LINGUIST List 5.1422
Fri 09 Dec 1994
Sum: Tuvan throat-singing
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“Vern M. Lindblad”, Sum: Tuvan throat-singing (plus new tour info)
Message 1: Sum: Tuvan throat-singing (plus new tour info)Date: Fri, 9 Dec 1994 03:45:34 -Sum: Tuvan throat-singing (plus new tour info)
From: “Vern M. Lindblad” <vernmlu.washington.edu>
Subject: Sum: Tuvan throat-singing (plus new tour info)
Sum: Tuvan throat-singing (plus new tour info)
Almost a year ago (Dec. 1993) I posted a query regarding various aspects of Tuvan throat-singing, particularly its articulatory phonetics. In response to this I have received a variety of replies, both informative ones and requests for information (most of which I replied to individually at the time they were received), from the following people:
Guy K. Haas, Sr., Richard Sproat, Karen Jensen, Kevin J. Tuite, David Gil, Regina Cassidy, keshavresearch.att.com, Charlotte Linde, John McLaughlin, Derek Gross, Steven Schaufele, Bruce Nevin, Steven Weinberger, Guy Modica, Erwin Klock, Jerry Neufeld-Kaiser, Alice Davison, Robert Westmoreland, Rob Jordan, Susan Marie Russell, Seth Minkoff, Karen S. Chung
This summary repeats the core of the original query, followed by lightly edited versions of some of the replies, plus additional related information that has come my way in the meantime.
But first, some late-breaking news! Since many responses to my query included thanks for alerting Linguist Listers to last winter’s tour by the Tuvan throat-singing group Huun-Huur-Tu, I want to give you the schedule for this winter’s tour as per the FoT Newsletter that arrived last week (I only regret that they won’t be coming to Seattle this time):
Portland ME: Fri Jan 13 (Portland High School) Burlington VT: Sat Jan 14 (Flynn Theatre, 153 Main St.) Somerville MA: Sun Jan 15 (Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square) Hanover NH: Tues Jan 17 (Spaulding Auditorium, Dartmouth College) Northampton MA: Thurs Jan 19 (Iron Horse, 20 Center St) Erie PA: Fri Jan 20 (Arie Art Museum, 411 State St) Milwaukee WI: Sat Jan 21 (Fine Arts Theatre, U of W) Ann Arbor MI: Wed Jan 25 (The Ark) Peoria IL: Fri Jan 27 (Dingledine Music Ctr, Bradley Univ.) Batavia IL: Sat Jan 28 (Ramsey Auditorium, Pine St. at Kirk Rd.) Eugene OR: Wed Feb 1 (Soreng Theatre, Hult Center) Ashland OR: Fri Feb 3 (Music School, South Or St Coll) Berkeley CA: Sat Feb 4 (Wheeler Hall, UC Berkeley. Contact Cal Performances (510) 642-9988) Arcata CA: Sun Feb 5 (Van Duzer Theatre, Humboldt State Univ) Santa Cruz CA: Tues Feb 7 (Palookaville, 1133 Pacific Ave) Santa Barbara Ca: Wed Feb 8 (Veterans Memorial Bldg) San Diego CA: Thurs Feb 9 (Mandeville Auditorium, UCSD) Tucson AZ: Sat Feb 11 (Berger Center, Arizona State U) Austin TX: Sun Feb 12 at 7pm (Bates Recital Hall, 2400 E. Campus Dr, Univ of Austin) Call (512) 477-6060 Hull QUE Canada: Tues Feb 14 (Museum of Civilization) Rochester NY: Wed Feb 15 (Kilbourn Hall, Eastman School of Music) New York City: Fri Feb 17 (Symphony Space, Broadway & 95th)
Here are the essentials of the original query:
Ever since I first heard Tuvan throat-singing on NPR’s “All Things Considered” several years ago, I’ve been intrigued by this extraordinarily complicated form of vocal gymnastics. For those who haven’t experienced it, you can get a rough approximation for at least some of the five canonical styles by imagining a man singing a very low, droning sound while simultaneously someone whistles a melody. But — it’s all being done by one singer (almost always a man), through exquisite control of overtones! This musical art is related to the overtone singing/chanting done (especially by Buddhist monks) in Tibet and Mongolia, but the Tuvans have taken it further, to the point where some Tuvans can even produce three audible tones simultaneously.
