OVERTONES


 

David Hykes: 'Harmonic Meditations' can now be ordered. It starts with a 42 minute recording, taken in a huge water cistern in the State of Washington. The cistern has a 44 second long reverberation cycle. There is also a long sequence from the re-opening of The Winter Garden, across from Ground Zero in New York. The CD closes with 2 short numbers, made for a documentary film "Travellers and Magicians", where the rhythm of the drums helps the listener gently back to earth. 159.-

 

 

 

 


 

You'll find our CATALOGUE, in this section, within the comprehensive article below, Overview on Overtone Music, which was originally an article in Djembe magazine.

This means that you'll find the titles we carry, within the overview. They are marked differently by having a price attached, in brackets. For example, they look like this: Lost Rivers (159.-). Some prices are unfortunately out of date - you will be informed of the current price when ordering.

If you want to get there quickly, hit a link: Siberia - Tibet - Japan - Western - Instrumental - Didgeridoo

 

REVIEWS


Yat-Kha -
Yenisei Punk

The following reviews, after the overview, are still awaiting translation from the Danish:
David Hykes & The Harmonic Choir -
Earth to the Unknown Power

David Hykes & The Harmonic Choir - Breath of the Heart

For more information on overtone singing, and on Tuva (a post-Soviet republic in Southern Siberia), also known as the overtone capital of the world, check out Steve Sklar's web pages, with lots of useful links, at:

Khoomei Overtone Singing Page: http://khoomei.com Home of the International Association for Harmonic Singing

 


SUMMARY:

Overtones give a sense of expansion, energy-wise - they easily give a numinous experience (see the definition of Numen), creating an awareness of the highly spiritual roots of the sounds we hear. In the following catalogue, overtones are created in 2 ways: 1) by the human voice, and 2) by the use of different metal instruments, for example bells and bowls.Most well known, ethnically, for the use of overtones, are the Chinese-Mongolian shamananist traditions of Tuva and Mongolia.

The creation of overtone sounds has been also been developed and ritualised in Tibetan Buddhism, and is especially heard in the singing of the monks of some sects. We have also become aware of a Japanese Buddhist sect which uses overtone song (see under Tibet and Japan).

Today the technique is fast being developed by Western and New Age musicians, who bring the miracle of the creation of sound closer to us, by utilising the potentials of modern hi-fidelity recording techniques.

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OVERVIEW ON OVERTONES:

In the world of sound, overtones occupy the place of the magician.

They do things one never thought possible, and they affect consciousness, the awareness of the listener, in strange and unaccustomed ways. The overtones seem to be there, but where do they come from? It's as if one were suddenly able to experience the connection of the physically produced sound with its original, non-physical roots. It's like being present at the moment - any moment - of creation. You have no choice but to be really there, present, alive, and very conscious, digging things happening that are both wierd and wonderous.

The following is a catalogue of representative and fairly easily available recordings, in which the overtones are created in two ways.

  1. by the human voice, and
  2. by the use of various metal instruments, mostly bells and bowls, which are "played" by being struck or rubbed (as one turns one's finger around the edge of a wine glass) with a mallet.

Most well known, ethnically, for the use of overtone singing, are the Siberian shamanist traditions, especially evident today in Tuva and Mongolia. In Tibet overtone song has been ritualised in some of the Buddhist sects, so that all the monks learn the technique, especially the technique the Tuvans call kargiraa. (Interestingly, much further East there are also recordings, of Japanese Buddhist monks of the Shömyo sect, singing overtone song, but I haven't been able to dig up information explaining whether or not this is an established part of their tradition).

Tuva is a small, sparsely populated country in Southern Siberia, situated right around where you would put your finger, if you were asked to point out the center of Asia. Tuva has been called the overtone singing capital of the world, and here over a dozen overtone singing styles are in common use, styles which use a variety of vocal techniques, such as open vowels, breathy sounds, whistling high tones and deep growling noises.

Two of them, sigit, a high whistling style, and kargiraa, a more throaty "frog-voice" style, can support lyrics, while the others are suitable only for producing sounds. The singer of khöt;öt;mei, or khoomei (meaning throat or pharynx) produces two or perhaps three tones, simultaneously: the fundamental pitch and one or more harmonic overtones.

Every musical note contains secondary overtones, called partials or harmonics. The fundamental is the one we easily identify as the basic note or tone, while the others are normally more difficult to hear, because they're not very loud. In spite of this they do in fact add to our experience of the tones being sung or played, giving them a specific character, in a way that only that particular voice or instrument can do. They are in fact what makes that voice or instrument uniquely identifiable.

