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Vassilakis, P.N. and Kendall, R.A. (2007).  Acoustical, perceptual, and cognitive aspects of ganga singing: Culture dependent emotional reactions to a ganga song. Paper presented at the 52nd SEM Conference (Pre-conference Symposium on Cognitive Ethnomusicology). Columbus, OH.


Ganga is a style of singing common in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Dalmatian Zagora regions of the Balkans. Within its geographical territory, ganga is valued for its distinct sonic effect rather than its semantic content. It provides a striking example of a musical tradition which has developed performance techniques and practices that appear to correspond to acoustic and perceptual considerations. This genre’s expressive musical vocabulary relies heavily on the sonic effects produced by sound interference, the manipulation of signal amplitude fluctuation degrees, and the associated perceptual roughness. Its aesthetic attitudes towards roughness and other sound interference products are in sharp contrast to those of the Western art musical tradition and extend far beyond Western tradition’s concern with consonance and dissonance. The study addresses the style’s melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and formal structure, issues of vocal timbre, loudness, and blending, and the importance of the spatial arrangement of the performers. Each stylistic feature is explored in the context of relevant acoustical and perceptual concepts and considerations, revealing a systematic, close correspondence among the ganga aesthetic, acoustics, and perception. Presentation of recorded examples of ganga singing will be followed by discussion of ganga song acoustical analyses and pilot perceptual data on the relationship between perceived roughness and musical tension. It will be argued that cultural musical differences are more validly addressed in aesthetic and cognitive rather than biological terms.