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Piano touch, timbre, ecological psychology, and cross-modal interference Richard Parncutt Centre for Systematic Musicology University of Graz, Austria.

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Presentation on theme: "Piano touch, timbre, ecological psychology, and cross-modal interference Richard Parncutt Centre for Systematic Musicology University of Graz, Austria."— Presentation transcript:

1 Piano touch, timbre, ecological psychology, and cross-modal interference Richard Parncutt Centre for Systematic Musicology University of Graz, Austria ISPS, August 2013, Vienna International Symposium on Performance Science

2 Abstract The piano has a wide timbral range, and performance quality is often judged in timbral terms. Yet despite decades of research, there are still fundamental disagreements about the nature and origin of piano touch. Scientists (acousticians) maintain that the timbre of a single tone cannot be varied independently of its loudness. Performers, humanities scholars and concert audiences take the opposite for granted: timbre and loudness can be independently varied by gestural means. Both sides are right, but their implicit definitions of timbre differ, and both fail to clearly distinguish between physical measures and descriptions of subjective experience. Scientists assume that timbre depends only on physical sound parameters; but experiential parameters generally depend on concurrent input from other senses, the listener’s relevant knowledge and expectations, and immediately preceding and following events. The paradox of timbre disappears if we accept, based on empirical evidence, that timbre generally depends on input from more than one sensory modality (weak synesthesia). Embodied corporality and conceptual metaphors are the norm - not the exception. Gestural and ecological approaches to timbre perception pose existential challenges to disembodied cognitive orientations.

3 Timbre in traditional psychoacoustics American Standards Association (1960): “that attribute of sensation in terms of which a listener can judge that two sounds having the same loudness and pitch are dissimilar” A negative definition! Neither pitch nor loudness The multidimensional remainder

4 Timbre is experience! Traditional psychoacoustics: clear distinction between physical and experiential variables But many psychoacousticians talk about timbre as if it were physical I assume that timbre is always experiential

5 Timbre depends on Time domain – temporal envelope Frequency domain – spectral envelope

6 Vocal timbre Time Domain: Articulation Temporal envelope Frequency Domain Vocal Tract Shape Spectral Envelope

7 Timbre of musical instruments Mixture of time and frequency domain – Spectral flux: Different temporal envelopes of partials Absolute frequency – spectral & temporal envelopes depend on f o – timbre learned for each absolute frequency Spectral interval structure – Clarinet, bowed violin: exactly harmonic – Bell: inharmonic – Piano, guitar: stretched harmonic Spectral flux in a bass clarinet tone Grey & Moorer (1977) McAdams (1993)

8 Timbral space Spatial representation of timbral relationships Method: Choose some timbres Rate similarity of all pairs Multidimensional scaling Result is usually 3-D, axes: – onset, centroid, roughess… – depending on tested sounds Interpretation: Results difficult to generalise Cognitive representation? Distances in space depend on exposure & familiarity McAdams et al. (1995), Psychological Research

9 Ecological psychology of timbre Environmental interaction Experience as byproduct of interaction (epiphenomenon) Theory of James J. Gibson: Affordances and information pick-up Invariances of sound sources Perceptual learning Complementary to the cognitive approach Relationship to evolutionary psychology

10 Distal versus proximal stimuli External versus internal focus of attention In sport and music, performance may be better if attention directed to effects of movements - not movements themselves (Wulf & Prinz, 2001): Golf: attention on goal, not movements Pianists: attention to sound, not technique Why? Sophisticated unconscious motor control mechanisms Perception of goal inseparable from proprioception Implication Perception of timbre involves source perception

11 Ecological-evolutionary foundations of auditory perception Assumption: Sounds are only interesting (  consciously perceived) if they carry information about environmental interaction that could affect survival or reproduction. The affordances of a sound source what it means to us what we can do with it  Timbre reflects affordances! Human voice Lion footsteps, waterfall, car, gun…

12 OPEN BRIGHT CLASSICAL AIRY VIBRATO SPOKEN SMOKEY HARSH PRESSED CLEAR NATURAL BREATHY LOOSE NASAL FORCEFUL FIXED pleasant soft dark relaxed yawning held back resonanteasy round black swinging support forward (Prem & Parncutt, 2007) Words to describe the jazz voice

13 “I fell in love with his voice. He is African American, and his voice has this depth, it is souly, in a wonderful way. He is like a gentleman, and has this warmth. He gives his voice space and that arouses a very balanced feeling in me. His sadness, his elegance, his joyfulness really come through, so that I can experience them.” Affordances of vocal timbre Data collected by Ella Prem

14 Timbre is multimodal Performer can’t separate timbre (as experience!) from gestures used to achieve it Listeners share the performer’s experience (empathy) How? audiovisual mirror neurons (Kohler et al., 2002) auditory-motor interactions (Zatorre et al., 2007)

15 Proprioception Perception of position and movement of body parts and associated muscular tension Part of the somatic sense touch, proprioception, temperature, pain An aspect of corporality Aspects of music experience that depend on the bodies of performers and listeners

16 Weak synesthesia cross-modal interference All perceptual modalities: seeing, hearing tasting… The norm - not the exception Ecologically natural - cognitively strange The limits of subjective analysis We cannot completely separate… input from different modalities: hearing, vision, touch sensations within a modality (pitch, timbre).