The "magic" trick in making overtone sounds then, is to increase the volume of the harmonics, in a controlled fashion, so that the overtones - or rather, those particular overtones that the singer chooses - become clearly audible. So for example the singer will make two or even more separate sounds - simultaneously!

When using an instrument, striking it can produce as many as 5, 6 or 7 identifiable layers of harmonics - a wild experience, as you hear the layers of harmonically compatible tones, each dancing it's own pattern of apparently independent life, short or seemingly never-ending, steady or swinging, high and very deep. The world of sound springs to life in a magical, soft or crisply tender, many-dimensional, beautifully harmonious dance, a moment in time as it holds the attention of consciousness a perfect prisoner.

Today overtone singing and the use of overtone instruments is fast being developed by Western musicians, who use all the potentials of modern recording techniques to bring us closer to the miracle that the creation of multidimensional sound seems to be.

S I B E R IA is an ancient center of the shamanist tradition which uses overtone song:

SAINKHO NAMTCHYLAK: A Tuvan artist who has recorded in Denmark and visited many times, she has a large following here. A kind of Asian Yma Sumac, she not only sings overtone song, but folk and popular songs in general. On Lost Rivers (159.-) (Free Music Productions FMP CD 42) she is alone, and the CD gives a good idea of the amazing range of her voice, high and low, singing animal and bird sounds, playfully childish, with and without overtones. Out of Tuva (Cramworld CRA2866) is a historical compilation, mostly Russian recordings, sometimes with large, flowery orchestral accompaniment. Dancing on the Island (159.-)(Olesen 5147) with Danish Irene Becker (best known from the New Jungle Orchestra) has a flowing interplay between voice and keyboards. It moves easily between the melodic and the powerfully emotional, between lightness and darkness, with and without overtones.

YAT-KHA with ALBERT KUVEZIN: Yenisei-Punk (169.-)(Global GM9504)is not so much punk as a good-humoured mixture of funky rock, techno and ethnic. While the music itself is worth hearing, his voice is really something special. Amazingly, confoundingly deep, it gives a whole new dimension to the world of world music, from the very depths of Asia!

HUUN-HUUR-TU: A popular group in the West, after a number of tours in recent years - they played in Denmark this summer, together with a Bulgarian women's choir. They play and sing Tuvan folk music. Sixty Horses In My Herd (Old Songs and Tunes of Tuva) (Shanachie 64050) (including, by the way Albert Kuvezin from Yat-Kha) and The Orphan's Lament (Shanachie 64058) are two of their fine studio recordings, the quality of singing here making them very representative of authentic Tuvan music.

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Tuva - Voices From The Center Of Asia (159.-)(Smithsonian Folkways 40017) - "Miraculous Singing" is a classic that has all of 33 quite short tracks of "ethnic" field recordings, with many extremely varied - and good - examples of this, sometimes quite shockingly "different", folk tradition. You'll be absorbed, you'll laugh, and you'll wonder. Detailed liner notes.

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Dutch Pan records have several recordings from Mongolia and Tuva. Good field and studio recordings of folk music groups. Voices from the Land of Eagles (Tuva)( Pan 2005) has quite long passages, with professional musicians - and similarly White Moon (Mongolia)( Pan 2010). Tuva Ensemble - Echoes from the Spirit World (Pan 2013)has some older recordings from the seventies and eighties. All with excellent liner notes.

T I B E T is known for the overtone singing, not in its folk music, but of its Buddhist monks. Once part of secret rituals, the Dalai Lama has encouraged the spreading in the West of these recordings. According to the monks themselves, the recordings can facilitate the listener's reaching other, higher states of consciousness. In my opinion, part of the reason could be relatively mundane: that listening for overtones in itself requires a sharpened conscious attention. But perhaps especially the fact that it can be extremely difficult for consciousness to take on the task of listening simultaneously to both a fundamental and to its overtone, one might say that the span of its grasp is extended and expanded by the attempt.

MAHAKALA PUJA (only on cassette 115.-)(Akasha) is a good example of the above. This is a recording of rather varied rituals, and it's only to be had on tape. What can make it worth listening to is that the overtones, not always obvious to the new listener, are heard especially clearly here.

TANTRAS OF GYÜTO - MAHAKALA (169.-)(Nonsuch 972055) is a finely documented recording, with relatively easily audible overtone song. The traditionally raucously loud sections, with the sounds of cymbals and percussion instruments are also very much in the forefront here.

FREEDOM CHANTS (159.-)(Ryko 20113) is an excellent recording, starting with a 28 minute long section with only the voices of the monks. This sound, the deep, bass vibrations created by the calmly meditative male voices, can have the effect of a mental and emotional massage on a stressed Western psyche. The recording continues with 27 minutes of mixed song and percussive instruments and - rather incongruently for this listener - it ends with 10 minutes of New Age music, played by Kitaro, Philip Glass and Mickey Hart (of Grateful Dead fame), who produced the recording.

