Undercurrents- Kiva and Wolfgang Saus

Undercurrents- Kiva and Wolfgang Saus

920 views•Sep 9, 2009 30ShareSaveOMN 871 subscribers Undercurrent – Song by Kiva Šímová (E-Piano) http://www.kivaweb.com and Wolfgang Saus (Overtone Singing) http://www.oberton.org – Live at the Overtone Festival Prague 2009 http://www.alikvotnifestival.cz/ Soundtrack recorded by Wolfgang Saus http://www.oberton.org – Video recorded and created by Jens Mügge http://www.jensmuegge.eu

Christopher Berge in, Chandan Narayan, Joy Williams, Natasha Mhatre, Jennifer KE Steeves, Joshua GW Bernstein, Brad Story: Overtone focusing in biphonic tuvan throat singing, CANADA

Overtone focusing in biphonic tuvan throat singing

  1. Christopher Bergevin  Is a corresponding author ,
  2. Chandan Narayan,
  3. Joy Williams,
  4. Natasha Mhatre,
  5. Jennifer KE Steeves,
  6. Joshua GW Bernstein,
  7. Brad Story  Is a corresponding author
  1. Physics and Astronomy, York University, Canada;
  2. Centre for Vision Research, York University, Canada;
  3. Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences, Canada;
  4. Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics, University of California, United States;
  5. Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, York University, Canada;
  6. York MRI Facility, York University, Canada;
  7. Biology, Western University, Canada;
  8. Psychology, York University, Canada;
  9. National Military Audiology & Speech Pathology Center, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, United States;
  10. Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, University of Arizona, United States

Research Article Feb 12, 2020

Cite as: eLife 2020;9:e50476 doi: 10.7554/eLife.50476


Khoomei is a unique singing style originating from the republic of Tuva in central Asia. Singers produce two pitches simultaneously: a booming low-frequency rumble alongside a hovering high-pitched whistle-like tone. The biomechanics of this biphonation are not well-understood. Here, we use sound analysis, dynamic magnetic resonance imaging, and vocal tract modeling to demonstrate how biphonation is achieved by modulating vocal tract morphology. Tuvan singers show remarkable control in shaping their vocal tract to narrowly focus the harmonics (or overtones) emanating from their vocal cords. The biphonic sound is a combination of the fundamental pitch and a focused filter state, which is at the higher pitch (1–2 kHz) and formed by merging two formants, thereby greatly enhancing sound-production in a very narrow frequency range. Most importantly, we demonstrate that this biphonation is a phenomenon arising from linear filtering rather than from a nonlinear source.eLife digest

The republic of Tuva, a remote territory in southern Russia located on the border with Mongolia, is perhaps best known for its vast mountainous geography and the unique cultural practice of “throat singing”. These singers simultaneously create two different pitches: a low-pitched drone, along with a hovering whistle above it. This practice has deep cultural roots and has now been shared more broadly via world music performances and the 1999 documentary Genghis Blues.

Despite many scientists being fascinated by throat singing, it was unclear precisely how throat singers could create two unique pitches. Singing and speaking in general involves making sounds by vibrating the vocal cords found deep in the throat, and then shaping those sounds with the tongue, teeth and lips as they move up the vocal tract and out of the body. Previous studies using static images taken with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) suggested how Tuvan singers might produce the two pitches, but a mechanistic understanding of throat singing was far from complete.

Now, Bergevin et al. have better pinpointed how throat singers can produce their unique sound. The analysis involved high quality audio recordings of three Tuvan singers and dynamic MRI recordings of the movements of one of those singers. The images showed changes in the singer’s vocal tract as they sang inside an MRI scanner, providing key information needed to create a computer model of the process.

This approach revealed that Tuvan singers can create two pitches simultaneously by forming precise constrictions in their vocal tract. One key constriction occurs when tip of the tongue nearly touches a ridge on the roof of the mouth, and a second constriction is formed by the base of the tongue. The computer model helped explain that these two constrictions produce the distinctive sounds of throat singing by selectively amplifying a narrow set of high frequency notes that are made by the vocal cords. Together these discoveries show how very small, targeted movements of the tongue can produce distinctive sounds.Introduction

In the years preceding his death, Richard Feynman had been attempting to visit the small republic of Tuva located in geographic center of Asia (Leighton, 2000). A key catalyst came from Kip Thorne, who had gifted him a record called Melody tuvy, featuring a Tuvan singing in a style known as Khoomei, or Xöömij. Although he was never successful in visiting Tuva, Feynman was nonetheless captivated by Khoomei, which can be best described as a high-pitched tone, similar to a whistle carrying a melody, hovering above a constant booming low-frequency rumble. This is a form of biphonation, or in Feynman’s own words, “a man with two voices”. Khoomei, now a part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, is characterized as “the simultaneous performance by one singer of a held pitch in the lower register and a melody … in the higher register” (Aksenov, 1973). How, indeed, does one singer produce two pitches at one time? Even today, the biophysical underpinnings of this biphonic human vocal style are not fully understood.

Normally, when a singer voices a song or speech, their vocal folds vibrate at a fundamental frequency (f0), generating oscillating airflow, forming the so-called source. This vibration is not, however, simply sinusoidal, as it also produces a series of harmonics tones (i.e., integer multiples of f0) (Figure 1). Harmonic frequencies in this sound above f0 are called overtones. Upon emanating from the vocal folds, they are then sculpted by the vocal tract, which acts as a spectral filter. The vocal-tract filter has multiple resonances that accentuate certain clusters of overtones, creating formants. When speaking, we change the shape of our vocal tract to shift formants in systematic ways characteristic of vowel and consonant sounds. Indeed, singing largely uses vowel-like sounds (Story, 2016). In most singing, the listener perceives only a single pitch associated with the f0 of the vocal production, with the formant resonances determining the timbre. Khoomei has two strongly emphasized pitches: a low-pitch drone associated with the f0

, plus a melody carried by variation in the higher frequency formant that can change independently (Kob, 2004). Two possible loci for this biphonic property are the source and/or the filter. Figure 1

Frequency spectra for three different singers transitioning from normal to biphonic singing. Vertical white lines in the spectrograms (left column) indicate the time point for the associated spectrum in the right column. Transition points from normal to biphonic singing state are denoted by …

A source-based explanation could involve different mechanisms, such as two vibrating nonlinear sound sources in the syrinx of birds, which produce multiple notes that are harmonically unrelated (Fee et al., 1998; Zollinger et al., 2008). Humans however are generally considered to have only a single source, the vocal folds. But there are an alternative possibilities: for instance, the source could be nonlinear and produce harmonically-unrelated sounds. For example, aerodynamic instabilities are known to produce biphonation (Mahrt et al., 2016). Further, Khoomei often involves dramatic and sudden transitions from simple tonal singing to biophonation (see Figure 1 and the Appendix for associated audio samples). Such abrupt changes are often considered hallmarks of physiological nonlinearity (Goldberger et al., 2002), and vocal production can generally be nonlinear in nature (Herzel and Reuter, 1996; Mergell and Herzel, 1997; Fitch et al., 2002; Suthers et al., 2006). Therefore it remains possible that biphonation arises from nonlinear source considerations.

Vocal tract shaping, a filter-based framework, provides an alternative explanation for biphonation. In one seminal study of Tuvan throat singing, Levin and Edgerton examined a wide variety of song types and suggested that there were three components at play. The first two (‘tuning a harmonic’ relative to the filter and lengthening the closed phase of the vocal fold vibration) represented a coupling between source and filter. But it was the third, narrowing of the formant, that appeared crucial. Yet, the authors offered little empirical justification for how these effects are produced by the vocal tract shape in the presented radiographs. Thus it remains unclear how the high-pitched formant in Khoomei was formed (Grawunder, 2009). Another study (Adachi and Yamada, 1999) examined a throat singer using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and captured static images of the vocal tract shape during singing. These images were then used in a computational model to produce synthesized song. Adachi and Yamada argued that a “rear cavity” was formed in the vocal tract and its resonance was essential to biphonation. However, their MRI data reveal limited detail since they were static images of singers already in the biphonation state. Small variations in vocal tract geometry can have pronounced effects on produced song (Story et al., 1996) and data from static MRI would reveal little about how and which parts of the vocal tract change shape as the singers transition from simple tonal song to biphonation. To understand which features of vocal tract morphology are crucial to biophonation, a dynamic description of vocal tract morphology would be required.

Here we study the dynamic changes in the vocal tracts of multiple expert practitioners from Tuva as they produce Khoomei. We use MRI to acquire volumetric 3D shape of the vocal tract of a singer during biphonation. Then, we capture the dynamic changes in a midsagittal slice of the vocal tract as singers transition from tonal to biphonic singing while making simultaneous audio recordings of the song. We use these empirical data to guide our use of a computational model, which allows us to gain insight into which features of vocal tract morphology are responsible for the singing phonetics observed during biophonic Khoomei song (e.g., Story, 2016). We focus specifically on the Sygyt (or Sigit) style of Khoomei (Aksenov, 1973).Results

Audio recordings

We made measurements from three Tuvan singers performing Khoomei in the Sygyt style (designated as T1–T3) and one (T4) in a non-Sygyt style. Songs were analyzed using short-time Fourier transforms (STFT), which provide detailed information in both temporal and spectral domains. We recorded the singers transitioning from normal singing into biphonation, Figure 1 showing this transition for three singers. The f0 of their song is marked in the figure (approximately 140 Hz for subject T2, 164 Hz for both T1 and T3) and the overtone structure appears as horizontal bands. Varying degrees of vibrato can be observed, dependent upon the singer (Figure 1; see also longer spectrograms in Appendix 1—figure 6 and Appendix 1—figure 7). Most of the energy in their song is concentrated in the overtones and no subharmonics (i.e., peaks at half-integer multiples of f0

) are observed. In contrast to these three singers, singer T4 performing in a non-Sygyt style exhibited a fundamental frequency of approximately 130 Hz, although significant energy additionally appears around 50–55 Hz, well below an expected subharmonic (Appendix 1—figure 5).

