music · neuroscience

Listen with your skin

That’s right. We humans listen to music with our skin!

Totally stolen from Not Exactly Rocket Science:

What part of the body do you listen with? The ear is the obvious answer, but it’s only part of the story – your skin is also involved. When we listen to someone else speaking, our brain combines the sounds that our ears pick up with the sight of the speaker’s lips and face, and subtle changes in air movements over our skin. Only by melding our senses of hearing, vision and touch do we get a full impression of what we’re listening to. 
When we speak, many of the sounds we make (such as the English “p” or “t”) involve small puffs of air. These are known as “aspirations”. We can’t hear them, but they can greatly affect the sounds we perceive. For example, syllables like “ba” and “da” are simply versions of “pa” and “ta” without the aspirated puffs. 
If you looked at the airflow produced by a puff, you’d see a distinctive pattern – a burst of high pressure at the start, followed by a short round of turbulence. This pressure signature is readily detected by our skin, and it can be easily faked by clever researchers like Bryan Gick and Donald Derrick from the University of British Columbia.
Gick and Derrick used an air compressor to blow small puffs of air, like those made during aspirated speech, onto the skin of blindfolded volunteers. At the same time, they heard recordings of different syllables – either “pa”, “ba”, “ta” or “da” – all of which had been standardised so they lasted the same time, were equally loud, and had the same frequency.
Gick and Derrick found that the fake puffs of air could fool the volunteers into “hearing” a different syllable to the one that was actually played. They were more likely to mishear “ba” as “pa”, and to think that a “da” was a “ta”. They were also more likely to correctly identify “pa” and “ta” sounds when they were paired with the inaudible puffs.
Read the full post, complete with charts, graphs, and all! 
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Noisy Caves

Man, I am on an archaeological roll! Again, also posted in my other blog:

Another article today that discusses Upper Paleolithic peoples’ understanding of acoustics, and how cave art is often placed at the exact locations where acoustics are best in a cave. Archaeologists have also found flutes in the caves and are trying to determine if the flutes were connected to the cave paintings and their placement in any way.
Iegor Reznikoff, a specialist in ancient music at the University of Paris X in Nanterre featured in the article, also points out the sound-painting connection at certain sites in Finland and France near lakes and other outdoor locations. There has also been correlation shown between Native American pictographs in California deserts and seismic fault lines (I’ll add a link as soon as I can find it again).