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ICAD2011 R Michael Winters

R Michael Winters

McGill University, Canada.

Is there a characteristic distribution of events in time which yields naturally pleasant auditory displays?
The implications of 1/f noise research for music and auditory display are profound. Not only is there a certain distribution of events that is characteristically more pleasant than others [1], this distribution is ubiquitous in nature and human ecology [2, 3]. That nature is somehow naturally pleasing to us, that the way nature works is a deep aspect of our human identity; these were once only poetic and philosophical abstractions- improvable and unscientific. Now however, they are the foundation of algorithms which can predict the human emotional response to music with a high degree of success[4].

The evolution of computer music in the past half century has been driven by both scientific and technological advancements. These advancements have primed the discipline for an even deeper understanding of the relationship of music, mind, and world. For auditory display, which seeks to convey information about the world we live in through sound, these implications have particular resonance. It’s time to take the original findings of Voss and Clarke to a new perceptual level.

Voss and Clarke mapped 1/f fluctuations to the auditory parameters of pitch and duration and proved that music from 1/f noise was preferable to music from 1/f0 (“too random”) or 1/f2 (“too correlated”) sources. Auditory displays use timbre and spatialization effusively. Can the original 1978 findings be extended to cover these and possibly other auditory parameters? This remains an unanswered question for auditory perception, with immediate implications for auditory display.

This however, is only the beginning. For music cognition and auditory perception: what is the cognitive or physiological process which explains this preference? For the designers of sound synthesis software and sonification toolkits: how can these findings be implemented to inform and critique user choices? These are the questions I am interested in as a young researcher.


F. Voss and J. Clarke, "1/f noise in music: Music from 1/f noise," Journal of the Acoustical Society of America., vol. 63, no. 1, pp. 258-263, 1978.
Bak, How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality, Springer-Verlag, New York, 1996.
K. Zipf, Human Behavior and the Principle of Least Effort, Addison-Wesley, New York, 1949.
B. Manaris et al., “Zipf’s Law, Music Classification, and Aesthetics,” Computer Music Journal, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 55-59, Spring 2005.



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