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Journal Article

Acoustic structure of the five perceptual dimensions of timbre in orchestral instrument tones

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Elliott, T. M., Hamilton, L. S., & Theunissen, F. E. (2013). Acoustic structure of the five perceptual dimensions of timbre in orchestral instrument tones. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 133(1), 389-404. doi:10.1121/1.4770244.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-4C84-2
Attempts to relate the perceptual dimensions of timbre to quantitative acoustical dimensions have been tenuous, leading to claims that timbre is an emergent property, if measurable at all. Here, a three-pronged analysis shows that the timbre space of sustained instrument tones occupies 5 dimensions and that a specific combination of acoustic properties uniquely determines gestalt perception of timbre. Firstly, multidimensional scaling (MDS) of dissimilarity judgments generated a perceptual timbre space in which 5 dimensions were cross-validated and selected by traditional model comparisons. Secondly, subjects rated tones on semantic scales. A discriminant function analysis (DFA) accounting for variance of these semantic ratings across instruments and between subjects also yielded 5 significant dimensions with similar stimulus ordination. The dimensions of timbre space were then interpreted semantically by rotational and reflectional projection of the MDS solution into two DFA dimensions. Thirdly, to relate this final space to acoustical structure, the perceptual MDS coordinates of each sound were regressed with its joint spectrotemporal modulation power spectrum. Sound structures correlated significantly with distances in perceptual timbre space. Contrary to previous studies, most perceptual timbre dimensions are not the result of purely temporal or spectral features but instead depend on signature spectrotemporal patterns.