Exploring Objectivity in the Aesthetic Experience of Audio Quality

TitleExploring Objectivity in the Aesthetic Experience of Audio Quality
Publication TypeMaster Thesis
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsDisley, M.
AbstractIn this thesis we present the results of research into the effects of the technological mediation of music on the aesthetic experience as an attempt to reconcile the difference between the humanities and computational approaches to aesthetics. Both traditions believe they are measuring the value of ‘a work of art’. However it has not been considered that they may be measuring different things; one is evaluating the work, as an abstract conceptualisation, the other as the stimuli actually received by the listener. Exploring the space between these two hopes not only to alloy the two camps, but also posits an interesting space in which to gain insight on the aesthetic experience. We tackled this by degrading compositions through audio transformation, and presenting these to be ranked by participants. Using this information, we explored the relationships between the rankings and an array of statistical descriptors extracted from the transformed audio using Essentia’s Music Extractor. The questionnaire pointed towards a clear trend in aesthetic judgments made by our subjects. The degradations that were most preferred were the most associated with a technological mediation, such as telephone, radio (Band-pass filtering) or an arguably overused audio tool (Audio Compression). In contrasted those least preferred were more associated with human performance error, such as mistuning (Harmonic Randomisation) and mis-timing (Transient Removal). The most highly correlated Essentia descriptors referred to spectral, loudness and tonal qualities of the signal. It was also found that the Normalised Compression Distance between each version and its original reference version was the most highly correlated descriptor. Our findings suggest that there is in fact a degree of objectivity in the way we make aesthetic judgements of audio at the ‘micro-level’. The results of the correlation coefficients between the NCD and the rankings contribute to the compression progress theory of aesthetic value promoted by authors such as Machado and Cardoso[1] and Schmidhuber[2]. Our findings should inform the methods of any research that aims to measure the aesthetic value of different compositions relative to one another. The stimuli presented are not abstract representations of ‘a composition’, but rather versions of ‘a composition’ where ‘non-artistic’ interventions will factor in on the aesthetic experience they induce.
KeywordsComputational aesthetics; Empirical aesthetics; Music perception
Final publicationhttps://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1473164