Music, Sound and Sensation: A Modern Exposition

Music, Sound and Sensation: A Modern Exposition

by Fritz Winckel

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Related closely to the field of physical acoustics is that of psychoacoustics, which deals with the phenomena of musical hearing from a psychological and aesthetic point of view. One of the major contributors to our understanding of the subject is Fritz Winckel. When this book first appeared in German in 1960, reviewers pressed for an English translation. This Dover volume is an answer to that demand: it makes Professor "Winckel's important study generally available to English-language readers for the very first time." It has been extensively revised and updated by the author.
In his thought-provoking study, Professor Winckel applies the findings of technical researches in acoustics to the practice of music, covering many different aspects of recent psychoacoustical researches: the evaluation of loudness and the dissolution power of the car; the influence of the acoustical properties of the concert hall on the hearing process; the function of time variation and rhythm in musical perception; the evaluation of the sound spectrum including the unharmonic components. He surveys extensively the German and English literature in the field, organizing his information into chapters on stationary sound, the onset behavior of sound, the concept of space, the concept of time, the evaluation of sound through the hearing mechanism, unclarity in musical structures, simultaneously sounding tones, electroacoustic sound structure, and the effect of music on the listener.
This book should prove equally useful to acousticians, sound engineers, and others working in this area of applied physics and to composers, performers, and musicologists concerned with the technical aspects of music. Psychologists working in the field of sense perception will also find much of value here.
New translation by Thomas Binkley of the 1960 German edition of Phänomene des musikalischen Hörens, with revisions and corrections by the author.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486165820
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 05/05/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 189
File size: 5 MB

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Music, Sound and Sensation

A Modern Exposition

By Fritz Winckel, Thomas Binkley

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1967 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-16582-0



In the fields of music theory and musicology both simple and compound sound are treated as concrete building material having differing valences. In this way a "function" is ascribed to each building block with respect to the others, whereby a distinctive architecture is formed, possessing a singular tonal character. Music, however, is a multiform complex function of sound series, only certain aspects of which have been known to us up to this time.

We have become far too accustomed to compute isolated partial functions schematically and to assume a corresponding validity for the whole, without continuous attentive listening, which would test the results. As we shall see, it is not admissible to consider simply the printed value of a note (for example, one having a duration of one second) as sufficient representation of the functional event of this as opposed to other musical notes. The intoned individual sound alone has such a dynamic life that after the lapse of one second both form and necessarily also timbre will have changed. The effect of one sound complex on the following one does not depend upon the intervallic tension alone, but also upon the changes occurring in time during the intoning of the individual sounds. The series of phonemes in language operates similarly.

In music one must take a developmental step now, just as in the field of biology. The consideration of the cell under the microscope as a lifeless isolated component no longer tells us anything of significance. The developing, breathing life of a cell at every instant and the effective power contained in its function within the whole organism are what claim our attention. Not the thing, but the happening is important.

Music is life, it is a living happening. "When does one say that a piece of material lives? When it continually does something, moves ...," is the formulation of the atomic physicist Erwin Schrodinger (87). Impulses to movement are, for example, electrical or chemical potential differences. When they are equalized, the tendency to form a chemical bond ceases; temperatures become equalized through heat transfer. Thermodynamic equilibrium results in a condition of constant rest (maximum entropy), a condition which is precisely: death. From the physical standpoint, disorder is continuously created out of a condition of order. Nature strives for the condition of ideal disorder; this was recognized in the last century from the behavior of gases. Schrodinger continues: "The trick by which an organism can keep its place on a rather high level of order consists in reality of a continuous â&8364;~absorptionâ&8364;(tm) of order out of the surrounding world." We learn further that there are a very few "governing atoms" in germ cells which cause changes in the inherited characteristics of the organism. These are the motif-formers, which give the occurrence its distinctive character.

