Theodore C. Levin and Michael E. Edgerton: THE THROAT SINGERS OF TUVA


Ted Levin


Michael E.Edgerton

Testing the limits of vocal ingenuity, throat-singers can create sounds unlike anything in ordinary speech and song—carrying two musical lines simultaneously, say, or harmonizing with a waterfall

From atop one of the rocky escarpments that criss-cross the south Siberian grasslands and taiga forestsof Tuva, one’s first impression is of an unalloyed si-lence as vast as the land itself. Gradually the ear habituatesto the absence of human activity. Silence dissolves into asubtle symphony of buzzing, bleating, burbling, cheeping,whistling—our onomatopoeic shorthand for the sounds ofinsects, beasts, water, birds, wind. The polyphony unfoldsslowly, its colors and rhythms by turns damped and rever-berant as they wash over the land’s shifting contours.For the seminomadic herders who call Tuva home, thesoundscape inspires a form of music that mingles with theseambient murmurings. Ringed by mountains, far from majortrade routes and overwhelmingly rural, Tuva is like a musi-cal Olduvai Gorge—a living record of a protomusical world,where natural and human-made sounds blend.Among the many ways the pastoralists interact with andrepresent their aural environment, one stands out for itssheer ingenuity: a remarkable singing technique in which asingle vocalist produces two distinct tones simultaneously.One tone is a low, sustained fundamental pitch, similar tothe drone of a bagpipe. The second is a series of flutelikeharmonics, which resonate high above the drone and maybe musically stylized to represent such sounds as the whistleof a bird, the syncopated rhythms of a mountain stream orthe lilt of a cantering horse.In the local languages, the general term for this singing iskhöömeior khoomii,from the Mongolian word for “throat.”In English it is commonly referred to as throat-singing. Somecontemporary Western musicians also have mastered thepractice and call it overtone singing, harmonic singing orharmonic chant. Such music is at once a part of an expres-sive culture and an artifact of the acoustics of the humanvoice. Trying to understand both these aspects has been achallenge for Western students of music, and each of us—one a musical ethnographer (Levin), the other a composerwith an interest in extended vocal techniques (Edgerton)—has had to traverse the unfamiliar territory of the other.Sound MimesisIn Tuva, legends about the origins of throat-singing assertthat humankind learned to sing in such a way long ago.The very first throat-singers, it is said, sought to duplicatenatural sounds whose timbres, or tonal colors, are rich inharmonics, such as gurgling water and swishing winds. Al-though the true genesis of throat-singing as practiced today isobscure, Tuvan pastoral music is intimately connected to anancient tradition of animism, the belief that natural objectsand phenomena have souls or are inhabited by spirits.According to Tuvan animism, the spirituality of mountainsand rivers is manifested not only through their physical shapeand location but also through the sounds they produce or can80Scientific AmericanSeptember 1999The Throat-Singers of TuvaVOICE OF A HORSE in Tuvan music, the igil—played hereby Andrei Chuldum-ool on the grasslands of southern Siberia(also above)—is a two-stringed upright fiddle made fromhorse hide, hair and gut and used to re-create equine sounds.Sound mimicry, the cultural basis of Tuvan music, reaches itsculmination in throat-singing.

THE THROAT SINGERS OF TUVATesting the limits of vocal ingenuity, throat-singers can create sounds unlike anything in ordinary speech and song—carrying two musical lines simultaneously, say, or harmonizing with a waterfall


Singing in the MRI with Tyley Ross Making the Voice Visible

Singing in the MRI with Tyley Ross Making the Voice Visible

Ajoutée le 23 avr. 2019

Tyley Ross is a Grammy nominated recording artist, the co-founder of the Universal Records recording act The East Village Opera Company, and a Dora Award winning musical theater actor. He is based in New York City.