The most specific explanation that I’ve gotten is in the notes accompanying the Smithsonian Folkways CD, “Tuva: Voices from the Center of Asia.” According to them, “By precise movements of the lips, tongue, jaw, velum, and larynx, singers can selectively intensify vocally produced harmonics…. Normally … the numerous harmonics that add “body” to a tone are less loud than the fundamental frequency that tells a listener what musical pitch is being played or sung. We hear harmonics only as coloring, not as distinct notes. In throat-singing, the opposite is true. Harmonics can be made louder than the drone note from which they arise. In Tuva, high harmonic pitches are sequenced into melodies and manipulated with extreme virtuosity in a number of canonized styles.” Thereupon follows a transcription in musical notation of the melody of one of the tracks on the CD, showing on the bass clef a drone note that is held for 37 beats, while a melodic line consisting mostly of eighth and quarter notes runs above it on the trebel clef. In addition, above each note on the treble clef is annotated the number of the harmonic that it constitutes relative to the drone tone. The sequence of harmonics begins: 9 10 12 12 10 8 9 10 9 10 8 6 8 9 10 12 12 10; then precisely the same sequence of overtones is repeated with the same durations, excepting only the last 3 notes, for which a 5-note ending is substituted. I find the idea of this kind and degree of control of overtones virtually unfathomable.
When three Tuvans performed here in Seattle last January, two other phonology grad students and a phonetician also attended the concert (along with an SRO crowd), but none of them managed to help me understand this vocal phenomenon much better. The emcee at the concert told the audience that the Tuvans can’t explain anything about how they make such sounds (a claim that is probably best taken with the proverbial grain of salt). So my primary query comes down to this: Can anybody out there explain any details of the articulatory mechanism of Tuvan throat-singing beyond the suggestive comments I’ve cited from those liner notes? It strikes me that the sorts of multiple articulations implicated here probably far surpass in both complexity and requisite precision the sorts of multiple articulations (mostly of clicks) discussed in Sagey’s (1986) dissertation.
…Furthermore, … somebody once sent in an intriguing reference to FoT describing a Sioux chief singing in two voices, but unfortunately the citation got lost — does anyone on Linguist List have any references or insights?.
(And finally, at the risk of entering the realm of wild speculations, does anyone find this at all suggestive about the Bering land-bridge? Obviously the Sioux weren’t Buddhists like the other practitioners of overtone singing mentioned above, but isn’t it perhaps conceivable that some form of this vocal technique could antedate Buddhism by millenia, and go back as far as the last ice age? An older Shamanism coexists with the newer Buddhism in Tuvan culture, and while various forms of shamanism are far too widespread around the world for me to be willing to take their mere presence in two cultures as indicative of a common heritage, it seems to me that if overtone singing became entwined with shamanistic practise as a medium of communication with the spirit world, then that might give it such importance that it could persist for millenia. Is anyone aware of any (independent or related) development of similar vocal techniques anywhere else in the world? NB: I am emphatically NOT suggesting that overtone singing is tied to any particular language, nor that Tibetan is genetically related to Altaic languages like Mongolian and Tuvan with which it shares this tradition; I just wonder if throat-singing isn’t so peculiar and special that its appearance elsewhere might suggest cultural contact. Also, I wonder if there are any references in ancient Chinese sources to any of their neighbor peoples’ doing throat-singing, which could prove that it existed already in antiquity.)
Vern M. Lindblad
My guess is that this must involve manipulating the spectral tilt; I don’t understand the exact glottal mechanism involved, but spectral tilt is (I believe) related to properties of the closed phase of the glottis.
The reason I presume spectral tilt is involved is that the harmonics must be being manipulated by changing the resonances (formants) of the oral cavity, thus enhancing the harmonics. Obviously this happens in normal speech (or singing) too, but in normal speech there is a fairly significant roll off (tilt) of the energy above the fundamental, so that the higher harmonics are not enhanced enough to be perceived as separate pitches, merely as giving the overall quality to the sound. If you lower the spectral roll-off, then some of the higher harmonics will be sufficiently enhanced by the higher resonances to be audible as separate pitches.
