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Re: sometimes behave so strangely
I think that Peter's point about the rhythmic effect created by
repetition is important. I've often had the experience of listening to
some repetitive machine noise and hearing it musically, so that I find
myself, for example, bobbing my head and tapping my foot to the "music"
of a noisy inkjet printer.
If the rhythm of repetition is the key to switching the listener into a
musical perception mode, then perhaps the effect of Diana's
demonstration could be undermined by inserting irregular pauses between
Senior Engineer, Hearing Aid Research Lab
House Ear Institute
2100 W. Third St.
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From: AUDITORY - Research in Auditory Perception
[mailto:AUDITORY@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Peter Lennox
Sent: Wednesday, December 13, 2006 5:51 AM
Subject: Re: sometimes behave so strangely
Without wanting to drag this away from the semantic content question
(though I'd think that, on repetition, there's no new semantic content,
and so semantic content slips down the priority list, allowing other
characteristics to move up in priority), this reminds me that whenever
recordings of real world sounds are used in a spatial rendition, if they
are looped, they gradually become perceptible as 'musical'.
Clearly this is content dependent (some sounds are more intrinsically
'musical' and can be so perceived more readily) and the length of the
interval between repetitions seems important. sometimes, the loop can
feature quite a lot of disparate elements (e'g a duck at some distance
to the right, a hammer striking infrequently off to the left, a
throat-clearing behind, and so on) in such a way that the repetitive
nature for some elements becomes obvious sooner than for others. when
they all do, they become incorporated in a complex rythm, and (it seems
to me) it is then that they seem most musical.
But on the question of how the effect endures - is this not simply that
once has heard it as a 'tune' it is hard to 'unhear it' as such?
I'd be interested to know whether people can remember the 'sung' phrase
more accurately and /or longer than an equivalent phrase, repeated as
many times, but where the intonation has been randomised so that no tune
forms (IF such a thing is possible...)
I'm puzzled about the possible inferences in respect of 'flattening' of
pitch contour - are you saying that, as people hear the phrase as more
of a tune and less of a sentence, they also 'compress' the tune?
p.s - on your Mussorgsky example - I'm always puzzled that more people
don't hear parts of the world as musical
Dr. Peter Lennox
Signal Processing Applications Research Group
University of Derby
Int. tel: 1775
>>> Diana Deutsch <ddeutsch@xxxxxxxx> 13/12/2006 06:47 >>>
Dear Al (and List),
You raise some very interesting points. I don't think that the
explanation lies in semantic satiation, because the words (vowels and
consonants) are still heard very clearly, even though the phrase
appears to be sung. I do agree, though, that the answer lies, at
least in part, in the pitch modulations - though exactly what
happens isn't clear. At the ASA meeting I presented an illustration
showing the pitch tracing of my original rendition, and that of a
subject repeating what she heard after multiple repetitions. The
contours of all the syllables were flattened in the subject's
rendition, and it's my strong impression that people literally begin
to hear the contours as flattened. I'd be happy to send this
illustration to anyone who is interested.
You also raise the point that the transformation of the phrase from
speech to song endures - so that when people listen again to the full
sentence, I appear to burst into song. This , to my mind, is a
particularly puzzling aspect of the effect. People have told me that
the effect is still present, unattenuated, even months later - and
this was certainly my experience. As you point out, perhaps the most
important question raised by this demonstration is why people don't
always hear speech as song. After all, the vowel components of words
are harmonic complexes - yet the pitch characteristics of speech are
usually suppressed in perception.
The composer Mussorggsky wrote in a letter to Rimsky-Korsokoff:
'whatever speech I hear, no matter who is speaking ... my brain
immediately sets to working out a musical exposition for this
speech' . On listening to his music - particularly his song cycles
- one can deliberately flip one's perception to a different mode, and
hear, very convincingly, the intonation of Russian speech. I've often
wondered whether Mussorgsky may have heard all speech as we hear
'sometimes behave so strangely' after repetition.
Professor Diana Deutsch
Department of Psychology
University of California, San Diego
9500 Gilman Dr. #0109
La Jolla, CA 92093-0109, USA
On Dec 12, 2006, at 10:08 PM, Al Bregman wrote:
> Dear Diana (and List),
> Yes indeed! The repetitions do seem to comvert spoken speech to
> I wonder whether your phenomenon isn't related to that of "semantic
> satiation", in which a word that is repeated over and over tends to
> lose its meaning and to be perceived as a sequence of sounds. The
> meaning is not lost in an all-or-nothing fashion, but tends to get
> weaker and weaker. (See
> In the case of your demonstration there is a strongly modulated F0
> (intonation contour) over the phrase. It may be that when we hear
> ordinary speech, which contains pitch modulation (an acoustic
> phenomenon that is present in both music and speech), the speech and
> musical schemas are both evoked and compete with one another.
> However, when the cues for speech are dominant (i.e., continuous and
> non-repeating modulation of F0, without pausing on particular
> pitches), the musical interpretation is suppressed. But when the
> phrase is repeated many times, a satiation and weakening of the
> interpretation occurs (as in semantic satiation), thereby allowing
> musical interpretation to become more dominant. Of course it
> become completely dominant, or else we wouldn't hear speech at all.
> Rather there is an intermediate form of activation in which we hear
> both speech and music (i.e., singing).
> In your demonstration, immediately after hearing the phase as
> when we listen to the whole sentence again, we still maintain an
> association between the phrase and the melodic interpretation. I
> wonder how long this aftereffect lasts.
> Your demonstration raises the fascinating question of why we don't
> ALWAYS hear speech as singing. It may be that persons with absolute
> pitch come closer to this than the rest of us do, or at least can
> it on when they want to. A number of years ago, I asked Poppy Crum,
> graduate student of mine who had absolute pitch, whether she could
> assign musical note values to my intonation pattern as I said a
> phrase. She replied that this was easy, and gave me a sequence of
> note names.
> Whatever the explanation of your phenomenon, it is truly
> and raises some challenging questions. I hope you yourself, or some
> of our colleagues, will be able to shed light on the phenomenon
> through a series of analytical experiments.
> All the best,
> Albert S. Bregman, Emeritus Professor
> Psychology Department, McGill University
> 1205 Docteur Penfield Avenue
> Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 1B1.
> Tel: (514) 484-2592, (514) 398-6103
> Fax: (514) 484-2592
> On 12/12/06, Diana Deutsch <ddeutsch@xxxxxxxx> wrote:
>> Dear list,
>> I've had a number of requests for the sound demonstration I
>> presented at
>> the recent ASA meeting in Honolulu, in which the spoken phrase
>> behave so strangely' following several repetitions, appears
>> to be sung rather than spoken - though there is no musical
>> context and no
>> physical transformation of the sound. This demonstration, together
>> spoken commentary, is on my CD 'Phantom Words and Other
>> (available from Philomel Records - http://www.philomel.com).
>> The sound demonstration is also posted on the website:
>> and it's described in the booklet accompanying the CD, which is
>> posted at:
>> Happy Holidays!
>> Diana Deutsch
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