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date: 30 November 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter offers a critique of traditional Western accounts of timbre to propose that, instead of a secondary parameter subordinated to pitch and rhythm, timbre is a general category—a condition of possibility for listening—that depends on embodied perception and makes difference audible. The chapter draws from phenomenology as well as psychoacoustic and ethnographic research, focusing on case studies ranging from Fatima Al Qadiri to Julius Eastman, alongside ethnographic analyses of Barundi Whispered Inanga, sonic encounters in nineteenth-century Colombia, and readings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Eduard Hanslick, and Guido Adler, to provide a broader account of timbre that encompasses the imbrication of acoustic components with memory, affect, and language. In this respect, timbre emerges as an important critical and musicological category that helps us address issues of embodied difference and culturally dependent forms of listening, while reassessing the prominence of Eurocentric conceptions of musical values.

Keywords: phenomenology, perceptualization, mimesis, affect, acoustemology

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