Auditory-Based Processing of Communication Sounds

Walters, T.C. (2011). Auditory-Based Processing of Communication Sounds. Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge.

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This thesis examines the possible benefits of adapting a biologically-inspired model of human auditory processing as part of a machine-hearing system. Features were generated by an auditory model, and used as input to machine learning systems to determine the content of the sound. Features were generated using the auditory image model (AIM) and were used for speech recognition and audio search. AIM comprises processing to simulate the human cochlea, and a ‘strobed temporal integration’ process which generates a stabilised auditory image (SAI) from the input sound.

The communication sounds which are produced by humans, other animals, and many musical instruments take the form of a pulse-resonance signal: pulses excite resonances in the body, and the resonance following each pulse contains information both about the type of object producing the sound and its size. In the case of humans, vocal tract length (VTL) determines the size properties of the resonance. In the speech recognition experiments, an auditory filterbank was combined with a Gaussian fitting procedure to produce features which are invariant to changes in speaker VTL. These features were compared against standard mel-frequency cepstral coefficients (MFCCs) in a size-invariant syllable recognition task. The VTL-invariant representation was found to produce better results than MFCCs when the system was trained on syllables from simulated talkers of one range of VTLs and tested on those from simulated talkers with a different range of VTLs.

The image stabilisation process of strobed temporal integration was analysed. Based on the properties of the auditory filterbank being used, theoretical constraints were placed on the properties of the dynamic thresholding function used to perform strobe detection. These constraints were used to specify a simple, yet robust, strobe detection algorithm. The syllable recognition system described above was then extended to produce features from profiles of the SAI and tested with the same syllable database as before. For clean speech, performance of the features was comparable to that of those generated from the filterbank output. However when pink noise was added to the stimuli, performance dropped more slowly as a function of signal-to-noise ratio when using the SAI-based AIM features, than when using either the filterbank-based features or the MFCCs, demonstrating the noise-robustness properties of the SAI representation.

The properties of the auditory filterbank in AIM were also analysed. Three models of the cochlea were considered: the static gammatone filterbank, dynamic compressive gammachirp (dcGC) and the pole-zero filter cascade (PZFC). The dcGC and gammatone are standard filterbank models, whereas the PZFC is a filter cascade, which more accurately models signal propagation in the cochlea. However, while the architecture of the filterbanks is different, they have all been successfully fitted to psychophysical masking data from humans. The abilities of the filterbanks to measure pitch strength were assessed, using stimuli which evoke a weak pitch percept in humans, in order to ascertain whether there is any benefit in the use of the more computationally efficient PZFC.

Finally, a complete sound effects search system using auditory features was constructed in collaboration with Google research. Features were computed from the SAI by sampling the SAI space with boxes of different scales. Vector quantization (VQ) was used to convert this multi-scale representation to a sparse code. The ‘passive-aggressive model for image retrieval’ (PAMIR) was used to learn the relationships between dictionary words and these auditory codewords. These auditory sparse codes were compared against sparse codes generated from MFCCs, and the best performance was found when using the auditory features.

Citation Information

    Author = {Walters, Thomas C.},
    School = {University of Cambridge},
    Title = {Auditory-Based Processing of Communication Sounds},
    Year = {2011}}