Overtone singing

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Inuit throat singers

Overtone singing, also known as throat singing, overtone chanting, or harmonic singing, is a type of singing in which the singer manipulates the resonances (or formants) created as air travels from the lungs, past the vocal folds, and out the lips to produce a melody.

Throat singing is both a generic and a specific term. Generally, the term is applied to any singing style which entails the application of a harsh voice or some other constriction. Specifically, the term refers to a type of Central Asian and Siberian overtone singing.[dubious ]


[edit] Acoustics and theory

The partials (fundamental and overtones) of a sound wave made by the human voice can be selectively amplified by changing the shape of the resonant cavities of the mouth, larynx and pharynx.[1] This resonant tuning allows the singer to create apparently more than one pitch at the same time (the fundamental and a selected overtone), while in effect still generating a single fundamental frequency with his/her vocal folds.

[edit] Asia

[edit] Tuva

The best-known of the traditional forms comes from Tuva, a small autonomous republic within the Russian Federation. The history of Tuvan throat singing reaches very far back. Many of the male herders can throat sing, and women are beginning to practice the technique as well. The popularity of throat singing among Tuvans seems to have arisen as a result of geographic location and culture. The open landscape of Tuva allows for the sounds to carry a great distance. Ethnomusicologists studying throat singing in these areas mark khoomei as an integral part in the ancient pastoral animism that is still practiced today. Often, singers will travel far into the countryside looking for the right river, or will go up to the steppes of the mountainside to create the proper environment for throat-singing.[2]

The animistic world view of this region identifies the spirituality of objects in nature, not just in their shape or location, but in their sound as well.[3] Thus, human mimicry of nature's sounds is seen as the root of throat singing. (An example is the Mongolian story of the waterfall above the Buyan Gol (Deer River), where mysterious harmonic sounds are said to have attracted deer to bask in the waters, and where it is said harmonic sounds were first revealed to people.) Indeed, the cultures in this part of Asia have developed many instruments and techniques to mimic the sounds of animals, wind, and water. While the cultures of this region share throat singing, their styles vary in breadth of development.

It is simply the harmonized sounds that they are able to produce from deep within their throats [4] Ordinarily, melodies are created by isolating the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 12th partial in accordance with the harmonic series (if fundamental frequency were C3, the overtones would be: G5, Bb5, C6, D6, E6, G6). The base pitch is typically around a G below Middle C.

The people of Tuva have a wide range of throat singing vocalizations, and were the pioneers of six pitch harmonics.[5] There are several different classification schemes for Tuvan throat singing. In one, the three basic styles are khoomei, kargyraa and sygyt, while the sub-styles include borbangnadyr, chylandyk, dumchuktaar, ezengileer and kanzip. In another, there are five basic styles: khoomei, sygyt, kargyraa, borbangnadyr and ezengileer. The substyles include chylandyk, despeng borbang, opei khoomei, buga khoomei, kanzyp, khovu kargyraazy, kozhagar kargyraazy, dag kargyraazy, Oidupaa kargyraazy, uyangylaar, damyraktaar, kishteer, serlennedyr and byrlannadyr.[6] These schemes all use Tuvan terminology.

"Sygyt" (written in Cyrillic: Сыгыт) meaning whistling, a technique that utilizes a mid-range fundamental and produces a high-pitched, rather piercing harmonic reminiscent of whistling. The technique is different from khoomei as the fundamental is completely attenuated, and has a higher pitch. The tone sounds very bright and clear. Also described as an imitation of the gentle breezes of summer, the songs of birds.

"Kargyraa" (written in Cyrillic: Каргыраа) a deep undertone technique. The vestibular folds, also known as the false vocal folds, are vibrated to produce an undertone exactly half the frequency of the fundamental produced by the vocal folds, and the mouth cavity is shaped to select harmonics of both the fundamental and the undertone, producing from four to six pitches simultaneously. There are two main kargyraa styles, dag kargyraa and khovu kargyraa. The dag or "mountain" kargyraa is the lower of the two. There are also the distinctive kargyraa styles of Vladimir Oidupaa and Albert Kuvezin, the latter also bearing the name kanzat. This is sometimes described as the howling winds of winter or the plaintive cries of a mother camel after losing her calf[citation needed].

"Khoomei" (written in Cyrillic: Хөөмей) While khoomei is used as a generic term to designate all throat singing techniques in this region, it is also more specifically a technique where the drone is in the middle-range of the voice, with harmonics between one and two octaves above. Singing in this style gives the impression of wind swirling among rocks[citation needed].

