Timbre Discrimination

Download poster here.

2015 – Investigating timbre discrimination as a function of duration for the 2015 meeting of the Society for Music Perception and Cognition in Nashville, TN.

Timbres of different instrumental tones are often characterized in terms of attack time, spectral centroid, and spectral flux. While these characterizations are useful for categorizing different timbres, timbres with proximate characteristics – on recordings of the same music by different performers, for example – may be judged as as similar, yet distinct from one another. Here, we investigate the perception of such ‘same but different’ timbres in a study that determines the duration and spectrotemporal features necessary to reliably discriminate between them.

In our study, sound samples are excerpted from three commercially available recordings of the same Bartok string quartet played by three different ensembles. We excerpt three ‘types’ of idiomatic string quartet sounds (sforzando, sul tasto, and ordinario sounds) from the equivalent moments in each of the recordings. Subjects evaluate whether pairs of excerpts – each of the pair being the same type and duration – are the same or different. The excerpts within a pair may or may not be from identical sources, and the durations range from 2ms to 1000ms. We hypothesize that discrimination between different instances of sforzando, sul tasto, and ordinario sounds varies as a function of sound duration and type and that the degree of change of centroid and flux within a sound type are significant determinants in differentiation.

Hear examples of timbre samples used here or here, or test your own timbre discrimination.