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sometimes behave so strangely

Dear Alfred (and List),

Thanks for your thoughtful analysis. I wish I could say I’ve found the answer to why this particular passage works so well. As you indicate, several different (and in principle independent) factors appear to be contributing, and perhaps to produce a strong effect they all need to act together. At this point, I'd be surprised if there were a single, and simple, solution.

All the best,


---------------------------------------------------- Dear Diana and all,

I'm glad to have been reading this discussion, which has caused me to revise some of my view of what happens in this phenomenon.

It seems to me that the critical distinction between "music" and "singing" is not well enough understood. We miss this point because there is so much overlap between the two concepts. But the way I imagine the distinction right now, today, is this: singing is perceived as such when particular vocal qualities are heard within a framework perceived as musical. Now that's very fluid: the particular vocal qualities, as well as the very notion of music, vary greatly across cultures. So I imagined that one could find people with no experience of Western harmony and see if the illusion worked with them. The problem would be they might not recognize the vocal quality as singing either, so it would still be hard to know why the illusion did or didn't work. The seemingly basic concepts of music and singing are actually composed of many components networked together (and networked with each other) in ways that are difficult to tease apart. Among the elements of singing are heightened awareness of sound features such as pitch, duration, and timbre that are important but usually not attended to in speech.

So let me try a speculative analysis of why the demonstration works for me. One component is your vocal quality in the excerpt. I can't accept that you "actually are singing" as Eliot Handelman put it, but your vocal quality is consistent with what I can recognize as singing.

The looping may weaken the perception that the passage is spoken, or it may draw attention to sound features.

Then there is the part that most needs to be described as "musical": the pitches and durations. Your rhythmic transcription is obviously fairly approximate in regards to the syncopation at its beginning, but nevertheless it reflects the way I hear the fragment. I hear it that way, I believe, because it conforms to a well-ingrained schema representing a rhythm that has been ubiquitous in American and European popular music (and other music) at least since the late 19th century. The pitches also seem to be heard according to common tonal- harmony schemas: your transcription outlines the tonic in the first measure (with a C# passing tone) and the dominant in the second. I'm one who hears the last note a semitone lower--as an E#, which means I hear the first measure as IV of F# and the second measure as V. That hearing was so obvious to me -- including the E#, which I would have spelled F-natural had I not been hearing it within a tonal schema -- that I was certain I was right about the notes, and I still can't hear it any other way, so I'm interested to know that others hear it differently or indeterminately!

All the best,

Alfred Cramer
Music Department
Pomona College
Claremont, California

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