17 A non-musical example When you taste yoghurt with a lighter (table-) spoon, it seems thicker sweeter more expensive Harrar & Spence (2013). The taste of cutlery. Flavour, 2: 21.The taste of cutlery

18 Weak synaesthesia in music Musical pitch “rises” and “falls” A piece “moves” A voice is “warm”, “round”, “relaxed”

19 Embodied cognition in different disciplines Psychology: cognition depends on features of the physical body of an agent (Wilson & Foglia, 2011) Music psychology: dance, rhythm, aesthetics etc. (Leman, 2008). Humanities: conceptual metaphor, ideas in one domain help us understood in another (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980).

20 Timbral range of the piano One note: Louder is brighter Many notes: higher is brighter physical interactions among strings, soundboard, internal resonances dependence on timing, dynamics, pedaling

21 The pianist’s “touch” A traditional psychoacoustic approach Physics: Hammer hits string in free flight Only free parameter is hammer velocity (shank rotation?) Fingertips hit the keys differently in legato and staccato touch Perception: Any effect beyond hammer-velocity effect is usually inaudible due to masking (cf. “touch precursor”, “early noise”; Goebl et al., 2004)

22 Piano touch: A synaesthetic approach For the pianist: All aspects of somatic sense: touch, position, movement, temperature, pain… For the audience: Vision (perception of gesture) Projected somatic sense (empathize with performer) For both: Multisensory perception of the interaction between the instrument and the performer

23 The feel of a piano “Pianos and rooms are generally interdependent: anyone who has ever travelled with a piano knows that the same Steinway or Bösendorfer not only sounds different in different halls, but also seems to react differently in its mechanism. Indeed, the resistance of the key, over and above the measurable mechanical aspect, is a psychological factor” Alfred Brendel (1976)

24 The feel of a piano For pianists, the physical resistance or bounciness of the piano mechanism depends physically on temperature and humidity psychologically on touch-sound relationship (to which they are very sensitive)

25 Multisensory piano timbre In physics, spectral and temporal envelopes of an isolated piano tone cannot be changed independent of intensity In psychology and experience, timbre involves interactions between: performers’ proximal sensations (tactile, auditory, visual, proprioceptive) distal perception and cognition (performance space; communication with the audience; cultural context) These statements are not contradictory!

26 Weak synasthesia in wind/string timbre independent control over pitch and timbre, but: intonation and timbre not psychologically separate (Ely, 1992; Geringer & Madsen, 1981; Platt & Racine, 1985) – musicians who play with good timbre are judged by experts and amateurs to have good intonation and vice-versa

27 Weak synesthesia in Renaissance choral timbre Listeners, audiences want “authentic” timbre. Some confuse that with just intonation. The sound is presumably optimal near 12-tone equal temperament (Devaney et al, 2011)

28 Weak synaesthesia in acousmatic music Acousmatic music is abstract, electronically synthesized sound from loudspeakers. Ecological approach to aesthetics: Listeners constantly guess and imagine sources or causes of musical sounds – as in everyday life Electronically generated sounds sound more “musical” if similar to familiar sounds

29 Disembodiment of music theory and cognitive music psychology Music theory depends on the score Cognitive music psychology depends on abstract cognitive structures The ecological solution: Study our experience of our physical interactions! Example: complex tones in speech and music (Terhardt, 1984).

30 A new definition of timbre 1.Experiential 2.Holistic and multimodal 3.Quantitative and qualitative 4.Proximal and distal

31 1. Timbre is experiential Like pitch, loudness, and (in vision) color Not a physical parameter! Corresponds to physical states and events

32 2. Timbre is holistic and multimodal Timbre depends generally and intrinsically on input from all senses: hearing, vision, touch, gesture physical context: acoustics and appearance of listening space temporal context – immediate, global empathy: shared or projected knowledge, experience, expectations emotional reactions associations Our ability to separate these components is limited.

33 3. Timbre is qualitative and quantitative complete description: both kinds of data both are intrinsically vague and intangible quantitative approach: – multidimensional (axis labels are qualitative) qualitative descriptors – refer to environment, body, speech (Traube, 2004)

34 4. Timbre is distal and proximal A complete description includes both Traditional psychoacoustic approach is proximal Combine with ecological source-based approach Why? Timbre generally depends on imagined visual and tactile properties of sound sources, and past experience of those sources e.g. different clarinet registers are all “clarinet”

35 Solving the “touch” problem Redefine timbre: combine experiential psychophysics with ecological psychology Promote interdisciplinary interaction: humanities, sciences and performance Abandon philosophical materialism: (artistic) experience exists!


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