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Author Topic: Tuvan Throat Singing
FlyingCow
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For those of you on the east coast of the US, a group of Tuvan throat singers called Alash are currently touring.

I saw them this past weekend in Lowell, MA - and they're awesome. A friend of mine I had studied abroad with back in '98 is their manager and interpreter, and if not for him I'd likely never have had heard of this group, let alone had the experience of seeing them in person.

For those of you (like I was) who aren't familiar with Tuvan throat singing, it's a method of singing in which several tones and overtones are produced by a single human voice.

For a sample of what this sounds like (and some of the physics behind it), the group's website is www.AlashEnsemble.com (lots of samples - be sure to check out the ones in the "learn about Tuvan throat singing section) - and they still have tour dates throughout the east coast until mid-August. They said they're taking some time off after that, but are likely to return next year.

If you have the chance, it's well worth checking out. Here is an article written about them, including an interview with my friend Sean.

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Eaquae Legit
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One of my housemates - a music composition PhD student - wrote a throatsinging piece. To do that, he had to be able to sing it.

I tell you, there is NOTHING on this earth like being woken at 2am by the sound of the devil and his hordes climbing your stairs. (Once we got used to it, it was no big deal, but it was a bit startling at first.)

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Corwin
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[Big Grin]
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Lyrhawn
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I heard a trio of throat singers once. I think they were Mongolian. It was really, really cool. Quite unlike anything else I'd ever experienced.
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Lisa
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I can whistle and hum at the same time. It sounds weird, sort of like a UFO. Some of what they do sounds very much like that. The hum stays on one tone and the whistle can vary.
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Lyrhawn
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Can't everyone do that? Well, everyone who can whistle anyway.
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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
Can't everyone do that? Well, everyone who can whistle anyway.

I know Jim Carrey does it in Dumb and Dumber,

"Tractor beam, whooom, sucked me right in."

Everyone who can whistle can certainly do it, but you've got to actually figure it out.

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Dogbreath
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
Can't everyone do that? Well, everyone who can whistle anyway.

I just figured it out, but it took me about 5 minutes of trying.
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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by Dogbreath:
quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
Can't everyone do that? Well, everyone who can whistle anyway.

I just figured it out, but it took me about 5 minutes of trying.
Welcome to the ranks. [Big Grin]
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FlyingCow
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Tuvan throat singing is quite a bit different than that. There's no actual whistling involved, as all the higher pitches come from overtones in the throat itself. [Big Grin]

There are lots of samples on the website, both in audio and video format. I got the opportunity to hang out with a couple of the members of the group after the show, and seeing it in person is really cool.

There was a guy with a guitar who was playing spanish songs, but his strings kept breaking. When he got down to three, he stopped - but one of the Tuvan singers (Ayan-ool) took it and retuned it to what would be a three-string Tuvan instrument's pitches. He and Nachyn then began singing at the table. It was awesome.

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Xann.
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quote:
Originally posted by Lisa:
I can whistle and hum at the same time. It sounds weird, sort of like a UFO. Some of what they do sounds very much like that. The hum stays on one tone and the whistle can vary.

I read this, now it has been fifteen minutes and I am an expert hum-whistler. My UFO noises will soon be the envy of everyone around.
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Samprimary
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I remember the first throat-singing we got. It was 60 Horses in My Herd
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Orincoro
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Just a caution to anyone who actually decides to attempt this- misguided efforts can present a great deal of danger to the vocal chords. Even professional throat singers can cause exquisite damage to their chords- mainly causing lesions and nodes on the chords.
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Glenn Arnold
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That's ridiculous. Throat singing is no more dangerous to your vocal chords than regular singing. The overtones are generated in the cavities of the nose and mouth.

BTW, anyone who can say the letters "e" and "r" is throat singing. The difference between the two letters is that by lifting the tongue away from the teeth, a different set of overtones is generated. If you sing a tone, and switch between these two letters, you should hear the overtones switch.

And yes, I can throat sing.

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Lisa
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quote:
Originally posted by Xann.:
quote:
Originally posted by Lisa:
I can whistle and hum at the same time. It sounds weird, sort of like a UFO. Some of what they do sounds very much like that. The hum stays on one tone and the whistle can vary.

