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Sound and Music Perception

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by Phronesis, Nov 9, 2018.
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  1. Phronesis
    I'm starting this thread for those interested in discussing sound and music perception, starting at the ears, transducing sound waves into nerve signals, the brain responding to those nerve signals, and perceptions of sound and music somehow forming in the 'mind'. Relevant science includes anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, and psychology. Some venturing into philosophical aspects probably can't be avoided.
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2018
    Wyville likes this.
  2. Whazzzup
    It starts with the ear holes
  3. Phronesis
    Agreed, first post edited.
  4. castleofargh Contributor
    each independent aspect could be pretty complicated depending on how far you're ready to go. I would at least separate the mechanisms involved in receiving/detecting a stimulus, from the giant dive into known and unknown mechanisms involved to interpret that stimulus(and all the mess mixed with it that has nothing to do with sound but impacts our impressions of it anyway). but if you feel confident go for it.
  5. Phronesis
    Definitely a large and difficult topic, and I'm no expert on it (not confident!). Probably few if any real 'experts' in head-fi, but if we do some reading and put our heads together, maybe we can all learn something. Plenty of info out there to draw on.
  6. Steve999
    I would start by saying, I have often thought that the brain can adapt so well to what it is receiving in music that I wonder how much difference there is in the practical experience of different audio gear once you get up to a certain standard. I have also noticed, however, in doing comparisons, that if the quality of the headphones or speakers is not good enough, you are just missing out on a hell of a lot of content, and I don't want to do that. So at a minimum I want to get up to the point where I am hearing everything that is intended to be reproduced, but it doesn't need to be accurate to the nth degree for me. Also I find the simulated surround sound modes in a 5.1 system to be extremely satisfying. I'm sure there is a lot of technology that goes into that, and I'll never understand the full complexity of it, but it's a really nice experience. And I want to be able to parse out what is going on in the music. Interplay among specific voices in woodwinds, the bass lines, where the violas are going, the coordination between a jazz rhythm section, etc. Sorry if this doesn't get you too far--the depth of my observations is not too great on this one. And I want to hear the full content of the bass but without more than perhaps just of smidge of exaggeration. And we have Fletcher-Munson or more modern loudness curves to make things right at the end of the chain at what some might consider more reasonable listening volumes in the home than were used in the mastering process. I think that's what I've got for the moment. And usually a flat treble response as you would hear it in live music will be pretty harsh on a home stereo. And for modern genres bass frequencies below 40 hz can give off atmosphere so this can only be practically done by a subwoofer, at least in my home. So also I think most people will prefer treble that is a bit attenuated in the home as compared to what they would hear live. I am thinking of cymbals and drums and brass mainly. Listen at a live concert and I think you'd find it's just way more than your want in your home. Not sure how many jumping off points I gave you but there it is. I like the idea of the thread. : )
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2018
    CoryGillmore and Phronesis like this.
  7. old tech
    A very complex and not totally understood topic.

    I suspect that an individual's perception of sound is not disimilar to perception of any other sense (ie it is intermingled with the other human senses, expectations, taste in music, memories, frames of reference and so on).

    We are not like machines. If we were, we'd all be in agreement, listening to the same genres of music on similar stereos.
    Phronesis likes this.
  8. castleofargh Contributor
    maybe we could start with easy stuff like a few videos about the cochlea, air cells, how the propagation of the waves resonates at a different position due to the physical shape and thickness of(have to google the name cause I'm such a pro^_^) the basilar membrane. this gives a very real relation between position and frequency(tonotopy).
    then maybe move on to how the mechanism stays the same but the interpretation needs to be different for different ranges of frequencies. simply because the cells can't "reload/go back in electrical potential" fast enough to simply activate once for every period of the sound wave when the frequency is pretty high. so for those upper frequencies, the nerves are triggered... as fast as they can. and only the place where they are activated tells the brain which frequency it is(tonotopic map again). but with lower freqs, we can have both the place and the speed reported correctly. this in part probably explains why we don't really feel the same way about various ranges of frequencies. but note that it's not why we can't locate low freqs, that's a different thing entirely and the cause is simply that the wave is bigger in physical size than the distance between our ears, so triangulating thanks to the delay between each ear just doesn't work too well with those big waves.
    maybe we could also discuss the chemistry that allows electrical communication in the body, and notions like action potential of neurons. that's pretty interesting too IMO, including how such a system is more digital than analog. we pass a threshold and sent an impulse, or we don't. there is no internal code other than yes or no in those specific transmissions(what decides to triggers them can be of fairly high complexity though). it really help keeping the very concept of thresholds in mind(literally), instead of delving into the "oh look I'm hearing -300dB stuff").
    another anti -300dB argument is the fact that for various reasons, our hair cells are a noisy bunch, we could make a parallel with self noise coming from a mic. I'm not too sure about the cause(if they just trigger sporadically, or if it's body noises or movements, or ....??IDK).

