Sound: Physics and Perception

Visual Arts R6020
Thursday 5:30-8pm, Room 320H Prentis Hall
Fall 2013
Professor: Douglas Repetto [douglas at music columbia edu]

Sound: Physics and Perception

The Class

This course is a detailed and hands-on (ears-on) exploration of the fundamental physical, physiological, and psychological aspects of sound. Topics covered include sound waves and their physical nature, the propagation and speed of sound in different mediums, geological and other non-living sound sources, animal and insect sound generating strategies, sound perception mechanisms and abilities in different species, the physiology of human hearing and the structure of the human ear, psycho-acoustics and human sound perception, sonic illusions and tricks of the ear.

In-class, student-led experiments and research make up the majority of the class. Each student will design and lead at least one experiment/demo session. Topics will be chosen/assigned after the first class meeting.

We will also have visits from a number of guests during the term.

The Schedule

The class meets every THURSDAY evening from 5:30-8pm. I get very grumpy if students are late. Please be on time. Prentis Hall is a 10-15 minute walk from main campus.


(Schedule subject to change based on number of students in the class, the group's interests, and cosmic noise.)
  • Weeks 1-4: Physical experiments and demonstrations: speed of sound; propagation of sounds in different media; the size and shape of sound waves; physical representations of sound; basic math for sound research.
  • Weeks 5-6: Non-living sound: geological, oceanic, atmospheric, astronomical sounds.
  • Weeks 7-9: Sound generation and perception in non-humans: insects; birds; bats; aquatic creatures; singing mice and other small mammals; roars, growls, and hoots.
  • Weeks 10-13: Human sound generation and perception: the ear and hearing; the human voice and other sounds; from ear to brain; sound perception and parsing; sonic illusions.
  • Week 14: The question of music and language.

The End

(Have some fun!)