21st Quinquennial IMS Congress, Athen, 21.-26. August 2022

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Light
Formants and their Movements in a Dynamic Timbre Map
Christoph Reuter1, Saleh Siddiq1, Isabella Czedik-Eysenberg1,3, Daniel Muzzulini2,
Michael Oehler3

1 Musicological Department, University of Vienna (christoph.reuter@univie.ac.at)
Zürcher Hochschule der Künste, Zurich - 3 Musicological Department, University of Osnabrück

Formants are pitch-independent, fixed maxima in the spectrum of a sound that characteristically shape the timbre of an instrument or voice.

For example, instruments with a maximum between 300 and 500 Hz sound like "o" (e.g. bassoon or horn).
Usually two formants are sufficient to describe a vowel-like, characteristic timbre of an instrument.

With the help of two axes for the first and second formant, one can draw up a formant map in which the musical instruments of the orchestra can be placed on characteristic positions. this holds especially for the low and middle registers.

Timbres with similar formant positions usually sound similar and blend well together when played simultaneously.
Timbres with different formant positions usually sound dissimilar and are easily separable when played simultaneously.

In the Formant Map 2.0, any instrument combinations can be tried out in three registers and two dynamic levels each.

Formant Map 2.0 (Reuter 2020)



Dynamic Timbre Maps in Comparison
on the example of Beethoven's 7th symphony, 1st movement

Select one of the three fields below and compare the dynamic behavior
of the instrumental timbres and their descriptors in "the wild".

You can set up any instrumental combination using the colored buttons
at the top of the of the respective Dynamic Timbre Map screen.

The closer the timbres are to each other in the respective Dynamic Timbre Map,
the more similar they should sound.

Attention: the dynamic timbre fields need about 30 seconds until they are fully loaded.
But it's worth the wait...

Dynamic Formant Map 2.0

Dynamic MFCC Map

Dynamisch Spectral Centroid / Flux Map

Reverberation free single tracks of the musical instruments from:
Pätynen, J., Pulkki, V., and Lokki, T., "Anechoic recording system for symphony orchestra," Acta Acustica united with Acustica, vol. 94, nr. 6, pp. 856-865

Further interactive timbre representations:

Timbre Spaces

Formant Maps

Current libraries/programs for formant calculation