Re: Quick guide to preception

Subject: Re: Quick guide to preception
From: Richard Wentk (
Date: Tue Oct 04 2005 - 11:47:08 EDT

At 14:53 04/10/2005, you wrote:

>Speech isn't 'timbral', as such, nothing is 'timbral'. Timbral requires
>temporal gathering and segmentation, as does pitch, and rhythm.

Er - it was your point originally - as in 'Speech is timbral...' followed
by nothing else.

I mean - you're welcome to disagree with yourself, but... :-)

>To test this: take a short spoken phrase in a language you do not
>understand, time stretch it to 32 times its original length. Listen to the
>the shifting 'tone colors' (sic), reduce this to a 16 times stretch and
>repeat. Reduce to 8, 6, 4, and twice its original length.

Processed speech on the edges of intelligibility wouldn't normally be
considered speech in its native sense, in the same way that print that's
been crumpled up, torn and folded wouldn't usually be considered standard

>It may happen that my hearing is "faster" than 'your' hearing, and that I
>do hear speech as timbral. People who have edited a great deal of speech
>will likely 'sharpen' their ears to "hear" things that others may not be
>aware of.

This may be true, but it's not relevant. If I train as a graphic designer
I'll be able to say more or less interesting and perhaps even useful things
about font design. This doesn't mean that most people who read English (or
whatever language) and will take the main content of what they're seeing
from font geometry. They may be more or less vaguely aware of the font
shapes, but if you ask them what the text said, the fact that it was set in
Bembo or Goudy Old Style won't usually figure in their reply.

The point being that in the common consensus, it's the semantic content
that matters, and graphic content is an optional information channel. And
the proof being that it's much more common to associate text with speech
with language and semantics than it is to associate it with either
graphical design or musical timbre.

You can respond to this in two ways. You can either say 'Well, these people
are idiots and clearly can't see how important serifs are.' Or you can
wonder if the graphic contribution really *is* that important, given that
printed words are mostly used to communicate, and not as an excuse to
admire curves and contours.

Which could eventually lead to a realisation that compared to the content,
the design is window dressing, and not the main event.

>It may be that "you" don't hear it as timbral, and that 'you' may hear it
>as "language", but that maybe "your preception", mine may not be the same
>as yours.

For what it's worth I probably hear speech more musically than most people
seem to. But I'm not talking about specialised perceptions here.

>It could be that "you" don't hear music as narrative in the linguistic
>sense, does not negate other peoples' perceptions.

...Depending on the definition of narrative. In the linguistic sense it's
not about some general feeling of directionality, but about describing
relationships between concrete tangible objects.

The tangible is important here, because this ability to describe tangibles
and the relationship between them seems to lie at the evolutionary roots of
narrative. 'Dog' and 'brother' are concrete. There's nothing fuzzy about
them, except in the sense that they may be physically misperceived - which
doesn't alter their underlying concreteness.

Music doesn't do concrete. Even musique concrete doesn't do concrete in
this linguistic sense. There's plenty of metaphor and association, but it's
a reasonable requirement of any medium that claims to have narrative
content that it should be able to be completely explicit and concrete when
it needs to be, without *necessarily* having to rely on metaphor.

It's the difference between being able to make up a more or less plausible
story about something, and having the story spelled out for you explicitly
in a 'The cat sat on the mat' kind of a way. You can certainly do the first
with music. You can't do the second, just as you can't put up shelves with
a recording of a saw.

There are good reasons why you can't do the second. Not least of which is
that concrete narrative relies on sufficient overlap of experience and
conceptual reification to be *reliable* - at least most of the time. And
music doesn't. Being able to make up your own perceptions and stories is
part of the fun in music. But it's a very different experience to reading -
say - a piece of journalism about the indictment of Tom Delay, where you
can precis the content afterwards for someone else without losing too much
of what matters to the story.

Can anyone precis a Mozart clarinet concerto in the same way? Or put
Moazrt's meaning in their own words, either musically or verbally, without
losing most of it, or making it a matter of interpretation and opinion?

>>So in the same way we don't hear music as narrative in the linguistic
>>sense, even when there's a sense of tension and development. Any more
>>than we experience a streetmap as narrative when we're trying to 'go'
>>from one place to another.
>Not my experience here either. We seem to be so so so so different.

I suspect you may be getting the experience of a journey, which certainly
can be a narrative, confused with a spatial representation, which usually

What dramatic plotline does the Montreal metro map spell out? If you can
find a plotline - and I'm sure it's possible - is it so unambiguous and
concrete that everyone sees it immediately and agrees what it is?


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