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Culture-dependent emotional reactions to music: auditory roughness, cultural background, and musical tension-release judgments.  Invited presentation at Stanford University's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA).

Abstract  [powerpoint presentation (~6Mb)]
  
Attaching meaningful and emotional qualities to instrumental pieces of music relies, partially, on experiencing musical tension/release patterns, set up using various sonic and sonic-organization devices.
Performance practices outside the Western art musical tradition place high importance on one such device, "auditory roughness" (or "sensory dissonance"), for communicating expressive intent. For example, the Middle-Eastern mijwiz is constructed and performed in ways that highlight the importance of narrow harmonic intervals, fast trills, and their corresponding rough sounds. Similarly, the ganga style of singing, common in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Dalmatian Zagora regions of the Balkans, relies heavily on the sonic effects produced by sound interference and the associated perceptual roughness.
 
Following an overview of the auditory roughness sensation, we will discuss ways to quantify it, introduce a new roughness calculation model, and present an application that automates spectral and roughness analysis of sound signals through implementation of the proposed roughness calculations model and a new spectral analysis technique.
Spectral and roughness analysis will be illustrated in the context of two perceptual experiments. These examine the claim that cultural learning and context significantly influence our use of and emotional reaction to musical sounds, infusing them with meaning and significance.
For the experiments, we calculated the roughness time-profiles of a stylized improvisation on the Middle-Eastern mijwiz and of a traditional Bosnian ganga song, based on the previously-discussed roughness calculation model, and compared them to musical tension/release patterns indicated by (a) a Lebanese mijwiz player and scholar, (b) a Bosnian ganga singer and scholar, and (c) Western-trained musicians. The tension/release patterns indicated by the Lebanese and Bosnian musicians match well the respective calculated auditory roughness patterns, suggesting that, for the pieces in question, roughness is closely related to the non-Western musicians' sense of musical tension. The patterns indicated by the Western-trained musicians indicate that roughness is just one of the cues guiding musical tension judgments, often overridden by tonal and temporal cues, and/or by expectations of tension/resolution raised by such cues.
The observed differences between the non-Western performers' expressive intent and the Western-trained listeners' interpretation support understanding musical tension/release as culture-specific concepts, guided by the equally culture-specific musical cues employed in their organization and experience.

  


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