Discriminating music performers by timbre: On the relation between instrumental gesture, tone quality and perception in classical cello performance
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Classical music performers use instruments to transform the symbolic notationof the score into sound which is ultimately perceived by a listener. For acoustic instruments, the timbre of the resulting sound is assumed to be strongly linked to the physical and acoustical properties of the instrument itself. However, rather little is known about how much influence the player has over the timbre of the sound — is it possible to discriminate music performers by timbre? This thesis explores player-dependent aspects of timbre, serving as an individual means of musical expression. With a research scope narrowed to analysis of solo cello recordings, the differences in tone quality of six performers who played the same musical excerpts on the same cello are investigated from three different perspectives: perceptual, acoustical and gestural. In order to understand how the physical actions that a performer exerts on an instrument affect spectro-temporal features of the sound produced, which then can be perceived as the player’s unique tone quality, a series of experiments are conducted, starting with the creation of dedicated multi-modal cello recordings extended by performance gesture information (bowing control parameters). In the first study, selected tone samples of six cellists are perceptually evaluated across various musical contexts via timbre dissimilarity and verbal attribute ratings. The spectro-temporal analysis follows in the second experiment, with the aim to identify acoustic features which best describe varying timbral characteristics of the players. Finally, in the third study, individual combinationsof bowing controls are examined in search for bowing patterns which might characterise each cellist regardless of the music being performed. The results show that the different players can be discriminated perceptually, by timbre, and that this perceptual discrimination can be projected back through the acoustical and gestural domains. By extending current understanding of human-instrument dependencies for qualitative tone production, this research may have further applications in computer-aided musical training and performer-informed instrumental sound synthesis.
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