I read this, now it has been fifteen minutes and I am an expert hum-whistler. My UFO noises will soon be the envy of everyone around.
When I was 11, I went to overnight camp for the first time. One night, a while after lights out, I woke up and saw a light bobbing up and down outside the window. And I heard this unearthly noise. By this time, my bunkmates were up as well.

Turned out it was a counselor moving a coleman lantern up and down and doing the hum-whistle thing (which there ought to be a name for). I made him show me how he did it. It's a fun party trick.

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Elizabeth
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This group was at GrassRoots in Ithaca, and I was not a fan, though it was interesting, for sure.
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ketchupqueen
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I saw some when I was about 9. It triggered one of the worst headaches I've ever experienced. My dad thought I was being close-minded and ungrateful or something until I almost blacked out from the pain and he realized I was crying because it actually hurt.

I pretty much never want to hear it again. [Wink]

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AvidReader
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I'm apparently overtone impared. I listened to Daam Dozu and really didn't notice anything. Bashtak Joke was obvious enough for me to hear it in places, but I thought it sounded like someone was using a mechanical larynx to sing.

The songs are very pretty, but my ear is apparently not well enough developed to fully appreciate them.

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by Glenn Arnold:
That's ridiculous. Throat singing is no more dangerous to your vocal chords than regular singing. The overtones are generated in the cavities of the nose and mouth.

I was at least taught that it presented a danger do to straining of the vocal chords, by novices- I'm not saying real throat singing is deleterious, although I have been told by experts on the subject that it can be.

The overtones, by the way, can be generated in the nasal cavities and mouth as well as by the larynx and pharynx (there are many different ways of generating tones, and we do something of the equivalent in everyday speech, and particularly yelling), which can form nodes and calluses when stressed. Particularly, people who attempt to force their vocal chords to generate a fundamental below the natural register of their voices can cause paralysis of their vocal chords, done too often, this can lead to lasting damage. Some singers even suffer neurological damage similar to that of strings players who suffer from tendinitis- the parts of the brain necessary for invoking and storing muscle memory can be damaged over repetive and stressful movements.
I'm not making this up- you can't make a declaration that this isn't dangerous. It may be dangerous, for some people, if done in a certain way. But then of course, normal singing can also cause damage to these parts of the throat when it is done incorrectly. I'm just cautioning people that this is something they should research for themselves before attempting, does that bother you?

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Glenn Arnold
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quote:
I'm just cautioning people that this is something they should research for themselves before attempting, does that bother you?
Would it bother you if you posted that singing "Row Row Row Your Boat" as a round was a lot of fun and I responded that anyone who attempts this can do "exquisite damage to their vocal chords?" It really is the same thing.

BTW, from FlyingCow's original link
quote:
Tuvan throat singers can produce two or three, sometimes even four pitches simultaneously. The effect has been compared to that of a bagpipe. The singer starts with a low drone. Then, by subtle manipulations of his vocal tract and keen listening, he breaks up the sound, amplifying one or more overtones enough so that they can be heard as additional pitches while the drone continues at a lower volume. Despite what the term might suggest, throat singing does not strain the singer's throat.

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Orincoro
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Glenn, you're not getting me on this. I said that it *can* cause damage, and I specifically said that it can cause damage to people who do it incorrectly, because they don't know how to do it. I have been told this by a vocal expert, who is also an ethno-musicologist. It is really not the same damned thing. You don't know everything in the universe, and you shouldn't be shocked and appalled that someone else has heard different advice than you have. Please back off and allow people to disagree with you. Goddamn, I don't even care about this, I was just relaying something I had been warned about as a singer myself. Your reaction is totally out of line.
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Glenn Arnold
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quote:
You don't know everything in the universe, and you shouldn't be shocked and appalled that someone else has heard different advice than you have.
No. But I know how to throat sing. Do you? If I tried to create harmonics while screaming, or singing outside of my range or something, then I would expect vocal damage. But the throat singing part would be irrelevant.

Did your ethno-musicologist friend know how to throat sing? It has almost nothing to do with the vocal chords, and mostly has to do with training your own ears to recognize when the harmonics are dividing. Once you can hear it the rest is just opening your throat or palette or moving your tongue to create the proper resonance. There simply isn't any part of it that would put strain on your vocal chords.

And of course, I'll point out once again that a renowned group of Tuvan throat singers, people who undoubtedly know a hell of a lot more about it than your ethno-musicologist, bothered to put in their website that it does not strain the singer's throat.

