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Re: sensory consonance /dissonance? musical consonance / dissonance


I'll add a little spice to the recipe, again, this is all done by ear, not by formal observation.

In my developing a descriptive vocabulary for sounds, I do not use the term dissonance, as I avoid the word "musical" except with understood "quotation marks" -- indicating context(s) and (de)limitations. Therefore, as I mentioned earlier, I think the original question has framed the observation / question in a rather poor fashion.

If the original (as I read it) is about cross-modal perception (expectations), I would propose that there are two forms of this, cultural and learned cross-modal perception, and "real" synesthesia. Having known three synesthetes, I have come to understand this is being a condition similar to absolute pitch. All three had absolute pitch, and connected octave equivalent notes to colors (for example, Ab was maroon, in every central octave). Two of them also had 'number - color' synesthesia, and both were gifted visual artists. They remembered addresses and phone numbers by seeing swaths of color that they decoded. I don't think this was the original intent of the questioner.

But rather, aspects of learned / cultural cross-modality.

My personal and professional experience is that this is learned. Think of a simple ascending tone. Visualize a red ball flying away from you, soaring upwards. Hear the ascending tone. Visualize a red ball flying down towards you. Hear the ascending tone. In my mind, in the first example, the ascending tone represents the ball decreasing in size (the sound gets smaller as young kids would say). In the second, the sound is 'correct' representing my experience with doppler shift related to an accelerating object approaching me.

In my internal animated film, I used the same sound in two (opposite) contexts. Neither had a visual / aural dissonance as I changed my frame of reference to accommodate the two sets of stimuli.

I think of pictures of Dresden in 1945. In my head I play the Barber Adagio for Strings, or the first movement of the Shostakovich Symphony Number Seven (Leningrad). Both "work" for me. They express different things.

The same thing for me with 'jagged pictures' and sine tones, or jagged pictures and short random sawtooth waves. Neither is the 'correct' sound for the image -- the effects are different.

In the idea of 'roughness' and 'smoothness', I have found that at least two time scales need to be considered, the (so-called) instantaneous (two sawtooth waves, 400 and 411 Hz, ring modulated, for one second), or the same sound for 30 seconds where I 'shift levels' and perceive a complex but continuous sound. At 44 dB it's interesting; at 107 dB it's otherwise.

This comes back to the concept of "same", which is somehow buried in the questions of identity (and labeling) of sounds. Can the 'same wave shape', be consonant at one amplitude and not at another? Can the same wave shape be 'rough' when heard for one duration (1.2 seconds), and less rough when heard for 2 minutes? If this is so, then it might be possible to learn / unlearn the label of rough (or dissonant).

As a last example, listen to the first two movements of the Webern Cantata Number Two, about 30 times. This will only take 2 1/2 hours as their total duration is about 5 minutes.

The first time listen very closely. Many people will find this difficult 'dissonant', disjointed music. Let it play in the background for 30 minutes and now listen again closely. Continue with background for 15 minutes, close listening, background 10 minutes, close listening etc.

After 1 1/2 hours, what had been dissonant (unfamiliar / strange / weird) has probably become less so, even much less so. The dissonance has been unlearned. In my experience. (The same thing can be done with Wagner's Ring, but it takes about 510 hours.)



At 6:19 PM -0400 8/17/07, Al Bregman wrote:
Dear Kevin and List,

I believe it's important to make the distinction between
psychoacoustic dissonance (sometimes called sensory dissonance) and
musical dissonance, because I think that auditory scene analysis
operates differently in the two cases.

For example, let's start with a musically dissonant pair of concurrent
sine-wave tones, more than a critical band apart.  When these tones
(as musical notes) are captured into separate melodic streams, the
musical sense of dissonance disappears.  Since they are sine wave
tones, where there are no harmonics to beat with one another and
create roughness, the disappearance of dissonance has nothing to do
with roughness.

On the other sound, when the two concurrent notes are complex tones,
and there is a perceived roughness (psychoacoustic dissonance) due to
interfering harmonics, I don't think that capturing them into
different melodic streams will eliminate the roughness, although it
may distract the listener from the dissonance and make it acceptable.
Furthermore the roughness may be perceptually disassociated from the
tones that give rise to it.  Yet if one listens for the roughness one
can still hear it. Psychoacoustic roughness can't be destroyed by
perceptual decomposition of the simultaneity, in the way that musical
dissonance can be.

