Food & Paper: The importance of considering acoustic complexity in auditory perception research (Michael Schutz)

Michael Schutz, Associate Professor of Music Cognition/Percussion at McMaster University, will hold this week's Food & Paper.

NB: This Food & Paper will take place at 15:00 (CET).Michael Schutz

The talk builds on a recent paper by Michael Schutz and Jessica Gillard: "On the generalization of tones: A detailed exploration of non-speech auditory perception stimuli".


Our auditory world is filled with a rich array of sounds from a multitude of sources. These sounds are both complex and informative, providing useful information about objects and events in the world around us (Gaver, 1993). Since the 1950s however, auditory perception research as often focused highly controlled, easily quantifiable tone beeps (Neuhoff, 2004). Although such stimuli are useful, research from my team (Chuen & Schutz, 2016; Schutz et al., 2017; Vallet et al., 2014; Schutz et al., 2019) as well as others (Grassi & Casco, 2009; Schlauch et al., 2001; Neuhoff, 1998) illustrates that temporal complexity can play a key role in shaping experimental outcomes.

Because temporal complexity is essentially unexplored in studies using flat tones, excusive use of these simplified stimuli raises important questions about efforts to understand the generalized function of the auditory system. To explore the issue empirically, my team recently completed a large-scale survey of non-speech auditory perception research from four prominent journals. Analysis of over 1000 experiments from illustrates that nearly 90% of stimuli employ amplitude envelopes lacking the dynamic variations characteristic of non-speech sounds heard outside the laboratory (Schutz & Gillard, 2020). Given differences in task outcomes and even the underlying perceptual strategies evoked by dynamic vs. invariant amplitude envelopes, this raises important questions of broad relevance. Based on a representative sample of diverse experiments from prominent journals, these results suggest that stimuli with time-varying amplitude envelopes offer significant potential for furthering our understanding of the auditory system’s basic processing capabilities.

This presentation will place that work in a broader context by exploring the proportion of sounds heard in everyday listening, offering a formal exploration of the degree to which lab-based research generalizes to everyday listening.


Michael Schutz is currently Associate Professor of Music Cognition/Percussion at McMaster University in Canada, where he conducts the percussion ensemble and teaches courses on music perception and cognition.  Prior to McMaster, Michael spent five years as Director of Percussion Studies at Longwood University, taught percussion at Virginia Commonwealth University, and performed frequently with the Roanoke Symphony, Opera on the James, Oratorio Society of Virginia, and the Lynchburg Symphony.  Active in the promotion of new music, Michael premiered internationally renowned composer Judith Shatin’s trio Time To Burn, and subsequently recorded this piece on a release from Innova Recordings.  Invited solo performances include guest appearances with the University of California, University of Virginia Percussion Ensemble, Ontario and Virginia/DC “Day of Percussion,” Project: Percussion Festival, and the Alvin Lucier Festival. Since 2013 he has served on the percussion faculty of the Penn State Honors Music Institute.  He earned a MM in Percussion from Northwestern University where he studied with Michael Burritt, and a BMA in from Penn State University where he studied with Dan Armstrong and Gifford Howarth.

Published Nov. 13, 2020 2:08 PM - Last modified Nov. 27, 2020 7:45 AM