Another Sonic Universe

Can you imagine a world in which pitch and amplitude are not independent? Turning up the radio would radically alter the pitches of the song you’re listening to... it would be impossible to speak in a high, quiet voice... birds would sing different songs depending on how close you are to them... it would be a strange sounding world indeed! Imagine writing a piece that sounds like something you might hear in such a world, where the listeners have different perceptual rules.

This is not as bizarre as it sounds. For example, a flute is a good example of an instrument in which pitch and loudness are closely correlated. Try, for instance, playing a soft, really high note on it. It turns out that the means of production of sound on flutes is such that high notes are loud and low notes are soft. A good flutist can, to a certain extent, get around this, but not in extreme circumstances (ask a flutist to play an E above the treble stave pianissimo and you’ll get a dirty look!).

When we talk about the Fletcher-Munson curves in Section 1.3, you’ll also see that our perception of loudness is very much dependent on the perceived pitch of a sound as well.

What’s the moral of this all?

Nothing, grasshopper, is ever as simple as it seems.