Tuvan throat singing
The Alash ensemble, a throat singing band from Tuva
Tuvan throat singing, which main technique is known as khoomei (Tuvan: хөөмей, romanized: xöömej, Mongolian: хөөмий, romanized: khöömii, Russian: хоомей, Turkish: höömey), includes a type of overtone singing practiced by people in Tuva, Mongolia, and Siberia. In 2009, it was included in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO. The term hömey / kömey means throat and larynx in different Turkic languages. That could be borrowed from Mongolian khooloi, which means throat as well, driven from Proto-Mongolian word *koɣul-aj.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Khorekteer
- 3 Khoomei
- 4 Sygyt
- 5 Kargyraa
- 6 Effects and other styles
- 7 Women in Tuvan throat singing
- 8 In popular culture
- 9 MP3 audio examples
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
In Tuvan throat singing, the performer produces a fundamental pitch and—simultaneously—one or more pitches over that. The history of Tuvan throat singing reaches far back. Many male herders can throat sing, but women have begun 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 still practiced today. Often, singers travel far into the countryside looking for the right river, or go up to the steppes of the mountainside to create the proper environment for throat-singing.
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. Thus, human mimicry of nature’s sounds is seen as the root of throat singing. An example of this is the Tuvan story of the waterfall above the Buyant Göl (Deer River in Tuvan), 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.
Ordinarily, melodies are created by isolating the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 12th partial in accordance with the harmonic series. Thus, if the fundamental frequency were C3, the overtones would be G5, B♭5, C6, D6, E6, G6. However, it is possible to reach as low as the 2nd and as high as the 24th. The fundamental pitch is typically around E and G below middle C, and this affects the range of partials the singer can reach, with higher partials more easily reached on lower notes, and vice versa.
An illustration of the harmonic series in musical notation. The numbers above the harmonic indicate the number of cents difference from equal temperament (rounded to the nearest cent). Blue notes are flat and red notes are sharp.
The people of Tuva have a wide range of throat singing vocalizations, and were the pioneers of six pitch harmonics. 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 kanzyp. 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. These schemes all use Tuvan terminology.
Khorekteer refers to the “chest voice”. This is the voice that throat singers use when using khoomei, kargyraa, or any other harmonic-inducing style. The term can also be used to refer to all styles of Tuvan throat singing, much like khoomei. It can also refer to the feeling of chest resonance or pressure that one experiences when throat singing. Khorekteer is often used as a launching pad into the khoomei, sygyt, or kargyraa styles of throat singing.
The most popular style of Tuvan throat singing is known as khoomei (or khöömei, in Cyrillic: xөөмей). Khoomei is traditionally a softer sounding style, with the fundamental (or drone) usually in the low-mid to midrange of the singer’s normal voice. In this style, usually 2 or 3 harmonics can be heard between one and two octaves above the fundamental. In khoomei, the abdomen is fairly relaxed, and there is less tension on the larynx than in other styles. Pitch is manipulated through a combination of movements of the lips, throat, tongue or jaw.
Singing in this style gives the impression of wind swirling among rocks.
The term khoomei is also used as a generic term to designate all throat singing techniques in this region.
Sygyt (in Cyrillic: cыгыт), literally ‘whistling’, has a midrange fundamental and is characterized by strong, flute-like or rather piercing harmonics, reminiscent of whistling. Also described[according to whom?] as an imitation of the gentle breezes of summer, the songs of birds, the ideal sound for the harmonics is called Чистый звук—Russian for clear sound.
To perform sygyt, the tongue rises and seals around the gums, just behind the teeth. A small hole is left back behind the molars, either on the left or right side. The sound is then directed between the teeth to the front of the mouth. The lips form a bell-like shape, usually with an “ee” vowel, and the sound is directed through this small opening. Pitch is manipulated exactly the same way as in khoomei style.
The more deep sounding style of throat singing is known as kargyraa (in Cyrillic: kаргыраа). Kargyraa has a deep, almost growling sound to it and is technically related to Sardinian bass singing in Canto a Tenore choirs, and also to Tibetan Buddhist chant and has some similarities with the way Popeye‘s cartoon voice was created. It uses both the vocal and the vestibular folds (also known as “false vocal cords”) simultaneously, creating two connected sources of sound.
By constricting the larynx, the vestibular folds can be brought together (adducted) and, under certain conditions, vibrate. It can produce an undertone exactly half the frequency of the fundamental produced by the vocal folds. Therefore, for each second vibration of the vocal folds, the vestibular fold completes a whole vibration cycle. While the larynx generates such rich sound, the mouth cavity may be shaped, just like in the manipulation of vowels, to select some particular harmonics, resulting in a sound that may be perceived as having different pitches simultaneously.
This vocal mechanism has been elucidated and shown to be similarl to Sardinian bassu, which is one of the four voices of Sardinian “canto a tenore” choirs. It is also similar to the chant practiced in Tibet by the Gyuto monastery and other Buddhist orders.