With such an outlook, we can guess why the effects of music on our feelings have until now remained incomprehensible, and why an analysis of the smallest building blocks fades away before our inquiring senses. We can observe on the larger scale how order is achieved out of disorder, with the end indicated in a perfect final cadence. But the laws of disorder do not obey the causal relationships of classical physics; only from a statistical viewpoint does the tendency of the occurrence reveal itself. We have arrived in the analysis at the border of "indeterminacy," which has become a very exact concept in physics, being more than mere uncertainty or inaccessibility to the human sense organs. This will be dealt with in detail for music.

The building-up of the complex sound, its "becoming," is of significance aesthetically; the end product of the completely built-up sound is less interesting. In listening to the sounds of bells we find much more than simple struck chord relationships. First of all there is the onset of each individual sound; then there is the interference effect of the sounds acting on each other, bringing in new sound qualities; and finally there is the decay of the sound, a breaking-up of the glistening color into the most simple components. This process occurs with the generation of every musical sound; it leads us to observe that with the intoning of written note values additional unintended sound components are generated which can even be unharmonic with respect to the original sound components. Further investigation shows that absolute purity of intonation is very seldom achieved in practical music, and need not even be striven for in order to give the music an experiential content. It is the slight deviation from the "eternally pure harmony" which constitutes the seasoning in the dish, and it should not be set aside.

Therefore, it is not the rigid note value of an unchangeable sound but a richly moving colorful life which generates atmosphere and awakens associations with earlier experiences, which can arouse religious feeling (bell and gong) and stimulate the imagination and the spirit. Especially the latter requirement must be fulfilled by the composer.

"The origin of music, not only in the unique historical sense, but at the same time in the sense of an unending repetition in the realm of every newly awakening individual consciousness, rests on the sound experience. This is the alpha and omega to which music can be traced back" (Arnold Schering). In support of such a statement, not only the musicologist but also the practitioner should have a word. Thus, Franz Schreker, in whose opera Der ferne Klang (The Distant Sound) the sound experience is central, says, "Pure sound without any motivic supplement has been used here with caution; it is one of the most important musicodramatic means of expression, a source of atmosphere without equal, which is being used more and more by poets also (among others, Gerhart Hauptmann and Paul Glaudel) at decisive moments of the drama. The only thing perhaps more effective is—silence...." "Pure sound," of course, does not mean here a stationary segment of rigid sound, for in another place the composer says, "I disavow the sound which is too clearly differentiable." The tremendous clarity of "definition" of music which is sought after by acoustical engineers in the construction of new concert halls is not in the best interests of the musician.

A sound experience, to be sure, is still not a musical experience. As pointed out above, each building block, as a sound carrier, has a functional value with respect to the other building blocks which are arranged in time before, after and above it. Adorno says in general about this that the material is changed through composition; from this he derives the notion of a materialistic theory of form. "The secret of composition lies in the power which transforms the material in the process of advancing equality." The divergence of sound and music is formulated by Adorno as follows: "Sound, through its being alive, wins a culinary quality, which cannot be reconciled with the principle of construction." He says further in another place, "Each tone that falls into this musical field is immediately more than simply a tone, even though there are no qualities discoverable which are more than those simply of tone".

A structural analysis of music can be approached from different sides. There is the classical description of function based on harmonic and contrapuntal theory; there is also the aesthetic principle of value in the sense of a complete art work. Here the effects of musical happenings are treated quantitatively as information, whereby the statistical method permits recognition of the pregnancy of style characteristics.

With these observations one comes closer to the scientific aspects that expose certain phenomena without which any intellectual analysis of a musical work of art would be incomplete. Especially in investigations in musical psychology there have again and again been mistakes caused by an inexact knowledge of the generative mechanism of sound structures, on the one hand, and of the perception mechanism, on the other.

It is intended here to impart knowledge of this, and thus to explain the physical, physiological and psychological portions of the musical happening. This work should clear a new path for the real aesthetics of musical works of art.

