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Re: origin of "timbre"
Jim also asked:
>Is there a good source that discusses ... how it came to take its modern meaning?"
He already mentioned a translation of Helmholtz's 'Die Lehre von den
Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik',
Braunschweig: 1863. Perhaps it was the translator A.J. Ellis who introduced the
The reason for v. Helmholtz to use the term 'Klangfarbe' was certainly the
tempting hypothesis by Müller and subsequently Ohm that the perceived 'Tonhöhe'
= pitch of a tone corresponds to its 'fundamental frequency' according to
Fourier's analysis of the a tone.
I quote Warren 1999: "Ohm (1844) had dismissed Seebeck's observation that a
pitch could be heared corresponding to an absent or weak fundamental as merely
an auditory illusion", and "Helmholtz (1877) backed Ohm's position in this
controversy", and "He attributed the perception of a single pitch to the
adoption by unskilled listeners of a 'synthetic' mode of listening to the entire
complex of components (resulting in a pitch corresponding to the fundamental
frequency and having a timbre, or quality, reflecting the harmonic composition),
rather than an 'analytical' mode in which pitches of component harmonics could
In other words, the psycho-descriptive term timbre completes what I consider a
still widesprespread illusion concerning the psychophysical measure pitch. It
has still to be decided whether this sound quality largely depends on spectral
or cepstral composition. We should ask why nobody so far managed to
convincingly derive from spectral shape and physiology whether a tone sounds
more sharp, more rough, or more harmonic.
Having revealed the possiblility that the ordinaty event-related time-scale
instead of the natural observer-bound one inevitably led into many quarrels and
mistakes, I am finding evidence after evidence for a cepstrum-like basis of
pitch. Maybe, this will also provide the key for closing the still wide gap
between perception of timbre and physiology. At least, the phenomena unison,
harmony, octave error, missing fundamental, audibility of click polarity, etc.
are plausible now.
I would like to suggest focussing on understanding rather than terminology.
Schouten's residue pitch and Warren's infrapitch anyway deviate from the
traditional notion of pitch and timbre.