Investigations of the acoustics of the vocal tract and vocal folds in vivo, ex vivo and in vitro

by Noel Hanna

Institution: University of New South Wales
Department: Physics
Year: 2014
Keywords: Excised larynx; Vocal Tract; Resonances; Straw phonation; Subglottal
Record ID: 1052173
Full text PDF: http://handle.unsw.edu.au/1959.4/54304


Speech and singing are of enormous importance to human culture, yet the physics that underlies the production and control of the voice is incompletely understood, and its parameters not well known, mainly due to the difficulty of accessing them in vivo. In the simplified but well-accepted source-filter model, non-linear vocal fold oscillation produces a sound source at a fundamental frequency and its multiples, the resonances of the vocal tract filter the spectral envelope of the sound to produce voice formants. In this thesis, both source and tract properties are studied experimentally and an in vitro experiment investigates how the filter can affect the source. The control of fundamental frequency by either air supply or mechanical control parameters is investigated ex vivo using excised human larynges. All else equal, and excluding the four types of discontinuity or hysteresis observed, the fundamental frequency was found to be proportional to the square root of subglottal pressure, which has implications for singing and speech production, particularly in tonal languages. Additionally, airflow through the glottis causes a narrowing of the aryepiglottic tube and can initiate ventricular and/or aryepiglottic fold oscillation without muscular control. The acoustic impedance of the vocal tract was measured in vivo over a range of 9 octaves and 80 dB dynamic range with the glottis closed and during phonation. The frequencies, magnitudes and bandwidths were measured for the acoustic and for the mechanical resonances of the surrounding tissues. The bandwidths and the energy losses in the vocal tract that cause them were found to be five-fold higher than the visco-thermal losses of a dry, smooth rigid cylinder, and to increase during phonation. Using a simple vocal tract model and measurements during inhalation, the subglottal system resonances were also estimated. The possible effects of the filter on the source are demonstrated in an experiment on a water-filled latex vocal fold replica: changing the aero-acoustic load of the model tract by inserting a straw at the model lips changes the fundamental frequency. This result is discussed in the context of straw phonation used in speech therapy.