If we take a slice, that is a time-point from the spectrogram and plot the spectrum, we can observe the peaks to infer the formant structure from this representation of the sound (red-dashed lines in Figure 1 and Appendix 1—figure 4). As the singers transition from normal singing to biphonation, we see that the formant structure changes significantly and the positions of formant peaks shift dramatically and rapidly. Note that considering time points before and after the transitions also provides an internal control for both normal and focused song types (Appendix 1—figure 4). Once in the biphonation mode, all three singers demonstrate overtones in a narrow spectral band around 1.5–2 kHz; we refer to this as the focused state. Specifically, Figure 1 shows that not only is just a single or small group of overtones accentuated, but also that nearby ones are greatly attenuated: ±1 overtones are as much 15–35 dB and ±2 overtones are 35–65 dB below the central overtone. Whereas the energy in the low-frequency region associated with the first formant (below 500 Hz) is roughly constant between the normal-singing and focused states, there is a dramatic change in the spectrum for the higher formants above 500 Hz. In normal singing (i.e., prior to the focused state), spectral energy is distributed across several formants between 500 and 4000 Hz. In the focused state after the transition, the energy above 500 Hz becomes narrowly focused in the 1.5–2 kHz region, generating a whistle-like pitch that carries the song melody.

To assess the degree of focus objectively and quantitatively, we computed an energy ratio eR(fL,fH) that characterizes the relative degree of energy brought into a narrow band against the energy spread over the full spectrum occupied by human speech (see Materials and methods). In normal speech and singing, for [fL,fH]=[1,2kHz], typically eR is small (i.e., energy is spread across the spectrum, not focused into that narrow region between 1 and 2 kHz). For the Tuvan singers, prior to a transition into a focused state, eR(1,2) is similarly small. However once the transition occurs (red triangle in Figure 1), those values are large (upwards of 0.5 and higher) and sustained across time (Appendix 1—figure 2 and Appendix 1—figure 3). For one of the singers (T2) the situation was more complex, as he created multiple focused formants (Figure 1 middle panels and Appendix 1—figure 6, Appendix 1—figure 8). The second focused state was not explicitly dependent upon the first: The first focused state clearly moves and transitions between approximately 1.5–2 kHz (by 30%) while the second focused state remains constant at approximately 3–3.5 kHz (changing less than 1%). Thus the focused states are not harmonically related. Unlike the other singers, T2 not only has a second focused state, but also had more energy in the higher overtones (Figure 1). As such, singer T2 also exhibited a different eR

time course, which took on values that could be relatively large even prior to the transition. This may be because he took multiple ways to approach the transition into a focused state (e.g., Appendix 1—figure 9).

Plotting spectra around the transition from normal to biphonation singing in a waterfall plot indicates that the sharp focused filter is achieved by merging two broader formants together (F2 and F3

in Figure 2Kob, 2004). This transition into the focused state is fast (∼40–60 ms), as are the shorter transitions within the focused state where the singer melodically changes the filter that forms the whistle-like component of their song (Figure 1, Appendix 1—figure 8). Figure 2

A waterfall plot representing the spectra at different time points as singer T2 transitions from normal singing into biphonation (T2_3short.wav). The superimposed arrows are color-coded to help visualize how the formants change about the transition, chiefly with F3 shifting to merge with F2. This plot also indicates the second focused state …

Vocal tract MRI

While we can infer the shape of the formants in Khoomei by examining audio recordings, such analysis is not conclusive in explaining the mechanism used to achieve these formants. The working hypothesis was that vocal tract shape determines these formants. Therefore, it was crucial to examine the shape and dynamics of the vocal tract to determine whether the acoustic measurements are consistent with this hypothesis. To accomplish this, we obtained MRI data from one of the singers (T2) that are unique in two regards. First, there are two types of MRI data reported here: steady-state volumetric data Figure 3 and Appendix 1—figure 18) and dynamic midsagittal images at several frames per second that capture changes in vocal tract position (Figure 4A–B and Appendix 1—figure 20). Second is that the dynamic data allow us to examine vocal tract changes as song transitions into a focused state (e.g., Appendix 1—figure 20). Figure 3

3-D reconstruction of volumetric MRI data taken from singer T2 (Run3; see Appendix, including Appendix 1—figure 18). (A) Example of MRI data sliced through three different planes, including a pseudo-3D plot. Airspaces were determined manually (green areas behind tongue tip, red for beyond). Basic labels are …

Figure 4

Analysis of vocal tract configuration during singing. (A) 2D measurement of tract shape. The inner and outer profiles were manually traced, whereas the centerline (white dots) was found with an iterative bisection technique. The distance from the inner …

The human vocal tract begins at the vocal folds and ends at the lips. Airflow produced by the vocal cords sets the air-column in the tract into vibration, and its acoustics determine the sound that emanates from the mouth. The vocal tract is effectively a tube-like cavity whose shape can be altered by several articulators: the jaw, lips, tongue, velum, epiglottis, larynx and trachea (Figure 4C). Producing speech or song requires that the shape of the vocal tract, and hence its acoustics, are precisely controlled (Story, 2016).

Several salient aspects of the vocal tract during the production of Khoomei can be observed in the volumetric MRI data. The most important feature however, is that there are two distinct and relevant constrictions when in the focused state, corresponding roughly to the uvula and alveolar ridge. Additionally, the vocal tract is expanded in the region just anterior to the alveolar ridge (Figure 4A). The retroflex position of the tongue tip and blade produces a constriction at 14 cm, and also results in the opening of this sublingual space. It is the degree of constriction at these two locations that is hypothesized to be the primary mechanism for creating and controlling the frequency at which the formant is focused.


Having established that the shape of vocal tract during Khoomei does indeed have two constrictions, consistent with observations from other groups, the primary goals of our modeling efforts were to use the dynamic MRI data as morphological benchmarks and capture the merging of formants to create the focused states as well as the dynamic transitions into them. Our approach was to use a well-established linear “source/filter” model (e.g., Stevens, 2000) that includes known energy losses (Sondhi and Schroeter, 1987; Story et al., 2000; Story, 2013). Here, the vibrating vocals folds act as the broadband sound source (with the f0

and associated overtone cascade), while resonances of the vocal tract, considered as a series of 1-D concatenated tubes of variable uniform radius, act as a primary filter. We begin with a first order assumption that the system behaves linearly, which allows us for a simple multiplicative relationship between the source and filter in the spectral domain (e.g., Appendix 1—figure 10).

Acoustic characteristics of the vocal tract can be captured by transforming the three-dimensional configuration (Figure 3) into a tube with variation in its cross-sectional area from the glottis to the lips (Figure 4 and Figure 5). This representation of the vocal tract shape is called an area function, and allows for calculation of the corresponding frequency response function (from which the formant frequencies can be determined) with a one-dimensional wave propagation algorithm. Although the area function can be obtained directly from a 3D vocal tract reconstruction (e.g., Story et al., 1996), the 3D reconstructions of the Tuvan singer’s vocal tract were affected by a large shadow from a dental post (e.g., see Figure 4) and were not amenable to detailed measurements of cross-sectional area. Instead, a cross-sectional area function was measured from the midsagittal slice of the 3D image set (see Materials and methods and Appendix for details). Thus, the MRI data provided crucial bounds for model parameters: the locations of primary constrictions and thereby the associated area functions. Figure 5

Results of changing vocal tract morphology in the model by perturbing the baseline area function A0(x)
to demonstrate the merging of formants F2
and F3
, atop two separate overtones as apparent in the two columns of panels A and B.

(A) The frames from dynamic MRI with red and blue dashed circles highlighting the location of the key vocal tract constrictions. (B) Model-based vocal tract shapes stemming from the MRI data, …

The frequency response functions derived from the above static volumetric MRI data (e.g., Figure 4D) indicate that two formants F2 and F3 cluster together, thus enhancing both their amplitudes. Clearly, if F2 and F3

could be driven closer together in frequency, they would merge and form a single formant with unusually high amplitude. We hypothesize that this mechanism could be useful for effectively amplifying a specific overtone, such that it becomes a prominent acoustic feature in the sound produced by a singer, specifically the high frequency component of Khoomei.

Next, we used the model in conjunction with time-resolved MRI data to investigate how the degree of constriction and expansion at different locations along the vocal tract axis could be a mechanism for controlling the transition from normal to overtone singing and the pitch while in the focused state. These results are summarized in Figure 5 (further details are in the Appendix). While the singers are in the normal song mode, there are no obvious strong constrictions in their vocal tracts (e.g., Appendix 1—figure 11). After they transition, in each MRI from the focused state, we observe a strong constriction near the alveolar ridge. We also observe a constriction near the uvula in the upper pharynx, but the degree of constriction here varies. If we examine the simultaneous audio recordings, we find that variations in this constriction are co-variant with the frequency of the focused formant. From this, we surmise that the mechanism for controlling the enhancement of voice harmonics is the degree of constriction near the alveolar ridge in the oral cavity (labeled CO in Figure 5), which affects the proximity of F2 and F3 to each other (Appendix 1—figure 12). Additionally, the degree of constriction near the uvula in the upper pharynx (CP) controls the actual frequency at which F2 and F3 converge (Appendix 1—figure 13). Other parts of the vocal tract, specifically the expansion anterior to CO

, may also contribute since they also show small co-variations with the focused formant frequency (Appendix 1—figure 14). Further, a dynamic implementation of the model, as shown in Appendix 1—figure 14, reasonably captures the rapid transition into/out of the focused state as shown in Figure 1. Taken together, the model confirms and explains how these articulatory changes give rise to the observed acoustic effects.

To summarize, an overtone singer could potentially ‘play’ (i.e., select) various harmonics of the voice source by first generating a tight constriction in the oral cavity near the alveolar ridge, and then modulating the degree of constriction in the uvular region of the upper pharynx to vary the position of the focused formant, thereby generating a basis for melodic structure.Discussion

This study has shown that Tuvan singers performing Sygyt-style Khoomei exercise precise control of the vocal tract to effectively merge multiple formants together. They morph their vocal tracts so to create a sustained focused state that effectively filters an underlying stable array of overtones. This focused filter greatly accentuates energy of a small subset of higher order overtones primarily in the octave-band spanning 1–2 kHz, as quantified by an energy ratio eR(1,2)

. Some singers are even capable of producing additional foci at higher frequencies. Below, we argue that a linear framework (i.e., source/filter model, Stevens, 2000) appears sufficient to capture this behavior including the sudden transitions into a focused state, demonstrating that nonlinearities are not a priori essential. That is, since the filter characteristics are highly sensitive to vocal tract geometry, precise biomechanical motor control of the singers is sufficient to achieve a focused state without invoking nonlinearities or a second source as found in other vocalization types (e.g., Herzel and Reuter, 1996; Fee et al., 1998). Lastly, we describe several considerations associated with how focused overtone song produces such a salient percept by virtue of a pitch decoherence.

