Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

In college I took a class called World Music. As an independent music lover I thought that this would be an elective I could handle easily and with minimal effort. That class turned out to be the best class I took during my entire (incredibly long) five year stint at the U of North Texas. My professor just happened to be a member of the old '60s rock band, The Kingsmen (of which I ran out to our resident used record/book store Recycled Books to buy a copy of an old LP.) Besides developing an enormous crush on a man older than my father, I learned a lot about world music.

One very interesting genre, and one with a very complicated and rich history, is Tuvan throat singing. Throat singing, also known as overtone singing, is a method in which the singer manipulates the harmonic resonances created as air travels up the pipe and out the mouth. This practice has been perfected, and was mostly invented out of, Tuva – a Russian republic north of Mongolia. The people of Tuva are nomadic sheep and cattle herders and this tactic was originally formed to herd the cattle to and fro. The sound of throat singing can't be imagined without being heard. It sounds like it's being pumped through a synthesizer and mixed up and down to create a strange throaty, husky, otherworldly undulation.

The moment I heard Tuvan throat singing I was entranced. I had to learn more! Paul Pena, a blind American contemporary blues singer, became interested in the throat singing craft and taught himself how to do it just by listening to recordings. In the movie Genghis Blues (highly recommended) Paul goes to Tuva and participates in a Tuvan throat singing competition. Genghis Blues is an endearing and fascinating documentary about the beauty and history of an ancient art form.

My prior fascination with throat singing came flooding back when I read the Pitchfork review of "Melodii Tuvi: Throat Songs and Folk Tunes from Tuva." I was surprised and glad that throat singing will get a new audience, per Pitchfork. It's not for everyone… but when you hear this music it jars something very primal and pure inside of you. It isn't like popular music today.. it's not heard once, loved and then forgotten. Tuvan music, and particularly throat singing, will endure, just as the nomadic herders of Tuva still herd their cattle and throat sing their way across the frigid and desolate land of northern Mongolia.