Anyway, that is my guess. Sorry I can’t be more specific about the actual glottal mechanisms.
Richard Sproat Linguistics Research Department
If you haven’t seen it already, I would highly recommend the documentary film on Mongolian diphonic vocal techniques by the Swiss musicologist Hugo Zemp. Zemp, assisted by a Vietnamese researcher who learned the technique himself, performed a detailed acoustic and physiological study of diphonic singing, including some striking X-ray films of the movements of the articulatory organs during singing. And yes, some have linked diphonic singing, at least among the Tuvans and Mongolians, with shamanism (the singing is said to imitate the sounds of various natural phenomena associated with certain spirits or something of the sort), but more than this I cannot tell you with any reliability.
Kevin Tuite Universite de Montreal tuitekjere.umontreal.ca
My wife forwarded your posting to the linguist list on Tuvan singing to me. I heard Tuvan singing in the documentary “Feynmman’s last journey” on PBS in 1989 (which described his efforts to make trip to Kyzyl). I thought that it might be a lark to try doing it, and to my surprise, I had no trouble at all reproducing the overtones. The trick is to produce a bass drone deep from your throat – I call it from the belly- and then slack the vocal chords, so that the overtones are produced automatically. If you have ever tried producing the Hindu ‘Om’ sound, you have the belly part of the sound already, then it is not much more work to get the overtone. I would be interested in hearing more of the music – unfortunately I have heard very little throat singing beyond my own, and would like to increase my reportoire 😉 If you have any references for the Folkways recording, please do let me know
Have you discussed this with musicians? I’m thinking especially of brass players. I’m not one myself, but my bachelor’s degree is in music theory, and i do understand that: with a given ‘setting’ (fingering on horn or trumpet, slide position on trombone) a brass instrument has a specific fundamental pitch, equivalent to the ‘drone’ you refer to. The brass player, by manipulating hanns lips and oral cavity (essentially manipulating exactly how air is forced from hanns mouth into the tube, and how hanns lips are vibrating as a result of this forced air), selects one from a variety of partials of that fundamental, and that is the pitch the instrument actually produces. (The fundamental itself is almost never chosen; except from some of the higher fundamentals on a trombone, it’s usually of poor tone quality if it can be played at all. The lowest note a brass player typically gets with a given ‘setting’ is the 2nd partial or, in your terms, the 1st overtone — twice the frequency of the fundamental.)
Not being a brass player i can’t tell you much more than this, and of course brass instruments typically do not produce a fundamental pitch simultaneously with an overtone as your Tuvans seem to be doing. But since both processes seem to involve the selection of overtones by means of oral manipulation, i suspect an experienced (and acoustically astute) brass player might be able to shed some light on your question.
Best, Steven —— Dr. Steven Schaufele
*** O syntagmata linguarum liberemini humanarum! *** **** Nihil vestris privari nisi obicibus potestis! ****
[I solicited the following response to Steven from Jerry, because I knew that he is a student of both linguistics and music, and because he heard the Tuvans perform here both in concert and in a music class.]
shaufele is correct that brass players manipulate overtones in this way. in fact clarinet and flute playing (what i and my wife whitney do) involve some of it as well. but i think that western musicians’ experience with overtones won’t shed much helpful light on tuvan miracle throat singing. that is, i know that if i change my throat in certain ways, the fingering i’m doing will surface with a higher note than normal. and so what i’ve learned in order to do this is a barely-conscious choice of throat states: a default, and some variants. for flute the overtones are achieved more than anything else by blowing the air in differently, not by different throat configurations. brass players have a greater set of choices for overtone settings but they achieve these by different buzzings of the lips more than by different throatnesses. and what they do in their throat, they’ll tell you, is “just make it right for whatever note” they want. so, in sum i think our musical tradition can’t offer much insight into the tuvans. even though we do some of this throat manipulation it is only for one at a time, which can be learned by any Joe off the street in a few lessons. the very hard part of what the tuvans can do is to amplify the overtone without losing the fundamental (which is exactly what our musicians do: lose the fundamental), and i don’t know what that involves. as i think about doing it i can’t figure out any possible ways in which to tinker with the overtones, such that the end product would be a stronger and stronger overtone until it was audible. and then the matter of a rolling melody above the drone is even more inconceivable to me. sorry i can’t unravel this mystery – part of what i enjoy about it is its total mystery. merry christmas
There was an article in the 1960s (I think) in the Journal of the American Acoustical Society on Tibetan “double-voice” singing. It is cited in the liner notes of a Folkways recording of some Tibetan monks doing their two-voice thing.
