Dissimilarity and the classification of female singing voices: a preliminary study

Molly L Erickson
Journal of Voice 2003, 17 (2): 195-206
Traditionally, timbre has been defined as that perceptual attribute that differentiates two sounds when pitch and loudness are equal and thus is a measure of dissimilarity. By such a definition, each voice possesses a set of timbres, and the identity of any voice or voice category across different pitch-loudness-vowel combinations must be due to an abstraction of the pattern of timbre transformation. Using stimuli produced across the singing range by singers from different voice categories, this study sought to examine how timbre and pitch interact in the perception of dissimilarity. This study also investigated whether listener experience affects the perception of timbre as a function of pitch. The resulting multidimensional scaling (MDS) representations showed that for all stimuli and listeners, dimension 1 correlated with pitch, whereas dimension 2 correlated with spectral centroid and separated vocal stimuli into the categories mezzo-soprano and soprano. Dimension 3 appeared highly idiosyncratic depending on the nature of the stimuli and on the experience of the listener. Inexperienced listeners appeared to rely more heavily on pitch in making dissimilarity judgments than did experienced listeners. The resulting MDS representations of dissimilarity across pitch provide a glimpse of the timbre transformation of voice categories across pitch.

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