Source or filter?

The notion of a focused state is mostly consistent with vocal tract filter-based explanations for biphonation in previous studies (e.g., Bloothooft et al., 1992; Edgerton et al., 1999; Adachi and Yamada, 1999; Grawunder, 2009), where terms such as an ‘interaction of closely spaced formants’, ‘reinforced harmonics’, and ‘formant melting’ were used. In addition, the merging of multiple formants is closely related to the ‘singer’s formant’, which is proposed to arise around 3 kHz due to formants F3–F5 combining (Story, 2016), though this is typically broader and less prominent than the focused states exhibited by the Tuvans. Our results explain how this occurs and are also broadly consistent with Adachi and Yamada (1999) in that a constricted ‘rear cavity’ is crucial. However, we find that this rear constriction determines the pitch of the focused formant, whereas it is the ‘front cavity’ constriction near the alveolar ridge that produces the focusing effect (i.e., merging of formants F2 and F3


Further, the present data appear in several ways inconsistent with conclusions from previous studies of Khoomei, especially those that center on effects that arise from changes in the source. Three salient examples are highlighted. First, we observed overtone structure to be highly stable, though some vibrato may be present. This contrasts the claim by Levin and Edgerton (1999) that “(t)o tune a harmonic, the vocalist adjusts the fundamental frequency of the buzzing sound produced by the vocal folds, so as to bring the harmonic into alignment with a formant’. That is, we see no evidence for the overtone ‘ladder’ being lowered or lifted as they suggested (note in Figure 1, f0

is held nearly constant). Further, this stability argues against a transition into a different mode of glottal pulse generation, which could allow for a ‘second source’ (Mergell and Herzel, 1997). Second, a single sharply defined harmonic alone is not sufficient to get the salient perception of a focused state, as had been suggested by Levin and Edgerton (1999). Consider Appendix 1—figure 9, especially at the 4 s mark, where the voicing is ‘pressed’. Pressed phonation, also referred to as ventricular voice, occurs when glottal flow is affected by virtue of tightening the laryngeal muscles such that the ventricular folds are brought into vibration. This has the perceptual effect of adding a degree of roughness to the voice sound (Lindestad et al., 2001; Edmondson and Esling, 2006). There, a harmonic at 1.51 kHz dominates (i.e., the two flanking overtones are approximately 40 dB down), yet the song has not yet perceptibly transitioned. It is not until the cluster of overtones at 3–3.5 kHz is brought into focus that the perceptual effect becomes salient, perhaps because prior to the 5.3 s mark the broadband nature of those frequencies effectively masks the first focused state. Third, we do not observe subharmonics, which contrasts a prior claim (Lindestad et al., 2001) that ”(t)his combined voice source produces a very dense spectrum of overtones suitable for overtone enhancement’. However, that study was focused on a different style of song called ‘Kargyraa’, which does not exhibit as clearly a focused state as in Sygyt.

Linear versus nonlinear mechanisms

An underlying biophysical question is whether focused overtone song arises from inherently linear or nonlinear processes. Given that Khoomei consists of the voicing of two or more pitches at once and exhibits dramatic and fast transitions from normal singing to biphonation, nonlinear phenomena may seem like an obvious candidate (Herzel and Reuter, 1996). It should be noted that Herzel and Reuter (1996) go so far to define biphonation explicitly through the lens of nonlinearity. We relax such a definition and argue for a perceptual basis for delineating the boundaries of biphonation. Certain frog species exhibit biphonation, and it has been suggested that their vocalizations can arise from complex nonlinear oscillatory regimes of separate elastically coupled masses (Suthers et al., 2006). Further, the appearance of abrupt changes in physiological systems (as seen in Figure 1) has been argued to be a flag for nonlinear mechanisms (Goldberger et al., 2002); for example, by virtue of progression through a bifurcation.

Our results present two lines of evidence that argue against Sygyt-style Khoomei arising primarily from a nonlinear process. First, the underlying harmonic structure of the vocal fold source appears highly stable through the transition into the focused state (Figure 1). There is little evidence of subharmonics. A source spectral structure that is comprised of an f0

and integral harmonics would suggest a primarily linear source mechanism. Second is that our modeling efforts, which are chiefly linear in nature, reasonably account for the sudden and salient transition. That is, the model is readily sufficient to capture the characteristic that small changes in the vocal tract can produce large changes in the filter. Thereby, precise and fast motor control of the articulators in a linear framework accounts for the transitions into and out of the focused state. Thus, in essence, Sygyt-style Khoomei could be considered a linear means to achieve biphonation. Connecting back to nonlinear phonation mechanisms in non-mammals, our results provide further context for how human song production and perception may be similar and/or different relative to that of non-humans (e.g., Doolittle et al., 2014; Kingsley et al., 2018).

Nevertheless, features that appear transiently in spectrograms do provide hints of source nonlinearity, such as the brief appearance of subharmonics in some instances (Appendix 1—figure 15B). This provides an opportunity to address the limitations of the current modeling efforts and to highlight future considerations. We suggest that further analysis (e.g., Theiler et al., 1992; Tokuda et al., 2002; Kantz and Schreiber, 2004) of Khoomei audio recordings may help to inform the model and might better capture focused filter sharpness and the origin of secondary focused states. Several potential areas for improvement are: nonlinear source–filter coupling (Titze et al., 2008); a detailed model of glottal dynamics (e.g., ratio of open/closed phases in glottal flow [Grawunder, 2009; Li and Hou, 2017], and periodic vibrations in f0

); inclusion of piriform sinuses as side-branch resonators (Dang and Honda, 1997; Titze and Story, 1997); inclusion of the 3-D geometry; and detailed study of the front cavity (e.g., lip movements) that may be used by the singer to maintain control of the focused state and to make subtle manipulations.

Perceptual consequences of overtone focusing

Although this study did not directly assess the percept associated with these vocal productions, the results raise pressing questions about how the spectro-temporal signatures of biphonic Khoomei described here create the classical perception of Sygyt-style Khoomei as two distinct sounds (Aksenov, 1973). The first, the low-pitched drone, which is present during both the normal singing and the focused-state biphonation intervals, reflects the pitch associated with f0, extracted from the harmonic representation of the stimulus. It is well established that the perceived pitch of a broadband sound comprised of harmonics reflects the f0 derived primarily from the perceptually resolved harmonics up to about 10f0 (Bernstein and Oxenham, 2003). The frequency resolution of the peripheral auditory system is such that these low-order harmonics are individually resolved by the cochlea, and it appears that such filtering is an important prerequisite for pitch extraction associated with that common f0. The second sound, the high-pitched melody, is present only during the focused-state intervals and probably reflects a pitch associated with the focused formant. An open question, however, is why this focused formant would be perceived incoherently as a separate pitch (Shamma et al., 2011), when it contains harmonics at multiples of f0

. The auditory system tends to group together concurrent harmonics into a single perceived object with a common pitch (Roberts et al., 2015), and the multiple formants of a sung or unsung voice are not generally perceived as separate sounds from the low harmonics.

The fact that the focused formant is so narrow apparently leads the auditory system to interpret this sound as if it were a separate tone, independent of the low harmonics associated with the drone percept, thereby effectively leading to a pitch decoherence. This perceptual separation could be attributable to a combination of both bottom-up (i.e., cochlear) and top-down (i.e., perceptual) factors. From the bottom-up standpoint, even if the focused formant is broad enough to encompass several harmonic components, the fact that it consists of harmonics at or above 10 f0 (i.e., the 1500 Hz formant frequency represents the 10th harmonic of a 150 Hz f0) means that these harmonics will not be spectrally resolved by cochlear filtering (Bernstein and Oxenham, 2003). Instead, the formant will be represented as a single spectral peak, similar to the representation of a single pure tone at the formant frequency. Although the interaction of harmonic components at this cochlear location will generate amplitude modulation at a rate equal to the f0 (Plack and Oxenham, 2005), it has been argued that a common f0 is a weak cue for binding low- and high-frequency formants (Culling and Darwin, 1993). Rather, other top-down mechanisms of auditory-object formation may play a more important role in generating a perception of two separate objects in Khoomei. For example, the rapid onsets of the focused formant may enhance its perceptual separation from the constant drone (Darwin, 1984). Further, the fact that the focused formant has a variable frequency (i.e., frequency modulation, or FM) while the drone maintains a constant f0

is another difference that could facilitate their perceptual separation. Although it has been argued that FM differences between harmonic sounds generally have little influence on their perceived separation (Darwin, 2005), others have reported enhanced separation in the special case in which one complex was static and the other had applied FM (Summerfield and Culling, 1992) – similar to the first and second formants during the Tuvan focused state.

The perceptual separation of the two sounds in the Tuvan song might be further affected by a priori expectations about the spectral qualities of vocal formants (Billig et al., 2013). Because a narrow formant occurs so rarely in natural singing and speech, the auditory system might be pre-disposed against perceiving it as a phonetic element, limiting its perceptual integration with the other existing formants. Research into ‘sine-wave speech’ provides some insights into this phenomenon. When three or four individual frequency-modulated sinusoids are presented at formant frequencies in lieu of natural formants, listeners can, with sufficient training, perceive the combination as speech (Remez et al., 1981). Nevertheless, listeners largely perceive these unnatural individual pure tones as separate auditory objects (Remez et al., 2001), much like the focused formant in Khoomei. Further research exploring these considerations would help close the production–perception circle underlying the unique percept arising from Tuvan throat song.Materials and methods

Acoustical recordings

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Recordings were made at York University (Toronto, ON, Canada) in a double-walled acoustic isolation booth (IAC) using a Zoom H5 24-bit digital recorder and an Audio-Technica P48 condenser microphone. A sample rate of 96 kHz was used. Spectral analysis was done using custom-coded software in Matlab. Spectrograms were typically computed using 4096 point window segments with 95% fractional overlap and a Hamming window. Harmonics (black circles in Figure 1) were estimated using a custom-coded peak-picking algorithm. Estimated formant trends (red dashed lines in Figure 1) were determined using a lowpass interpolating filter built into Matlab’s digital signal processing toolbox with a scaling factor of 10. From this trend, the peak-picking was reapplied to determine ‘formant’ frequencies (red ‘x’s in Figure 1). This process could be repeated across the spectrogram to track overtone and formant frequency/strength effectively, as shown in Appendix 1—figure 1.

