Timbre plays an essential role in transmitting musical affect, and in recent years, our understanding of emotional expression in music has been enriched by contributions from the burgeoning field of embodied music cognition. However, little attention has been paid to timbre as a possible mediator between musical embodiment and affect. In three experiments, we investigated the embodied dimensions of timbre perception by focusing on timbral qualities considered “noisy” and aversive. In Experiment 1, participants rated brief isolated natural timbres scaled into ordinal levels of “noisiness.” Experiment 2 employed the same design with a focus on polyphonic timbre, using brief (400 ms) excerpts from 6 popular music genres as stimuli. In Experiment 3, functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to explore neural activations associated with perception of stimuli from Experiment 1. Converging results from behavioral, acoustical, and fMRI data suggest a motor component to timbre processing, particularly timbral qualities considered “noisy,” indicating a possible enactive mechanism in timbre processing. Activity in somatomotor areas, insula, and the limbic system increased the more participants disliked a timbre, and connectivity between the premotor cortex and insula relay decreased. Implications for recent theories of embodied music cognition, affect, and timbre semantics are discussed in conclusion.

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