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September-October 2010 Western Tanager Newsletter - Los Angeles Audubon

September-October 2010 Western Tanager Newsletter - Los Angeles Audubon

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Published by: Los Angeles Audubon on Oct 08, 2010
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Volume 77, Number 1 September/October 2010
 
WESTERN TANAGER
a publication of Los Angeles Audubonwww.laaudubon.org
UNDERSTANDING Bird Vocalizations Through AUDIO SPECTROGRAMS
ecent technology has given us the ability to “see”into many heretofore invisible parts of the world.From X-Rays of broken bones, to CAT scans of the brain, to ultrasound images of yet-to-be born infants;modern technology reveals important and usefulinformation about our world.One such tool that can be very helpful for birders isthe sonogram, or more accurately, the audio spectrogram.Audio spectrograms (“AS” or “sonograms”) allow birders to “see” inside a bird vocalization and can provide important clues on how to differentiate one callor song from another. Sometimes sonograms help byshowing subtle variations in short calls; other times byhelping the birder recognize differences in the larger  patterns of complex songs. Once these differences arediscerned in spectrograms, they often become mucheasier to hear and differentiate in the field.This short “teaser” article will serve as anintroduction to the topic. On the LAAS Website are moreexamples of different kinds of vocalizations and their representation as sonograms, including a look at usingsonograms to differentiate the easy-to-confuse songs of the thrashers found in SE Arizona.At the talk on Wednesday, September 8, 2010, we’llinclude additional examples and analyses and you will beable to hear the songs as you watch the sonograms,something difficult to do in a printed article!WHAT ARE AUDIO SPECTROGRAMSAn audio spectrogram is a two dimensional graphicalrepresentation of an audio source. The graphic representsall of the frequencies of the sound and also the loudnessof each frequency. Spectrograms are created using a principal called Fourier Analysis. The basis of thismathematical process is the theory that many complex phenomenon, like equations or data derived from physical events like a sound; can be broken down intosmaller pieces and thus more easily understood..To make it possible to “see” a sound, a Fourier analysis is made of the audio and the resultinginformation is converted into graphical form. Here's howthe process works.First of all, the target sound is digitally recorded invery small “samples”, often 44,100 samples per second, the same process used for a CD. The analyzer then looks at regularly spaced groups of samples to seeif there is a sound present at that moment in time. If audio is present, then it checks the sound at each of many different frequencies to determine whichfrequencies are present at that time and the how loudeach frequency is.The presence of any audio content in eachfrequency band is then graphically represented by ashort line or dot at that frequency, at the time thatsample occurred. The intensity or loudness of the audioat each frequency is represented as a lighter or darker line on a continuum from very soft (light mark) to veryloud (much darker mark).This analysis is repeated for regular intervals for aslong as the sound lasts. The resulting graphic is acollection of all of these instantaneous representationsof frequency content placed on a time line. Thehorizontal axis is time, showing the length of theaudio.The vertical axis is frequency, with dots or linesshowing what, if any, content there was at each frequency.
—by Tom Stephenson
 
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Western TanagerVol. 77, No.1
SOME SIMPLE AUDIO EXAMPLESLet’s look at a very simple example of an audiospectrogram of a whistle that starts at a low pitch andgradually rises to a very high pitch over 30 seconds. Thewhistler whistles one short note per second, each higher than the previous, and all at the same volume.The resulting graphical representation of the soundwould show one dot at each sample for the frequency of the tone at that time. It would look like this.
Fig. 1. Basic sonogram.
Moving Left to Right on the graphic represents time,which increases one second per “scale” of the graphic.Pitch is represented by the vertical placement of eachdot, with a higher dot representing a higher pitch. Notice that at each second there is a dot showing thatsound was present, and each dot is higher in pitch thanthe last one, as the tone was rising slowly. Since thewhistle was played at an even volume, there is nodifference in the lightness or darkness of each dot. Now let’s look at the audio spectrogram of a simplesine wave. If you remember back to your physics class(you weren’t sleeping were you...) a sine wave is the purest of all tones. It consists of only 1 pitch, with noovertones, and is similar to the sound you would hear from a flute or a very pure whistle. A sonogram of a onesecond sine wave at one pitch would have only one line,representing the pitch of the sound, and the length would be one second’s worth of distance on the graphic.A second pure whistle of the same length, but at alower pitch, would have a single line also lasting asecond, but the line would be lower on the graphic thanthe first line.Here’s an Audio Spectrogram of 12 pure tones, eachlasting 1 second. The tones are in groups of 3 tones at thesame pitch. Each group is lower in pitch than the prior group. The whole selection lasts about 4 seconds, fromthe 7 second mark to the 11 second mark on the timescale (in this graphic shown across the top). Notice thatthe frequency of the first set of tones is about 1kHz or 1,000 cycles per second. (Middle C on a piano is about260 cycles.)
Fig. 2. Simple repeated tones on 4 pitches.
Here’s a sonogram of the first part of "Row, Row,Row Your Boat" performed with a flute which has noovertones.
Fig. 3. Row your boat sonogram.
 
Western TanagerSeptember/October 2010
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Fig. 6. 2 upslurred notes.
 Next here's part of a song that is a smooth “slur” thatrises and then falls in pitch and contains rich harmonics.You can see the harmonics as “shadows” above thedarker, fundamental pitch. By the way, the mottling or  background “dots” of most audio spectrograms arecaused usually by the background noise present duringthe recording.
Fig. 7. Rich up/down slurs with harmonics.
If you take two sounds of different pitches but equalvolume and play them at the same time, you would hear them both at once and it would sound like a chord. TheAS would look like this:
Fig. 4 Sonogram of chords.
 Now let’s take five sounds and stack them on top of each other. This time we’ll make all but the lowest muchsofter and place each an octave higher than the next.Instead of sounding like a chord, it would sound like justone pitch, the pitch of the lowest note. However it wouldsound much richer than a simple sine wave. If youremember back to your physics class again, this is whathappens when a bow excites a string and the resultingsound consists of one or more harmonics. The moreharmonics, the richer sounding the sound.
Fig. 5. Pitches showing fundamental with harmonics.
When you are reading a sonogram for a bird song,it's important to remember that the more harmonicsvisible in the audio spectrogram, the richer the sound.Moving closer to how bird audio spectrograms mightlook, here’s how two simple up-slurred tones wouldlook. Notice they start low and end higher.

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