"Chylandyk" (written in Cyrillic: Чыландык) merely a mixture of sygyt and kargyraa. Both styles are sung at once, creating an unusual sound of low undertones mixed with the high Sygyt whistle. It has also been described as the "chirping of crickets."[citation needed]

"Dumchuktaar" (written in Cyrillic: Думчуктаар) could be best described as "throat humming". The singer creates a sound similar to sygyt using only the nasal passage. The word means to sing through the nose (dumchuk). The mouth does not need to be closed, but of course it demonstrates the point better.[citation needed]

"Ezengileer" (written in Cyrillic: Эзеңгилээр) is a pulsating style, attempting to mimic the rhythms of horseback riding. It is named after the Tuvan word for stirrup, ezengi.

Perhaps the best known Tuvan throat singing group is Huun Huur Tu.

[edit] Bashkortostan

The Bashkirs of Bashkortostan have a style of overtone singing called özläü (sometimes spelled uzlyau; Bashkort Өзләү), which nearly died out. In addition, Bashkorts also sing uzlyau while playing the kurai, a national instrument. This technique of vocalizing into a flute can also be found in folk music as far west as the Balkans and Hungary.

[edit] Altai and Khakassia

Tuva’s neighbouring states, the Altai Republic to the west, and Khakassia to the northwest, have developed forms of throat singing called ‘’kai’’, or ‘’khai’’. In Altai, this is used mostly for epic poetry performance, to the accompaniment of topshur. Altai narrators ("kai-chi") perform in kargyraa, khöömei and sygyt styles, which are similar to Tuvan. They also have their own style, a very high harmonics, emerging from kargyraa. Variations of kai are called karkyra, sybysky, homei and sygyt.

[edit] Chukchi Peninsula

The Chukchi people of Chukchi Peninsula in the extreme northeast of Russia also practice a form of throat singing.[7]

[edit] Mongolia

In Mongolia, throat singing is found mostly in the western part of the country. Khöömii (written in Cyrillic as Хөөмий) can be divided up into the following categories.

  • uruulyn / labial khöömii
  • tagnain / palatal khöömii
  • khamryn / nasal khöömii
  • bagalzuuryn, khooloin / glottal, throat khöömii
  • tseejiin khondiin, khevliin / chest cavity, stomach khöömii
  • turlegt or khosmoljin khöömii / khöömii combined with long song

Mongolians also sing in a style known as "karkhiraa" (literally "growling").

[edit] Tibet

Tibetan Buddhist chanting is a sub-genre of throat singing. Most often the chants hold to the lower pitches capable in throat singing. Various ceremonies and prayers call for throat singing in Tibetan Buddhism, often with more than one monk chanting at a time.

[edit] Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan

The oral poetry of the Kazakhstan and the Uzbek region of Karakalpakstan, sometimes enters the realm of throat singing.

[edit] Hokkaido

The Ainu of Hokkaidō, Japan once practiced a type of throat singing called rekuhkara, which has since gone extinct. The last singer of rekuhkara died in 1976, but some recordings exist.[7]

[edit] Europe

[edit] Sardinia

In the Barbagia region on the island of Sardinia (Italy), one of the two different styles of polyphonic singing is marked by the use of a throaty voice. This kind of song is called a tenore. The other style, known as cuncordu, does not use throat singing. A tenore is practiced by groups of four male singers each of whom has a distinct role; the oche or boche (pronounced /oke/ or /boke/, "voice") is the solo voice, while the mesu oche or mesu boche ("half voice"), contra ("against") and bassu ("bass") - listed in descending pitch order - form a chorus (another meaning of tenore). Oche and mesu oche sing in a regular voice, whereas contra and bassu sing with a technique affecting the larynx. In 2005, Unesco classed the canto a tenore among intangible world heritage.[8] Among the most most well known groups who perform a tenore are Tenores di Bitti, Tenores de Orosei, Tenores di Oniferi and Tenores di Neoneli.

[edit] Northern Europe

The Sami people of the northern parts of Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia, have a singing genre called yoik. While overtone techniques are not a defining feature of yoik, individuals sometimes utilize overtones in the production of yoik.

[edit] North America

[edit] Inuit

The resurgence of a once-dying Inuit tradition called katajjaq is currently underway in Canada. The practice is compared more to a game or competition than to a musical style. In the game, Inuit women sit or stand face-to-face and create rhythmic patterns, using each others’ mouths as resonators.

[edit] Africa

[edit] South Africa

Xhosa women of South Africa have a low, rhythmic style of throat-singing called eefing that is often accompanied by call-and-response vocals.[9]

[edit] Non-traditional styles

[edit] United States and Europe

The 1920s Texan singer of cowboy songs, Arthur Miles, independently created a style of overtone singing, similar to sygyt, as a supplement to the normal yodelling of country western music.

Starting in the 1960s, some musicians in the West either have collaborated with traditional throat singers or ventured into the realm of throat singing and overtone singing, or both. Some made original musical contributions and helped this art rediscover its transcultural universality. As harmonics are universal to all physical sounds, the notion of authenticity is best understood in terms of musical quality. Musicians of note in this genre include Collegium Vocale Köln (who first began using this technique in 1968), Michael Vetter, David Hykes[10] (who created the term "harmonic singing" in 1975),[citation needed] Jim Cole, Ry Cooder, Paul Pena (mixing the traditional Tuvan style with that of American Blues), Demetrio Stratos[11] and Steve Sklar.