TIBETAN TANTRIC CHOIR (159.-)(Windham Hill WT-2001)is very similar in structure and quality to 'Freedom Chants' (but has no Western musicians at the end). Also very easy to recommend, with a long section with only the deep voices of the monks, followed by a long, mixed section.

JAPANESE SHOMYO CHANTS (only on this cassette, if you want to hear the overtones 115.-)(Sacred Spirit Music), is the only recording I've heard, of Japanese Buddhist monks (from the Tendai sect) singing overtone song. Very simple and very intense, in a characteristically Japanese way.

WESTERN ARTISTS have been learning the techniques over the last 20 years, though I've only heard one, Timothy Hill from the Harmonic Choir, sing in the really deep, kargiraa style. When singing, either a melody is sung on the fundamental notes with harmonic ornamentation added, or the fundamental can be employed as a sort of drone, with melodies growing out of the overtones.

HARMONIC CHOIR and their leader, the French-based American, DAVID HYKES are probably the most well known. Their singing is calmly quiet and meditative, Western and just exactly "harmonic". The double CD Harmonic Meetings (215.-)(Celestial Harmonies 010) is recommended listening for anyone interested in overtone song. The leader of the group, David Hykes, learned the technique in Central Asia, and on his own recording, Windhorse Riders (169.-)(New Albion NAO24), he sings long tracks in a style more related to the original shamanist, trance-inducing tradition, accompanied by the Persian zarb drummer, Djamchid Chemirami. Powerful magic. A later CD, True to the Times (169.-)(New Albion NAO57), has a modern, world musical sound, and on it he can be heard for the first time playing keyboards (bearing memories of Terry Riley). He also sings of course, and is accompanied by the oud and oriental percussion. As always the CD is worth hearing. Latest are Earth to the Unknown Power (169.-)(Catalyst 09026-68347), and Breath of the Heart (159.-) (Fønix FMF CD 1132). Very similar recordings. The group on these last two CDs has 5 members, some of whom double on ney flutes, tanbur and Middle Eastern percussion instruments. The singing is intensely devotional in character, including among much else, a series of Muslim Sufi poems devoted to the figure of Jesus. Again well worth hearing.

MICHAEL VETTER from Germany always works meditatively, exploring the expressive boundaries of the human voice. On Overtones - Voice & Tambura (179.-)(Wergo 1038-50), as well as the newer series 'Overtones in Old European Cathedrals' (especially recommended is the recording from Senanque (179.-)(Wergo 1078-50)), the exceptionally fine recording techniques used put the overtones right out there in your room together with the singer's voice. On Ancient Voices (179.-)(ARNR 0192), with The Overtone Choir, he experiments with the sounds of many voices, both spacially and energy-wise. An intense experience, well suited for what I call "conscious listening".

CHRISTIAN BOLLMANN, is another artist from Germany who sings meditatively, but perhaps a tack less spontaneous, he tends more to make compositions of his productions. His work with the Oberton-Chor Düsseldorf, and his compostion Drehmomente (Network 72022), as well as his work with instrumentalist Michael Reimann on Evolution (Fønix 1075) are well worth listening to.

BOLETTE SCHIØTZ from Gedved in Denmark: Lyd fra Bjergene ("Sound from the Mountains")( Shanti Sound), is a shamanistically oriented soundhealer, whose work is specifically designed to act in a healing way on the human energy system. She uses various simple instrumental sounds, from a monochord, gong or drum, as accompaniment to her song. Her latest production is called Blå Lyd ("Blue Sound")(159.-).

INSTRUMENTAL recordings of overtone sounds are usually made with metal bowls, gongs and bells. Of the instruments that are available, Japanese ones are mostly mass-produced, but can have a fine quality. Tibet, Nepal and Northern India are the origin of countless hand-beaten bowls and bells. Their manufacture is a fine art, and they are made up of alloys consisting of as many as 7, 8, even 9 different metals, like copper, tin and zinc, and sometimes even silver and gold. The bowls are used by their owners in many ways, also as begging bowls or as plates for eating and drinking. In the West they're used by a new generation of sound-makers. Here are a few of them:

TIBETAN BELLS II (159.-)(Celestial Harmonies 13005) is the classic recording by Americans Henry Wolff & Nancy Hennings. Played before and endorsed by the Dalai Lama, it describes the journey of the soul leaving the body after death. The couple have made a couple of excellent follow-ups, Tibetan Bells III (159.-)(Cel Harm. 13027) and Yamantaka (159.-)(Cel Harm. 13003) (Yamantaka is Tibetan God of the Dead, and this recording was made together with Grateful Dead drummer - here he's percussionist - Mickey Hart)

KLAUS WIESE is a German musician who works meditatively, and with the consciousness-modifying potentials of the instruments. He has made a good many recordings, and perhaps I could best pick out the apparently monotonous sounds on Tibetische Klangschalen I (179.-)(Akasha), which can give a particularly clear experience of the energy surrounding the human body (the aura), as well as the experience of expansion that often accompanies listening to overtones, and a consciousness of energy.