To quantify the focused states, we developed a dimension-less measure eR(fL,fH) to represent the energy ratio of that spanning a frequency range fHfL relative to the entire spectral output. This can be readily computed from the spectrogram data as follows. First take a ‘slice’ from the spectrogram and convert spectral magnitude to linear ordinate and square it (as intensity is proportional to pressure squared). Then integrate across frequency, first for a limited range spanning [fL,fH] (e.g., 1–2 kHz) and then for a broader range of [0,fmax] (e.g., 0–8 kHz; 8 kHz is a suitable maximum as there is little acoustic energy in vocal output above this frequency). The ratio of these two is then defined as eR

, and takes on values between 0 and 1. This can be expressed more explicitly as: (1) eR(fL,fH)=(∫fHfLP(f)dffmax0P(f)df)2

where P is the magnitude of the scaled sound pressure, f is frequency, and fL and fH are filter limits for considering the focused state. The choice of [fL,fH]=[1,2] kHz has the virtue of spanning an octave, which also closely approximates the ‘seventh octave’ from about C6 to C7. eR did not depend significantly upon the length of the fast Fourier transform (FFT) window. Values of eR

for the waveforms used in Figure 1 are shown in Appendix 1—figures 2 and 3.

MRI acquisition and volumetric analysis

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MRI images were acquired at the York MRI Facility on a 3.0 Tesla MRI scanner (Siemens Magnetom TIM Trio, Erlangen, Germany), using a 12-channel head coil and a neck array. Data were collected with the approval of the York University Institutional Review Board. The participant was fitted with an MRI compatible noise-cancelling microphone (Optoacoustics, Mazor, Israel) mounted directly above the lips. The latency of the microphone and noise-cancelling algorithm was 24 ms. Auditory recordings were made in QuickTime on an iMac during the scans to verify performance.

Images were acquired using one of two paradigms, static or dynamic. Static images were acquired using a T1-weighted 3D gradient echo sequence in the sagittal orientation with 44 slices centered on the vocal tract, TR = 2.35 ms, TE = 0.97 ms, flip angle = 8 degrees, FoV = 300 mm, and a voxel dimension of 1.2 × 1.2×1.2 mm. Total acquisition time was 11 s. The participant was instructed to begin singing a tone, and to hold it in a steady state for the duration of the scan. The scan was started immediately after the participant began to sing and had reached a steady state. Audio recordings verified a consistent tone for the duration of the scan. Dynamic images were acquired using a 2D gradient echo sequence. A single 10.0 mm thick slice was positioned in a sagittal orientation along the midline of the vocal tract, TR = 4.6 ms, TE = 2.04 ms, flip angle = 8 degrees, FoV = 250 mm, and a voxel dimension of 2.0 × 2.0×10.0 mm. One hundred measurements were taken for a scan duration of 27.75 s. The effective frame rate of the dynamic images was 3.6 Hz. Audio recordings were started just prior to scanning. Only subject T2 participated in the MRI recordings. The participant was instructed to sing a melody for the duration of the scan, and took breaths as needed.

For segmentation (Figure 3), 3D MRI images (Run1; see Appendix) were loaded into Slicer (version 4.6.2 r25516). The air-space in the oral cavity was manually segmented using the segmentation module, identified and painted in slice by slice. Careful attention was paid to the parts of the oral cavity that were affected by the artifact from the dental implant. The air cavity was manually repainted to be approximately symmetric in this region using the coronal and axial view (Figure 3A). Once completely segmented, the sections were converted into a 3D model and exported as a STL file. This mesh file was imported into MeshLab (v1.3.4Beta) for cleaning and repairing the mesh. The surface of the STL was converted to be continuous by removing non-manifold faces and then smoothed using depth and Laplacian filters. The mesh was then imported into Meshmixer where further artifacts were removed. This surface-smoothed STL file was finally reimported into Slicer, generating the display in Figure 3B.

Computational modeling

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Measurement of the cross-distance function is illustrated in Figure 4. The inner and outer profiles of the vocal tract were first determined by manual tracing of the midsagittal image. A 2D iterative bisection algorithm (Story, 2007) was then used to find the centerline within the profiles extending from the glottis to the lips, as shown by the white dots in Figure 4A. Perpendicular to each point on the centerline, the distance from the inner to outer profiles was measured to generate the cross-distance function shown in Figure 4B; the corresponding locations of the anatomic landmarks shown in the midsagittal image are also indicated on the cross-distance function.

The cross-distance function, D(x), can be transformed to an approximate area function, A(x), with the relation A(x)=kDα(x), where k and α are a scaling factor and exponent, respectively. If the elements of D(x) are considered to be diameters of a circular cross-section, k=(π/4) and α=2. Although other values of k and α have been proposed to account for the complex shape of the vocal tract cross-section (Heinz and Stevens, 1964; Lindblom and Sundberg, 1971; Mermelstein, 1973), there is no agreement on a fixed set of numbers for each parameter. Hence, the circular approximation was used in this study to generate an estimate of the area function. In Figure 4C, the area function is plotted as its tubular equivalent, where the radii D(x)/2

were rotated about an axis to generate circular sections from the glottis to the lips.

The associated frequency response of that area function is shown in Figure 4D and was calculated with a transmission line approach (Sondhi and Schroeter, 1987; Story et al., 2000), which included energy losses due to yielding walls, viscosity, heat conduction, and acoustic radiation at the lips. Side branches such the piriform sinuses were not considered in detail in this study. The first five formant frequencies (resonances), F1,…,F5

, were determined by finding the peaks in the frequency response functions with a peak-picking algorithm (Titze et al., 1987) and are located at 400, 1065, 1314, 3286, and 4029 Hz, respectively.

To examine changes in pitch, a particular vocal tract configuration was manually ‘designed (Appendix 1—figure 6) such that it included constrictive and expansive regions at locations similar to those measured from the singer (i.e., Figure 4), but to a less extreme degree. We henceforth denote this area function as A0(x), and it generates a frequency response with widely spaced formant frequencies (F1…5=[529,1544,2438,3094,4236]Hz), essentially a neutral vowel. In many of the audio signals recorded from the singer, the fundamental frequency, fo (i.e., the vibratory frequency of the vocal folds), was typically about 150 Hz. The singer then appeared to enhance one of the harmonics in the approximate range of 8fo…12fo. Taking the 12th harmonic (12×150=1800 Hz) as an example target frequency (dashed line in the frequency response shown in Figure 5c), the area function A0(x) was iteratively perturbed by the acoustic-sensitivity algorithm described in Story (2006) until F2 and F3

converged on 1800 Hz and became a single formant peak in the frequency response. Additional details on the perturbation process leading into Figure 5 are detailed in the Appendix.Appendix 1

This appendix contains supporting information for the document Overtone focusing in biphonic Tuvan throat singing by Bergevin et al. Citations here refer to the bibliography of the main document. First (Methodological considerations), we include several methodological components associated with the quantitative analysis of the waveforms, helping illustrate different approaches towards characterizing the acoustic data and rationale underlying control measures. Second (Additional waveform analyses), we include additional plots to support results and discussion in the main text. For example, different spectrograms are presented, as are analyses for additional waveforms. This section also helps to provide additional context for a second independent focused state. The third section (Additional modeling analysis figures) details theoretical components leading into the results of the computational model and how the MRI data constrain the key parameters, justifying arguments surrounding the notion of formant merging. Fourth (Instability in focused state), some speculative discussion and basic modeling aspects are presented with regard to the notion of instabilities present in the motor control of the focused state. In the fifth section (Additional MRI analysis figures), images stemming from the MRI data are presented. Last, the final three sections detail accessing the acoustic waveforms, MRI data files, and waveform analysis (Matlab-based) software via an online repository.

Methodological considerations

Overtone and formant tracking

To facilitate quantification of the waveforms, we custom-coded a peak-picking/tracking algorithm to analyze the time-frequency representations produced by the spectrogram. Appendix 1—figure 1 shows an example of the tracking of the overtones (red dots) and formants (grayscale dots; intensity coded by relative magnitude as indicated by the colorbar). This representation provides an alternative view (compared to Figure 1) to help demonstrate that, by and large, the overtone structure is highly consistent throughout, while the formant structure varies significantly across the transition.  Appendix 1—figure 1

Same as Figure 1 (middle left panel; subject T2, same sound file as shown in the middle panel of Figure 1), except with overtones and estimated formant structure tracked across time.

Quantifying focused states

Appendix 1—figures 2 and 3 show calculation of the energy ratio eR used as a means to quantify the degree of focus. For Appendix 1—figure 2, the waveforms are the same as those shown in Figure 1 (those with slightly different axis limits). In general, we found that eR(1,2) provided a clear means to distinguish the focused state, as values were close to zero prior to the transition and larger/sustained beyond the transition. Singer T2 was an exception. Appendix 1—figure 3 is for singer T2, using the same file (i.e., the transition point into the focused state at between 6 and 7 s in this figure is the same as that shown in the middle panel of Figure 1), but with an expanded timescale to illustrate the larger eR values prior to the transition. This is due to the relatively large amount of energy present between 2.5–4 kHz. We also explored eR(1,2) values in a wide range of phonetic signals, such as child and adult vocalizations, other singing styles (e.g., opera), non-Tuvan singers (e.g., Westerners) performing ‘overtone singing’, and older recordings of Tuvan singers. In general, it was observed that eR(1,2)

was relatively large and sustained across time for focused overtone song, whereas the value was close to zero and/or highly transient for other vocalizations. Appendix 1—figure 2

Same data/layout as in Figure 1 but now showing eR(1,2)
as defined in the ‘Materials and methods’.