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Glenn Arnold
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quote:
I'm apparently overtone impared. I listened to Daam Dozu and really didn't notice anything.
I listened to it too, to see what you were missing. The answer is: not much. There are very few vocal overtones being used, and they are easily confused with the instruments being played.

Click on the link "learn about Tuvan Throat singing," and listen to the specific examples without accompaniment. Remember that each recording is exactly one voice, and no other sounds.

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steven
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quote:
Originally posted by Glenn Arnold:
Throat singing is no more dangerous to your vocal chords than regular singing. The overtones are generated in the cavities of the nose and mouth.

BTW, anyone who can say the letters "e" and "r" is throat singing. The difference between the two letters is that by lifting the tongue away from the teeth, a different set of overtones is generated. If you sing a tone, and switch between these two letters, you should hear the overtones switch.


Dude, that's awesome! I was just sitting here, playing around with your directions, and I figured out how to do it! I've been wanting to learn for years, but I thought it was really hard to learn. This is cool. Are there any online tutorials that you suggest for getting better at it?

I'm going to be doing this all the time now, in the car, etc. LOL

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AvidReader
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quote:
Originally posted by Glenn Arnold:
quote:
I'm apparently overtone impared. I listened to Daam Dozu and really didn't notice anything.
I listened to it too, to see what you were missing. The answer is: not much. There are very few vocal overtones being used, and they are easily confused with the instruments being played.

Click on the link "learn about Tuvan Throat singing," and listen to the specific examples without accompaniment. Remember that each recording is exactly one voice, and no other sounds.

Wow. On their own, those are pretty interesting. I can't imagine a sound as subtle as the borbangnadyr (the water one) or the ezenggileer (the horse trot one) not getting lost in the rest of the music. Though, I suppose once you know what you're listening for, it's easier to pick it out.
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by Glenn Arnold:
quote:
You don't know everything in the universe, and you shouldn't be shocked and appalled that someone else has heard different advice than you have.
No. But I know how to throat sing. Do you? If I tried to create harmonics while screaming, or singing outside of my range or something, then I would expect vocal damage. But the throat singing part would be irrelevant.[/b].
Glenn, I'm not going to argue the facts with you. You're being a dick.
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FlyingCow
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Orincoro, from my own conversations with Sean, Ayan-ool, and Nachyn, there seems to be nothing involved with throat singing that is in any way more straining to the vocal chords than other types of singing.

The Tuvans said that everyone they know at home throat sings, and do so from when they are small children. To them it's just how singing is done - and to tell them it's perhaps injurious would be like telling someone from the US that singing in the shower could hurt them.

I can understand it being a risk for someone who has no idea what they're doing to try something that they *think* is throat singing, but really isn't. There are ways to damage your vocal chords by straining them overmuch, true, but none of these things are necessary to throat sing.

Is there a chance that the source that gave you that information may have been misinformed?

AvidReader,

The video on the front page of their site has some pretty good examples (between 2:35 and 3:26 into it). With microphones, the voices definitely carry over the instrumentation when they are throat singing. It's very neat.

The first time I saw it, I was looking for the flute on stage, and there wasn't one. Though I have to say the "murgu" flute that they play is really cool - it almost sounds like wolf song.

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by FlyingCow:

Is there a chance that the source that gave you that information may have been misinformed?

Of course, I just don't like my character being assaulted because I dared to suggest that I had heard something different from what someone else believed. I'm more insulted about that than about the idea that I heard wrong. I hear misinformation all the time- that doesn't bother me.
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Papa Janitor
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Please refrain from the personal attacks and vulgar language.
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Glenn Arnold
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quote:
Dude, that's awesome! I was just sitting here, playing around with your directions, and I figured out how to do it! I've been wanting to learn for years, but I thought it was really hard to learn. This is cool. Are there any online tutorials that you suggest for getting better at it?

I'm going to be doing this all the time now, in the car, etc. LOL

Ok, here's something that's going to happen, if it hasn't already. You're going to say to your girlfriend, buddy, parent, etc. "Hey listen to this!" and they will stare blankly at you as you go "EEEE ARRRRRR EEEEEEE ARRRRR" because you can hear the overtones in your head, but you can't project them outside yet. They might think that when you are all warmed up you'll hold your arms out like wings and run around the room making banking turns.

