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Auditory roughness as means of musical expression
Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology (2005)
  • Pantelis N Vassilakis, DePaul University
This study argues that auditory roughness (rattling sound associated with certain types of signals) is an important sonic aspect of music, one that musical aesthetic judgments around the world are often based on. Within the Western tradition there is a strong link between roughness and annoyance, manifested in the assumption that rough sounds are inherently bad or unpleasant and are therefore to be avoided. Instrument construction and performance practices outside the Western art musical tradition, however, indicate that the sensation of roughness can be an important factor in the production of musical sound. Manipulating the roughness parameters helps create a buzzing or rattling sonic canvas that becomes the backdrop for further musical elaboration. It permits the creation of timbral or even rhythmic variations (through changes among roughness degrees), contributing to a musical tradition’s menu of expressive tools. The potential usefulness of a proposed roughness estimation model to musicological research is discussed, drawing on previous and new empirical studies that link dissonance and roughness ratings of harmonic intervals within the Western chromatic scale. It is argued that, within the Western musical tradition, clear presence or absence of roughness dominates dissonance ratings. In most other cases, decisions on dissonance seem to ignore roughness and be culturally and historically mediated.
  • world music,
  • roughness,
  • dissonance,
  • timbre,
  • mijwiz,
  • ganga,
  • tambura,
  • sensory dissonance,
  • auditory,
  • expression
Publication Date
July, 2005
Citation Information
Vassilakis, P.N. (2005). "Auditory roughness as means of musical expression," Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology 12: 119-144.