Overtone Singing: The Music of Sound
Exploring the physics, metaphysics, philosophy, and cultural significance of overtone singing and throat singing, I offer wisdom old and new on the theories and methods of this fascinating vocal art that anyone can learn to do.
Sunday, October 30, 2016
We live a sad life when we do for the results instead of for the doing itself. Having been teaching students the fundamentals of overtone singing for ten years now, I can conclude confidently that one cannot do this. One can only be this. To do overtone singing well, one must be for the doing alone.
However, this does not mean we ignore the quality of the results; rather, we can attain enhanced results by desiring the present-time experience of the process itself.
If that seems confusing, do know that it’s supposed to be confusing, as the act is nothing the mind can reason through. To clarify, or to confuse in just another way, we can all think of an instance in life when we cared so much about something that we couldn’t do it. Finally, when we gave up, perhaps assuming inevitable failure, the task was more doable. Surrendering our excessive caring for an attachment to the outcome helps us do it even better.
I call the ideal performance of overtone singing “actionless action,” but you’ll find other terms to describe this seemingly mysterious, paradoxical process that can apply to the performance of anything. In Taoism this actionless action is known as wu wei, and in Hindu philosophy you can find it referred to as nishkama karma. To grossly summarize these profound teachings, and others like them but not mentioned here, desire for the outcome inhibits the quality of performance and the consequent attainment of the outcome. For example, singing with the desire to make the overtones louder and more prominent interferes with the the act of singing the overtones.
The most common correction I make to a student’s singing is to stop their constant starting and stopping. A student begins to sustain a tone and after only a few seconds, his or her thinking judges the sound as undesirable before the tone has a chance to sustain itself. Then, s/he begins again, once thinking editorially about the tone before it can sustain, and then cuts it off. First, this is a waste of endurance, as the act of setting the vocal cords into vibration costs more energy than the act of sustaining the vibration; in other words, you wear your voice out faster by making repeated attacks with the vocal folds. More importantly, by stopping too soon, you try to rush past the process to get to the result. The process is the sustaining of the tone, and the desired result is the tone and overtones exactly as you want them to sound.
You will get the result you want, your pleasure, if you find an inner hold by concentrating on the tone itself and all the physiological sensations that occur when toning. Listening without thinking tethers awareness to the act. By listening, I do not mean with the ears alone. Listening is also an attitude of receptive attention, and so we can “listen” to the physical sensations in the body. When we listen we suspend the activity of the internal senses, our thoughts, and something deeper begins to pay attention; next, something deeper inside us begins to sing.
By temporarily suspending your judgement and listening to your body produce a tone, you get much closer to producing the desired result of enhanced overtones. However, you must continue to sustain the tone no matter how crappy you think the tone sounds. Do not stop. Sing through the undesirable sound coming out of you. You must pay these dues of process to experience the result. Though it seems hard to believe, you can begin to enjoy even the most displeasing of your sounds. Appreciate this process of “sounding through the crap”. Fail again and again and love it. This takes guts.
This method of doing regardless of result has other applications in life. You can practice actionless action in anything. Do it, and prove you are not one of the gutless masses in search of only the pleasure.
Learning to overtone sing, however, seems to be an exemplary method for getting the knack of this kind of doing for a few reasons. First, overtone singing occupies the speech organs and consequently reduces the mind’s inner speaking. Second, sustaining long vocal tones requires enhanced awareness of the physiology of respiration, a focal point which further reduces mental activity. Third, singing overtones is itself a paradoxical activity as we attempt to isolate and amplify the overtones that in fact are already present in any continuous vocal tone.
Considering that, perhaps overtone singing is an efficient defense against the continual attack of your thinking. But to make it work, you must pay the dues of attention. You must love the process so much that even if your reap no reward whatsoever, you’d continue to do it anyway.
Finally, I still offer lessons and consultations through SKYPE and GOOGLE HANGOUTS and I do guarantee results during the the first lesson. However, the more valued guarantee is in how I teach you to love the process.