There is general opposition to such scientific methods of observation; however, the reason for this is that such methods have not yet been systematically mastered; people are thus led into the veiled area of metaphysics or into arbitrary emotional interpretation. Although sounds and even more general noise emissions are not visible and not tangible, they are nevertheless physical realities inasmuch as they exist as pressure differences in the air, mechanical vibrations in the middle ear, liquid vibrations in the inner ear and finally as electrical impulses in the nerves leading to the brain. Just as radio waves, light waves and the electrons circling the atomic nucleus are characterized by time and space dimensions, so it is also with sound and other noise emission in all forms.

Therefore, in what follows we will employ a representation of sounds in coordinates of time and place, and we will be surprised to observe on the macroscopic border, as it were, that an absolutely precise location in place and time, that is, frequency (pitch) and time, is not possible, a situation which obtains also in atomic physics. From this we can derive some information about the "purity" of sound, the exactitude of intonation and further phenomena. The descriptions of sound phenomena here, in accordance with the above considerations, make use of a time continuum (Chapter II) or a coordination of the partial components (frequency scale as in the spectral representation in Chapter III)—as the actual local coordination in the inner ear and nervous system. In reality an influence is exerted on the frequency structure of the sound by the duration limitations of sound—sound onset, sound change (modulation) and sound stop; thus, the sound quality as a certain relationship of partial vibrations will be changed. Paul Hindemith correctly points out that one must not think of music as a series of single emitted tones, but as a continuum. In the flow of musical events energies are released which penetrate into the perception center of the listener by means of the psychoacoustic transformation of the hearing mechanism; of course, this has an analogy in visual perception. The natural laws are just as valid for such effects of energy distribution as for the processes of energy in atoms, in the cellular aggregate of living beings, in the flowing of water and in the movements of electrons.

We shall by no means favor a materialistic philosophy in our approach, for the processes released through music in the area of the soul will remain untouched. The goal of these investigations can be thought of as attained if certain phenomena in the reproduction of music and its effects on hearing are explained in an exact way.



1. Basic Concepts

We see from the introductory chapter that the following situation obtains: a single intoned sound is meaningless in the sense of a musical investigation when, after onset or any other change it becomes stationary, or reaches a value which remains unchanged in time. If we investigate this stationary acoustical phenomenon anyway, it is only with the intention of establishing a basis which later on will make the remarkable psychoacoustical laws of non-stationary sound more easily understood. Besides, we may state in advance that in the laws of nature there is a relationship between the stationary sound structure and that of sound movement, or the onset process.

In musical acoustics the term "tone" [German: Klang] has until now been defined as a sound emission whose character is dependent upon the pitch, loudness, duration and compounding of fundamental tones and overtones, whereby the number of vibrations per second of the overtones is a whole multiple of the fundamental. The whole-number overtones are referred to as partials or harmonics of the fundamental. In an increasing series (first, second, third, ... partial) the intensity of the partials progressively declines. The sound character depends, in addition, on the onset process, which will be discussed in Section 2.

2. The Partial Spectrum

Since the introduction of acoustical spectral analysis (about 1928) the partial components of a sound have been diagrammed symbolically in the form of a sound spectrum, in which every line represents a partial (sine wave) and the length of the lines its intensity (Fig. 1) Between these lines, which as symbols of the harmonics are equidistant from each other, there are no other sound components. As opposed to this, "noise" gives a continual spectrum in which all possible partial components, also the inharmonic ones, follow closely after one another (Fig. 2). Noise can be grumbling, metallic, hissing, etc., for which the acoustical energy emphasizes accordingly the low, the high or the very highest frequencies. Because of the formation of such sound colorations one speaks of "colored noise," to which we will return later. If, however, the sound energy is distributed equally over the entire audible range of the frequency band, one speaks of "white noise"—again an optical analogy— for the impression of white light originates through the combination of all colors of the optical spectrum.

