[Smt-talk] Binary Bias in Metric Perception Studies

Laurel Parsons laureljparsons at gmail.com
Thu Mar 1 10:37:21 PST 2012

Thanks to all for your responses to my query; Justin London's list of
references has proven particularly helpful.  What a wonderful living
database this list can be, at its best.

On Wed, Feb 29, 2012 at 11:21 AM, Gregory Karl <gregkarl at frontier.com>wrote:

> Under these conditions, perceived metric groupings could only be
> subjective—at least that is how I parse the jargon-heavy prose:-)

While I appreciate (and reciprocate) the smiley-face, I'm not sure why it's
"jargon-heavy" to use the term "isochronous" in the context of a
professional music theory list, when it has been in use for a long time in
metric perception research (and the term "subjective rhythmization" has
been around since 1894, although it was only brought to my attention
through Justin London's *Hearing in Time*).  But Greg's explanation of my
question is correct.

Michael asks what the aim of my project is.  I am writing a
critical-analytic essay on an orchestral movement by the British composer
Elisabeth Lutyens entitled "Chronikos," part of a much larger work for
tenor, chorus and orchestra called *Essence of our Happinesses *(1968)* *that
explores various modes of human temporal experience.  The movement begins
with a series of 9 identical, dissonant eighth-note dyads played by marimba
and harp, with no changes of dynamics or other accentual factors that could
suggest a particular meter to a listener.  This "clock-like ostinato"
(Lutyens's term) persists throughout the movement, with less predictable
things happening against it starting on the 10th eighth-note pulse of the

My own intuition is that listeners would tend to hear the first 9 pulses as
"STRONG-weak-STRONG-weak" etc., meaning that the onset of new material on
the 10th, "weak" pulse would seem "too soon" because it disrupts the
hypothetical listener's projection of an upcoming strong pulse on #11.
 (This assumes that most listeners would find it difficult not to impose *
some* sort of metric framework on a series of 9-10 identical pulses.)  The
purpose of my query to the list was simply to find some empirical evidence
that would either support or contradict that intuition, to ensure that I
don't make the mistake of assuming that the way I hear the passage it is
the way most other listeners would hear it.

Thanks again for your comments and suggestions,

> I was hoping to differentiate between two kinds of hypotheses:
> 1) Duple preference based on bodily structure—Just as humans use base ten
> because we (well, most of us) have ten digits on our hands, so perhaps we
> prefer (most naturally hear, that is) binary metric groupings because we
> have two legs(?).
> 2) Duple preference based on some aspect of perceptual or cognitive
> processing.
> Greg Karl
> Jay NY
> On Feb 28, 2012, at 8:36 PM, Michael Morse wrote:
>  Like Greg, I'm a little confused here too. Do you mean "blank pulse" and
>> "duple and triple meter"? ("isochronous clicks," " binary/ternary
>> 'measures')? The word "preference" has me puzzled, too, ditto "subjective";
>> although a matter of perception, more strictly of "perceiving as" rather
>> than "perceiving"--perhaps that's what you mean by "subjective"?--such
>> orientations don't seem to me altogether voluntary. You can see the famous
>> illustration as a duck or as a rabbit, and sometimes decide to see it as
>> one or the other; but mostly the alternatives happen of themselves, often
>> oscillating without and even against our will.
>> What is the aim of this project?
>> MW Morse
>> Trent University
>> Peterborough, Oshawa
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Laurel Parsons, Ph.D.
Quest University Canada
3200 University Blvd.
Squamish, BC
VB8 0N8
laurel.parsons at questu.ca
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