Let me caution you that what I am saying is based on informal
observations, not on lab data.  So it's an informed opinion, not a

--  Al
Albert S. Bregman, Emeritus Professor
Psychology Department, McGill University
1205 Docteur Penfield Avenue
Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 1B1.
     Tel: (514) 398-6103
     Fax: (514) 398-4896

On 8/17/07, Kevin Austin <kevin.austin@xxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
 One term, two meanings. It seems that sensory consonance / dissonance
 is a psychoacoustic term (mapped either to perception, cognition or
 both), while musical dissonance (western) can be seen by looking at a
 score with the correct cultural optics (to make reference to the
 cross-modal referents).
 > Best
 > Kevin
 > figured out ...
 > 5 - 5
 > 4 - 3
 > >Date:    Thu, 16 Aug 2007 00:58:15 -0700
 > >From:    PORRES <mentalosmosis@xxxxxxxxx>
 > >Subject: Re: Generating a continuum of consonant to dissonant sounds
 >sensory consonanc/dissonance relies mainly in the sensation of
 >beatings & roughness as well as the harmonicity (periodicity) of a
 >signal, that leads to a high perception of musical tone (toneness
 >other musical consonance/dissonance dimensions are really hard to
 >map, as they are very abstract and cultural.
 >anyway, you have a good conceptual problem in my oppinion, that you
 >are trying to match two completely different sensational aspects
 >(visual and auditory) by a highly abstact approach. It is not my
 >area, but I just dont see a visual correlate of sensory dissonance.
 >if you think of it only as a cultural matter maybe...
 >Kevin Austin <kevin.austin@xxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote: Hi Mike
 >In my experience, you may need to clarify your question as in
 >"musical" terms, "dissonance" means 'requiring resolution to
 >consonance' -- that is, void of context, there are no 'dissonant'
 >sounds. You may not "like" it, but that doesn't produce [musical]
 >dissonance. The perfect fourth was a musical consonance and the third
 >was a dissonance in western music 900 years ago. Now these roles have
 >reversed. It strikes me that "harmonious" is not on the same
 >continuum with dissonant in general.
 >I've not done the studies, but have worked through these ideas with
 >many hundreds of people. They wouldn't be controled studies, for what
 >classrooms and studios are controled?
 >Bells and stable fm complexes may be 'complex' in their spectra, but
 >not 'dissonant'. You may be looking for aspects of time variance
 >(with both instantaneous and time-based integration). Consider the
 >sound of a large sheet of glass being smashed. It lasts 1500
> >milliseconds and may be associated with "jagged" visuals. Stretch it
 >out to four minutes. Take the sound of a breaking wave (eight
 >seconds), stretch it out to four minutes. Compare them. Time compress
 >the wave to 750 milliseconds and compare it to the lowpass filtered
 >breaking glass.
 >  >Date:    Tue, 14 Aug 2007 18:56:42 -0500
 >>From:    "Michael H. Coen"
 >>Subject: Generating a continuum of consonant to dissonant sounds
 >>Hello list,
 >>As part of a machine learning research project investigating
 >>audio/visual cross-modal perception, I'm looking at the relationship
 >>in perceived correspondences between "simple" sounds and visual
 >>inputs to "complex" sounds and visual inputs.
 >>Most importantly, I'm interested in _lack_ of correspondence between
 >>the two, e.g, simple shapes with complex sounds and vice-versa, and
 >>the impact of these "disagreements" on classifications and reaction
 >>I'm curious what principled studies (or perchance code?) might have
 >>been written for generating sounds ranging continuously from
 >>harmonious to dissonant. I can easily think of ways of doing this
 >>mathematically, e.g., randomly phase shift the harmonics, but I'm
 >>curious what the psychoacoustics community has to say regarding this
 >>Any pointers would be greatly appreciated. And of course, if you're
 >>aware of anything more directly addressing the problem I described,
 >>that would be most welcome as well.
 >>Best regards,
 >  >Mike Coen