Audiovisual correspondence between musical timbre and visual shapes

  • Adeli M
  • Rouat J
  • Molotchnikoff S
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This article investigates the cross-modal correspondences between musical timbre and shapes. Previously, such features as pitch, loudness, light intensity, visual size, and color characteristics have mostly been used in studies of audio-visual correspondences. Moreover, in most studies, simple stimuli e.g., simple tones have been utilized. In this experiment, 23 musical sounds varying in fundamental frequency and timbre but fixed in loudness were used. Each sound was presented once against colored shapes and once against grayscale shapes. Subjects had to select the visual equivalent of a given sound i.e., its shape, color (or grayscale) and vertical position. This scenario permitted studying the associations between normalized timbre and visual shapes as well as some of the previous findings for more complex stimuli. One hundred and nineteen subjects (31 females and 88 males) participated in the online experiment. Subjects included 36 claimed professional musicians, 47 claimed amateur musicians, and 36 claimed non-musicians. Thirty-one subjects have also claimed to have synesthesia-like experiences. A strong association between timbre of envelope normalized sounds and visual shapes was observed. Subjects have strongly associated soft timbres with blue, green or light gray rounded shapes, harsh timbres with red, yellow or dark gray sharp angular shapes and timbres having elements of softness and harshness together with a mixture of the two previous shapes. Color or grayscale had no effect on timbre-shape associations. Fundamental frequency was not associated with height, grayscale or color. The significant correspondence between timbre and shape revealed by the present work allows designing substitution systems which might help the blind to perceive shapes through timbre. © 2014 Adeli, Rouat and Molotchnikoff.




Adeli, M., Rouat, J., & Molotchnikoff, S. (2014). Audiovisual correspondence between musical timbre and visual shapes. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8.

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