Robert Oliver Beahrs: Post-Soviet Tuvan Throat-Singing (Xöömei)and the Circulation of Nomadic Sensibility, University of California Berkeley, 2014

Post-Soviet Tuvan Throat-Singing (Xöömei)and the Circulation of Nomadic Sensibility

By Robert Oliver Beahrs

A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of therequirementsfor the degree of Doctor of Philosophy inMusic in the Graduate Division of the University of California, Berkeley

Committee in charge:Professor Benjamin Brinner, Chair ,Professor Bonnie Wade, Professor Alexei Yurchak, Professor Theodore Levin

Fall 2014


Abstract : Post-Soviet TuvanThroat-Singing (Xöömei)and the Circulation of NomadicSensibility

byRobert Oliver Beahrs Doctor of Philosophy in Music University of California, Berkeley

Professor Benjamin Brinner, Chair ,

Guttural singing practices in the Sayan-Altai region of south-central Siberia have been historically framed as possessing “nomadic” qualities linked with pastoral population groups indigenous to the region. As these singing practices were incorporated into a genre of national folk music for TannuTuva (1921-1944) and the Tuvan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (1961-1991)—and then later reformulated as the centerpiece of an exotic genre of world music—xöömei throat-singing was shaped by contradictory attitudes towards its purportedly nomadic characteristics, which have been essentialized at various times, for multiple reasons, by local and global actors and interest groups. In the post-Soviet era, xöömeizhi(master throat-singers) from the Tuva Republic (now part of Russia) express a revitalized nomadic sensibility through xöömei singing practices, which has come to operate both as an ideology and a disposition for Tuvan traditional music. Drawing on a selective use of history, cultural memory, and natural environments, post-Soviet xöömeizhi construct a nomadic sensibility that is embodied in music and sound-making activities, foregrounded in intercultural exchanges, and circulated as a social disposition.

Stuart Hinds performance at Lawndale Art Center

Stuart Hinds performance at Lawndale Art Center

Ajoutée le 5 déc. 2011

Lawndale Art Center is pleased to present a performance by composer and overtone signer Stuart Hinds. In recent years, overtone singing has become more widely known and appreciated. Overtone singing can be heard in pop music, movie soundtracks, and even prime time television commercials. This rise in popularity is largely due to successful tours and recordings by musicians representing the two major styles: Tibetan Buddhist chant and Tuvan/Mongolian throat singing. In the West, an increasing number of musicians are employing the techniques in their work. All these styles have in common an essentially drone-based musical texture with an unchanging fundamental pitch and a melody of overtones. Stuart Hinds is unique among overtone singers for the level of technical mastery and fluency he has achieved. Hinds takes overtone singing to a new expressive level. In a quantum leap beyond traditional drone-based singing, Hinds is able to vocally produce two distinct musical lines at the same time. His original compositions stretch the boundaries of overtone singing into a completely new genre of music that can embrace any musical style. Hinds work reflects his classical training, with influences from many musical cultures a unique style that appeals to a broad range of listeners.

CHARLES CHEN : Q&A with music professor Ted Levin

Q&A with music professor Ted Levin

by Charles Chen | 4/25/18 1:50am



Professor Ted Levin teaches courses about world music and interdisciplinary music topics at the College. His work focuses on ethnomusicology and the music of Central Asia and Siberia. Levin has traveled the world studying music and has published several books about his travels and studies. He throat sings and plays the banjo, bagpipes, celtic fiddle, durar, piano and tanbur. He also works with outreach programs to support music and musicians from other cultures and is currently the senior project consultant to the Aga Khan Music Initiative. Levin was the first executive director of Silkroad, whose Silk Road Ensemble included founder Yo-Yo Ma in a recent performance at Hopkins Center for the Arts.

What first got you interested in music?

T.L.: I started playing piano when I was four years old, and until I was a teenager, I had only ever heard Western classical music. I’m probably the only person who lived through the sixties and missed The Beatles. But as a teenager, I went to a summer camp where I fell head over heels for the banjo, and I basically majored in banjo at Amherst College. When I graduated, I got a Thomas J. Watson fellowship that required me to leave the United States for a year. I pursued an independent project that involved studying music while traveling from Ireland to India. Forty-five years later, I still feel like I’m doing that fellowship.

