Because the spectral envelope of a sound is a crucial aspect of timbre perception, the authors propose a quantitative model of spectral envelope perception using a set of orthogonal basis functions, analogous to the three primary colors in vision. The goal is find a quantitative mapping between the physical description of the spectral envelope and its perception. This allows for a meaningful and reliable way of controlling timbre in sonification. This paper presents a quantitative metric to describe the multidimensionality of spectral envelope perception, i.e., the perception that is specifically related to the spectral element of timbre. Mel-frequency cepstral coefficients (MFCC) were chosen as a metric for spectral envelope perception because of their linearity, orthogonality, and multidimensionality. Quantitative data from two experiments illustrate the linear relationship between the subjective perception of spectrally-varied synthetic sounds and the MFCC.
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