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date: 21 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores timbre-centered listening as an enculturated practice among Tuvan pastoralists, whose perceptual focus on timbral qualities of sound correlates with exceptional acuity to ambient soundscape. Tuvan pastoralists’ prioritization of timbre as a locus of interest extends to human-made sound and music and is reflected in the timbre of two-stringed fiddles strung with horsehair strings, metal jaw harps, and the widespread vocal practice of xöömei, whose performers selectively reinforce harmonics naturally present in the voice. Enculturated listeners can describe the timbral qualities of sound with great precision using an ideophonic vocabulary consisting of onomatopoeia and other forms of sound symbolism, cross-modal sensory associations (e.g., the depiction of sound in visual and haptic terms), and affective words, which comprise a rich lexical resource. The central role of timbre in Tuvan music and its depiction in discourse about sound and music suggest a culturally specific and pervasive form of timbre-centered listening.

Keywords: timbre, timbre-centered listening, throat-singing, sound mimesis, Tuva, Tyva, xöömei, Jew’s harp, soundscape, sound symbolism

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