James Humberstone – TRANSCRIPT
The human brain loves patterns. We love to find them in the natural world around us; we love to make them, to create them, to put them even under our feet.
I’m lucky enough to work in sound – another art form and science that is full of patterns – here at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, right next to Sydney Harbour. It’s a tough job, but I get to do it and you can’t. And of course, sound is full of patterns from its very most basic essence, not just organised sound, music, but something as simple as a sine wave. (Sine wave sound) So, the sine wave is an interesting sound – it looks very beautiful, it’s a perfect parabola, it’s a lovey pattern for our brains – but it’s not particularly interesting. A more interesting sound might be a sampled flute. (Flute sound)
Now, the flute sound looks a lot more random and crazy, doesn’t it? But if I freeze it, you can actually see that it is a regular repeating pattern. It’s very beautiful. The reason it’s very beautiful is because there is a lot more going on than just a single note. If I flip over to this spectrograph, you can actually see that big, thick orange line in the middle. That’s the fundamental pitch.
If I said to you to sing that note back to me – and you were a confident enough person to sing it back to me and in tune – that’s the note you would sing, that big, thick line. But what about all of those other little lines above? They are overtones. They’re sparkling away above that pitch. You can actually hear them, but you’re perceiving a single note. Now, you might be thinking, ‘James, that’s nonsense. I can only hear one note, and you are referring to it as a note, so stop trying to persuade me.’