Bruce Nevin bnlightstream.com
I just read your interesting contribution on Tuvan throat singing, which I first learned of also via the interview that Susan Stamberg did on NPR. It’s interesting that linguists, including linguistic phoneticians, have no clue as to how it’s done. Linguists are so good at under- standing complex phenomena that we seem surprised when there’s a complex phenomenon connected to language which we DON’T understand. A similar topic was the subject of a LINGUIST inquiry a few years ago, which had to do with projecting one’s voice while lecturing, something I had many problems with early in my teaching career. I got considerable help from a singer, Richard Dyer-Bennett, who was in a theater department. I would also have had help (had I known then) from departments of Speech and Hearing, and from voice faculty in a school of music. For the Tuvan singing, and also the Tibetan and Mongolian varieties, you might find some useful research done by ethnomusicologists or others who do research on the use of the voice in singing. Ingo Titze, a faculty member in the U. of Iowa Department of Speech and Hearing, has done a great deal of research on the acoustic and physiological aspects of trained singers, and he might have some suggestions. Recently as I have been taking voice lessons, I am getting a better (intuitive) awareness of how to exploit the resonances of the vocal tract in ways which are not normal in conversational speech. Vowel sounds get distorted slightly depending on the pitch on which they are sung and the next pitch, higher or lower. One aims at vowel coloring also which keeps the root of the tongue advanced, to keep the supralaryngeal spaces as open as possible. There’s a lot of feedback in the perceptible vibration of the hard palate, which you can control by finding the resonance of the nasal cavity. A lot of the distortions have the effect of exploiting the formant locations of vowels-ie some singers use lip rounding for the timbre they want, because it lowers the upper formants. Also, there may be some subtle ways of ‘focussing’ the airstream to locations in the body (this is where instructions to singers don’t make any sense outside of context, but do make sense if someone is telling you if you are or are not making the right sound). I watched some of the Tibetan monks from the Drepung monastery do their ‘harmonic’ singing. They used a lot of lip rounding with a fairly open jaw, and some of them would put their hands in front of their mouths as though they were testing or deflecting the air stream, and THEN the upper harmonic would be distinctly audible. Thanks for all the information you gave. I hope someone provides some specific information; I’d love to know more about ‘throat singing’.
Sincerely yours Alice Davison, Dept. of Linguistics, U. of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa 52242
another tidbit: I’ve heard that a percussionist named Glenn Velez has been known to give workshops where he teaches Tuvan throat singing. if you want, I’ll see if I can come up with contact information.
About a month ago, you posted a message on the LINGUIST list about “throat singing”. I forwarded it to a friend of mine, who had this to say:
)I much enjoyed the Tuvan Throat Singing piece. That person should get in )touch with David Hykes, an American (or British!?) singer who studied how )to produce overtones himself abroad, for a long, long time, years, I )think, it Tibet or somewhere, and has CDs out…he can do this himself, )so I would imagine he can provide a fairly good explanation of how he )does it (or at least as good as anyone’s). I would think one could reach )him c/o his record company.
Perhaps this information can be of use to you.
