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The Metaphors of Sound: from Semantics to Acoustics - A Study of Brightness, Warmth, Roundness, and Roughness

Victor Rosi 1 
1 STMS-PDS - Perception et design sonores
STMS - Sciences et Technologies de la Musique et du Son
Abstract : The mysteries of the auditory world prompt us all to describe, as best as we can, what we hear. In some professional environments, the ability to verbally convey one’s perception of sound qualities is crucial, whether you are a sound engineer, a musician, a sound designer, or a composer. Sometimes, talking about a sensation of any kind leads us to use metaphorical vocabulary. Thus, communication in the world of sound and music often depends on terms extracted from other sensory modalities like vision or touch. This is the case of four well-known attributes at the heart of this study, brightness, warmth, roundness, and roughness. But do we all have the same auditory sensation associated with such "extrasonic" concepts? To what extent are we able to faithfully describe a sensation expressed by these metaphors? Brightness, warmth, roundness, roughness. The meaning of these terms used as sound attributes has been studied within the general framework of the semantic dimensions of sounds. However, the specific origins of such metaphorical terms and their mutual connections remain to be discovered. The aim of this study is to explore and expose the connection between these attributes and their projection in the sound domain. In other words, we aim to align their semantic definitions with mental representations expressed by their acoustic portraits. For each of the four attributes, we have reported on different layers of semantic descriptions that can be acoustic, metaphorical, or source-related. Through interviews and an online survey, we were able to develop definitions for each of the attributes based on the most relevant information from a population of sound professionals. However, the four terms depended on a lot of metaphorical elements that were still difficult to elucidate. To disambiguate these metaphorical descriptions, we asked three different expert populations (sound engineers, conductors and non-experts) to evaluate brightness, warmth, roundness and roughness in a corpus of orchestral sounds. We chose to use the new method of Best-Worst Scaling to fulfill that goal. This method allowed us to show that while some concepts transcend sound expertise, others can be specific to it. Gathering the data from the sound professionals brought forth a musical composition called Quadrangulation – by Bertrand Plé – whose objective was to illustrate and transmit the meaning of the four concepts. Through this interdisciplinary approach, we shed light on connections between our ability to understand a sound attribute’s meaning and the mental representation associated with them. In addition, we uncovered potential incongruities between the perceptual projection of a metaphorical sound concept and the clarity of its definition. Finally, based on our results, we proposed a semantic explanation of the relations between the four concepts, thus inviting a better understanding of their use in professional conversations.
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Submitted on : Thursday, September 15, 2022 - 3:08:51 PM
Last modification on : Saturday, September 24, 2022 - 4:00:19 AM


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  • HAL Id : tel-03778235, version 1


Victor Rosi. The Metaphors of Sound: from Semantics to Acoustics - A Study of Brightness, Warmth, Roundness, and Roughness. Cognitive science. Sorbonne Université, 2022. English. ⟨NNT : ⟩. ⟨tel-03778235⟩



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