These plots show the energy ratio focused between 1–2 kHz. Vertical red dashed lines indicate approximate time of transition into the focused state. An expanded timescale is also shown for singer T2 … Appendix 1—figure 3

Similar to Figure 2 for singer T2 (middle panel), except an expanded time scale is shown to demonstrate the earlier dynamics as this singer approaches the focused state (see T2_5longer.wav).

Control measurements

The waveforms from the Tuvan singers provide an intrinsic degree of control (i.e., voicing not in the focused state). Similar to Figure 1, Appendix 1—figure 4 shows the spectra prior to the transition into the focused state. Although relatively narrow harmonics can be observed, they tend to occur below 1 kHz. Such is consistent with our calculations of eR(1,2)

: prior to a transition into a focused state, this value is close to zero. The exception is singer T2, who instead shows a relatively large amount of energy about 1.8–3 kHz that may have some sort of masking effect (see ‘Discussion’ in the main text,and the ‘Pressed transition’ section below). In addition, Tuvan singer T4, who used a non-Sygyt style (Appendix 1—figure 5) , can also effectively be considered a ‘control’. Appendix 1—figure 4

Stemming directly from Figure 1, the right-hand column now shows a spectrum from a time point prior to transition into the focused state (as denoted by the vertical black lines in the left column). The shape of the spectra from Figure 1 is also included for reference.

Appendix 1—figure 5

Spectrogram for singer T4 singing in non-Sygyt style (first song segment of T2_4shortA.wav sound file). For the spectrogram, 4096 point windows were used for the fast Fourier transform (FFT) with 95% fractional overlap and a Hamming window.

Additional waveform analyses

Other spectrograms

Appendix 1—figure 5 shows spectrogram from singer T4 (T4_shortA.wav) singing in non-Sygyt style. While producing a distinctive sound, note the relative lack of energy above approximately 1 kHz. Appendix 1—figure 6 shows a spectrogram from singer T2 (T2_5.wav) over a longer timescale than that shown in Figure 1. Similarly for Appendix 1—figure 7, but for singer T1. Both of these plots provide a spectral-temporal view of how the singer maintains and modulates the song over the course of a single exhalation. Note both the sudden transitions into different maintained pitches and the briefer transient excursions. Appendix 1—figure 6

Spectrogram of the entire T2_5.wav sound file. The sample rate was 96 kHz. The analysis parameters used were the same as those used for Figure 5.

Appendix 1—figure 7

Spectrogram of the first song segment of the T1_3.wav sound file. The analysis parameters used were the same as those for Figure 5.

Second independent focused state

Appendix 1—figure 8 shows another example of a transition in Sygyt-style song for singer T2, clearly showing a second focused state about 3–3.5 kHz. Two aspects merit highlighting. First, the spectral peaks are not harmonically related: at t=4.5

s, the first focused state is at 1.36 kHz and the other at 3.17 kHz (far from to 2.72 kHz as expected). Second, during the singer-induced pitch change at 3.85 s, the two peaks do not move in unison. Although not ruling out correlations between the two focused states, these observations suggest that they are not simply nor strongly related to one another. Appendix 1—figure 8

Singer T2’s transition into a focused state. Note that while the first focused state transitions from approximately 1.36 to 1.78 kHz, the second state remains nearly constant, decreasing only slightly from 3.32 to 3.17 kHz (T2_1shortB.wav).

Pressed transition

Appendix 1—figure 9 shows a spectrogram and several spectral slices for the sound file in which the voicing was ‘pressed’ (Adachi and Yamada, 1999; Edmondson and Esling, 2006) prior to the transition into the focused state. That is, prior to the 1.8 s mark, voicing is relatively normal. But after that point (prior to the transition into the focused state around 5.4 s, substantial energy appears between 2–4 kHz along with a degree of vibrato. Note, however, that there is no change to the overall overtone structure (e.g., no emergence of subharmonics). The spectrum at t=4.0s

, prior to the transition, provides a useful comparison back to Levin and Süzükei (2006). Specifically, one particular overtone is singled out and highly focused, yet the broadband cluster of overtones about 2.5–4 kHz effectively mask it. It is not until about the 5.4 s mark, when those higher overtones are also brought into focus, that a salient perception of the Sygyt-style emerges. Appendix 1—figure 9

Spectrogram of singer T2 exhibiting pressed voicing heading into transition to focused state (T2_2short.wav).

Additional modeling analysis figures

The measurement of the cross-distance function (as described in the ‘Materials and methods’), along with calculation of the frequency response from an estimate of the area function, suggested that constrictions of the vocal tract in the region of the uvula and alveolar ridge may play a significant role in controlling the spectral focus generated by the convergence of F2 and F3. Assuming that an overtone singer configures the vocal tract to merge these two formants deliberately such that, together, they enhance the amplitude of a selected harmonic of the voice source, the aim was to investigate how the vocal tract can be systematically shaped with precisely placed constrictions and expansions to both merge F2 and F3

into a focused cluster and move the cluster along the frequency axis to allow for selection of a range of voice harmonics.

Appendix 1—figure 11b shows the same area function as that in Appendix 1—figure 11a (see ‘Materials and methods’) but plotted by extending the equivalent radius of each cross-sectional area, outward and inward, along a line perpendicular to the centerline measured from the singer (see Figure 4A), resulting in an inner and outer outline of the vocal tract shape as indicated by the thick black lines. The measured centerline is also shown in the figure, along with anatomic landmarks. As this does not represent a true midsagittal plane, it will be referred to here as a pseudo-midsagittal plot (Story et al., 2001). Appendix 1—figure 10

Overview of source/filter theory, as advanced by Stevens (2000). The left column shows normal phonation, whereas the right indicates one example of a focused state.

Appendix 1—figure 11

Setup of the baseline vocal tract configuration used in the modeling study. (a) The area function (A0(x)

) is in the lower panel and its frequency response is in the upper panel. (b) The area function from (a) is shown as a pseudo-midsagittal plot (see text).

Appendix 1—figure 12a shows the new area function and frequency response generated by the perturbation process, whereas the pseudo-midsagittal plot is shown in Appendix 1—figure 12b. Relative to the shape of A0(x) (shown as the thin gray line), the primary modification is a severe constriction imposed between 12.5–13.5 cm from the glottis, essentially at the alveolar ridge. Although the line thickness might suggest that the vocal tract is occluded in this region, the minimum cross-sectional area is 0.09 cm2. There is also a more moderate constriction at about 5 cm from the glottis, and a slight expansion between 7–10.5 cm from the glottis. The frequency response in upper panel of Appendix 1—figure 12a demonstrates that the new area function was successful in driving F2 and F3 together to form a single formant peak centered at 1800 Hz, which is at least 15 dB higher in amplitude than any of the other formants. Exactly the same process was used to generate area functions for which F2 and F3 converge on the target harmonic frequencies: 8fo,9fo,10fo,11fo=1200,1350,1500,1650 Hz, respectively. The results, along with those from the previous figure for 12fo, are shown in Appendix 1—figure 13. The collection of frequency responses in the upper panel of Appendix 1—figure 13b shows that F2 and F3 successfully converged to become one formant peak in each of the cases, and their locations on the frequency axis are centered around the specified target frequencies. The corresponding area functions in the lower panel suggests that the constriction between 12.5–13.5 cm from the glottis (alveolar ridge region) is present in roughly the same form for all five cases. By contrast, an increasingly severe constriction must be imposed in the region between 6–8.5 cm from the glottis (uvular region) in order to shift the target frequency (i.e., the frequency at which F2 and F3 converge) downward through progression of specified harmonics. Coincident with this constriction is a progressively larger expansion between 14–15.5 cm from the glottis, which probably assists in positioning the focal regions of F2 and F3 downward. It can also be noted that the area function that generates a focus at 8fo

(1200 Hz; thinnest line) is most similar to the one generated from the cross-distance measurements (i.e., Figure 4c). In both, there are constrictions located at about 7.5 cm and 13 cm from the glottis; the expansions in the lower pharynx and oral cavity are also quite similar. The main difference is the greater expansion of the region between 8–13 cm from the glottis in the acoustically derived area function.

On the basis of the results, a mechanism for controlling the enhancement of voice harmonics can be proposed: the degree of constriction near the alveolar ridge in the oral cavity (labeled Co in Figure 5 of the main text) controls the proximity of F2 and F3 to each other, whereas the degree of constriction near the uvula in the upper pharynx, Cp, controls the frequency at which F2 and F3 converge (the expansion anterior to Co may also contribute). Thus, an overtone singer could potentially ‘play’ (i.e., select) various harmonics of the voice source by first generating a tight constriction in the oral cavity near the alveolar ridge to generate the focus of F2 and F3

, and then modulating the degree of constriction in the uvular region of the upper pharynx to position the focus on a selected harmonic.

This proposed mechanism of controlling the spectral focus is supported by observation of vocal tract changes based on dynamic MRI data sets. Using this approach, midsagittal movies of the Tuvan singer were acquired in which each image represented approximately 275 ms. Shown in Figure 5 is a comparison of vocal tract configurations derived with the acoustic-sensitivity algorithm (middle panels) to image frames from an MRI-based movie (upper panels) associated with the points in time indicated by the vertical lines superimposed across the waveform and spectrogram in the lower part of the figure. The image frames were chosen such that they appeared to be representative of the singer placing the spectral focus at 8fo (left) and 12fo (right), respectively, based on the evidence available in the spectrogram. The model-based vocal tract shape in the upper left panel, derived for a spectral focus of 8fo (1200 Hz), exhibits a fairly severe constriction in the uvular region, similar to the constrictive effect that can be seen in the corresponding image frame (middle left). Likewise, the vocal tract shape derived for a spectral focus of 12fo

(1800 Hz) (upper right) and the image frame just below it both demonstrate an absence of a uvular constriction. Thus, the model-based approach generated vocal tract shapes that appear to possess characteristics similar to those produced by the singer, and provides support for the proposed mechanism of spectral focus control. Appendix 1—figure 12

Results of perturbing the baseline area function A0(x)
so that F2
and F3
converge on 1800 Hz.

