Interactive Study on Timbre Semantics


What causes one timbre to be perceived as "crystalline" while another is "volatile"? ACTOR researchers Jason Noble and Zachary Wallmark are partnering with Muvik Labs ( to develop new ways to study timbre semantics. Building on corpus analyses of terms used to describe timbre in orchestration treatises (Wallmark, 2017) and perceptual studies of metaphorical associations in contemporary music (Noble, 2018), the present study gives participants the power to create their own timbres in response to semantic prompts. Muvik Labs has developed a custom interface that can run on Android devices, in which the physical orientation of the device controls the timbre being synthesized in real-time. Participants are given a term, such as "kaleidoscopic" or "solid," and use the device to create a timbre that they think best matches it. Analysis of participant responses, which will be collected at the University of Oregon and McGill University, will help us understand how auditory attributes map onto semantic associations.