Spectral pitch distance and microtonal melodies

Milne, Andrew J.; Prechtl, Anthony; Laney, Robin and Sharp, David B. (2010). Spectral pitch distance and microtonal melodies. In: Proceedings of the International Conference of Music Perception and Cognition 2010 (ICMPC 11), 23-27 Aug 2010, Seattle, USA.

URL: http://depts.washington.edu/icmpc11/Program.html


We present an experiment designed to test the effectiveness of spectral pitch distance at modeling the degree of “affinity” or “fit” of pairs of successively played tones or chords (spectral pitch distance is the cosine distance between salience-weighted, Gaussian-smoothed, pitch domain embeddings of spectral pitches—typically the first eight to ten partials of a tone). The results of a previously conducted experiment, which collected ratings of the perceived similarity and fit of root-position major and minor triads, suggest the model works well for pairs of triads in standard 12-tone equal temperament tunings.

The new experiment has been designed to test the effectiveness of spectral pitch distance at modeling the affinity of tones in microtonal melodies where the partials of the tones can be variably tempered between being perfectly harmonic and perfectly matched to the underlying microtonal tuning. The use of microtonal tunings helps to disambiguate innate perceptual (psychoacoustical) responses from learned (cultural) responses.

Participants are presented with a software synthesizer containing two unlabeled controls: one adjusts the precise tuning of the tones; the other adjusts the extent to which the spectrum is tempered to match the tuning (as set by the first control). A selection of microtonal melodies are played in different tunings, and the participants adjust one, or both, controls until they find a “sweet spot” at which the music sounds most “in-tune” and the notes best “fit” together. The results of these experiments will be presented and discussed.

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