IPA: An Important Part to Play

by David Lonowski

Our crew on this project grows larger with the valuable addition of Leigh VanHandel of Michigan State! I have never been so eager to painstakingly spell out IPA as I am today, as our project draws more interest and our Python engine comes closer to providing us with more and more valuable information. I have the job of building a library of art song with IPA transcription, which is what will drive our research into discovering the relationships between words and music. The plain text files I provide can be analyzed by our very own computer wiz, Kris Shaffer, who is (generously) walking Jordan and I through the coding process that will eventually (hopefully) provide us with some interesting quantitative data for analysis.

While having the opportunity to fine tune my German IPA skills, I am learning a lot about how my work with IPA can provide tangible data when processed in Python, as Kris describes in his blog post "Processing IPA Unicode..." 

In the work we have done so far Steve and I have made a very crucial distinction in IPA pronunciation for spoken German vs. sung German. We concluded that the pronunciation of sung German vowels were consistently more open than spoken German, particularly for the male singing voice, with which Steve and I have our experience. We concluded that we would approach each song with the singer in mind. As we move forward, we are discovering which IPA characters and fine-distinctions are truly important and which characters/distinctions can be discarded as insignificant. For example, how crucial is the distinction of a "rolled," "flipped," [r] consonant? Can we state with a high degree of certainty that most singers will flip or roll that consonant in any given situation? The rolled [r] is used as a dramatic flare - perhaps equal to a melismatic ornamentation. Some singers will employ it, some singers may not. This is just one such example of many that we are exploring here in the beginning stages of our experiment. As we build our corpus, more and more of these questions come up. With each resolution to these questions I feel that we are building a project that may have an impressive impact!