The theoretical partial spectrum is represented in Figure 1 up to the 16th partial. In observing the sequence of notes in this harmonic series, we see that the 7th partial (bb 1) is dissonant to the fundamental, according to classic musical theory, as is also the 9th partial (d2), and in the upper reaches of the harmonic series dissonances are very close together. These make a sound rough and harsh, a reason why a great number of partials is not desirable. All the same, one wants to have at least the 7th and the 9th partial present, as long as they are of slight intensity, since—as already mentioned—they provide the necessary spice in the too pure sound. The intensity of the partials in a musical sound declines with the advancing number; for example, in the case of the 16th partial it declines to about one per cent, which is a decrease of about 40 decibels. With sounds in the middle range (70 phons) with a fundamental above e only about the first 10 or 12 partials contribute to the formation of the sound. The author has observed this in the case of some of the greatest voices (Caruso, Gigli, etc.) as well as with instrumental sounds.

Classical music theory runs into difficulty in attempting to derive the scale from the harmonic series, because of the insuperable problem of trying to accommodate the highest partials in the diatonic scale. It may seem peculiar that the harmonic series seems harmonic in a physical analysis (compare the numbers of the frequencies), that is, consists of whole multiples of the vibration of the fundamental, and yet a diatonic analysis appears sometimes consonant and sometimes dissonant. The explanation of this phenomenon to the effect that the ear perceives the harmonic series in a logarithmic condensation, as for example the octave-shrinking in piano tuning, is not sufficient. From the spectrum in Figure 1 one can see how slight is the significance of the partials in the advancing series in terms of energy.

3. Instrumental Sound

The spectrum of a real instrumental sound (Figs. 3 and 4) differs, to be sure, from the regularly descending pattern of the spectrum in Figure 1. One notices in the series of partials that some are of greater intensity than others. Their function in coloring the sound will be discussed below.

In the schematic application of these concepts there has been a growing tendency to ignore the physical manner in which a sound originates, and even in the study of harmony a one-sided viewpoint has finally been established. A single partial is symbolized simply by a discrete line in the spectrum, that is, a simple series of sine waves, while in reality it appears as a complex of many neighboring vibrations in different periods, as a complete spectral band, which, as mentioned above, one can also call colored noise (Fig. 5). In musical instruments the partials originate as the resonant vibrations of parts that are capable of vibration; according to the material of which they are made, these parts permit a larger or a smaller group of vibrations per partial, according also to the degree of damping in the resonant system. The envelope of the resonant vibration in the area of one partial is called the "resonance curve." The line spectrum is thus only a simplified representation of the real behavior of vibrations. The steeper the resonance curve, that is, the sharper the resonance, the less damping there is. This characteristic depends in turn on the molecular characteristics of the vibrating materials (mass and elasticity), and in the case of electrical vibrations it depends on the choice and dimensions of the circuit elements. In Figure 6 curve A shows sharp resonance and slight damping, while curve B shows slight resonance sharpness and substantial damping. The spectral line, belonging to one stable frequency of infinite duration, represents the exclusively theoretical case of zero degree damping; thus, a single discrete spectral line arises without further neighboring lines. A musical tone can thus be thought of as a "colored noise," a term to be dealt with in detail below. For perception via the nervous system other laws are valid, as will be discussed in Chapter VI.


Excerpted from Music, Sound and Sensation by Fritz Winckel, Thomas Binkley. Copyright © 1967 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


I. Introduction,
II. Stationary Sound,
III. The Onset Behavior of Sound,
IV. The Concept of Space,
V. The Concept of Time,
VI. The Evaluation of Sound through the Hearing Mechanism,
VII. Unclarity in Musical Structures,
VIII. Simultaneously Sounding Tones,
IX. Electroacoustic Sound Structure,
X. The Effect of Music on the Listener,
Appendix: The Audibility of Onset Transients,

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