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Re: Absolute pitch -- any examples of acquired absolute pitch? or losing AP - third option

Dear list

And there may be a third option that seems to satisfy both positions.

The condition that I posit is that Eliot may have been (for example) a violinist as a child and did develop AP. At some point, he lost that condition, eg he lost the ability to identify color, through some form of traumatic / neurological incident. Later in life, his underlying mode of perception (AP) re-emerged.

I posit this based upon my own experience where I do not feel that my 'heightened' aural skill 'developed' after a 45 year period of stasis, but rather, during my lucid dreaming condition, some disconnected parts of my mind/brain became re-connected. It seems to me that the first step would be to show conclusively that Eliot was not AP as a child.

I am not AP, except that about 80% of the time I simply try to notate a pitch "out of thin air" it is either a fourth or a fifth off. 10% of the time it is right, 10% of the time it is about a third off. I attribute this pitch error to the fact that as a child I had two "lowest notes" in the music I made. My voice stopped at D above middle C, and on the recorder I only played down to the G above middle C. I also had trouble while listening to a single piano note determining whether to notate the fundamental or the third partial. I had to 'unlearn' over-sensitized hearing. Maybe Eliot unlearned AP, so both Daniel and Eliot are "right".



Date:    Sun, 20 Apr 2008 15:41:23 -0400
From:    Eliot Handelman <eliot@xxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Later -life AP (was: Re: AUDITORY Digest - 18 Apr 2008 to 19 Apr 2008 (#2008-84))

Daniel Levitin wrote:

I wrote:
I'm an example, acquiring AP when I was about 42. . .one
day listening to some music I became aware that
every time I heard a "b" I knew exactly what it was. It was not like
knowing a pitch by remembering the last time you heard it;

I believe this is an example of what in the literature (going back to
Bachem, 1954) is referred to as "quasi-Absolute Pitch," which is, by
definition, when a person has "AP" for a single note or two.

I did not imply this. When I said "the other pitches followed" I meant
that I heard them all  "absolutely."

It's not clear from Eliot's description if the other notes he
eventually acquired were identified with reference to this first note, in which case he has AP for a single note and used his excellent sense
of RP (relative pitch) from there.
No, because as I mentioned there is a qualitative distinction for me in
perceiving pitch "with pitch" & "without."  This is an
ongoing issue for me because I sometimes hear very clearly & sometimes
in the indefinite, pre-AP way.  To hear clearly is not just to
know the label but, as I mentioned, to feel the label as part of the
identity of the pitch. To "know a pitch relatively" is not qualitatively the same thing at all. My labelling is the outcome of the way I hear pitch.

AP is a sort of pitch gnosis, I think: it's like the difference between seeing a triangle "as" a triangle & concluding that there is a triangle
because you have counted the sides.  (Viz. some Sacks story about
restored vision after cataract operations.) In my case, it's
plausible that RP (ie counting) does play some role (and I think it
does); but it would be as if you saw 2 sides of a triangle,
deduced the third, & then suddenly saw the whole. In other words, with
RP or without there is still a qualitative
distinction between hearing pitch or not.

If in fact Eliot acquired it, he would be the only case I know of an
adult who did.
Ah -- so I could be like a Tiresias of absolute pitch then, since I'd be
the only one around who  knows
both states. As a matter of fact, I have a great deal to say about the
subject, but perhaps not now.

-- eliot


Date:    Sun, 20 Apr 2008 23:37:00 -0400
From:    Kevin Austin <kevin.austin@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Absolute pitch -- any examples of acquired absolute pitch? or losing AP

The terminology and differences have been discussed here before. The
idea is whether the identification is measured against an
'internal' value (absolute) or an external (relative). RED is labeled
by most people based upon an 'internal' value, as is 'salt' or
'sweet'. It will have another name in another language.

The people with absolute pitch who I have discussed this with seem not
to have "heard" intervals, but rather the two notes independently. I
am told that they hear the three notes of the triad and "work out"
it's name -- it's not a 'color' (integrated sound object).

Of interest would be examples of people who have lost AP. Would they
be able to identify intervals? If the analogy holds, then it may be
like someone who loses color vision and only sees in grey scale.

Like Eliot, I am well aware (as Oliver Sachs also points out) that
hearing can change under conditions of stress, or the like. After a
bout of very lucid dreaming (in a car accident), my 'hearing' began to
improve remarkably after having largely stayed 'stuck' for 45 years. I
have developed a much more x-ray sonic perceptual ability which I
attribute (in lay terms) to the 'connecting of parts of my waking and
sleeping states'. To get a sense of the level shift ... I used to have
some difficulty with the textures of later Eliot Carter and works such
as gruppen (Stockhausen). These pieces are now much easier for me to
hear in many many layers, and nineteenth century tonal music (pre-
Parsifal) is simply easy.

Date:    Sat, 19 Apr 2008 08:34:51 +0100
From:   <jia10@xxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Re: any examples of acquired absolute pitch?

Hi Susan,

I believe this is exactly why the older term of "perfect pitch" was
substituted with the newer term of "absolute pitch", which is not
meant to imply that the Western tonal system has any more value than
other musical tonal systems, e.g. India.  Or at least, that is my
understanding.  There are of course many individuals with AP who are
not raised within the Western tonal system, and indeed, if the
evidence is to be believed, the incidence of AP may well be
significantly higher in speakers of tone languages, like Mandarin
and Korean, perhaps because they associate pitch with verbal labels
early on, as Deutsch suggests.  Whether or not it is of any "use" to
them for non-speech purposes, in the way that it is to performers of
Western music, is perhaps the more interesting question?

Let's not get too hung up on the terminology.