Introduction to the Queen's Symposium on Musical Perception Held at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario: July 14-16, 1981

Article excerpt

Throughout musical history there have been substantial contributions to our understanding of how the regular disturbances of the air that we perceive as sound convey the intellectual and emotional substance that we call music. The names of historical contributors are familiar to those with only a casual interest in music: Pythagoras, Boethius, Rameau, Helmholtz, Hindemith. But attempts to organize this knowledge into a useful and coherent basis for musical composition, performance, and pedagogy are often frustrated. Part of the problem, perhaps, lies in the fact that contributors are typically scattered across a variety of disciplines. Contributions from the disparate fields of physics, engineering, medicine, psychology, and music theory tend to be nestled within their particular fields; there has been little opportunity for interdisciplinary assessment and evaluation. There is increasing evidence, however, that today's investigators are anxious to pursue interdisciplinary contact, to discuss common problems and objectives, and to explore new approaches and terminology. Thus the Queen's Symposium on Musical Perception came into being.

The Symposium was held at Queen's University in July of 1981. There were six invited speakers, representing a variety of different disciplines, and each of the six papers appears in this issue. Each speaker concentrated upon a distinctive problem of musical perception and each offered experimental tests of the ideas presented. The topics included perception of structure, of timbre, of sound in space, and of the auditory objects contained in sound. The first paper, by Jonathan Kramer, a composer-theorist, examined copious examples from the standard musical literature in order to illustrate concepts of psychological expectancy and the role of experience. Annabel Cohen, a psychologist, reported the responses of listeners in a laboratory test to musical fragments that she had created, and analyzed the characteristics of melody that lead to perceptual recognition. Albert Bregman, a psychologist, discussed the capacity of the human mind to organize a sequence of acoustic signals into meaningful units or "streams." For the next three speakers, audio-electronics and computer-controlled signal processing, while used by all speakers represented here, were particularly relevant. Floyd Toole, an electrical engineer,discussed audio reproduction systems and the correspondence between physical measurements and human judgment. Wayne Slawson, a composer-theorist, described an electronic voice for vowel sounds and presented theories about how we organize tone color in music listening. …


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