To receive more information about lessons, please send an email to alexglenfield(at)hotmail(dot)com
Posted by Alexander Glenfield at 10:20 AM 6 comments: Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest
Saturday, February 27, 2016
For ten years I’ve been teaching a method for learning to overtone sing. Every student I’ve known wants to improve the isolation and amplification of parts of the harmonic series; in other words, make the overtones louder. Increased prominence of the overtones in one’s voice is easy to achieve, and you might be producing loud harmonics already, but your ear is not yet able to detect them; more specifically, your awareness of your ear’s signals is not yet heightened enough to perceive the inherent overtones in sound. That concentration and some time.
Teach the ear to hear the harmonics by sustaining very long tones with your natural singing voice while, as slowly as possible, and with the minutest of oral movements, stretch out some vowels sounds. Then as you continue to sustain a steady tone while stretching vowels sounds, relax and just listen. Don’t yet try to hear any harmonics in the sound yet. Instead, just place all your focus on your hearing of the sound, and all the while feeling the vibrations of the sound in your body. Direct all the senses, and even the inner senses of the imagination, toward sounding and sensing. When you begin to hear a kind of melody, a changing of flute-like sine tones, over or within your droning, you’re beginning to hear your own overtones.
The ear leads the voice. Listening, in the most all-embracing sense, yields to almost all of the most desirable improvements.
So, one improves and reaches the desired level of ability. Then one asks, “What can I do with this?”
The human nervous system is programmed to seek out improvements. Perhaps this condition of continual betterment is the deep impulse to evolve , but it is also the source of much misery, as even when one has something great, one wonders of having something even greater. In leaving the great for the greater, and finding there is no greater, one returns to the great, but sometimes to find it gone.
In contrast, we might perceive the great thing as great in itself, and we declare to be totally satisfied, but then we ask, “What use is it?” or “What can I do with that?”
Like meditation, singing overtones is an end in itself, and needs no purpose to evince its value. In way, it is totally useless, as is meditation, but therein lies its highest use!
The moment we desire some end from the process of singing, we have lost the purpose. Desire for something more than the act itself diminishes the quality of of the act.
However, I have made some use of overtone singing in creating eleven mystical love songs in a collection of songs known as “The Me Machine.”
For many more years that I have taught, I have struggled conceptually with what to do with overtone singing, to whom it belongs, whether I should be teaching it at all, and how best to share it with others.
Forced into live performance on occasion for need of money, I had to come up with something to do to keep the show going. Overtone singing alone can’t always fill an hour-long set. So, when not overtone singing, I would sing or recite lyrics of my own smart-ass design, or play trumpet, and generate looping drones of any of those sound sources to support the lead melody. After a few performances, I found I had a body of “songs,” which audiences found amusing.
These songs are studio creations that employ much layering of overtone singing. These vocal layers provide accompaniment to the principal singing of lyrics that either switches to mini-solos of obvious overtone singing styles. When the overtone singing is not obvious, the singing is still performed with a subtle enhancement of the overtones. Nevertheless, all the sounds on this album were created with an enhanced awareness of harmonic overtones, and my awareness of of the overtones might be apparent to the listener.
The lyrics are mystically romantic. The text also contains little lists of philosophical aphorisms that I need to remember.
So, I have used overtone singing to produce an end, a product, an album of songs. The songs are blatantly popular, yet still weird enough to keep it all from falling into the pit of illuminati pop. And I can’t say I like them all, and I can’t even believe they are from me. But I didn’t do them for me. I made these songs for those that love me, and I took care to be sure that the music would have maximum universality for the diversity of my loved ones, and how thankful I am for the diversity of all the strange angels in my life.
They only indicator of success I desire is for them, and that one, to love this music.
Finally, I hope my use of overtone singing honors the beauty of solo singing while including it in the style of the popular song. Meanwhile, I shall set to work on the next improvement, the next whim of my desire, which I will soon share with you, with the beloved, and with the One.
