Musical timbre: bridging perception with semantics
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Musical timbre is a complex and multidimensional entity which provides information regarding the properties of a sound source (size, material, etc.). When it comes to music, however, timbre does not merely carry environmental information, but it also conveys aesthetic meaning. In this sense, semantic description of musical tones is used to express perceptual concepts related to artistic intention. Recent advances in sound processing and synthesis technology have enabled the production of unique timbral qualities which cannot be easily associated with a familiar musical instrument. Therefore, verbal description of these qualities facilitates communication between musicians, composers, producers, audio engineers etc. The development of a common semantic framework for musical timbre description could be exploited by intuitive sound synthesis and processing systems and could even influence the way in which music is being consumed. This work investigates the relationship between musical timbre perception and its semantics. A set of listening experiments in which participants from two different language groups (Greek and English) rated isolated musical tones on semantic scales has tested semantic universality of musical timbre. The results suggested that the salient semantic dimensions of timbre, namely: luminance, texture and mass, are indeed largely common between these two languages. The relationship between semantics and perception was further examined by comparing the previously identified semantic space with a perceptual timbre space (resulting from pairwise dissimilarity rating of the same stimuli). The two spaces featured a substantial amount of common variance suggesting that semantic description can largely capture timbre perception. Additionally, the acoustic correlates of the semantic and perceptual dimensions were investigated. This work concludes by introducing the concept of partial timbre through a listening experiment that demonstrates the influence of background white noise on the perception of musical tones. The results show that timbre is a relative percept which is influenced by the auditory environment.
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