The tritone paradox is produced when two tones that are related by a half- octave (or tritone) are presented in succession. Each tone is composed of a set of octave- related harmonics, whose amplitudes are determined by a bell-shaped spectral envelope; thus the tones are clearly defined in terms of pitch class, but poorly defined in terms of height. When listeners judge whether such tone pairs form ascending or descending patterns, their judgments generally show systematic relationships to the positions of the tones along the pitch-class circle: Tones in one region of the circle are heard as higher and those in the opposite region are heard as lower. However, listeners disagree substantially as to whether a given tone pair forms an ascending or a descending pattern, and therefore as to which tones are heard as higher and which as lower. This paper demonstrates that the basis for the individual differences in perception of this musical pattern lies in the language spoken by the listener. Two groups of subjects made judgments of the tritone paradox. One group had grown up in California, and the other group had grown up in southern England. It was found that when the Californian group tended to hear the pattern as ascending the English group tended to hear it as descending, and when the Californian group tended to hear the pattern as descending the English group tended to hear it as ascending. This finding, coupled with the earlier results of Deutsch, North, and Ray (1990) that showed a correlate between perception of the tritone paradox and the pitch range of the listener's spontaneous speaking voice, indicates strongly that the same, culturally acquired representation of pitch classes influences both speech production and perception of this musical pattern.
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Diana Deutsch; The Tritone Paradox: An Influence of Language on Music Perception. Music Perception 1 July 1991; 8 (4): 335–347. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/40285517
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