By manipulating the throat, diaphragm, and mouth, the singers can adjust the length and vibrations of tones created when air travels from the lungs past the vocal cords. Tweaking not only the rate at which the vocal cords open and close, but the manner in which they do gives their voices a shaky, bouncy quality. This technique, called throat singing, produces a number of pitches simultaneously, sounding as if multiple voices are emanating from a single singer.
Hailing from Tuva, a small country sandwiched between Siberia and Mongolia, Huun-Huur-Tu has emerged as the country’s musical ambassadors. The first throat singers of the country sought to duplicate sounds of nature, like rushing water and swishing winds. By transforming the sounds of the natural world into music, throat singers make vocal “maps” of physical landscapes in their songs. The first throat singers were herders and farmers who held a strong belief in animism; that natural objects were inhabited by spirits. Imitating the sounds of nature through their music, throat singers are able to link themselves to the physical environment. The ancient music is learned more from being passed down from generation to generation in Tuva, rather than being taught formally. However, with Huun-Huur-Tu popularizing the music, there are now throat-singing workshops around the world.
Formed in 1992, Huun-Huur-Tu has had some lineup changes and the band today consists of Sayan Bapa, Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, Radik Tolouche, and Alexei Saryglar. Huun-Huur-Tu, meaning sun propeller, refers to the propeller-like separation of light rays that often occurs just after sunrise or just before sunset: a process similar to the refraction of sound in the band’s singing. The band originally formed to concentrate on the traditional songs of Tuva, but Huun-Huur-Tu’s members also recognize their music’s need to grow, which has inspired a collaboration with the Bulgarian women’s choir Angelite on the CD Mountain Tale (Jaro, 1998).
“We’re trying to preserve our musical heritage,” says former member and co-founder Sasha Bapa. “But at the same time we’re looking forward. If a musical tradition stops evolving it is destined to die.”
Along with releasing five CDs of its own, the group has also lent its vocals to albums by Frank Zappa, The Chieftans, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and the Kronos Quartet, and has toured North America four times and performed at festivals across Europe. The band has been nominated for the 2008 BBC World Music Award in the Asia/Pacific category.
Produced by Hop High Productions, Huun-Huur-Tu will perform at the Rosendale Theater on March 8 at 8pm. (845) 658-8989; www.huunhuurtu.com.