Sonic Visualiser: Visualisation, Analysis, and Annotation of Music Audio Recordings.

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Date: Fall 2021
Publisher: University of California Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 4,297 words
Lexile Measure: 1470L

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Sonic Visualiser: Visualisation, Analysis, and Annotation of Music Audio Recordings. Centre for Digital Music at Queen Mary (University of London) and the AHRC Researcher Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music (CHARM). URL: https://www.sonicvisualiser.org/

What If Music Could Be Seen?

Music recordings have become increasingly important tools for music analysis and many forms of musicological research. Compared to music analysis using notation, a recording allows the researcher to investigate music from the performer's perspective. Much can be learned by exploring the expressive choices a musician makes to elevate the written score. Additionally, recordings are advantageous when analyzing musical styles that might not lend themselves comfortably to standard notational systems (such as some forms of electronic, pop/rock, or folk music).

The analysis of music via recording need not be a highly sophisticated process. Insightful investigation can be carried out using a pencil, paper, and stopwatch to track temporal characteristics such as tempo changes and loudness dynamics. However, the process is greatly enriched by using software that displays audio waveform and spectrum visualizations. Waveforms allow one to observe temporal characteristics at a glance, while spectrum displays the music's frequency components. Significantly, an analysis of music based on waveform and spectrum enables one to investigate music's acoustical properties outside of a theoretical context, potentially making it possible to analyze a wider variety of musical forms and styles using the same analytical framework and tools.

For over a decade, Sonic Visualiser (SV) has provided users with the ability to truly see the music. Designed for musicologists, archivists, and signal-processing researchers alike, SV is a graphical user interface for computational music analyses that would otherwise require experience in digital signal processing and music information research. Upon installing the software, users can load audio tiles, or make their own recordings, and quickly begin exploring the sonic characteristics and features through an array of visualization and annotation tools.

SV's main modes of viewing sound are the waveform and the spectrogram. Figure 1 shows a spectrogram of the classic John Coltrane recording of "Blue Train." (2) In the image, annotations have been made to indicate the start of each instrument's solo. With time displayed on the horizontal axis and frequency on the vertical, the image is read as a heat map whereby the presence of frequencies is represented by color variation and intensity. This variation enables rapid identification of the various sections of the recording. For example, one can easily see the stark contrast in colors between the saxophone solo (displaying a wide range of middle frequencies) and bass solo (narrow range of low frequencies).

SV was developed in the mid-2000s by researchers at the Centre for Digital Music at Queen Mary (University of London) in collaboration with the AHRC Researcher Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music (CHARM). A conference proceedings article, which the developers suggest researchers use to reference the software in publications, has been cited hundreds of times and indicates the extent to which SV has been used in music-related research....

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A696486494