suprise that most of it is from the 40s. But the notable thing for me is that more than a fifth of the recordings are after 1949; they slightly outnumber the ones from the 30s.


If you were doing well in the Mundial and you were practicing for the final, it would make a lot of sense to spend about a fifth of your time on each of D'Arienzo, Di Sarli, Pugliese, and Troilo, and the other fifth on exploring how what you have learned applies to whatever else you like among tracks that can be used as stylistic subsitutes for those four; provided that it is not Biagi, not Canaro, and not anything recorded before 1934.

You would also think about three (or more - this is very subjective) broad classifications of style, and you would focus on forming a range of improvisational habits that worked well for each style, regardless of the orchestra.

If you dance socially in Europe, it might also make sense to spend some extra time improving your dance to the 50's output. There's some support in this data for the widespread idea that the Argentinians think the Golden Age of tango music began and ended five to ten years later than the Europeans think it did. You may be less familiar with the nearly 30% of these tracks that were recorded after 1945, and you will probably have no chance to show what you can do with anything before 1935, so that experience is somewhat wasted. Being able to hit 80% of Biagi's off-beats will also be 100% useless, while being able to dance to 50's tangos generally without getting the giggles could be something you need.

Further research, or exercises for the interested reader

Yesterday I attended the first round of the related competition organised in London (there were 14 couples, one from the UK). You might be wondering if the pattern I've seen here was followed, or if it is followed in your own local competition, or the European competition, or anywhere else. I haven't gone through my notes yet, but the data so far says no. Despite dividing thirteen couples into a rather excessive three rondas, I don't think they followed the rotation of styles, and Pablo played both Canaro and OTV. I probably won't attend rounds 2 or 3, as it costs £25 to get in, and that adds up to a bit much, but if you feel like having something to focus on while you're there, go ahead and collect the data. It would be good to note the couple numbers in each round, too, along with your personal top six, and the results.

My guess is that no guidelines are published anywhere about the music, so the practice in local competitions is probably completely unrelated to what's done in the final. I have not tried to collect data for the semi-finals, either, and there's no reason to assume it's the same.

An interesting exercise for the reader - or for further research - would be to consider what three tracks you would use if you wanted, by observation, to identify the best dancers - by your own definition - in a room.

[Edit: I think the announcement at yesterday's competition was that there were 13 couples, but my notes show 14 different numbers; so I've changed it to 14. I could be wrong].


Terpsichoral said...

I think the reason they don't play Canaro or other similar orchestras is that the competition is fundamentally a salon competition (even though, officially, it's now referred to simply as "tango de pista") and the type of dancing the competitors do, with lots of smooth walking, long steps, elaborate giros, etc. isn't considered appropriate for the early tangos. A lot of traditionalists believe that that style of dancing is for Golden Age music and later and that, if you're dancing to Canaro, etc., you need to change your style of movement and range of vocabulary to something more canyengue influenced, with fewer figures (and different figures) and no elaborate giros. It's a bit like -- but not identical to -- the difference between tango and milonga. I don't see any evidence that anyone thinks Canaro is "common" since most milongas I go to regularly play Canaro tangos at least once per evening. But a lot of people regard it as archaic and as predating the salon style -- and therefore requiring a different way of dancing.

msHedgehog said...

"as archaic and as predating the salon style" certainly would be a more polite way of putting it. It is interesting to note that the rules (current edition at this link in Spanish and here in English) say absolutely nothing about the Salon style or any other style; they merely specify what is permitted in rather broad terms. So assuming what you say is correct, which I do not doubt, it would make just as much sense to play Canaro in order to see if a talented couple could adapt their dance accordingly.

Whether the published rules give a full or fair picture of what the judges are looking for - or whether reading the rules is even a sensible way to approach a study of the Mundial - is another matter entirely, and perhaps an interesting one, if rather subjective.

Terpsichoral said...

I know a few people on the judging panel and they told me that they changed the name of the competition from "tango salón" to the more neutral "tango de pista" to try to encourage people to compete in a wider range of styles. But so far that hasn't worked. It would make sense, yes, to play a Canaro or similar to see if people could also dance in that style -- but then you'd have the same issue as with Biagi; you'd need to include one with every round. As you say, the other issue is that people don't read the rules to determine how to dance in the Mundial -- they go by what other people are doing. When you're at the Sunderland practica or some other place where people are training for the Mundial or when you watch the other competitors in the opening rounds you see everyone dancing in a very specific way. And that makes that seem like the only way. Perhaps this will evolve -- the competition hasn't been around for that long. And competitions have been an integral, though not central, part of tango since the 40s, as I'm sure you know.

MOCKBA said...

On the other hand, Donato may also be perceived as archaic and pre-Salon but they played Donato, even twice. I'm always afraid that these tastes are influenced by politics, either directly or through the prism of directors' political affiliations affecting their music's fate on TV pos-Golden Age. In particular Canaro was linked with Peronism, while Troilo had great connections with the anti-Peronist regime. But also Fresedo with Ray is said to be "unpatriotic", and indeed the Mundial finals used lots of Fresedos but never once with Roberta Ray!

But an interesting parallel may also be found in the attitudes of the European DJs. In SuperSabino's survey results, which I summarized here, Canaro and Lomuto are included in "cool music lists" only for their instrumentals. They lose out in comparison with the later orchestras when the vocals are considered...

msHedgehog said...

