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Is Nonlinear Propagation Responsible for the Brassiness of Elephant Trumpet Calls?

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African elephants (Loxodonta africana) produce a broad diversity of sounds ranging from infrasonic rumbles to much higher frequency trumpets. Trumpet calls are very loud voiced signals given by highly aroused elephants, and appear to be produced by a forceful expulsion of air through the trunk. Some trumpet calls have a very distinctive quality that is unique in the animal kingdom, but resemble the "brassy" sounds that can be produced with brass musical instruments such as trumpets or trombones.

Brassy musical sounds are characterised by a flat spectral slope caused by the nonlinear propagation of the source wave as it travels through the long bore of the instrument. The extent of this phenomenon, which normally occurs at high intensity levels (e.g. fortissimo), depends on the fundamental frequency (F0) of the source as well as on the length of the resonating tube.

Interestingly, the length of the vocal tract of the elephant (as measured from the vocal folds to the end of the trunk) approximates the critical length for shockwave formation, given the fundamental frequency and intensity of trumpet calls. We suggest that this phenomenon could explain the unique, distinctive brassy quality of elephant trumpet calls.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2014

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  • Acta Acustica united with Acustica, published together with the European Acoustics Association (EAA), is an international, peer-reviewed journal on acoustics. It publishes original articles on all subjects in the field of acoustics, such as general linear acoustics, nonlinear acoustics, macrosonics, flow acoustics, atmospheric sound, underwater sound, ultrasonics, physical acoustics, structural acoustics, noise control, active control, environmental noise, building acoustics, room acoustics, acoustic materials, acoustic signal processing, computational and numerical acoustics, hearing, audiology and psychoacoustics, speech, musical acoustics, electroacoustics, auditory quality of systems. It reports on original scientific research in acoustics and on engineering applications. The journal considers scientific papers, technical and applied papers, book reviews, short communications, doctoral thesis abstracts, etc. In irregular intervals also special issues and review articles are published.
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