Pseudo-science and BBC and choir singing

Arrgh, what an irritating load of piffle this story is:
Choir boys’ and girls’ distinctive voices studied

The gist (according to the World’s Greatest Media Outlet) is that there is some ‘magic frequency’ around 8KHz in choir boys’ and girls’ voices that makes it ‘something that communicates with the soul. It’s way beyond the words, it’s way beyond the music’.

Whilst Dr Howard, who is the researcher responsible for the above, appears to be a serious acoustic researcher – his credited papers include Intonation drift in a capella soprano, alto, tenor, bass quartet singing with key modulation and Nonlinear modelling of double and triple period pitch breaks in vocal fold vibration – he is also quoted as saying “maybe you can get to the point where maybe the computer could be at the back of the choir.”

Yeah, a computer – they can do anything!

All he’s really discovered is that a well trained voice has a frequency response with a peak in a certain area, which happens to be around 8KHz. Well, yes, I would expect a trained voice to have a strong response in certain frequencies, that’s why they sound different (and louder) than untrained voices. It’s quite a step though to claim that there’s something ‘beyond music’ about it, or that there’s something peculiarly magical about it.

Although Mr Howard is obsessed with choirs (which is no bad thing in itself!), he’s going into the realms of pseudo-science with this claim. And of course, the media lapped it up – they love being told that computers operated by, ooh, scientists have discovered the secret of something.

I just hate the way way science is presented by main stream media, as typified by this non-story. It’s always the secret of something being revealed by boffins, when usually nothing of the sort has happened. They’ve either misunderstood the science, extrapolated unreasonably, or, as is the case here, made a whole story (5 minutes on BBC 1 BreakfastNews, 5 minutes on the Today Programme) out of absolutely nothing.

I think choirs are more likely to sound lovely because of the music they sing . Highly harmonious choral music sung in very reverberant spaces is something that appeals to the human ear. It took hundreds of years of singing in churches to develop these combinations of voice, music and space to create these particular emotional effects. And the reasons  it works on the human emotions are lot more complex than a simple boost to the 8KHz region in the individual voices, that’s for sure.

And we definitely don’t need to be told that this so-called discovery could ‘in the future even help scientists to develop a synthetic choir’. FFS.

…especially as they already exist:








2 Responses to Pseudo-science and BBC and choir singing

  1. Tom says:

    a brief woot to this

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