Mystery of Siberia’s strange throat singing solved: ‘Human bagpipe’ singers have unique vocal cords that produce eerie notes
- People living in the Altai mountain region in southern Siberia have differently shaped vocal cords and voice boxes, a study has revealed
- Unique physiology means they can be throat singers, and make a low hum
- Singing technique passed down generations has featured in a Bjork song
- It was used by Mongolian men to communicate across vast spaces
Published: 15:37 GMT, 12 January 2015 | Updated: 16:31 GMT, 12 January 2015
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Scientists have discovered that throat singers such as the late Kongar-ol Ondar, have differently shaped vocal cords that allow them to make the deep hum
If you try to emulate the strange low songs of throat singers from Siberia, you will probably be disappointed.
Scientists have discovered that the uniquely shaped vocal cords of people living in the Altai mountain region in southern Siberia means that only they can perform the eerie melodies composed centuries ago, which have been passed down generations.
The distinctive noise comprising a low hum with several higher notes sounded simultaneously, has featured in a song by Bjork, but hasn’t popularly spread beyond the regions because only the people of southern Siberia and Tuva can make it.
Scientists from the Institute of Philology of the Russian Academy of Sciences have discovered that native Turks have different vocal cords so only they can master the melodies, The Siberian Times reported.
Their cords are slightly wider, with a shorter voice box, allowing natives to make the unique noise, which comes deep within the throat.
Throat singers have been likened to ‘human bagpipes’ and can sing a long, low note, while making higher whistling notes and rhythm.
The study suggests that people in Europe, for example, are unable to make the noises because of their differently shaped throats.
It’s believed that Mongolian men used songs to communicate across the vast, rugged landscape.
They used natural features like mountains to ensure their voices carried long distances.
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Now experts think that the way the notes were sung gradually altered the structure of people’s throats in the region.
The researchers also studied the speech of two residents in Kemerovo who speak Turkic Shor, which is spoken by around 2,800 people in south central Siberia and borrows many of its roots from Mongolian.
They used digital radiography and MRI scans to study the vocal apparatus and the brain.
The research took place in the laboratory of experimental phonetic studies, which, since its creation in the 1960s, has been used to describe the sound and features of more than 40 languages and dialects.
WHAT IS TUVAN THROAT SINGING?
Mongolian throat singing is a particular variant of overtone singing practiced by people in Mongolia and Tuva.
It was added to the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of Unesco in 2009.
Throat singers make one or more pitches sounded simultaneously over a base note – producing a unique sound.
It is not known when the practice originated, but it thought to have passed down generations of male herders for hundreds of years. Now women are using the technique too.
The open landscape of Mongolia and southern Siberia allows the sounds to carry a great distance.
It’s thought human mimicry of nature’s sounds is also at the root of throat singing. Read more: