Towards Music Perception by Redundancy Reduction and Unsupervised Learning in Probabilistic Models

Samer A. Abdallah
King's College London, London, UK (2002)


The study of music perception lies at the intersection of several disciplines: perceptual psychology and cognitive science, musicology, psychoacoustics, and acoustical signal processing amongst others. Developments in perceptual theory over the last fifty years have emphasised an approach based on Shannon’s information theory and its basis in probabilistic systems, and in particular, the idea that perceptual systems in animals develop through a process of unsupervised learning in response to natural sensory stimulation, whereby the emerging computational structures are well adapted to the statistical structure of natural scenes. In turn, these ideas are being applied to problems in music perception.

This thesis is an investigation of the principle of redundancy reduction through unsupervised learning, as applied to representations of sound and music. In the first part, previous work is reviewed, drawing on literature from some of the fields mentioned above, and an argument presented in support of the idea that perception in general and music perception in particular can indeed be accommodated within a framework of unsupervised learning in probabilistic models. In the second part, two related methods are applied to two different low-level representations. Firstly, linear redundancy reduction (Independent Component Analysis) is applied to acoustic waveforms of speech and music. Secondly, the related method of sparse coding is applied to a spectral representation of polyphonic music, which proves to be enough both to recognise that the individual notes are the important structural elements, and to recover a rough transcription of the music.

Finally, the concepts of distance and similarity are considered, drawing in ideas about noise, phase invariance, and topological maps. Some ecologically and information theoretically motivated distance measures are suggested, and put in to practice in a novel method, using multidimensional scaling (MDS), for visualising geometrically the dependency structure in a distributed representation.

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