Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Perceiving Changes of Sound-Source Size within Musical Tone Pairs

Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Perceiving Changes of Sound-Source Size within Musical Tone Pairs

Article excerpt

Although the perception of sound-source size is among the many facets of pitch and timbre, the role of hearing size cues within the context of music perception is relatively unknown. Size information, primarily encoded within fundamental frequency and resonance patterns, is salient in many types of sounds, including animal communication (Fitch, 1994; Morton, 1977), speech (Smith, Patterson, Turner, Kawahara, & Irino, 2005), and musical instrument sounds (Chiasson, Traube, Lagarrigue, & McAdams, 2017). Chiasson et al., for example, found that sound "extensity" ratings by listeners using both ordinal and ratio scales could be related to the notion of "volume" (which may be roughly translated as "largeness" from the French term) as predicted by the French composer and orchestration treatise writer Charles Koechlin (1954). Similarly to Koechlin, but in the sphere of psychoacoustics, S. S. Stevens and colleagues have also proposed that "volume" be defined as "an apparent largeness and extensiveness." Stevens and Davis (1938) and Terrace and Stevens (1962) conducted studies on the perception of volume for pure tones and observed that volume increased when loudness increased and pitch decreased. Within speech, sound-source size ("source size" hereafter) is useful for both comprehending "what" a given message means and determining "who" is speaking (Patterson, Gaudrain, & Walters, 2010). However, within music perception, the implications of perceiving the size of a given sound source, and especially the ability to perceive changes in source size, have received little attention.

The literature on auditory size reports numerous examples of our capacity to hear size. Lakatos, McAdams, and Caussé (1997) found evidence that listeners can decode spatial dimensions of metal and wooden bars from sound cues alone. Kunkler-Peck and Turvey (2000) reported that listeners successfully infer size, shape, and material information from the sounds of plates being struck by a pendular hammer. Other research reports the capacity to infer the size of animals (Vestergaard et al., 2009), humans (Ives, Smith, & Patterson, 2005; Smith, Patterson, Turner, Kawahara, & Irino, 2005), and musical instruments (Chiasson et al., 2017; van Dinther & Patterson, 2006). Further, neurological evidence suggests that both adults and newborn infants can hear changes of musical instrument size, suggesting that this ability could possibly be innate (Vestergaard et al., 2009).

The psychophysical basis of auditory size perception involves two key acoustic features: fundamental frequency and acoustic scale/resonance (Cohen, 1993; Fitch, 1994; Smith et al., 2005). Relatively lower frequencies originate from larger, or more massive, sound sources, and therefore, fundamental frequency is often considered to be an important cue for perceiving affective size information (Huron, 2012). There are, however, a few exceptional cases in which sound sources can produce sounds that are much lower in frequency than would be expected from their size, as is the case with the low-pitched mating call of male koalas (Charlton et al., 2013). Resonance information, the reinforcement of certain frequencies above a fundamental frequency, also plays an important role in determining the size of many types of sounds. Within speech, vowels have distinctive resonance patterns (i.e., formant placements). For a given vowel, ratios between formants remain relatively constant from speaker to speaker, but the absolute placement of these formants differ depending on the given sound source. The absolute placement of formants is therefore thought to be useful for differentiating among multiple sound sources (Fitch, 1997; Patterson et al., 2010). Similar factors are at play when discriminating different musical instruments within a given instrument family. For example, one of the primary differences between a violin and a viola sounding the same fundamental frequency is the absolute placement of the resonances; the larger-sized viola typically exhibits resonant peaks at lower frequencies (van Dinther & Patterson, 2006). …

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