Predicting blend between orchestral timbres using generalized spectral-envelope descriptions


Composers rely on implicit knowledge of instrument timbres to achieve certain effects in orchestration. In the context of perceptual blending between orchestral timbres, holistic acoustical descriptions of instrument-specific traits can assist in the selection of suitable instrument combinations. The chosen mode of description utilizes spectral-envelope estimates that are acquired as pitch-invariant descriptions of instruments at different dynamic markings. Prominent local spectral-envelope traits, such as spectral maxima or formants, have been shown to influence timbre blending, involving frequency relationships between local spectral features, their prominence as formants, and constraints imposed by the human auditory system. We present computational approaches to predict timbre blend that are based on these factors and explain around 85% of the variance in behavioral timbre-blend data. Multiple linear regression is employed in modeling a range of behavioral data acquired in different experimental investigations. These include parametric investigations of formant frequency and magnitude relationships as well as arbitrary combinations of recorded instrument audio samples in dyads or triads. The cataloguing of generalized acoustical descriptions of instruments and associated timbre-blend predictions for various instrument combinations could serve as a valuable aid to orchestration practice in the future.



music, acoustics, psychoacoustics, auditory perception


Lembke, S.-A., Narmour, E., McAdams, S. (2013) Predicting blend between orchestral timbres using generalized spectral-envelope descriptions, in: Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics. Montreal, p. 035053.


Research Institute

Music, Technology and Innovation - Institute for Sonic Creativity (MTI2)