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Timbre perception of cultural insiders : a case study with Javanese gamelan instruments Serafini, Sandra


It has recently become more common to combine methodologies from the fields of ethnomusicology and psychoacoustics to address fundamental questions concerning music perception. Ethnomusicology emphasizes cultural context when examining the different ways musical sounds are organized. Psychoacoustics explores the relationships between perceptual processes and physical properties of sound. The methodologies of both disciplines are crucial in developing a cross-cultural cognitive theory of music. A perception experiment was performed on two groups of Western musicians: one with training in Javanese gamelan music (the Gamelan group), and one without training in Javanese gamelan (the Western group). This study examined whether changes in timbre perception occurred in adults who were trained in another culture's music compared to naive listeners. The two groups' perceptions were also compared between an isolated tone and a melodic context to determine where the effects of training were most salient. A mathematical technique known as Multidimensional Scaling (MDS) showed that all subjects based their ratings on two factors during both contexts. In the isolated tone context, the two subject groups did not differ in their timbre perception. In the melodic context, the subject groups diverged in a statistically significant manner. Multiple regression analysis showed that in the isolated tone context, attack centroid (a measure of the spectral energy distribution during the initial 50 milliseconds of the tone) was emphasized almost equally by both groups, along with an unknown psychological factor. In the melodic context, the Gamelan group focused their attention almost completely on the attack centroid while the Western group focused their attention roughly the same between the attack centroid and the middle portion of the amplitude envelope. These results indicate that timbre perception in the music of another culture is modified when a listener has received training in that music, even as an adult. A musical context is needed for these modifications to become apparent, however, otherwise training has no effect on processing timbre. It would appear that attention is directed to acoustical properties that provide meaning to a musical context by those listeners who are familiar with that context. Conversely, listeners who are naive of another culture's musical contexts do not focus their attention on those specific acoustical properties.

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