(a) Perturbed area function (thick black line) and the corresponding frequency response; for comparison, the baseline area function is also shown (thin gray line). The frequency response shows the … Appendix 1—figure 13

Results of perturbing the baseline area function A0(x)
so that F2
and F3
converge on 1200, 1350, 1500, 1650, and 1800 Hz.

(A) Perturbed area functions and corresponding frequency responses; line thicknesses and gray scale are matched in the upper and lower panels. (B) Pseudo-midsagittal plot of the perturbed area …

Second focused state

Given that singer T2 was the subject for the MRI scans and uniquely exhibited a second focused state (e.g., Appendix 1—figure 8), the model was also utilized to explore how multiple states could be achieved. Two possibilities appear to be the sharpening of formant F4 alone, or the merging of F4 and F5 (Appendix 1—figure 14). However, it is unclear how reasonable those vocal tract configurations may be and further study is required. Appendix 1—figure 14

Similar to Figure 5, but additional manipulations were considered to create a second focused state by merging F4 and F5, as exhibited by singer T2 (see middle row in Figure 1). In addition, the spectrogram shown here is from the model (not the singer’s audio). See also Appendix 1—figure 20 for connections back to dynamic MRI data.

Animations and synthesized song

Animations and audio clips demonstrating various quantitative aspects of the model are included in the data files posted to datadryad.org. Specifically they are:

o Animation (no sound) of vocal tract changes during transition into focused state and subsequent pitch changes – Medley 0 to5 1 cluster.mp4Audioclipof simulatedsong

o Audio clip of simulated song – Medley 0 to5 1 cluster s im.wav

Instability in focused state

Appendix 1—figure 15 and Appendix 1—figure 16 show that brief transient instabilities in the focused state can and do regularly occur. Specifically, it can be observed that there are brief transient lapses while the singer is maintaining the focused overtone condition, thereby providing insight into how focus is actively maintained. One possible explanation is control by virtue of biomechanical feedback, where the focused state can effectively be considered to be an unstable equilibrium point, akin to balancing a ruler vertically on the palm of your hand. An alternative consideration might be that singers learn to create additional quasi-stable equilibrium points (e.g., Appendix 1—figure 17). The sudden transitions observed (Figure 1) could then be likened to two-person cheerleading moves such as a ‘cupie’, where one person standing on the ground suddenly throws another up vertically and has them balancing atop their shoulders or upward-stretched hands. A simple proposed model for the transition into the focused state is shown in Appendix 1—figure 17. There, a stable configuration of the vocal tract would be the low point (pink ball). Learning to achieve a focused state would give rise to additional stable equilibria (red ball), which may be more difficult to maintain. Considerations along these lines, combined with a model for biomechanical control (e.g., Sanguineti et al., 1998), can lead to testable predictions specific to when a highly experienced singer is maintaining balance about the transition point into/out of a focused state (e.g., T2_4.wav audio file). Appendix 1—figure 15

Brief instability in the focused state. (A) Spectrogram of singer T3 during period during which the focused state briefly falters (T3_2shortB.wav, extracted from around the 33 s mark of T3_2.wav). (B) Spectral slices taken at two …

Appendix 1—figure 16

Spectrogram of singer T2 (T2_1shortA.wav) about a transition into a focused state. Note that there is a slight instability around 4.5 s.

Appendix 1—figure 17

Schematic illustrating a simple possible mechanical analogy (ball confined to a potential well) for the transition into a focused state.

Additional MRI analysis figures

Volumetric data

An example of the volumetric data (arranged as tiled midsagittal slices) is shown in Appendix 1—figure 18. Note that the NMR artifact resulting from the presence of a dental post is apparently lateralized to one side.

Appendix 1—figure 19 shows a spectrogram of audio segment (extracted from Run3Vsound.wav) associated with the volumetric scan shown in Appendix 1—figure 18. Segments both with and without the scanner noise are shown.

Vocal tract shape and associated spectrograms

Examples of the vocal tract taken during the dynamic MRI runs (i.e., midsagittal only) are shown for very different representative time points in Appendix 1—figure 20. Appendix 1—figure 18

Mosaic of single slices from the volumetric MRI scan (Run3) of subject T2 during focused overtone state. Spectrogram of corresponding audio shown in Appendix 1—figure 19.

Appendix 1—figure 19

Spectrogram of steady-state overtone voicing assocaited with the volumetric scan shown in Appendix 1—figure 18. Two different one-second segments are shown: the top segment shows images there were made during the scan (and thus includes acoustic noise from the scanner during image acquisition), while the botto…

Appendix 1—figure 20

Representative movie frames and their corresponding spectra for singer T2, as input into modeling parameters (e.g., Figure 5). The corresponding Appendix data files are DynamicRun2S.mov (MRI images) and DynamicRun2sound.wav (spectra; see also DynamicRun2SGrid.pdf). The top row shows a ‘low pitch’ (first) focused state at …


All data relevant to the study have been placed in the online repository – https://datadryad.org/stash (Bergevin, 2020). Below is a list of the data placed there, along with a brief description (see ‘Materials and methods’ section for additional details).

Acoustic data

All waveforms were obtained at a sample rate of 96 kHz and a bit-depth of 24 bits.

  • T1_1.wav
  • T1_2.wav
  • T1_3.wav
  • T1_3short.wav
  • T2_1.wav
  • T2_1shortA.wav
  • T2_1shortB.wav
  • T2_1shortC.wav
  • T2_2.wav
  • T2_2short.wav
  • T2_3.wav
  • T2_4.wav
  • T2_5.wav
  • T2_5longer.wav
  • T2_5short.wav
  • T3_2.wav
  • T3_2shortA.wav
  • T3_2shortB.wav
  • T4_1.wav
  • T4_1shortA.wav

MRI data

* Images Images were only obtained from singer T2. Note that all image data are saved as DICOM files (i.e., .dcm) :

  • Volumetric Run1
  • Volumetric Run2
  • Volumetric Run3
  • Dynamic midsagittal Run1
  • Dynamic midsagittal Run2
  • Dynamic midsagittal Run3

* Audio recordings acquired during MRI acquisition (see ‘Materials and methods’).

  • Vol. Run1 audio
  • Vol. Run2 audio
  • Vol. Run3 audio
  • Dyn. Run1 audio
  • Dyn. Run2 audio
  • Dyn. Run3 audio

* MRI Midsagittal movies with sound were also created by animating the frames in Matlab and syncing the recorded audio via Wondershare Filmora. They are saved as .mov files (Apple QuickTime Movie files):

  • Dyn. Run1 video
  • Dyn. Run2 video
  • Dyn. Run3 video

To facilitate connecting movie frames back to the associated sound produced by singer T2 at that moment, the movies include frame numbers. Those have been labeled on the corresponding time location in the spectrograms (see red labels at top):

  • Dyn. Run1 spectrogram
  • Dyn. Run2 spectrogram
  • Dyn. Run3 spectrogram

* Segmented volumetric data files (like those shown in Figure 3), data saved as STL files (i.e., .stl):

  • Segmented data (T2)

Software and synthesized song

Simulations and waveform analysis were implemented in Matlab. The TubeTalker software is provided ‘as is’:

  • Code to analyze general aspects of the waveforms (e.g., Figure 1 spectrograms)
  • Code to quantify eR


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Decision letter

  1. Timothy D Griffiths Reviewing Editor; University of Newcastle, United Kingdom
  2. Barbara G Shinn-Cunningham Senior Editor; Carnegie Mellon University, United States

In the interests of transparency, eLife publishes the most substantive revision requests and the accompanying author responses.

Acceptance summary:

Tuvan throat singing, in which people are able to simultaneously produce and independently control two different distinct pitches using the human vocal apparatus, has fascinated hearing and speech researchers for decades. This careful study examines the acoustics of the produced sound and offers new insights into why the produced sound results in two distinct, separately controllable pitches.

Decision letter after peer review:

Thank you for submitting your article “Overtone focusing in biphonic Tuvan throat singing” for consideration by eLife. Your article has been reviewed by two peer reviewers, one of whom is a member of our Board of Reviewing Editors, and the evaluation has been overseen by Barbara Shinn-Cunningham as the Senior Editor. The reviewers have opted to remain anonymous.

The reviewers have discussed the reviews with one another, and the Reviewing Editor has drafted this decision to help you prepare a revised submission.


We enjoyed this work addressing mechanisms by which throat singers produce dual pitches that assesses the mechanism for this in terms of the ways in which the vocal tract is precisely controlled based on MRI videos. The work mentions other biological examples of dual fundamentals in songbirds for the broad eLife audience. One of the issues that came up in discussion was the control for normal vocalisations without biphonation, but I think the authors make a reasonable case that the singers act as their own controls. Basically, the work shows that the dual pitch mechanism is associated with changes in the vocal tract morphology based on two constrictions that merge second and third formants and is associated with what they call a ‘focussed state’ in which the harmonics at 1.5kHz to 2kHz are accentuated. The idea as I understand it is that this accentuates a single harmonic of the fundamental glottal pulse rate so that a new high frequency component of Khoomei emerges that is in effect perceptually ‘released’ from the harmonic series to allow the emergence of the high pitched whistling part of the song.

Major comments

1) From first principles, dual pitch singing could be achieved by a different type of glottal pulse generation in the larynx so that two vibration modes were present (as in avian syrinx). This is not the mechanism suggested here, and it is hard to see how the anatomy and physiology of the human larynx might allow this, but this has not been directly examined in the MRI work. The authors carried out a careful acoustic analysis which shows only one harmonic series before and after transitions to throat singling (without shifting), which I think is adequate. But they might comment on the other possible mechanism for biological readers, if only to dismiss it.