But actually you do need the feedback, so go ahead and ask them to listen anyway. Or make recordings on your computer and play them back to see if you can hear it. Practicing in the car is pretty good, because the sound reflects off the window pretty well.

The only lessons I ever received in this was second hand from my brother and mother and my wife, who had seen a demonstration where the guy told them to sing the word "Greer" on one pitch. I don't know if they even tried it, but I did. Then it was them that I asked to listen to me, and they thought I was making it up. Then a year later I showed them again, and they were amazed.

But up to this point they aren't so much music as sound effects. I've been listening to the samples from this website in order to give it a more musical structure. I can do a simplified version of Sygyt and Xoomei, and I think I might get Ezenggileer with some practice, but I don't know if I can get the rapid trilling of Borbangnadyr. It's kind of like trying to sing George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone" when you can't stutter the "b" fast enough. My mouth parts just don't have the speed to do it.

I'm not sure what I'm listening to in the Kagyraa sample. It doesn't sound like the harmonic is below the fundamental to me.

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ricree101
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Incidentally, I just recently watched a Feynman video that talked about his interest in Tuva, and his attempts to travel there.
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Uprooted
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quote:
Originally posted by Glenn Arnold:
Ok, here's something that's going to happen, if it hasn't already. You're going to say to your girlfriend, buddy, parent, etc. "Hey listen to this!" and they will stare blankly at you as you go "EEEE ARRRRRR EEEEEEE ARRRRR" because you can hear the overtones in your head, but you can't project them outside yet.

I laughed when I read this because I was just about to post that I tried it and all I heard inside my head was the EEE ARRRR EEE ARRRR - what overtones? Oh well. No "hey listen to this!" for me! I'll go check out the site now and see if listening to the samples on there enlightens me any better.
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Glenn Arnold
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I'm assuming Uprooted and Steven aren't the same person. Steven said he heard the overtones, so that's who I was responding to.

Uprooted: the key is to sing a single tone, rather than switching from E to R in the way that we speak. When we speak, we actually change pitch twice when we say the word "rear." The "E" is at a slightly higher pitch. Think of the guards in wizard of Oz, singing "O-E-O" the pitch goes up in the middle. The thing is that the pitch change disguises the harmonic split, and we just think of it as a different phoneme, rather than noticing that our voice is producing multiple tones.

If you listen to the Xoomei sound sample from the link above, you'll hear that he sings a single note, and then changes the harmonics around that note. So if you sing a note like that, and change from the E sound back to the R sound, you should hear the harmonics start to separate. It may take a little while before you notice it, but it will happen. Pay attention to the tip of your tongue while you change the sounds, that should help your awareness also. Remember that it's more about listening than making it happen. It's happening already.

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steven
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I can now control the pitch of the higher tone now, a little. I have a range of about a perfect 5th with the higher tone right now, it seems.

I actually told myself I'd not break this out on somebody until I got really good at it...but I got bored yesterday and yes, I did subject a lovely lady friend to my so-far pitiful singing. LOL

She was fairly unimpressed. [ROFL]

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FlyingCow
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Great video of an Alash Ensemble concert on the Kennedy Center website!

http://kennedy-center.org/programs/millennium/artist_detail.cfm?artist_id=ALSHENSMBL#

It's a full 56 minute concert, with english explanation/song set up by my friend Sean. Very Cool!

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FlyingCow
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Went to see Alash again as part of a library fundraising benefit in Lancaster, PA last night. Great show to a packed room of about 40o-450 people. Standing ovation led to an encore, which was very cool as it wasn't a song I'd heard from them before.

Only a few more performances left for anyone who wants to catch them live before they go back home to Tuva.

Tonight - Philadelphia, PA (last free show)
Tomorrow - Havre de Grace, MD
Friday, 8/14 - Burlington, VT
Saturday, 8/15 - Brooklyn, NY
Sunday, 8/16 - Wappingers Falls, NY

Info on the venues is on their website.

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Glenn Arnold
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Whoa! Wappingers Falls is right near me. I can't think of any venues though. I'll have to check the website.
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ricree101
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Coincidentally, I just came across the University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt. One entry on the list was to have the best submission to the WBEZ annoying music show.

Turns out, the winning submission was a rendition of "Sounds of the Yak" by a Tuvan throat singer.

link(with sound clip from the show)

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