Notes on the perception of imaginary differences

Here’s a MIDI file of Scarlatti’s Sonata in A Major, K24/L495/P80, played on a physically-modeled virtual harpsichord tuned to A = 440 Hz:

Here it is again, this time with A = 432 Hz:

Did the first recording make you feel “self-centered, narcissistic, materialistic and aggressive“? Did the second resonate with the Heart Chakra, repair your DNA and restore your spiritual and mental health? If so, I congratulate you on your acute sensitivity. (Be sure to wear protective headgear at all times.)

Or did the second just sound a little flatter than the first?

Even if there is a real basis to the paranoid theories — extremely unlikely; the rise of the 440 standard is so complicated that positing a vast international conspiracy is inadequate to explain it — the precise frequency of the “A” in a scale matters far less than the qualities of the intervals between the notes of the scale.

The preset used for the two recordings above does not specify the temperament, which implies that it is equal-tempered. Other presets offer different tuning systems. Here is the sonata again, this time at A = 415, using an unspecified “well tempered” tuning:

And again, at A = 392, using “Werckmeister III“:

Even ordinary human beings who don’t wear tin-foil hats might be able to hear subtle differences in the character of the music now.

(Via Dustbury.)

5 thoughts on “Notes on the perception of imaginary differences”

  1. I’ve been trying a 432-Hz player recently. It does sound slightly flat to me for some things, but on some other recordings it sounds indistinguishable. Oddly, it seemed to improve Sinatra; Dean Martin sounded the same; Yes sounded a bit odd. The 432 and 440 samples above didn’t seem to affect me differently; the 415 and 392 sounded great, but obviously also sounded like they were just in a different key.

    Inasmuch as the 432 player itself is not nearly as capable as the default player, I’m not sure I’m going to use it much going forward.

  2. I’m incorrigibly skeptical, and the text at The 432 Player does not inspire confidence. Among other claims, it states that “[i]t is well known today that the molecular structure of water is affected by vibration, thoughts, words, ideas and of-course Music.” Yeah, right. My thoughts may alter some of the molecules in my brain, but I don’t see how they could have any direct effect on the molecules in the glass of water on the table. If you’re going to make extravagant claims, I want to see serious research and rigorous arguments to back them, not just a flurry of impressive-sounding buzzwords.

    The 432 player is for iPhones and similiar gizmos. Since I use a dumb phone, I can’t test the player and see if it actually does make any difference. Some people who aren’t flakes report that some music actually does sound better. Perhaps transposing the scale down slightly makes a significant difference — in which case a careful investigation is warranted. Or perhaps the player adds a wee bit of compression, equalization or other enhancement as it converts the music.

  3. It’s woo, but I do slightly prefer the 432 version. I dunno, it sounds more, I don’t know, period-instrument to me. But then, what do I know?

    “Molecularly altered water” is something some health-food stores feature. I presume it is a way of separating people from their money. (There’s something called Pentawater that I’ve never quite figured out….they claim they get it all aligned at the factory, but then, I would expect, having it transported on trucks would bounced that alignment all to heck.)

  4. Clearly, the penta-aligned water is held in the correct orientation by the pentamagnetic bottles it’s contained in.

    (If you can persuade someone you’ve aligned their water, you can certainly persuade them that you’ve magnetized a plastic bottle. And probably sell them a special plastic choker to wear, so it doesn’t go all out-of-alignment when they swallow it. See also: The Wine Clip.)

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