The Science of Metal

Mosh Pit Simulator

Mosh Pit Simulator

Saturday, I got my metal fix by checking out High on Fire and Anthrax in Detroit. A great show, to be sure (though HoF’s Matt Pike looks a little pregnant).

I was watching the mosh pit and thinking about two things. First, that mosh pits act like particle interactions. Bodies bounce off one another, and occasionally off innocent bystanders. Second, that pits tend to tire out as the night moves on, and fade out as more as the music gets more interesting.

To my surprise, a group at Cornell already ran with the first idea (why am I always late to the game?). They took an agent based approach, and modelled the mosh pit as particles that move and bounce off one another and are constrained by non-moshers around them. They even went to the trouble of creating a simulator!

Of course, I find out now that the national news even featured their work (so I admit, my observation may have been influenced by an article I don’t consciously remember reading in the past few weeks).

I like their model and it may have agreed well with mosh pits in reality, but it fails when crowds are small. Moshers in the simulator are allowed to leave the boundaries of the floor, where in reality they are constrained to the space they occupy. The model here assumes that there are sufficient non-moshers to constrain the mosher movements. Often, this is not true. Importantly, it appears to model the particles as having random movement (though there is a limited “flock” feature), when mosh pits are anything but random. Moshers tend to be attracted to other moshers.

As for the second, point, that moshers tend to run out of steam early and take frequent breaks, I’ll leave that to debate. I would like to consider how musical complexity and “interestingness” influence mosh pits. Moshers tend to care little for whatever they mosh to (could be Justing Bieber in the end), though better music might command more attention.

For the record, I’m too old to mosh.

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About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

4 responses to “The Science of Metal”

  1. hojiralph says :

    “For the record, I’m too old to mosh.”

    Nonsense. You are babbling pure nonsense.

  2. Pete Larson says :

    My old knee says otherwise!

  3. stumpwater says :

    Matt Pike’s gut doesn’t give a shit about your knee: get out there and mosh, Pete.

  4. Art Damage says :

    I would like to see a slam dance simulator. Never liked moshing so much a slam-dancing, as it was practiced in the golden age of hardcore -1980s, and defined as necessarily comprising a rotating circle, usually counterclockwise. As such it is more of an ordered chaos rather than just blaaaah moshing.

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