Exloratorium : Illusion Songs

Illusion Songs is a research blog devoted to examples of auditory illusions found in indigenous folk practices, popular music, and scientific research. It was created while in residence at the Exploratorium, in partnership with the Center for Art and Inquiry. You can explore the collection here.

Illusion - a distortion of the senses, revealing how the brain normally organizes and interprets sensory stimulation.

It’s easy to think that our perceptions are flawless-that they serve up the world as it truly is. What we are gifted with however, is actually an amazing ability to cover up the glitches that our senses present us with.  Just as our brain provides us with the illusion of an unbroken visual field during the time that it takes to blink, it also makes snap decisions about what to do with the information that enters our ears.Sometimes the brain literally creates something that isn’t actually there, just to make sense of the story it is telling.

In the field of psychoacoustics, auditory illusions are generally produced electronically in a lab setting where the mechanisms of perception are whittled down to their smallest possible units. What we hear in the real world is often very complex, and therefore hard to pick apart.

One method of understanding how we parse sonic information is called Auditory Scene Analysis. The premise is that we break down what we hear into different auditory “streams”.  These streams are determined by factors like pitch proximity, timbre, location, and anything else that helps us turn the sources of sounds that we hear into discrete objects or living things with a location and identity.