Researcher explores the role of musical timbre or tone in emotional response


Newswise – If you’ve ever attended an experimental music concert or watched a parent’s puzzled reactions to their teen’s current playlist, you may have witnessed this: Some listeners are emotionally transported by an experience pleasant music, while others wince that they only hear noise.

How can people interpret the same sounds so differently? One answer is timbre, according to Zachary Wallmark, assistant professor of musicology at the University of Oregon.

Timbre – pronounced “TAM-ber” not “TIM-ber” – is the quality of sound that makes each instrument and each voice unique. Wallmark, from the School of Music and Dance, explores timbre and what attracts listeners to a particular sound.

“People have grappled with the mysteries of music since ancient times,” Wallmark said. “Of course, there are the unique notes, beats and lyrics that make up your favorite songs. But there’s also something about the musical experience that’s hard to describe but absolutely essential: timbre.

Wallmark has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in the history and analysis of American popular music, music and emotion, film music, hip-hop, music and politics, and music. opera, among other subjects. Working at the intersection of cognitive science and musicology, he investigates the role of musical timbre or tonality in emotional response, aesthetic judgment, and the sociology of music, particularly in the context of post-American popular music. -1945.

In “What is the stamp? Why People Interpret Sounds Differently,” Wallmark describes three important layers to understanding how the concept works in music: the physical, perceptual, and social qualities of timbre.

Physical qualities refer to the physical waveforms of sounds produced by different sources; a violin does not sound like a trumpet, for example, even when both are played in the same pitch. What is heard, Wallmark said, is not just a pure note at a single frequency, but harmonics at various higher frequencies unique to each instrument.

A paradox concerning perception is also important for timbre: not everyone perceives the same sound in the same way. Listeners hear their own patterns in the same sound.

“Timbre is ‘perceptually malleable’ between different people,” Wallmark said.

The stamp also has social qualities. Consider the “twang” of country music. This timbre is instantly recognizable and meaningful to listeners familiar with the genre, Wallmark said. For some, the nasal timbre of country music signifies something positive, a proud identification with rural or southern life, for example. For others, that same twang means something else entirely.

“Timbre is a crucial but elusive characteristic of music,” Wallmark said. “While we may not like all the music we hear, we should have a greater appreciation for the complexity of sound and human perception.”


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