Posted by Alexander Glenfield at 1:03 PM 7 comments: Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest
Sunday, July 27, 2014
Some of you, the good people who are kind enough to talk to me, have asked for more of this home performance stuff, and something like an online tutorial. I tried to create both in one.
Both in one. Always in search of the next innovative hybrid, we humans are always combining two things to make a third. Sometimes, one thing is divided into two, and then the new resulting parts are used to create a third.
The creative act itself is dependent on the simultaneous occurrence of two seemingly opposite “realities” to create a new one that often brings with it a flash of insight, and sometimes humor. This third thing, this byproduct of opposing incompatibilities, is the spark of humorous insight. The creation equation.
This video is another thing I’ve made to give me a chance to laugh at myself, and I hope it brings a little dual reality convergence into your mind and heart, and whatever goo lies between them.
To sum up and bring it all together (before letting it blow apart again), overtone singing IS a perfect example of the creation equation. We have what APPEARS to be one note PRODUCING more than one note: melody within drone; movement within stasis; music within sound.
Posted by Alexander Glenfield at 12:45 PM 11 comments: Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest
Sunday, April 6, 2014
More deep thoughts, said dumbly here, as it must be.
They ask me: “Does overtone singing have a healing effect?” Almost anything can be used to heal, and this is evinced by the promulgation of publications declaring the revitalizing potential of everything from asparagus juice to mashed up bee brains to the pheromones collected in the stringy belt of dad’s terrycloth bathrobe.
But it depends, really, what one means by “healing”. On one hand, healing suggests the improvement of life quality; on the other hand, that very unpopular hand, but the hand I most prefer to play, healing can be the transcendence of the need to be healed at all.
Through SKYPE or in person I encourage students to discover for themselves what effect the practice may have, as any declaration I make about the results of overtone singing becomes a suggestion and, under the right conditions of consciousness, a student may implant the suggestion and distort his or her reality to make the suggestion appear true.
I can theorize, however, that singing overtones is a means to bypass meaning, thus stilling the movement of thought to let other parts of the self arise to express and clear the system of its blockages. This theory, however, assumes that the movement of feeling is beneficial to a state of mind-body health.
What is thinking? Though some of us think in pictures, bodily sensations, emotions, or even smells, most of our thinking is in words. Words, vocal sound symbols, point to meanings. These symbolic word sounds can exist outside the body in waves upon the air molecules, and inside the body in the audial imagination, which is that place where you can imagine a sound. Thinking is the movement of words in the audial imagination: When you think, you talk to yourself, and almost everybody does it.
How many of your waking hours are dominated by word thinking? How much do you talk—presumably internally—to yourself? When communicating with your fellow creatures, how much do you rely upon your—presumably external—words?
These words are mostly an act of the conscious mind. Through most of the day, our breath, vocal apparatus, and audial imagination serve the intellect in word thought.
The mind-body system’s health is partly dependent on the free flowing of feeling. Down deeper—or perhaps up higher, I don’t know which—our emotions struggle to ride the breath across the vibrating vocal folds. Most of the time, however, they are blocked by intellect. Our voice (internal and external) serves our intellect. Feelings want to go out and play, but intellect is clogging the exit.
Overtone singing is a non-signifying vocal act: it means absolutely nothing, yet the isolation of overtones does use the raw materials of signifying speech; specifically and among others, the vowel sounds.
While singing with awareness on the sound of sound itself, rather than its symbolic meaning, the individual bypasses the conscious mind temporarily to clear the way for something else. I dislike naming the something else, as I dislike naming anything, but the feeling state one experiences in this clarity is distinctly profound: sometimes highly emotional; sometimes highly blissful; sometimes transcending all that is feeling and knowing.
But above words it takes you.
So what “healing” effects can result from singing above meaning? Best to test for yourself, but keep an open mind and heart about what healing can be.