There are two types of kargyraa: dag (mountain) and xovu (steppe). The Dag style is deeper, while xovu is raspier and sung at a higher pitch with more throat tension and less chest resonance. There are also the distinctive kargyraa styles of Vladimir Oidupaa and Albert Kuvezin, the latter also bearing the name kanzat. This is sometimes described[according to whom?] as the howling winds of winter or the plaintive cries of a mother camel after losing her calf.
Effects and other styles
Of the following list, two effects that commonly employed in the khoomei, sygyt and kargyraa styles: Borbangnadyr and Ezengileer.
- Borbangnadyr (Борбаңнадыр) is a trill reminiscent of birds and traveling brooks, made by rapid movements of the tongue. Another effect that is usually added to this style is the light quivering of the lips, called “byrlang”.
- Ezenggileer (Эзеңгилээр) is a pulsating style, attempting to mimic the rhythms of horseback riding. It is named after the Tuvan word for stirrup, ezengi.
- Chylandyk (Чыландык) is simultaneous sygyt and kargyraa. This creates an unusual sound of low undertones mixed with the high Sygyt whistle. It has also been described as the “chirping of crickets.” A careful listener can further break down this style into Dag Chylandyk and Xovu Chylandyk.
- Dumchuktaar (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.
Women in Tuvan throat singing
A member of Tyva Kyzy
There were a few female throat singers in Tuva’s history, though it was believed a woman performing throat singing could hurt her male relatives and cause her difficulties during childbirth. Choldak-Kara Oyun, the mother of the famous throat singer Soruktu Kyrgys and grandmother of the husband of famous Tuvan actress Kara-Kys Namzatovna Munzuk, throat sang throughout her life while milking her cows, singing lullabies to her children and sometimes while she was drinking Tuvan araga (fermented milk alcohol). Close relatives of famous singers, like Khunashtaar-ool’s niece (in the 1960s) and Kombu’s daughter (in the 1940s or 1950s), performed khoomei (throat singing) in public more than once. The wife of the throat singing shaman Bilek-ool from Manchurek, Aldinsova Tortoyavna, said that she has always sung khoomei “because it was innate to [her] from birth.” She could not resist singing khoomei after she got married and had children, and sang khoomei in public in the 1950s and 1960s. But her sister, who also sang khoomei as a girl, gave up when others repeatedly reminded her of the supposed dangers.
Valentina Salchak performed throat singing in public in 1979. Valentina Chuldum from Mongun-Taiga (1960 – Autumn 2002) toured European countries as a throat singer in the early 1990s. With the start of the International Symposium of Khoomei women could sing publicly there.
Tyva Kyzy (Тыва Кызы, pronounced [tɯˈva kɯˈzɯ]) (Daughters of Tuva, in Tuvan language), founded in 1998, is an all-female folk ensemble performing Tuvan throat singing, under the direction of Choduraa Tumat. It is the first and only women’s group in Tuva that performs all styles of Tuvan throat singing.
In popular culture
Igor Kөshkendey of Chirgilchin
- Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize–winning prankster physicist, took an interest in Tuvan throat singing and attempted to travel to Tuva in the 1980s, near the end of his life when he was gravely ill from cancer. Although Feynman never made it to Tuva, his daughter visited there in 2009 and met with Tuvan throat singers during her trip.
- The Quest for Tannu Tuva is a 1988 documentary film about Feynman’s quest that was produced for the BBC TV series Horizon; it was also repackaged with American narration and titled The Last Journey of a Genius for the PBS series Nova in 1989.
- Tuva or Bust! is a book published in 1991 by Ralph Leighton, a biographer and longtime friend of Feynman who had tried to go to Tuva with him. The book includes a flexi disc recording of Tuvan throat singing.
- Yat-Kha is a band formed in 1991 and led by Tuvan throat singer Albert Kuvezin that performs a mixture of Tuvan traditional music and rock.
- Huun-Huur-Tu is a band formed in 1992 that incorporates Tuvan throat singing in its performances and has performed internationally since soon after its inception.
- Chirgilchin is a Tuvan musical group formed in 1996 led by Igor Koshkendey, who won the Grand Prix of the International Throat Singing Competition in 1998, 2000, and 2002.
- K-Space is a British-Siberian experimental improvisation music ensemble formed in 1996 that features the Tuvan throat singer Gendos Chamzyryn.
- Tyva Kyzy is an all-female folk ensemble formed in 1998 that performs Tuvan throat singing and has performed internationally.
- Genghis Blues is a 1999 documentary film that won the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award for a Documentary and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, centers on the journey of blind American singer Paul Pena to Tuva to pursue his interest in Tuvan throat singing.
- Alash is an ensemble of Tuvan musicians and throat singers formed at the Kyzyl Arts College in 1999 that has performed internationally since 2006.
