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Re: "The Case of the Missing Fundamental"

Schouten 1940 attributes "the case of the missing fundamental", quoted exactly so, to S. S. STEVENS and H. DAVIS, Hearing, New York 1938, p. 99. It's there as a section or chapter heading:
A 1939 review says "The authors report the case of the missing fundamental as if it were something new."

Certainly Seebeck, Ohm, and Helmholtz in the 19th century talked about such things. Gelfand 2009 says "This phenomenon is demonstrated most dramatically by the perception of the missing fundamental or residue pitch (Seebeck, 1841; Schouten, 1940)."

Walker 2007 has a good discussion of these guys, attributing the phrase "missing fundamental" to Fletcher in 1929 but without a citation:
Schlosberg 1954 also says Fletcher 1929:

Gazzaniga 1984 and Cook 2001 say it was Fletcher 1924:

Thanks to Jont Allen, I have that one in a .djvu file; so I converted to PDF and OCR'd with Acrobat. Fletcher doesn't use the word "missing" here, but says "Results with this system show that only the quality and not the pitch of such musical sounds changes when a group of either the low or high frequency components is eliminated. Even when the fundamental and first seven overtones were eliminated from the vowel ah sung at an ordinary pitch for a baritone, the pitch remained the same."

Fletcher 1929 appears to refer to his book "Speech and Hearing" (not the same as his "Speech and Hearing in Communications" that Jont had reprinted, if I recall correctly). Google finds "fundamental" in it, but not "missing":

The earliest use I find in a books are several in 1933:

The earliest in a magazine I find is in a 1924 Radio News. Snippet says "We have eight or more harmonics left, and from them the ear makes up a tone whose pitch is that of the missing fundamental. The tone doesn't sound like the original."

I'm sure there's more.


At 11:54 PM +0100 8/7/11, Dr JI Alcantara wrote:
Dear Randy,

I've been using this term for so long - "The Case of the Missing Fundamental" - I can't quite recall who may have been the first to use it to describe the phenomenon first described by Schouten in 1940, though I don't think he used it; he limited his description to the "residue pitch" perceived with filtered high (unresolved) harmonics? It's perhaps more often described as the "phenomenon of the missing fundamental"" Cetainly Plomp uses the term, and it may be that it has just stuck in my mind after reading some of his papers and books. It's certainly memorable and has 'Sherlockian' overtones ...

So no, sadly I cannot lay claim to its use for posterity. A Google search of the term provides many hits.

Perhaps others on this list may recall its first use?

On Aug 7 2011, Ranjit Randhawa wrote:

Dear Sir,
I was quite taken in by your choice of words "The Case of the Missing Fundamental", and was curious as to whether you came up with that on your own or have you heard it somewhere else. I have written a rough draft of a book that I had titled the same and hence my question. Just curious. Regards,
Randy Randhawa