I feel, however, that I’m closer to reality when singing and entering into the unnamable state of mind. Free of the judgments of passing thoughts in the audial imagination, I cease my distortion of reality, and come closer to what is; to what is without my intellectual filtering.
Deep thoughts, dumbly.
To enter into the indescribable way,Hear the mind’s mental chatterNot as meaningful words,But as beautiful music.
Stare with the ear andTo hear the always music everywhere,And in all sound,External and internal.
The brain says “yes”;The heart says “maybe”;The time of your lifeNeeds a winding.
Posted by Alexander Glenfield at 9:17 AM 8 comments: Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest
Saturday, October 26, 2013
INSIDE THE SOUND: A Villanelle
Take notice of the silence in the sound The sound of sound is in the music there Be still the mind where judgments are abound
The ear is known to sense the world profound To subdivide the ugly from the fair Take notice of the silence in the sound
This is a place with music all around The bliss of wind in trees without a care Be still the mind where judgments are abound
Undo the violence seeing will surround Unlike the eye, the ear can never stare Take notice of the silence in the sound
Do know that we are partials of the ground Divine that births the world through silent prayer Be still the mind where judgments are abound
These musical intentions will astound To find the subtle masterpiece is rare Take notice of the silence in the sound Be still the mind where judgments are abound
PANTOUM FOR THE LINE OF DOLLS
She took her place among the line of dolls Beset with fear her skin turned sickly pale And all who saw her turned before the fall Unto the sounding of the bugle’s wail
Beset with fear her skin turned sickly pale Her shapeless legs held firm around the wind Unto the sounding of the bugle’s wail A trail of dirty tears down to her chin
Her shapeless legs held firm around the wind That sweetness of her face a dying dream A trail of dirty tears down to her chin The dolls beside her hacked a golden scream
That sweetness of her face a dying dream The sky around them shuddered with the thought The dolls beside her hacked a golden scream The One they called to save them then, was not
The sky around them shuddered with the thought For hope was always drifting in the air The One they called to save them then, was not Their universe ached on without a care
For hope was always drifting in the air They fell as one, went lifeless to the ground Their universe ached on without a care To the silent, sliver moon’s impassive frown
For the evil of the man that sent her home And for all who saw her, turned before the fall For the man who wanted her to him alone She took her place among the line of dolls
Posted by Alexander Glenfield at 8:39 AM 4 comments: Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest
Sunday, November 25, 2012
He found himself in a landscape that was on one hand the loneliest and most isolated, and on the other, the most profoundly inclusive environment, he had ever known. The South Siberian Steppe. The land was the frozen motion of the planet’s most subtle tremors blanketed with treeless grasslands extending to the edges of the sky in all directions. The sky so vast the land seemed hardly real beneath it, and how easily the vastness of emptiness, with the slightest descent, could swallow the ground that held him.
Though the land was barren, with the tallest vegetation being the waving grasses gone to seed, the wind sounded a continuous and strangely human-sounding “aahhh”. Perhaps the ethereal vowel sound on the wind was a result of the air’s passing over the hole of his ear, but it must have blown through or around something to produce almost clarion resonance. In that moment, no effort he needed for contentment. No need to pose himself before others so as not to harm or be harmed. And the everyday judgment he habitually passed and received was away on the wind.
He returned the sound, gently as though letting breath surrender into sound, and from that effortlessly sounding intonation of “aahhh” he heard the music of sound, the inherent harmonics of a vibrating body.
With the little ego self away, the big self into sound. Before this moment in nature, the putting of the self into sound was merely theory, not direct experience. It was a theory his Hindustani Music Teacher had imparted to him. Guruji declared, “During the Brahmacharya stage of development, you must discover the self by holding each note for a very long time, and maybe for even hours a day if your dedication is complete. So long the swara must be held that there is nothing left of you and only the swara remains.”
