p a p e r s
p r e s e n t a t i o n s

Vassilakis, P.N., Kendall, R.A., and Racy A.J. (2006).  The worlds of music: culture-dependent emotional reactions to an improvisation on the mijwiz. Proceedings of the 51st SEM Conference: 197. University of Hawai'i at Manoa.  Part of a panel on "Perspectives in Systematic Musicology: Intersections with Ethnomusicology."

Panel Abstract 

The proposed two-hour organized panel draws directly upon Volume XII of Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology (SRE), "Perspectives in Systematic Musicology" (2005, UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology). The studies comprising the SRE volume provide both the rationale and the starting point for an in-depth discussion of the intersections, both realized and potential, between empirical and philosophical perspectives in systematic musicology and historical and current perspectives in ethnomusicology. The central tenet of this panel, "What we know is based on what we ask and how we ask it," reflects the participants' focus on the assumptions underlying music research endeavors. Therefore, each panel presentation traces the theoretical framework of an empirical or philosophical approach in terms of its assumptions, epistemological potential and limitations, methods, and models. It then applies this theoretical framework to a research question about music in/as culture. The methodological perspectives presented in this panel, including phenomenological and hermeneutic approaches to aesthetics and philosophy of music, psychoacoustics, semiotics, and perception and cognition, are discussed within the context of ethnomusicological research. Rather than espousing one paradigm over another, the goal of the panel is to demonstrate the utility of multiple disciplinary perspectives in answering fundamental questions about interpretation and meaning in music. In summary, this organized panel will (1) showcase some of the latest efforts on cross-disciplinary musicological and ethnomusicological research and (2) challenge presenters and audience members to revisit the theoretical assumptions that drive their research and to consider anew the intersection of philosophical and empirical methods with the goals of ethnomusicology.

Study Abstract

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 increased 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. We examine systematically the claim that cultural learning and context significantly influence our use of and emotional reaction to musical sounds, infusing them with meaning and significance.

We estimated the roughness time-profile of a stylized improvisation on the mijwiz, based on a previously-published roughness estimation model, and compared it to musical tension/release patterns indicated by
(a) an expert mijwiz player and (b) Western-trained musicians.
The tension/release pattern indicated by the improviser matches well the auditory roughness pattern present in the piece, suggesting that roughness is closely related to the improviser’s 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 performer’s expressive intent and the 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. [see also "an improvisation on the middle-eastern mijwiz ..."]