“In the old days, the word ‘baritone’, as ‘baritone’ is called, was used to describe a male voice, and to refer to an alto,” said Mr Hirsch. “Over the years, we’ve been trying to find a way to call the same thing by the same name, so our solution was to come up with an abbreviated version, using the ‘A’ and the ‘S’ to differentiate it from the ‘B’, which is the more common male alto.”
The researchers were able to find a male alto’s signature sound by tracking the vocal and spectral characteristics of the song. As it turns out, the voice is not unique. Both males and females are unique in this respect, which is supported by extensive research on singers of the lower-mid range.
“It’s kind of funny,” said Mr Hirsch. “In a study back in the 1970s, we found an alto who sounded like a girl, but then later researchers found a man who sounded like a woman. This is exactly what we were expecting.”
The researchers were also able to identify the voice and its characteristics during sound recordings and during a series of three-minute experiments. In five of these experiments, the male alto was given a specific pitch which was gradually lowered (starting at C-sharp), and once the pitch was reached the voice reverted to the natural tonal range of the alto’s instrument. In the other experiments, the researchers measured the pitch of the voice and made random notes on a keytar using the vocal tract. This allowed them to compare the two voices and observe any changes over time and in the vocal tract.
Using this, the researchers were also able to measure the amplitude of the vocal tract in each voice and the number of distinct syllables in the vocal tract within each voice’s signature.
The researchers found that the voice changes over time in a way that is similar to vocal changes in other animals.
“So if one day you say, ‘Whoa, this thing was in the ’80s at the same time I was singing and I think the thing I was singing was just a little bit in-between’, then it’s possible we don’t hear all the change,” said Mr Hirsch.
“But when it’s the opposite, like when you said ‘that wasn’t really in that same space where the voice was coming in,’ it’s possible we actually could hear all the change.”
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