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Re: Rhythm perception

jpff@xxxxxxxxxxxxx den 15. november 2005 kl. 13:40 +0100 skrev:
>We were discussing rhythm patterns the other day and the question came
>up about how one determined the start of a pattern.  If there is a
>heavy emphasis on one beat of the sequence then I can understand that
>that is taken as the first beat.
>  But if the sequence is unemphasised how does one decide?  Or do
>people decide differently, or is it cultural?
>I am not sure where to start to look -- as ever this is outside my
>general field of study -- but I though this list might be the place
>to ask for clues.
>I hope I have explained the question sufficiently!
>==John ffitch

Dear list

I think we should distinguish between meter and phrase or pattern, and the
question, as I understand it, concerns the latter. Where does one phrase
begin and the next end, and how does the human perception go about
determining this?
>From a musicological point of view this is the problem of segmentation,
which is usually approached from the microlevel as a bottom-up procedure
or from the macrolevel as a top-down procedure (or both). Either you add
individual sounds until a certain point, which constitutes the
phrase/pattern or you chop it up from the top in smaller and smaller
pieces (see Lerdal and Jackendorf for an example). 
We have a similar problem in speech perception, where we are told that we
use 'parsing' to distinguish individual words in a stream of sounds. But
to my knowledge it is not clear what parsing is, how it is learned and
whether it is a higher order function or occurs earlier in the auditory
In gestalt theory they talk of grouping, which is basically a bottom-up
concept, but they have no theory to explain how it works.

I should like to offer a different explanation, which might be
controversial to some. Tomasello suggests (in Constructing a Language,
2003) that children do not learn words by grouping individual sounds, but
learn them as finished gestalts. From there they proceed downwards (to
individual sounds) and upwards (to clauses and sentences). I want to
suggest this approach as a general procedure: we do not make sense of the
world from the microlevel nor from the macrolevel but from a mesolevel.
The musical phrase/pattern is formed as a gestalt in the mind, in the same
way as we conceive of gestures, words, and visual shapes (check out the
concept 'binding' for visual perception). 

There is no room here for all details of this theory, but an article of
mine called 'Phrase, Gesture and Temporality' is available at

It would be interesting to know exactly where in the auditory pathway the
auditory streams is organised in larger units that we can call phrases or
patterns, but I don't think this has been established.

Hoping for reactions to this.

Ole Kühl
Center for Semiotics
Building 1467
Jens Chr. Skous Vej 7
DK-8000 Aarhus C
+45 89425494