In the Hindustani system of classical raga singing, the term swara had once meant more than “note” or “pitch”, as it has come to mean in the modern age. The ancient meaning, however, is there to be found in the word itself. By simply taking an etymological view of the prefix and suffix, one can know that the Sanskrit swa meant “of self” and ra meant “bestow.” Then to sing a single note, the swara, is to bestow the self in sound, and one found the self in the sound by uttering it and listening to the vast harmonic content of a single, sustained vocal tone. However, the singularity of this tone is illusory.
To sustain any one single note vocally is impossible, as the oral cavity, by default, forms the raw buzzing of the vocal folds into vowels. Though the speech centers of the brain are programmed to perceive vowel sounds as parts of signifying words, the vowel sounds are horizontal combinations of overtones (“chords” if you will, but more specifically, “formant regions”). Differing combinations of overtones distinguish one phonetic vowel from another. Our speech is replete with the music of vocal sound.
He was also bestowed with the knowledge that in the classical Hindustani singing tradition the vowel “ah” is preferred for singing, as this is the vowel sound of the heart, an expression of supreme adoration.
And is it merely coincidence that many of these vowels sounds, when used as raw expressions, heard alone and unaccompanied by contrasting consonants, have culturally specific meanings associated with them? For example, take “ah” as an expression of adoration in the Hindustani system. To a westerner, does it not have a similar meaning?
What is your emotionally driven vowel response to the following stimuli and scenarios?
1) An adorable kitten with a red bow in its fur approaches you; it purrs, meows, and rubs against your leg.
2) Unprepared for your seminar presentation about wool slacks of the Elizabethan theatre, you improvise, thus faking it, and you use this commonly heard “mantra” of ponderous uncertainty heard all too often in public presentations and everyday conversation.
3) To your shock, the kitten from before is, in truth, a rare breed of dwarfed tomcat and it is in heat. It sprays your leg with its putrid pheromones.
4) On your lunch break, you spill an entire plate of Spaghettio’s on your temperamental boss’s white, silk blouse just five minutes before her meeting with the board of directors.
5) Angrily tearing up yet another piece of junk-mail from your cable provider, you feel the firm cardboard slice open the sensitive flesh between your fingers, which for whatever reason, was wet with lemon juice.
6) Having pondered at length on the reason for your rapidly shrinking gums, in a “Eureka” moment, you suddenly know that your toothpaste has been taken and replaced with a tube of Preparation H.
How have these expressions found their way into the lexicon of human communication? Perhaps they are there for the same reason we moan when in pain or pleasure, or scream in terror or excitement, or laugh in response to either humor or impending mental meltdown: emotional response is biologically linked with the breath and any breathing that excites the vocal folds into vibration will consequently produce a vowel sound. There is something universal in the body, its feelings, and its means of expressing them.
Interesting to ponder, but like most idle contemplations, they serve to fascinate far more than they serve to offer any answers or evidence.
So he sings alone and there is no one to hear. There was no one there, not even him, and perhaps that is why there was no need to be known, for there was no one to know. He felt such relief in losing the little self, craving the recognition it needs to sustain it.
Nature is a place without names. Giving names to the phenomena of nature is to give it identity, and the bestowal of identity is the imposition of limitation. And with these names, to us the beings who give meaning to almost everything, the animate and inanimate myriad things of nature were reduced to their little selves.
He lost his little self on the wind in sound. “None of these forces shall sway me,” he declares to the past and future. The declaration dislodged the self-destructive tendency of his subconscious mind, and dissolved the deeply imbedded impetus to obscure the big self.
Perceiving the apparent singularity of the tone as illusory was the first step in the separation from the world of little things, ego things. Dissolve the self, bestow the self, and listen.
Posted by Alexander Glenfield at 5:42 AM 9 comments: Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to PinterestOlder PostsHome Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)
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Alexander Glenfield I’ve been called “a silly little man” by some very serious giants. I’ve been called “a lazy mystic” by some very ambitious academics. I’ve also been called “the most unknown person in the world” by some very close undead relatives. Like always, I’ll let you decide who I am. View my complete profile
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