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Publication Detail
The psychoacoustics of vocal beauty : a new taxonomy
Abstract: This thesis investigates the phenomenon of perceived vocal 'beauty' in singing, being that moment in time when we are emotionally overwhelmed by the quality of the singer's voice in performance. Theoretical analyses indicate that this perceptual experience arises from the particular ways that diverse, but definable variables of the phenomenon are interwoven. The robustness of the emergent theoretical taxonomy is subjected to empirical evaluation through a multifaceted investigation into the psycho-acoustic and context-specific interpretation of sung performance quality. Initial research was grounded in an analysis of semi-structured interviews with seven people from a wide range of backgrounds as listeners (i.e. conductors, educators and performers) concerning their experience of sung performance. An iterative process of data analyses juxtaposed with a wide interdisciplinary range of literature reviews led to the design of three surveys. These were focused on (i) a large scale (N=374) survey regarding professionals' opinions about the evaluation of 'quality' in sung performances (ii) the qualitative analyses of a series of BBC Radio 4 broadcasts titled 'The Singer Not the Song', aiming to capture experts' opinions on the perception of beautiful performances across different musical genres and (iii) an online survey (N=177) that was conducted in order to present a narrower-angle perspective as demonstrated through people's views about a sung performance in a nonmainstream context (musical genre). Taken together, the evidence base indicated that different perceptual features become contextually sensitive and salient for individual listeners of singing performances. Then the emergent taxonomy of underlying contributory factors was further interrogated by individual expert listeners using an innovative experimental procedure that embraces the application of new multimedia technology. This new technology (based on the renowned Continuous Response Digital Interface (CRD!) concept that was developed at Florida State University) was designed to act as a real-time monitoring system of singing perception along a 'like/ dislike' continuum of perceived quality, whilst simultaneously collecting realtime data of listeners' physiological responses to the sung performance. Findings from this final phase of the empirical study indicated that the acquired combined perceptual/physiological-response data are systematic and support the theorised taxonomy of the perception of sung performance quality and its integrated nature.
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