2) Both reviewers thought the discussion of the basis for the perceived dual pitch was not clear. The authors discuss differences in cochlear mechanisms between low frequency regions and high frequency regions. More effort could be made to explain how the dual pitch, which is attributed to a type of spectral emphasis, can be reconciled with current models of pitch perception. The fundamental for the singers assessed was ~150Hz so that the >1.5 kHz region will be unresolved (H10 and above). The greatest contribution to the salience of the low pitch will be the resolved harmonics at frequencies below the focus region, which are well represented. The high-frequency harmonics will usually contribute (weakly) to the low pitch based on the temporal firing patterns due to merged harmonics in frequency bands. The authors appear to be arguing that a different spectral pitch emerges in the high frequency focussed region, distinct from that associated with the lower harmonics.

3) The argument about decreased phase locking at high frequency was not convincing: this occurs in a much higher frequency region that the focussed region. The argument that the high pitch was not easily explained by a non-linear distortion was convincing.

4) In conclusion, we thought the work nicely shows the changes in vocal tract morphology and associated spectrum as an explanation for the dual pitch, but more teasing out of mechanism for the dual pitch perception is required in a way that might be accessible to readers.

[Editors’ note: further revisions were suggested prior to acceptance, as described below.]

Thank you for submitting your article “Overtone focusing in biphonic Tuvan throat singing” for consideration by eLife. Your article has been reviewed by a member of our Board of Reviewing Editors and Barbara Shinn-Cunningham as the Senior Editor.

We are afraid we are still not satisfied with the discussion of the basis for the dual pitch at the end of the Discussion. The authors have demonstrated a region of spectral focus as a proposed mechanism for the new pitch. But we still do not understand why the focussed overtones produce a different pitch. They are still harmonics of the same fundamental and interactions between them in this unresolved region would be expected to produce beating at the same frequency as the fundamental, in the absence of non-linear mechanisms. We also do not understand what the additional relevance of a decrease in phase locking in this region would be that the authors highlight. Are the authors claiming that the focused region produces spectral excitation in a region without the usual coding of beating between harmonics (because of decreased phase locking) and that this is the cause of the new pitch? If so an explicit suggestion along those lines might help readers who are familiar with conventional pitch models.

eLife does not usually encourage multiple rounds of revision but this is a critical point in the interpretation of an interesting study, and I would encourage a revision with a much shorter final section of Discussion that explains a clear hypothesis related to the cause of the new pitch.https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.50476.sa1Author response

Major comments

1) From first principles, dual pitch singing could be achieved by a different type of glottal pulse generation in the larynx so that two vibration modes were present (as in avian syrinx). This is not the mechanism suggested here, and it is hard to see how the anatomy and physiology of the human larynx might allow this, but this has not been directly examined in the MRI work. The authors carried out a careful acoustic analysis which shows only one harmonic series before and after transitions to throat singling (without shifting), which I think is adequate. But they might comment on the other possible mechanism for biological readers, if only to dismiss it.

We attempted to further clarify the point (that we saw no evidence for a nonlinear source mechanism) and added an additional line of text as per the suggestion.

2) Both reviewers thought the discussion of the basis for the perceived dual pitch was not clear. The authors discuss differences in cochlear mechanisms between low frequency regions and high frequency regions. More effort could be made to explain how the dual pitch, which is attributed to a type of spectral emphasis, can be reconciled with current models of pitch perception. The fundamental for the singers assessed was ~150Hz so that the >1.5 kHz region will be unresolved (H10 and above). The greatest contribution to the salience of the low pitch will be the resolved harmonics at frequencies below the focus region, which are well represented. The high-frequency harmonics will usually contribute (weakly) to the low pitch based on the temporal firing patterns due to merged harmonics in frequency bands. The authors appear to be arguing that a different spectral pitch emerges in the high frequency focussed region, distinct from that associated with the lower harmonics.

This criticism was given particularly serious thought and consideration. As a result, we totally rewrote this section to make the proposed ideas clearer, as well as accessible to a broad readership. We tried to find a better balance between issues/questions related to pitch coding and those to cochlear mechanics.

3) The argument about decreased phase locking at high frequency was not convincing: this occurs in a much higher frequency region that the focussed region. The argument that the high pitch was not easily explained by a non-linear distortion was convincing.

As alluded to in the comments above, we clarified the nature of the argument (re phase locking) by expanding upon the discussion of pitch coding. While a reasonable degree of phase locking would still be expected around the 1.5-2 kHz region, this is also where temporal coding starts to fall off dramatically (e.g., Verschooten et al., 2018, PLoS Biol.). That facet, that in the 1-2 kHz region of the human cochlea the fidelity of timing information changes, is what is relevant to the narrative thread here.

4) In conclusion, we thought the work nicely shows the changes in vocal tract morphology and associated spectrum as an explanation for the dual pitch, but more teasing out of mechanism for the dual pitch perception is required in a way that might be accessible to readers.

See comments above.

[Editors’ note: further revisions were suggested prior to acceptance, as described below.]


eLife does not usually encourage multiple rounds of revision but this is a critical point in the interpretation of an interesting study, and I would encourage a revision with a much shorter final section of Discussion that explains a clear hypothesis related to the cause of the new pitch.

As we would like to see this work published with eLife, we have drastically truncated the highlighted section to create “a much shorter final section” as suggested. Given our lack of expertise in pitch perception, coupled with our appreciation for the comments raised, we instead (succinctly) reframed through the lens of looking ahead at future work. Specifically, we include only what we think are some quite interesting and provocative parallels we have observed between Sygyt song and cochlear mechanics. We believe that providing this as a summary to the narrative will help stimulate crosstalk between emerging viewpoints in cochlear mechanics and central processing (e.g., pitch perception).

As such, hopefully we have a more streamlined “story” that will be sufficient for

publication. We believe the rest of the work paints a clear picture as to how the

morphology leads to biphonation and that can stand on its own without over speculation on other facets.https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.50476.sa2Article and author information

Author details

  1. Christopher Bergevin
    1. Physics and Astronomy, York University, Toronto, Canada
    2. Centre for Vision Research, York University, Toronto, Canada
    3. Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences, Toronto, Canada
    4. Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara, United States
    Contribution Conceptualization, Data curation, Software, Formal analysis, Investigation, Visualization, Methodology For correspondence cberge@yorku.ca Competing interests No competing interests declared


Chandan Narayan

Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, York University, Toronto, Canada


Conceptualization, Investigation

Competing interests

No competing interests declared

Joy Williams

York MRI Facility, York University, Toronto, Canada


Investigation, Methodology

Competing interests

No competing interests declared

Natasha Mhatre

Biology, Western University, London, Canada


Investigation, Visualization, Methodology

Competing interests

No competing interests declared 0000-0002-3618-306X

Jennifer KE Steeves

  1. Centre for Vision Research, York University, Toronto, Canada
  2. Psychology, York University, Toronto, Canada

Investigation, Methodology

Competing interests

No competing interests declared 0000-0002-7487-4646

Joshua GW Bernstein

National Military Audiology & Speech Pathology Center, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, United States


Investigation, Writing – original draft

Competing interests

No competing interests declared

Brad Story

Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, United States


Software, Formal analysis, Investigation, Visualization, Methodology

For correspondence


Competing interests

No competing interests declared

  1. 0000-0002-6530-8781


Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (RGPIN-430761-2013)

  • Christopher Bergevin

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.


A heartfelt thank you to Huun Huur Tu, without whom this study would not have been possible. Input/suggestions from Ralf Schlueter, Greg Huber, Dorothea Kolossa, Chris Rozell, Tuomas Virtanen, and the reviewers are gratefully acknowledged. Support from York University, the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences, and the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics is also gratefully acknowledged. CB was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Grant RGPIN-430761–2013. The identification of specific products or scientific instrumentation does not constitute endorsement or implied endorsement on the part of the author, Department of Defense, or any component agency. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy of the Department of Army/Navy/Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


Human subjects: Data were collected with approval of the York University Institutional Review Board (IRB protocol to Prof Jennifer Steeves) This study was approved by the Human Participants Review Board of the Office of Research Ethics at York University (certificate #2017-132) and adhered to the tenets of the Declaration of Helsinki. All participants gave informed written consent and consent to publish prior to their inclusion in the study.

Senior Editor

  1. Barbara G Shinn-Cunningham, Carnegie Mellon University, United States

Reviewing Editor

  1. Timothy D Griffiths, University of Newcastle, United Kingdom

Publication history

  1. Received: July 24, 2019
  2. Accepted: January 31, 2020
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: February 12, 2020 (version 1)
  4. Accepted Manuscript updated: February 17, 2020 (version 2)
  5. Version of Record published: March 10, 2020 (version 3)


© 2020, Bergevin et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.Metrics

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  1. Further reading


ALEX GLENFIELD: Singing: The Music of Sound

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

Posted by Alexander Glenfield at 10:20 AM 6 comments: Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest

Overtone Singing Is Actionless Action

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

Using & Improving: Overtone Singing and Desire

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

Sounding Flows the Feelings?

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


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

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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About Me

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


To service the world’s rising demand for skilled overtone singers, I offer lessons via Skype.

Before proceeding with a formal lesson, I first offer a connection quality test and a free consultation.

Please email to learn more!


My overtone singing styles will either raise your spirits, or just annoy the doubt right out of you.

Ethereal theme. Theme images by Roofoo. Powered by Blogger. Ce site utilise des cookies provenant de Google pour fournir ses services et analyser le trafic. Votre adresse IP et votre user-agent, ainsi que des statistiques relatives aux performances et à la sécurité, sont transmis à Google afin d’assurer un service de qualité, de générer des statistiques d’utilisation, et de détecter et de résoudre les problèmes d’abus.En savoir plusOK

How To Sing Overtones Throat Singing with Alex Glenfield Ph.D.

How To Sing Overtones Throat Singing with Alex Glenfield Ph.D.