–Robert Westmoreland rwestmorucs.indiana.edu
I expect you’ve heard from far and wide by now but I’m belatedly replying too. i got interested in overtone singing partly because i had started to research Inuit “throat singing” and found that it is often confused with Tuvan overtone singing. Also the Tuvans came to Vancouver last August for the world choral symposium and I had an opportunity to attend their workshop. Their Russian translator wasn’t much help due to limited English and no apparent skill herself in overtone singing but someone in the audience who had studied with some Buddhist monks finally took over and gave us a running commentary on the basic articulatory facts which are also pretty well documented in the (limited) literature. Tongue movements modify the shape of the filter for the glottal drone. By changing from one vowel shape to another different overtones are isolated. most are rounded vowels. They can even be trilled by tongue twitching. Several people in the audience were able to produce these overtones quite reliably. However the control and manipulation of these tones is what separates the artist/performer from the rest of us! Former explanations assumed it was a form of diplophonia, with two sources, the vocal cords and false vocal cords. A group of Dutch researchers pretty well discredited that model with an acoustic analysis that assumes one source while singer carefully matches certain formants to particular overtones in the series generated by the vocal buzz while useing nasal damping to isolate them. Their analysis is in JASA 1992, (4) Pt.1 pp 1827-1836. There are interesting parallels though between Tuvan overtone singing and Inuit kattajaq as they are both traditionally gender-specific and both historically used to commune with the world/language of shamanisn. I would like to see some kind of voice symposium organized (I’m thinking SFU!) to explore these various styles of production including their cultural or linguistic uses. Burning question: What is Sagey’s 1986 dissertation? Is it published? Could you send me the name? Susan M Russell srussellsfu.ca.
I’ve been meaning to write to you for a while. I went to hear the throat singers in January (thanks for the posting). They were truly wonderful.
Actually, I have “throat sung” for years — though with nothing approaching the skill or quality of the group from Tuva. When I was about 17, it occurred to me that it should be possible to vocalize and simultaneously shape the mouth in such a way as to accentuate various overtones. I found that I was able to do this instantly. What follows is my best attempt to explain how I do it.
First try humming nasally, i.e. humming the nasal consonant “ng.” Now, cease humming, but maintain the tongue and velum position, so that the oral cavity remains separate from the lungs and you are continuing to breathe only through the nose. Round your lips.
At this point, if you give your cheek a sharp “flick” with your finger, or perhaps two fingers, you should find that the resulting sound registers a note, which can be raised, principally by advancing your tongue toward the teeth, or lowered, principally by retracting the tongue away from the teeth.
Once you have gotten this worked out, try humming a low note through your nose, still maintaining the velar closure. Now try shaping your mouth (lips still rounded) so that, if you hit your cheek, the resulting tone is a fifth — actually, two octaves and a fifth — above the note you are humming. Obviously, you can try for other notes with your mouth: I’m just giving you what happens to be a prominent resonance for my mouth when I hum near the bottom of my vocal range. As you experiment, (if I have effectively communicated the technique) you will find that, by shaping your mouth so that it resonates at one of resonant frequencies of the note you are humming, you are able to produce the effect heard in throat singing, though the overtone probably will be nowhere near as loud as those produced by the masters.
The next step is to try all this without the velar closure, so that air can exit your lungs through both the nasal and oral passages simultaneously. Try playing with the “balance” between the oral and nasal tracts. In other words, try raising the back of the tongue ever so slightly to constrict the velar area of the mouth. This configuration would produce a velar fricative under other circumstances; but since the velum is lowered, air can exit freely through the nose! I think you will find that, by combining various degrees of velar constriction with various tongue-body and lip positions, you are able to make the overtones come out louder.
I hadn’t given much though to all this in recent years, but after hearing the real thing I got inspired to practice a little, and I have found that with experimentation I can produce overtones as loud as those I heard from the Tuvans. Now I just need to learn some music…
I hope this is helpful.
******************************************************************************* With the idea that different readers may benefit from different approaches, I’ve quoted fairly extensively from what seem to me to be the most informative replies. My own latest take on this is that it is not really comparable to the sorts of double articulations discussed by Sagey. Instead, the two factors involved seem to be a drone from the vocal cords and the precise shaping of the oral cavity (and also perhaps the nasal cavity). Although I have not spent much time at it or progressed very far, I have been able to produce what I take to be a related sound by first shaping my mouth to produce a whistle, and then holding it in that shape and playing around with different low tones coming from my vocal cords until I find one that produces a overtone with that oral configuration. This is approximately the reverse of the procedures advocated by others, so it may not be a very productive approach to take, but it might at least convince you that you can produce such combinations of sounds.
