Speech and music, effable and ineffable:

an extraordinary plenary session.

Participants: Jane Davidson, John Napier, Emery Schubert and Joe Wolfe

At the 7th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition, an extraordinary plenary session was held to debate the topic Speech and Music, Effable and Ineffable.

    "Can we begin to answer the big questions in music by looking at the coding? Speech and music both use categorical perception, and thus have the advantages of digital communication and signal processing. But they digitise in complementary ways. In speech, phonemes are created by digitising aspects of timbre, whereas pitch and rhythm are analog variables. In music, pitch and rhythm are digitised, whereas timbre is the carrier signal."
The complete transcript of the debate is available in .pdf format. This page is a photographic record.

Joe Wolfe (at right) introduced the acoustic background to the debate. (That's Peter Keller operating operatic surtitles.)

photos from the debate   photos from the debate

photos from the debate


Because of its high redundancy, music can be readily compressed. John demonstrates some of the aesthetic and formal constraints leading to the redundancy and compressibility of music, using probe tones. Emery scores a perfect 10, whereas Joe's note seems to have gone off several scales:

photos from the debate   photos from the debate

The debate may have started with polite yawns, but the session departed from the ordinary. Especially when they all began to sing. Jane nails a high note, while Joe and Emery harmonise:

photos from the debate   photos from the debate

Kate Stevens and Peter Slezak were there, as were Carol Krumhansl and Pamela Davis.

photos from the debate   photos from the debate

Time for questions. A good time was had by all.

photos from the debate   photos from the debate

The complete score of the debate is available here in pdf form (390k). So is the scientific background paper. Sound files may be available eventually.

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