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Re: Theory of Timbre Perception

Hi Chris,

I'd say that any discussion of timbre has to start with the following articles:

Grey, J.M. (1977). Multidimensional perceptual scaling of musical timbres. Journal of Acoustical Society of America, 61, 1270-1277.
Grey, J.M., & Moorer, J.A. (1977). Perceptual evaluations of synthesized musical instrument tones. Journal of Acoustical Society of America, 62, 454-462.
Grey, J.M., & Gordon, J.W. (1978). Perceptual effects of spectral modifications on musical timbres. Journal of Acoustical Society of America, 63,1493-1500.

Further work has been done, but the three dimensions laid out in these articles (spectral centroid, temporal envelope, and spectral flux) seem to capture Western orchestral instruments quite well (assuming of course, that they are all playing the same note at the same loudness). The area is wide open, however, with most of the work focusing on manipulating and synthesizing sounds within the space that Grey and colleagues laid out. The "theory" of timbre perception, it seems to me, has yet to be written. Those interested in the identification of environmental sounds are extremely interested in this question, but the field is too new to have produced many definitive results. How, for example, does the timbre of a dog barking compare with the timbre of a rainstorm or the timbre of a flute? Are they all encoded as specific instances? Presumably not. So what, then, is the underlying abstract space that allows each to be identified? Presumably such a space would explain the confusions that occur as well (frying bacon and a running faucet is one of my favorite examples).

Frederick (Erick) Gallun
Research Investigator
VA RR&D National Center of Rehabilitative Auditory Research
Portland, OR

  1. Theory of Timbre Perception (2)


Date:    Mon, 6 Aug 2007 13:15:43 +1000
From:    Chris Share <cshare01@xxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Theory of Timbre Perception


I'm looking for information related to the mechanism of timbre
perception in human listeners. I realise that timbre perception relies
on the perception of loudness and pitch, however I'm having trouble
finding anything that specifically addresses the theory of timbre
perception (am I Googling in the wrong places?). I'm not interested in
articles on how listeners classify timbre.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.