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Fri 09 Dec 1994

Sum: Tuvan throat-singing

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  1. "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.

Happy hunting!

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

regards

keshav


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.

Derek


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.

Sincerely,

Seth

*******************************************************************************
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
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