- The Tuvan National Orchestra, formed in 2003, often features Tuvan throat singing and includes performances by internationally known artists, including members of Alash, Chirgilchin, Huun-Huur-Tu, and Tyva Kyzy.
- Batzorig Vaanchig, a member of the band Khusugtun, which was a runner-up on Asia’s Got Talent in 2015, is a Mongolian throat singer with tens of millions of views on YouTube.
- The Hu is a band formed in 2016. Hailing from Mongolia, the band blends rock and heavy metal with traditional Mongolian instrumentation, including Mongolian throat singing and the Morin khuur (also known as the horsehead fiddle). The Hu calls their style of music “hunnu rock”, with hu being a Mongolian root word for “human”. In 2018, the band made its debut at Download Festival in Donington. A song by the Hu, “Black Thunder”, was created for the 2019 videogame Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. A different version of the song was then translated and recorded by the Hu from the original Mongolian to a new fictional Star Wars language created by the band, with guidance from the game’s developers. This version, “Sugaan Essena”, was used for the game.
MP3 audio examples
“Hoomey”. “Doğadan gelen ses: Türk gırtlak müziği”. http://www.trthaber.com (in Turkish). Retrieved 2021-05-23. Malkoç, Tülün; Çeli̇k, Sibel (2020-09-15). “TUVA TÜRKLERİ’NDE HÖÖMEY SÖYLEME BİÇİMİ”. Avrasya Uluslararası Araştırmalar Dergisi (in Turkish). 8 (23): 58–74. doi:10.33692/avrasyad.735271. ISSN2147-2610. “Proto-Mongolian Throat Meaning”. starling.rinet.ru. Retrieved 2021-06-09. Aksenov, A. N. Tuvan Folk Music. Asian Music, Vol. 4, No. 2 (1973), pp. 7–18. Slobin, Mark. Ethnomusicology. Volume 36, No. 3, Special Issue: Music and the Public Interest. (1992), pp 444-446. Levin, Theodore (2006). When Rivers and Mountains Sing. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. ISBN0-253-34715-7. Levin, Theodore C.; Edgerton, Michael E. (September 1999). “The Throat Singers of Tuva”. Scientific American. 281 (3): 80–87. Bibcode:1999SciAm.281c..80L. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0999-80. PMID10467751. “International Scientific Centre ‘Khoomei'”. Khoomei.narod.ru. Retrieved 27 November 2008. “Video demonstrating khomeii style”. Khoomei.com.  Leonardo., Fuks, (1999). From air to music : acoustical, physiological and perceptual aspects of reed wind instrument playing and vocal-ventricular fold phonation. KTH (Royal Institute of Technology). OCLC44025655. Fuks et al., 1998 Lindestad et al., 2001 Alden-ool Sevek (1995). “Dag (Muntain)Kargyraa”. (MOV video). khoomei.com. Kaigal-ool. “Orphan’s Lament”. (MOV video). khoomei.com. “Kaigal-ool sings his heart out in several khoomei styles.” “An excellent example of Borbangnadyr”. “TYVAKYZY.COM”. http://www.tyvakyzy.com. Oyun, Dina (14 June 2009). “Daughter of Nobel laureate Richard Feynman is visiting Tuva”. Tuva Online. Retrieved 17 June 2021. “Batzorig Vaanchig”. youtube.com. “Steppe change: how Mongolian rock band the Hu conquered the world”. The Guardian. 22 October 2019. Retrieved 23 February 2020. “The Hu: Mongolian Folk-Metal Sensations Aim to Conquer the World”. Revolver. 13 September 2019. Retrieved 23 February 2020. November 2019, Alyssa Mercante 19 (19 November 2019). “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order just made a Mongolian rock band canon”. gamesradar. Retrieved 26 February 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGcem7JFvEg
- “How Mongolian Band the HU Made a Song for ‘Star Wars’ in an Alien Language”. 18 February 2020.
Bibliography and further reading
- Emory, Michael. Khomeii-How To’s and Why’s. 7 March 2007. http://www.fotuva.org/music/emory.html
- Fuks L., Hammarberg B. and Sundberg J. “A self-sustained vocal-ventricular phonation mode: acoustical, aerodynamic and glottographic evidences”, KTH TMH-QPSR 3/1998, 49–59, Stockholm.
- Lindestad, P. A., Sodersten, M., Merker, B. and Granqvist, S. “Voice source characteristics in Mongolian throat singing studied with high-speed imaging technique, acoustic spectra, and inverse filtering”. Journal of Voice, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 78–85, 2001
- Levin, Theodore C. and Edgerton, Michael. The Throat Singers of Tuva. Scientific American. September 1999 Vol. 81 Issue 3 p. 80
- Michael Emory—tutorial on beginning throat singing.
- The Friends of Tuva—general information as well as links to artists and recordings
- A demonstration of throat singing (YouTube video)
- The Art of Tuva Throat Singing, On Point Radio, aired January 13, 2006
- Audio and video samples of Tuvan throat singing styles
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