Thursday, 18 March 2010

Tuva: Voices from the Center of Asia [1987]

Artist: Various
Album: Tuva: Voices from the Center of Asia
Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

I found this on Spotify when I was looking for some recordings of overtone/throat singing and was really lucky to find these recordings. The recordings from Folkways are invariably incredibly useful documents of music from all around the globe, and this is of course no exception. The recordings are all really well done, especially considering that it was all done outside of a studio with field recording equipment in the environments that these pieces are intended to be heard. Tuvan singers mainly sing in places where they feel a strong bond with nature and spirits, and this usually means places like caves where they can use the acoustics of the space to improve the sounds of the overtones that they produce with their voices.

There are a variety of instruments present on this album, as well as tracks which are purely a cappella performances. Some of the instruments used are mouth harps, which are used by the performers to generate overtones, a hunting horn, known in Tuvan as an Amygrga, and a lute-like instrument which sounds very much like a primitive guitar or similar string instrument. Although these instruments do add nice flourishes to the pieces, the real magic lies in the vocal techniques employed by the singers.

Tuvan singing involves using the voice box to lay down a drone or simple series of notes, while a melody is made using the resonance created by the space in the mouth and the shape of the lips. The sounds created are incredible and allow the singers to essentially sing two completely different notes at the same time, often singing a bassline and melody simultaneously. Obviously, the environment in which the music is performed is paramount to fully hearing all of the sounds on offer, and that's why I feel that the recordings work so well; all of the pieces are given the naturally silent background that they need and deserve. The second half of the album documents many traditional hunting, funeral and other ritual songs, giving the listener a rare and beautiful insight into the culture of the Tuvan people.

Tracklist (track name followed by artist name):

1) Steppe Kargiraa - Fedor Tau
2) Sigit - Mergen Mongush
3) Sigit "Alash" - Mergen Mongush
4) Sigit with Igil - Anatolii Kuular
5) Khoomei - Fedor Tau
6) Khoomei - Sundukai Mongush
7) Tespeng Khoomei - Sundukai Mongush
8) Kozhamik (medley) with Khoomei, Sigit, and Kargiraa - Tumat Kara-ool
9) Kargiraa Duet "Artii-Sayir" - Tumat Kara-ool and Andrei Chuldum-ool
10) Khomuz Melodies - Anchimaa Sonat, Anchimaa Khert, Achyimaa Targin Chandanmaa Torten-ool
11) Borbannadir - Mikhail Dopchun
12) Borbannadir - Tumat Kara-ool
13) Borbannadir (with finger strokes across lips) - Tumat Kara-ool
14) Borbannadir - Anatolii Kuular
15) Ezegileer - Marzhimal Ondar
16) Sigit with Khomuz - Oleg Kuular
17) Medley of Various Throat-Singing Styles - Ensemble "Amirak"
18) Kargiraa "Artii-Sayir" - Vasilii Khuurak
19) Melody: Luring of the Stag - Vasilii Khuurak, Shozhul Salchak, and Polina Ore-ool
20) Imitation of the Roe Deer, the Musk Deer, the Reindeer, Owl, Wolf's Howl; Appeal to the Patron of Hunters Before the Bear Hunt; Reindeer Herd - Vasilii Khuurak, Shozhul Salchak, and Polina Ore-ool
21) Domestication of Sheep to Lamb - Doluma Lopsanchap
22) Domestication of Goat to Kid - Doluma Lopsanchap
23) Domestication of Cow to Calf - Khuren Oorzhak
24) Domestication of Camel to Calf - Shimet Soyan
25) Excerpt from Shamanic Healing Ritual - Alexander Davakai
26) Funeral Lament - Tatyana Sat
27) Lullaby - Tatyana Sat
28) Wooden Jew's Harp - Balgan Kuzhuget
29) Lullaby with Khoomei - Bilchit-Maa Davaa
30) Don't Frighten the Crane - Sundukai Mongush
31) When I Graze My Beautiful Sheep - Khuuren Oorzhak
32) Kozhamiktar - Group of Men and Women from Chadan, Dzun-Khemchik Region
33) Ceremonial Song: "Hymn to the Mountains" - Kazak Sandak

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