    I'm really free balling here, again I'm not sure how deep you wish to go with all this(if it's more than a surface of knowledge, I'm probably not qualified despite watching and reading a lot of those stuff some years ago). IMO this would deserve like a hundred topics and each would still probably have some pretty complicated and long stuff to describe/discuss. and that's only what we are very confident about thanks to a lot of data and testing.
    Phronesis likes this.
  9. Glmoneydawg
    My own musical enjoyment changes with state of mind...sometimes i just cant get into it....my system doesnt change from day to day....the mind is a strange place
    Phronesis, old tech and bfreedma like this.
  10. Steve999
    That’s interesting. I get into so many types of music I guess I’ve got something for every type of mood. But as I think of it sometimes I just want peace and quiet so I pursue that, or if I am suddenly having a conversation I turn the volume all the way down or pause so I can concentrate on an actual human being. I find music way too distracting if I am talking to people, I always have half an ear out for what’s going on in the music.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2018
    Phronesis likes this.
  11. Glmoneydawg
    A couple of scotches will have the effect of drawing me into the music....and again my system hasnt changed....johny walker as an audio tweak?
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2018
  12. castleofargh Contributor
    how do you know? maybe alcohol in the air affects the gears, or the airflow? they stop an iphone with helium, so we can make a lot of wild assumptions(almost all false, but we can make them^_^). conclusion: we need a proper test where you repeat the "couple of scotches" event at least 20 times for statistical confidence. :blush:

    drink responsibly! and make sure that your amp doesn't drink and drive.
    Glmoneydawg likes this.
  13. gregorio
    There's probably few, if any, experts anywhere! Sure, there are experts on the anatomy and physiology of the ear, other experts in the area of neuro-science and what goes on physically and bio-chemically in the brain. Then there are experts who know what notes, note progressions and progressions of combinations of notes are likely to affect our emotions and perception in certain ways and others who are expert in knowing what sounds and how to present them with pictures can affect our perception of what we're seeing and experiencing. However, these are all somewhat or very different professions. Someone who is an expert in one of these fields may (or may not) have a fair/good understanding of the other fields but would not be an expert in all of them.

    Phronesis likes this.
  14. Phronesis
    Sticking to head-fi, I find that the four biggest factors affecting the 'quality' of the sound and music I perceive are (a) the musical content, (b) the recording quality, (c) the headphones, and (d) me (mood, emotions, fatigue, time of day, how much I'm paying attention to the sound or music, state of health, etc.). I'm not sure how I'd even rank the influence of each of these four. When all four line up in synergy, I experience bliss that can't be put into words and makes my heart pitter patter. When one or more of the four is way 'off', I can find myself neither enjoying the sound nor music.

    A few posts made what I think are important distinctions about the way we're listening, i.e. our attention. I often listen to music as background music, but sometimes I'm focused on the music. If I'm listening as background, sometimes the music grabs me and either need to focus on it or I'll find myself distracted from whatever else I was doing. If I'm trying to focus on the music, sometimes my mind will wander and I hardly perceive sound or music consciously, though it would be interesting to know how the sound and music could be affecting me subconsciously without my being aware of it.

    I think there's also a distinction between listening to sound versus music. If I'm listening critically and analytically to sound, like a stereotypical audiophile, that can inhibit my listening to and experiencing the music. If I try to just listen to the music and find flow with it, I find that I'm much less prone to finding flaws in the sound quality, and the perceived sound quality improves as a result. It's tricky -- I'm not really able to give full attention to both sound quality and music at the same time.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2018
  15. Glmoneydawg
    agreed....the recording/listening chain involves art,science and mechanics...these are usually exclusive areas of expertese
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