How did you end up teaching at Dartmouth?

T.L.: Well, I wasn’t looking for an academic job. After I got my Ph.D., I dropped out of academia. I went to work in a cultural exchange during the waning years of the Soviet Union. I co-produced Billy Joel’s performances in Moscow and Leningrad in 1987, which were the first major American rock and roll performances in the country. But I always loved northern New England, and when my graduate school advisor suggested that I apply for a job at Dartmouth, I did, and I’ve been here ever since.

Tell me about your research and interests.

T.L.: My area of specialization is Central Asia and Siberia. I have been a student of those musics since my fellowship in 1974, and I travel to these areas every year to revitalize my network of musical colleagues and research collaborators. I’m presently working on a book about the impact of international NGOs on culture and the future of music in Central Asia. However, these days, I’m much more active in cultural advocacy than in research. Outside of Dartmouth, I work as a consultant for the Aga Khan Music Initiative and am part of a small team that is allocating $500,000 in prize money to support music creation, performance and education in Muslim societies across the world. I see this as a huge opportunity to contribute to the future of music development.

What drew you to Siberia and Central Asian music?

T.L.: It’s hard to explain. The first Central Asian country I went to was Afghanistan in 1974, and then later in graduate school I spent a year in Uzbekistan. It was the mid-seventies, during the Cold War, which meant that I was the only American there. Though that was hard, I loved it. There was something about the music, the people, the place, the physical geography, the food, the climate. Beneath the forbidding political atmosphere, there was a warmth — a welcome — that I had never experienced before. I felt like I was finally at home.

Much of your outreach involves bringing together the music of different cultures. What are the roles that music and culture play in the spread of multiculturalism?

T.L.: Music has connected people. That was one of the ideas at the root of the Silk Road Project. I think that the more people get connected and learn about other cultures, the more likely they are to develop a kind of cultural creativity that makes them cultural cosmopolitans. And this is very important in parts of the world where there is ongoing tension between ethnic nationalism and cultural pluralism. Music can serve as a force for either. I see my role as promoting musical activities that are intrinsically cosmopolitan and challenge musicians to reach beyond their own cultures to find common ground with musicians from other societies.

How did you end up working with Silkroad and Yo-Yo Ma?

T.L.: In the mid-nineties, I published a book about music in Central Asia. It was musicology disguised as a travel log, and the title of the book was “The Hundred Thousand Fools of God: Musical Travels in Central Asia (and Queens, New York).” Yo-Yo Ma was intrigued by the title and ordered it, knowing nothing about the author. After he read it, he tracked me down and asked if I would be interested in working with him. I met with him and discussed starting Silkroad. My job was to synthesize the group’s ideas into documents that could be used to raise money and to pitch our project to concert halls and presenters that could share the project with the world. One of my main tasks was to co-curate the Smithsonian Folklife Festival at the National Mall in Washington D.C., which was devoted to the Silk Road. We brought 400 artists, musicians and artisans to D.C. Since the festival took place just after 9/11, it was not easy to bring musicians from Central Asia and a lot of other Muslim-majority countries.

What was your favorite show at the Hop that played recently?

T.L.: The Hop does a fantastic job of bringing adventurous artists to Dartmouth. Their achievement is really bringing top people from many different categories. This year, I think my favorite show was put on by the vocal group “Room Full of Teeth.” But my favorite thing that the Hop does is commission and premiere new work. In the past couple of months, I produced Qyrq Qyz’s premiere, and the Silk Road Project had its own premiere as well. This kind of access is remarkable for the college community to have.

If you were giving out Pulitzer Prizes for music, who would you give one to?

T.L.: I’d give one to my friends. My friends and colleagues are all very deserving. You can’t second guess the Pulitzer community; they always surprise, not the least this year. I’m delighted that they are expanding the purview of the prize and recognizing achievements in musical styles and genres outside of classical music.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.