Extremely interesting responses and anecdotes. Gathering this data was a lot of work, so I'm glad it was worthwhile.

Indeed, it's very natural for competitions to arise for anything that takes such a lot of work to do well, even if not central to the practice.

I've certainly heard it said many times that any couple showing the slightest variation from the conventional 'salon' style will definitely be eliminated straight away. But that belief could be based on the similarity of dance between couples in the final. And you have hit the nail on the head; there is no way to tell from the final alone whether this is purely a product of who enters.

The belief itself - even if it's completely wrong - would create a powerful disincentive for anyone to enter who suspects they do not fit. So the idea is entirely plausible, and your account of the practica supports it. It also creates a powerful disincentive to take any interest in the competition generally, so people are unlikely to hear any other view unless it's vigorously promoted.

I had noticed the change of name, but it had not occurred to me that it might be meant as significant. As a signal, I think it is too subtle to have any effect, compared with the problem, if it is considered a problem, to be solved.

Terpsichoral said...

Thank you for gathering the data! I don't like many tango blogs (except my own, of course), but I really appreciate yours.

msHedgehog said...

@MOCKBA: That's also interesting. I'd be interested to know who the "80 top DJs" were - did he publish a list anywhere? I see a list of festivals on the right hand side, and presumably his list was taken from those who DJd at those, but I suspect the overlap with anything I would want to attend, might be rather small. It will exist - I'd expect to see people like Bernhard Gehberger or Theo Chatzipetros to be on there somewhere - but it might be rather small.

If there isn't a Canaro/Maida tanda at a long event, I'd certainly feel a bit cheated.

MOCKBA said...

Sabino didn't make a complete list of surveyed DJs. Each interview is a separate blog entry and you'd have to scroll down for many pages to get a full list. Hmm, maybe I should do it for an update one day. Sometimes it's a rewarding reading, many of his interviewees have cool stories, but of course it's also extremely time consuming to read them all. I know that he's only had one UK DJ on his list at the time of my review, but fully 30 Italians.
Since then, he didn't add new entries. The most recent interview was with Hans Peter Salzer over a year ago. Theo El Greco has been interviewed in January 2014, but Bernhard isn't among the 10 German DJs he interviewed.

There are so many excellent Canaro-Maida's, how can one avoid them for too long? For the Argentines they might soon a bit too European, but for us, this is only "a bit" of Paris in Argentina :) But you may be on to something, there may be no Canaro-Maida in the most recent 7 or 8 hours of my setlists :O. Fama, Adrian and Roldan are there but no Maida since March??

msHedgehog said...

Well, that's quite informative. It tells us a bit about what your data means. The European scene is so diverse I'm not sure what could possibly be representative of it as a whole, or whether any conclusion could be at the same time both representative and useful. (Learning things about specific bits of it would be another matter; if we knew for example that his definition of 'top' was something like 'who has played more than 4 times to crowds of more than 400 people', then we'd know his findings told us about a specific sort of event).


MOCKBA said...

Ha! But that's the impression I'm always trying to convey, that beyond biases of selection and recall, and problems with survey design, one may not be able to tell much about the Top Orchestras rankings ... other than to get a sense that D'Arienzo and Di Sarli are indeed on top, but #3, #4, and #5 are totally subjective.

To quote from my previous "tango statistics" review,

Sometimes it's just so disappointing to look at the world through the statistician's eyes :) :) ... a picture which sort of made good intuitive sense no longer looks trustworthy once you go into the gory details, and start seeing meaningless coincidences and confounds where you used to see patterns.

BTW in the one (very biased and confounded) mega-survey which asked worldwide tangueros the question, one Canaro-Maida hit is consistently called the world's most popular

msHedgehog said...

Well, it's a correct impression; the concept of "top" is hopelessly vague to start with. But in sufficiently well-defined domains, it's always fun to find out what it's possible to say.

MOCKBA said...

Did you see this from Tango Tecnia? Of course it's an Internet survey with all its drawbacks, but it's big. Canaro tops the chart of dancers' preferences in the UK and Australia, but it isn't in the Top 5 in Argentine and Chile

MOCKBA said...

"Top 5" may be a self-fulfilling prediction in some ways, because that's what the gurus teach the DJs to mix and the public to expect? You may have noticed that in the Tango Tecnia's data, Canaro was UK's #1 (D'Arienzo and Pugliese split #2/#3, then Di Sarli and Troilo ... but with only about 50 votes cast, this order is subject to much fluctuation. Retake it, and some rankings gotta switch. Still, Canaro's the King for now!
My updated statistical analysis here (mostly trying to juxtapose Argentina vs. the rest of us)

JJ said...

I want to continue the study by taking down the songs between 2015 and 2019. But I have problem finding the names of the music. Would you mind sharing how you found the songs? My email is Thanks.-JJ

msHedgehog said...

Hi @JJ! I just watched the videos on YouTube. It took quite a lot of time. They don't publish or list them anywhere, as far as I know, but they do announce each song so you don't have to recognise them just by ear. You just have to understand a song announcement in Argentine Spanish. I haven't checked whether they included the announcements in the videos this year, though.