Now some other tidbits:
If you are interested in hearing CDs of throat-singing, following is a list of the CDs that I have obtained thus far that contain throat-singing selections. I list the 7 Tuvan ones first, followed by 3 Mongolian ones, and then one that is a miscellany of throat-singers from various parts of central Asia (including some Tuvans). In general, I think the Tuvans deserve their reputation as the best throat-singers, but the others are interesting to me too.
O”zum / Sprouts / young voices of ancient Tuva (SUM 90 008) Huun-Huur-Tu / 60 Horses in my Herd (Shanachie 64050) Shu-De / Voices from the distant steppe (Realworld / Carol 2339-2) Tuva: Voices from the Center of Asia (Smithsonian/Folkways CD SF 40017) Tuvinian Singers: Cho”o”mej — Throat-Singing from the Center of Asia (WDR 55.838) Tuva: Echoes from the spirit world (PAN 2013CD) Tuva: Voices from the Land of the Eagles (PAN 2005CD)
Mongolie: Ensemble Mandukhai (Playasound – PS 65115) Mongolian Songs (KICC 5133) Mongolia / Mongolie (UNESCO D8207)
Uzlyau: Guttural singing of the peoples of the Sayan, Altai, and Ural Mountains (PAN 2019CD)
Although they can sometimes be found in your local music retail outlet or purchased direct from the publishers, it might be more interesting (and probably not significantly more expensive) to do as I have done, namely to purchase Tuvan CDs from The Tuvan Trader, an updated copy of which is included with each Friends of Tuva (FoT) Newsletter. (Proceeds help fund Friends of Tuva projects.)
To receive the Friends of Tuva (FoT) Newsletter (which automatically makes you a FoT), send between 1 and 4 self-addressed, stamped legal-size (approximately 4″ by 9″ or 10cm by 24cm.) envelopes to: Friends of Tuva, Box 70021, Pasadena CA 91117, USA. (Please put $.32 on each envelope, as postage rates increase on January 1. If your address is outside the US and you have access to US stamps, the rates are: Canada $.40, Mexico, $.35; Europe, $.85 (printed matter rate), and the rest of the world, $.95. Otherwise, you can send $1 in cash or two International Reply Coupons per envelope.)
In the past year I have also received several more issues of the FoT Newsletter that contain relevant information. The following passages are taken from them:
FoT Newsletters 8/9, Fall 1993/Shagaa 1994: Throat-singing Tutorial
“FoT Paul Pena of San Francisco has developed a throat-singing tutorial on cassette. Anyone interested in receiving it should send $12 (a check made out to Paul Pena, or cash) and an address label (important!–Mr. Pena is blind) to: Paul Pena, 1212 Willard St. # 1, San Francisco CA 94117. I find his observations, Delivered in a deep, “cool jazz” voice, highly entertaining. Listening to his cassette prompted me to take the leap into kargyraa, the deep, “rattling style” of throat-singing, which I find to be the most fun. (Mr. Pena likes to communicate by e-mail: his address is verdewell.sf.ca.us)”
FoTN 9, Shagaa 1994: E-mail group talks Tuva
“If you have access to Internet, try alt.culture.tuva on Usenet and check out the latest Feynman and Tuva news.”
Ibid.: Tongue-in-cheek throat-singing tutorial:
“FoT Michael Emory has written a “how to” on throat-singing. This little gem (it comes as a 6-page booklet, perfect for your purse or hip pocket) includes the basic styles, plus offshoots such as “bicycle kargyraa” and “home ho”o”mei.” The best reading I’ve come across in months! To obtain a copy, send a self-addressed, stamped ($.29) envelope, and $1 cash (to cover printing costs) to: Michael Emory, Box 648, Westbury NY 11590.”
I hope this throat-singing miscellany has been informative and provocative.
Vern M. Lindblad vernmlu.washington.edu