Tahvanainen, Henna; Haapaniemi, Aki; Pätynen, Jukka and Lokki, TapioProceedings of the Third Vienna Talk on Music Acoustics (2015), pp. 208–214
Timing in a music ensemble performance is asynchronous by nature. Asynchrony is generated by the players themselves, and further delays to listeners are introduced by the location and orientation of the instruments on stage. While the musicians aim to an accurate mutual synchronization, deviating from the perfect synchrony may even produce desirable effects. For one, the timbre can appear broader as with orchestra string sections. Furthermore, when playing in synchrony, the harmonics of bass-register instruments may be partially masked by the treble-register instruments. Due to the masking, the perceived loudness of the bass-register instrument may lay solely on the low-frequency fundamentals that are often weak. The perceived asynchrony within an ensemble varies between 20 to 50 ms. This paper studies the perceptual relevance of asynchrony between three orchestral instrument groups in two concert halls. Perfect synchrony was compared to 1) the bass-register instruments (double basses and timpani) played first with delays of 20 ms for middle-register instruments (cellos, bassoon), and 40 ms for treble-register instruments (winds, brass, violas, violins), and 2) the treble-register instruments played first with delays of 20 ms for middle-register, and 40 ms for bass-register instruments. Listener preference was investigated with a paired comparison online listening test using binaural renderings of the concert halls over headphones. The results were analysed with a probabilistic choice model with latent preference groups. The analysis shows that listener preference generally depends on the asynchrony: the bass-register instrument starting first is the most preferred option in both halls while the treble-register starting first is the least preferred. The results also imply that preference on timing depends on the concert hall, and this requires future listening tests with a spatial audio system in order to reproduce the spatial characteristics of the concert halls more accurately.