29,358 views•Jan 6, 2019 1.6K 20 Share SaveAlex Glenfield 11K subscribers Here is an extended tutorial on how to begin a singing, overtone singing, and throat singing practice. I remain available for consultations and lessons via SKYPE. Please send an email of inquiry to alexglenfield (at) hotmail.com

Overtone Singing Throat Singing, Glenfield, tutorial conclusions

Overtone Singing Throat Singing, Glenfield, tutorial conclusions

26,331 views•Jul 26, 2014 487 11 Share SaveAlex Glenfield 11K subscribers https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the…https://play.spotify.com/artist/4WUdp… Here follows a response to the good people who talk to me. They asked for another home performance video and something like a tutorial. Damn weird. I’ll let you tell me if this is ridiculous or not. But the world needs all the ridiculousness it can get; at least, the kind that doesn’t hurt anyone. This piece is part of an ongoing epic, and at the end I begin a kind of “tutorial” which I’ll continue to add to. If people want it, that is.

Alex Glenfield, Overtone Singing, Throat Singing, “Changing Same”

Alex Glenfield, Overtone Singing, Throat Singing, “Changing Same”

29,673 views•Aug 10, 2014 533 6 Share SaveAlex Glenfield 11K subscribers https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the…https://play.spotify.com/artist/4WUdp… Here is another piece of something I made. I have these pieces all over the place, and sometimes they go together nicely. Yes, I still do Skype lessons and give you all you need to know and do. Watch (or skip) to the end of the video for my email address. CHANGING SAME (lyrics) So you’re afraid of the signs of change Never clear enough to tell The shadow of the spider Is so much bigger than the spider herself To blame again and again For this sloppy reincarnation But maybe karma’s just a system device To keep you from complaining Changing same Changing same Spin around the wheel of fortune The fate of each to fall Into changes strangely given Have to walk before you crawl Stay the same the sleeper slumbers On and on til death Let the changing ever present Find me on your breath

Alex Glenfield Ravi Padmanabha Duets Full Album

Alex Glenfield Ravi Padmanabha Duets Full Album

1 617 vues•16 déc. 2018 100 0 Partager EnregistrerAlex Glenfield 11 k abonnés Improvised duets with my friend the cosmically talented Ravi Padmanabha. Ravi Padmanabha: percussion, morsing, sarangi, voice Alex Glenfield: voice and flugelhorn


The Biography

Kiva Simova is a seasoned musician from Manitoba (based in Toronto, ON, Canada). Best known for polyphonic overtone singing (2 pitches from one voice), she has enthralled audiences globally with her innovative ways of blending this art form with genres not commonly associated with it. Such as….jazzy pop/ experimental/ world, accompanying herself on keyboards. With 3 solo CDs to her credit (The Ladder ’98, Pulse ’05, and newest The Quality of Light ’14), her current re-invention finds her leaping off to tour solo, conduct overtone singing workshops and improvise with others at every opportunity. Speaking of….her solo career has been sprinkled with numerous vocal improvisations with other artists. Live, in recordings and soundtracks, she’s worked with the likes of Tanya Tagaq, Jennifer Berezan, Wimme, Vladiswar Nadishana, Olla Vogala Orchestra and many more. A wild improv done with world renowned didgeridoo player Ondrej Smeykal on the new CD is testament to this (Meeting in Dreamtime).
“ethereal, magical, guttural and entrancing all at once”- John Kendle, Winnipeg Free Press
“highly personal, yet global in scope and tone”- Penguin Eggs Magazine
“a force to be reckoned with”- Evolution of Media

Always the odd one out, a child boldly singing her own harmony in the otherwise all unison church choir, playing by ear was a natural. Pop, classical and jazz piano studies led to membership in all kinds of bands. This Winnipeg music veteran ultimately went on to carve out her own inimitable niche over the years since she started overtone singing in ’89. As a tour member (backup vocals and keyboards) of Crash Test Dummies for the ’94 world tour in support of ‘God Shuffled His Feet’, she demonstrated overtone singing during introductions at each concert. Expanding horizons in ’09, as one of a very few, she created a substantial body of work for overtone choir, debuting as a conductor in ’10 with her own such choir Auralia in Prague.

Past recordings feature world class musicians to contribute their magic, with an emphasis on many different cultures, especially by way of percussion. Kiva’s newest music has a strong leaning to intelligent lyrics, her piano playing skills, still with the ‘special spice’ of overtones appearing judiciously. Described as “alt singer songwriter” by George Koller (big emphasis on “alt”). In many ways, back to her roots and getting down to the essence of the songs. The timeless and biggest hit is ‘Regret‘ from the debut CD The Ladder. A moving and melancholy anthem with an overtone chorus, it addresses the repeated errors of humankind. This is one piece that continues to generate the most unusual opportunities for this artist.

Career highlights include:

-A Song for all Beings (Jennifer Berezan & Friends) mega production Nov ’13 & Feb ’17, San Rafael, CA (guest vocalist with Raz Kennedy)
-Musica Intima choral group, Vancouver ’16, as guest overtone vocalist
-Prague Overtone Festival, 4 consecutive years ’09- ’12
-Atlantykron Conference, Romania ’11
-Polyphonic Singing Festival, Albania ’08
-KEIKU Throat Singing Festival, Helsinki ’01
-Winnipeg Folk Festival main stage ’01
-International Symposium of Throat Singing, Tuva, Russia ’95 as only female foreigner to perform, judge the competition, and briefly appear in the Oscar nominated documentary ‘Genghis Blues’
-Side member of Crash Test Dummies world tour ’94 as backup vocalist and keyboardist (SNL, David Letterman, Tonight Show, Royal Albert Hall….)

As tour member of Crash Test Dummies 'God Shuffled His Feet' '94 world tour (standing second from left)
As tour member of Crash Test Dummies ‘God Shuffled His Feet’ ’94 world tour (standing second from left)

The following video is a full concert of Crash Test Dummies in Italy in ’94 in support of God Shuffled His Feet. Kiva sings backup vocals and keyboards. She was known as Kathy Brown back then. At the 54:30 point, Brad introduces her and she gives a short demonstration of overtone singing.
Influences: Jane Siberry, Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, Ferron, Yma Sumac, Jan Hammer, Todd Rundgren, Little Feat, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Mahavishnu (John McLaughlin) Orchestra, Claude Debussy, Bobby McFerrin, Kate Bush, Bjork, Sun Ra, Jonatha Brooke, Imogen Heap, Tanya Tagaq, Sheila Chandra, Lisa Gerrard, Arvo Part, Eric Whitacre, Bulgarian women’s choirs, East Indian classical, Tuvan singers.


Kiva Simova now is making herself available for touring almost anywhere, and sharing her skills with adventurous singers.

Punk Inuit throat singer | Tanya Tagaq | TEDxMet

Punk Inuit throat singer | Tanya Tagaq | TEDxMet

Ajoutée le 30 sept. 2015

Tanya Tagaq accesses deep emotions and connections in her unusual and powerful performance. Inuk punk Tanya Tagaq has given her visceral, elemental performances from Canada’s Northwest Territories to Carnegie Hall. Her unique vocal expression is rooted in Inuit throat singing, but expands well beyond traditional culture to incorporate electronica, industrial, and metal influences. Tagaq has collaborated with artists ranging from opera singers to experimental DJs, and been honored with a string of Juno nominations. Her latest CD, Animism, features Michael Red, a live programmer whose wild northern field recordings often serve as her de facto backing band. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx

Sarah Rogers: Should non-Inuit performers be allowed to throat sing?

Nunavut artist Kelly Fraser is interviewed at the 2018 Indigenous Music Awards. But the singer-songwriter said she won’t submit any more work to the organization until they address issues of cultural appropriation. (Photo courtesy of IMA)

Should non-Inuit performers be allowed to throat sing?

Throat singing is not a “pan-Indigenous free for all,” says Tanya Tagaq

By Sarah Rogers

A group of Inuit artists say they plan to boycott this year’s Indigenous Music Awards over concerns around cultural appropriation.

These Nunavut musicians, including Tanya Tagaq, Kelly Fraser and Kathleen Merritt (Iva), say they won’t participate in this or other awards until the organization that runs the event, the Manito Ahbee Festival, addresses the use of throat singing by a non-Inuk performer.

Cree performer Cikwes experiments with throat singing in some of her work. Her album ISKO is nominated as best folk album at this year’s Indigenous Music Awards, set to be handed out at a May 17 ceremony in Winnipeg.

Inuit artists say throat singing is a uniquely Inuit creation, not to be performed by other groups.

Tagaq, one of Nunavut’s best-known throat singers, said the art form is not a “pan-Indigenous free for all,” in a post on social media.

“Due to issues surrounding cultural appropriation, I will not be performing at, attending, nor submitting my work to the IMAs unless they revise their policies or have Inuit representation on the board for consultation,” Tagaq tweeted on March 31.

Other performers have since followed suit, demanding the music awards rescind Cikwes’ nomination.

Both Kelly Fraser and Iva said they will no longer submit their work or agree to perform at the music awards until the organization addresses their concerns.

Nunavut-born, Yellowknife-based throat-singing duo Piqsiq pulled their album, which was nominated this year for the IMA’s best electronic album.

“We look forward to submitting future work once our concerns of cultural appropriation are taken seriously and policies are in place to prevent it from happening again,” the group tweeted earlier this week.

A handful of other Inuit artists are nominated for awards this year, including Beatrice Deer, Aasiva and newcomer Angela Amarualik.

For its part, the festival’s board of governors said submissions are judged and selected by a group of music industry voters, who do not disclose their heritage, 39 of whom selected the nominees in the folk album category this year.

Cikwes’ nomination will stand, the organization said in an April 2 news release.

“We don’t presume to agree or disagree on this matter at this time, as it requires great reflection, ceremony and discussions on how we move forward in a good way,” the IMA said in a release.

“We have not dismissed this matter in any capacity. We recognize the importance of building representation and programming that shares common values.”

The organization said it intends to add an Inuit representative to its board of governors at its next AGM, as well as develop a policy on cultural appropriation for all artists submitting to the awards.

Throat singing, or katajjaq, comes from a long oral tradition practised among Inuit women. Although it’s often performed today as entertainment, throat singing developed as a game played by two participants.

Throat singers make sounds imitating sounds in nature, carrying on a rhythm until one person laughs or loses their breath.

Throat singing was discouraged and essentially banned for many decades by Christian missionaries when they arrived in Inuit communities in the early 20th century, but the practice saw a revival in the 1980s.

In 2014, Quebec designated throat singing as a part of the province’s cultural heritage—the first designation of its kind.