Music, Cognition, and Computerized Sound:
An Introduction to Psychoacoustics

Perry R. Cook (editor)

The MIT Press 1999
A book review by Danny Yee © 2008
Music, Cognition, and Computerized Sound is a broad-ranging introduction to psychoacoustics aimed at music students or musicians, but usable more broadly. Seven authors contribute its twenty three chapters, but it is an integrated textbook and not a collection of papers.

It begins with introductions to the ear, general musical cognition, and sound waves and sine waves, followed by chapters on pitch perception, loudness, timbre, and hearing in space and time. There are five chapters on vocal acoustics, covering voice physics, stream segregation and ambiguity, formant structure and resonances and anti-resonances, articulation, and the complexities of vibrato, drift, jitter, noise, subharmonics and their effect on vowel recognition. And there is further treatment of pitch perception and measurement, consonance and scales, tonal structure, and musical memory. This emphasizes the importance of musical context and the use of musical sounds in experiments; it touches on non-Western musics.

This is all fairly predictable material, but there are also some surprise inclusions. There are two chapters on haptics, which focus on musical performance but range quite broadly, covering history, sensors and manipulation, telerobotics, control theory, and learning theory. And there are chapters on perceptual fusion and perspective, passive non-linearities and the non-lossy transfer of energy between modes, and the storage and reproduction of music through instrument encoding or sound recording. (This last chapter is pretty much the only direct treatment of "computerized music", despite the book's title.) The final chapter is a guide to experimental design aimed at students planning projects.

Music, Cognition, and Computerized Sound is well laid out and presented, except for two minor failings. The diagrams, while effective and well designed, look like they were printed on a low-resolution dot-matrix printer. And the sound excerpts on the audio CD that accompanies the book are listed in an appendix but not referenced at all in the main body of the text, making it unnecessarily hard to use them while reading. (The wide margins could easily have fitted a symbol plus number to indicate "now is a good time to listen to track 34".)

No background mathematics or physics is assumed and Music, Cognition, and Computerized Sound is clearly written for music students, most obviously in its choice of examples. It doesn't assume any understanding of musical theory or an ability to read music, however, and music is probably the best source of intuition for general readers as well. Some signs of its design as a textbook are apparent — the chapters are clearly constructed to be roughly the same size and the appendices offer twenty pages of "suggested lab exercises" and "questions and thought problems" — but there's nothing that detracts from broader use.

March 2008

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%T Music, Cognition, and Computerized Sound
%S An Introduction to Psychoacoustics
%E Cook, Perry R.
%I The MIT Press
%D 1999
%O hardcover, questions, index
%G ISBN 0262032562
%P 372pp