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Do you hear what I hear?

Do you hear what I hear?

Music critics have been known todisagree violently about the merits of a piece of music. Part of the reason may lie in the recent discovery that what one person hears can be strikingly different from what another hears. Some aspects of music appear to reside in the mind of the listener.

The discovery, made by psychologistDiana Deutsch of the University of California at San Diego, concerns pairs of tones that are a half octave apart. When one tone of a pair, followed by a second, is played, some listeners hear the second tone as higher in pitch than the first. Other people, hearing the same tones, insist that the second tone appears to be lower in pitch.

Furthermore, when the pattern is recordedon tape and then played back at different speeds, it can be heard as either ascending or descending, depending on the playback speed. A listener who hears the pattern as ascending at one speed may very well hear the pair of tones as descending at another speed. In visual terms, this musical effect is as paradoxical as seeing a square instead of a circle when the shape is shifted to a different location.

"It's a very unexpected finding," saysDeutsch, "and it's a great surprise to people." For any one individual, a given pattern will clearly and consistently sound either ascending or descending. That person's neighbors, however, could be hearing exactly the opposite. Deutsch demonstrated the effect at last week's Acoustical Society of America meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

Each tone used in Deutsch's experimentsis constructed from a set of sinusoidal waves that makes it easy to identify whether a tone is, for example, the musical note C but not whether it happens to be a high ro low C. The resulting tones sound a lot like notes that would come out of an organ. The experiments don't work on, say, a piano keyboard, because each piano note has a more complex structure than the experimental tones, and listeners apparently use those extra clues to determine relative pitch.

Deutsch's experiments seem to indicatethat most people carry around a "pitch-class circl" (see diagram) in their minds. Tones in one region of the circle are generally heard as higher, and tones in the opposite region as lower. The orientation of that circle, however, appears to vary from person to person.

"It raises the very important issue ofhow much commonality there really is among people when listening to music," says Deutsch. "It's certainly possible that people listening to certain orchestral pieces are going to hear them in ways that are different from each other and be unaware of that."
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Title Annotation:some aspects of music appear to reside in the mind of the listener
Author:Peterson, Ivars
Publication:Science News
Date:Dec 20, 1986
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