Paul Pena was featured in the superb documentary Genghis Blues which tells the story of his pilgrimage to Tuva to compete in their annual throatsinging competition. The film won the documentary award at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, and was nominated for an Oscar in 2000.

Tuvan singer Sainkho Namtchylak has collaborated with free jazz musicians such as Evan Parker and Ned Rothenberg. Lester Bowie and Ornette Coleman worked with the Tenores di Bitti, and Eleanor Hovda has written a piece using the Xhosa style of singing. DJs and performers of electronic music like The KLF have also merged their music with throat singing, overtone singing, or with the theory of harmonics behind it.

In Ireland Anúna have revived a technique of overtone chanting mentioned in the 8th century manuscript Cath Almaine, the technique uses one held drone with a shifting three or four note overtone series. Expert pitched overtone performer Aengus Ó Maoláin joins Anúna on several numbers.

Several contemporary classical composers have incorporated overtone singing into their works. Karlheinz Stockhausen was one of the first, with Stimmung in 1968. "Past Life Melodies" for SATB chorus by Australian composer Sarah Hopkins (b. 1958) also calls for this technique. In Water Passion after St. Matthew by Tan Dun, the soprano and bass soloists sing in a variety of techniques including overtone singing of the Mongolian style.

[edit] India

Ethnomusicologist John Levy recorded a Rajasthani singer utilizing overtones in imitation of either a Jew's harp or a double-flute. There is no tradition of this style of singing there.[citation needed]

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Titze 2008; Titze 1994; Pariser & Zimmerman 2004
  2. ^ Slobin, Mark. Ethnomusicology. Volume 36, No. 3, Special Issue: Music and the Public Interest. (1992), pp 444-446.
  3. ^ Levin, Theodore. When Rivers and Mountains Sing. Bloomington, IN. Indiana University Press 2006.
  4. ^ Aksenov, A. N. Tuvan Folk Music. Asian Music, Vol. 4, No. 2 (1973), pp 7-18.
  5. ^ Levin and Edgerton 1999,[citation needed]
  6. ^ "International Scientific Centre "Khoomei"". Khoomei.narod.ru. http://www.khoomei.narod.ru/khorekteereng.html. Retrieved on 2008-11-27. 
  7. ^ a b 4.3.02. "Inuit Throat-Singing". Mustrad.org.uk. http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/inuit.htm. Retrieved on 2008-11-27. 
  8. ^ Bandinu 2006.
  9. ^ Smithsonian Global Sound – Throat Singing Retrieved on 2009-03-13.
  10. ^ Bellamy and MacLean 2005, 515.
  11. ^ Demetrio Stratos and his voice which is, as El Haouli concludes, close to the tuva-mongolian throat singing tradition (Haouli 2006,[cite this quote].

[edit] References

  • Bandinu, Omar (2006). "Il canto a tenore: dai nuraghi all'Unesco", Siti 2, no.3 (July–September): 16–21.
  • Bellamy, Isabel, and Donald MacLean (2005). Radiant Healing: The Many Paths to Personal Harmony and Planetary Wholeness. Buddina, Queensland (Australia): Joshua Books. ISBN 0-97568-785-9
  • Haouli, Janete El (2006). Demetrio Stratos: en busca de la voz-música. México, D. F.: Radio Educación—Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes.
  • Levin, Theodore C., and Michael E. Edgerton (1999). "The Throat Singers of Tuva". Scientific American 281, no. 3 (September): 80–87.
  • Levin, Theodore, and Valentina Süzükei (2006). Where Rivers and Mountains Sing. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34715-7.
  • Pariser, David, and Enid Zimmerman (2004). "Learning in the Visual Arts: Characteristics of Gifted and Talented Individuals," in Handbook of Research and Policy in Art Education, Elliot W. Eisner and Michael D. Day (editors). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. p. 388. ISBN 9780805849721.
  • Saus, Wolfgang (2004). Oberton Singen. Schönau im Odenwald: Traumzeit-Verlag. ISBN 3-933825-36-9 (German).
  • Titze, Ingo R. (1994). Principles of Voice Production. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0137178933 Reprinted Iowa City: National Center for Voice and Speech, 2000. (NCVS.org) ISBN 978-0874141221 .
  • Titze, Ingo R. (2008). "The Human Instrument". Scientific American 298, no. 1 (July):94–101. PM 18225701
  • Tongeren , Mark C. van (2002). Overtone Singing: Physics and Metaphysics of Harmonics in East and West. Amsterdam: Fusica. ISBN 90-807163-2-4 (pbk), ISBN 90-807163-1-6 (cloth).

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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