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Re: Perception as memory

Kevin, you might find Mark DeBellis interesting on nonconceptual and conceptual hearing in music:


DeBellis, M. (1995). Music and conceptualization, Cambridge University Press.


As you say, untrained listeners can hear the difference between a P4 and P5 when played side by side - so they can perceive the difference. Being able to name it reliably is a natter of conceptualisation. But if they couldn't perceive the intervals as what they are reliably, they would not be able to recognize a melody using those (and other) intervals.
Christopher Peacocke explains the difference clearly in his chapter on 'observational concepts': 

Peacocke, C. (1983). Sense and content, Oxford University Press.




Andy McGuiness


Date:    Sun, 23 Aug 2009 11:29:49 -0400
From:    Kevin Austin <kevin.austin@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Perception as memory ...

From my reading, I am now far into semantics with this. In my view, 
greatly simplified, perception is memory, but I'm a slow learner in 
this matter too.

In the training and development of [sonic] ear-training skills, my 
experience is that perception is memory (neither term here am I 
defining ... sorry). If 'perception' can be developed, I feel that 
this development is a matter of memory development, and the associated 
aspects of memory that relate to categorization. If the listener has 
only one 'word' (category) for noise, then I have found that the 
individual may note "different" noises, but not have a way of 
categorizing them. Their category 'grid' is too large to respond with 

For example, say, in musical ear-training, a student regularly 
confuses the perfect fourth and the perfect fifth. When played one 
after another, they note that they are different, but cannot 
'remember' which is which.

For just over a year I have been working at the millisecond and almost 
the sample level in editing sounds. Now some 20,000 or more edits 
later at the sample / ms level, I speak of my hearing being "faster"; 
I require much less time to pick up repetition (even non-patterned 
repetition), and patterns, than I did before my many hundreds of hours 
of (self-imposed) micro-editing training.

Has my 'perception' improved; is my perceptual 'grid' much finer, and 
with more experience, does my memory now have a greater number of 
categories -- greater precision, accessed much faster. The model I 
currently use is that it is "all memory". If the stimulus does not tap 
into memory, it is 'invisible'.

One way I demonstrate this with groups is to play a 10 note chord (*) 
on a piano, which is heard as an integrated whole by most of those who 
hear it. I play the third note from bottom note (a D in this case), 
and ask if it was in the chord. Most people can't tell -- they can't 
remember (or perhaps cannot 'perceive' -- segregate it from the 

I repeat the D a few times, and play the chord again. Some people may 
report hearing it. Most don't.

The next step is to the play the D very loud (ff), and one second 
later, play the rest of the chord very quietly (pp), for 2 seconds. I 
lift my hands from the other notes of the chord, and the D continues 
to sound. This I repeat a few times. Most report being able to 'hold 
onto' the D through the sounding chord.

Following this, the time between the D and the chord shortens, and the 
"rest of the chord" is played louder and louder. The D is slowly being 
placed into the integrated mass of the chord -- the listeners' 
memories (for the D and its segregation from the chord) is being 

After about 2 minutes, I return to playing the 10 note chord, and ask 
if they are able to hear (segregate) the D from the integrated 
structure. Many (many) more report being able to do so.

Has the(ir) perception improved? Will they be able to do this with 
other sounds?
My interpretation of my experience here is that they have learned a 
technique for the refinement of their memory, but in the colloquial, I 
refer to an improvement in their perceptual ability.



(*) The chord is, ascending:  G  Bb  D  F#  A  C  E  G#  B  C# , the 
first 10 notes of the row of the Alban Berg Violin Concerto.

> Date:    Sat, 22 Aug 2009 11:33:12 +0200
> From:    Christian Kaernbach <auditorylist@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
> Subject: Re: Infrapitch
> Dear List,
> ... In my view, it has more the characteristics of memory than of 
> pitch perception.
> ... The introspective sensation when doing so is definitively that 
> of "remembering", not of "perception".
> ... It is true that periodicities around 2 Hz (0.5 s) evoke a 
> "perception" that is different from that of non-repeating noise. I 
> believe that it is memory that helps to detect some statistical 
> fluctuations in that noise that otherwise would pass unnoticed. In 
> other words, memory is altering perception.


End of AUDITORY Digest - 22 Aug 2009 to 23 Aug 2009 (#2009-193)

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