Monday, 29 August 2011

Tuva, Among the Spirits: Sound, Music, and Nature in Sahka and Tuva [1999]



Artist: Various
Album: Tuva, Among the Spirits: Sound, Music, and Nature in Sahka and Tuva
Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

I always think that despite the vast array of genres we have over here in the West, indigenous music is something completely outside of the structures that we've given to modern musical styles. Even more so than harsh noise or lowercase music, indigenous music seems to me more alien than any other sound in the world. The music of primitive cultures often serves a purpose, be it religious or for pure practicality (such as attracting animals using calls), and in a culture where music is used almost solely for leisure or entertainment, this can be a hard concept to fully grasp. I find this thought uplifting, because it affirms that music is not something that has sprung up out of society or civilisation, but out of a far more primitive part of ourselves as animals. Music is innate in us as human beings, not brought about through cultural conditioning.

I've already posted another album of Tuvan folk music, which was also released on the absolutely fantastic Smithsonian Folkways record label, who have released hundreds of records exploring the indigenous music of cultures from all over the globe. Tuvan music is very special both to me personally and to the history of music as a whole. The music of the Tuvan people is primarily vocal-based and ranges from bird calls and animal imitations to stringed instrument pieces and vocal drones. Obviously a huge point of interest is the unique singing style called "throat singing", "overtone singing" or "harmonic singing", which essentially allows the throat singers to sing two notes at once. The actual mechanics behind throat singing are very complicated, but in simple terms, it's achieved by manipulating the voice-box and changing the shape of the mouth to create overtones (there's a full explanation on Wikipedia). The resultant sound is unlike anything else, and in many ways like an imitation of the harmonics of the wind.

This knack for imitating sounds from nature is something that the Tuvans are especially good at, and this CD reflects that, with several tracks showing the peoples' beautiful emulations of natural sounds. The track "Harmonics in the Wind" is like a jam session with the wind, with what sounds like a xomuz (Jew's Harp) player and another stringed instrument (could be either an igil or a byzaanchy) mimic the harmonics of the wind and try to tune their playing to the tuning of the wind. On another track, "Xomuz Imitating Water", a xomuz player improvises along to the sounds of a stream, copying the little sounds that the water makes with his xomuz to convincing effect; it's like two great improvisers meeting to play together, only one of them is nature itself.

I personally prefer this compilation to the one I previously posted, Tuva: Voices from the Center of Asia [1987]. This is partly do with the fact that I much prefer the pieces on this disc and the way that they are arranged, but it is also because the quality of these recordings are far better. This is to be expected, as the material for this CD was recorded 12 years later, and obviously the equipment that can be taken out into the field had vastly improved. While recording quality may not always be of great importance, when it comes to field recordings, especially field recordings of Tuvan music, it is paramount that the spaces around the performer be properly audible, and here it's possible to hear every bird, every rustling tree, and every drop of water that falls around the recording space.

Tuvan musicians will travel far to find the perfect acoustic spot for performance, and these recordings let you sit right next to them in the caves, on the mountains and by the streams of rural Siberia.

I won't post a download link for this one, because I've seen the people from Smithsonian Folkways scouring the web to remove links. Since Spotify is now available in the US and a lot of other countries, try downloading that to listen to it. If all else fails, you know where Google is.

Tracklist (track name followed by artist name, where artist name is not noted, the artist is unknown):

1) A Reverberant Valley
2) Sakha Animal Imitations - German Khatilaev & Klavida Khatileava
3) Tuvan Round-up
4) Fantasy on the Igil - Kaigal-ool Khovalyg
5) Birds and Bird Imitations - Kagail-ool Khovalyg, Anatoli Kuular & Alexei Saryglar
6) Xoomei on Horseback - Kagail-ool Khovalyg & Anatoli Kuular
7) Borbangnadyr with Steam Water - Anatoli Kuular
8) Xomuz (Jew's Harp) Imitating Water - Anatoli Kuular
9) Home on the (Mountain) Range
10) Ang-Meng Mal-Magan Ottuneri (Imitation of Wild and Domestic Animals) - Albert Saspyk-ool
11) Ang-Meng Mal-Magan Ottuneri (Reprise) - Alexander Chambal-og Tulush
12) Harmonics in the Wind
13) Sonic Landscape - Grogori Mongush
14) The Legacy of Ancestors - Tos-Khol
15) Cave Spirits
16) Kyzyl Taiga (Red Forest) - Kagail-ool Khovalyg
17) Talking Xomuz - Anatoli Kuular
18) Chiraa-Xor - Kagail-ool Khovalyg, Anatoli Kuular & Sayan Bapa
19) Epilogue

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