DEUTER is one of the founders of the New Age music genre in the late seventies and eighties, one of the keyboard pioneers responsible for cultivating emerging possibilities in the world of music-making. He returned to the scene recently, and powerfully, after some years with no new releases. On Nada Himalaya (159.-) he plays "straight" Tibetan-type bowls and bells, in sequences that take the listener into areas of consciousness that facilitate a balancing of the energy system.

BJARNE VILLY LARSEN from Zealand, Denmark, has worked with sound for many years. His goal on his recent CD, Invitation to Space (own production), is to relax and expand consciousness with some sounds, and cut through our everyday thoughts and emotions with others, thus allowing for the manifestation of "a sense of openness and freedom" which transcends the ego. The recording is a good example of how directed overtone sounds can affect the human energy system on all levels. The effect of his bells, bowls etc., is something like the feel of a light wind blowing around one, at more or less specific parts of the body.

THE DIDGERIDOO

Worth mentioning also is the indigenous Australian instrument, the didgeridoo. A long, hollowed out section of the branch of the eucalyptus tree, it has a deep, very rough tone, and when you hear it, you're hearing mostly overtones, in fact it's sound often reminds people of the several meter long horns of the Tibetan monks. The didgeridoo is however not normally associated with the overtone tradition. Probably mostly because the instrument is normally played percussively and rhythmically, and the musician will seldom make any special effort to produce single layers of overtone notes, or overtone melodies.

If you're interested, check out our Australia section, in this connection especially David Hudson's solo recordings. Stephen Kent as well as Adam Plack and Johnny White Ant are also well worth listening to.

Check the Internet, The web-page Friends of Tuva is a starting point for a great deal of information. http://www.ee.umanitoba.ca/~yackob/tuva/

The web-page The Throat-Singing Society of Japan has the best explanation of how to get started singing overtones, that I've seen. You'll get a feeling of what to do, and to work with, after only a few minutes. http://avalon.phys.hokudai.ac.jp/throat-singing/throat-home.html

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REVIEWS

from DJEMBE, magazine for cross culture and world music

 

YAT-KHA
'Yenisei-Punk'

This CD was number 2 in Djembe's last listing of of European radios' World Music Charts. It's called punk, but don't be misled by the title of YAT-KHA's new CD. This is funky-rock with lots of humour, from Tuva, overtone throat-singing capital of the world.

The singer's gruff, growling voice is so absolutely loooooow that one can only be amazed! And wonder that this deep, gutteral growling sound is really humanly possible.

This particular style of throat singing is called kargiraa, and here the singer creates ultra-low tones, instead of the high overtones that most of us probably expect, listening to throat singing. (Look for a survey of overtone song elsewhere on this page).

Tuva, which lies in southern Siberia, just north of Mongolia, is a country with a long shamanist history, only turned buddhist since the 17th Century, and there is a clear sense of simplicity, and closeness to nature in this music. The singer's low, growling voice seems almost to be whispering intimately to the listener. Telling stories, or perhaps his amusing opinions, normally shared only with friends or family in the closeness of his home surroundings.

Albert Kuvezin, leader and vocalist in YAT-KHA, was one of the founding members of Huun-huur-tu, the other Tuvan group that has made something of a name for itself in world music circles - but which has kept more closely to a traditional folk music repertoire.

On 'Yenisei-Punk' the lyrics are obviously traditional - on the number 'Kadarchy' (Shepherd Boy) for example, they're about just that, being a shepherd. But the music - an electric guitar doing an apparently simple riff and twining around a deep bass-drum, overlaid by quite small elaborations of voice and other instruments - has a wonderful, multidimensional rock to it, that just carries the listener away, into the trance state that must be what it's all about, somewhere out there in the middle of Asia.

There are a couple more numbers like that on the CD. Which has several ways of combining different types of musical form with different types of lyrics. 'Solun' (Beautiful Soviet Country) is a rock-ish number that makes gentle fun of the "happy socialistic life" in prehistoric times in the Soviet Union. There are some spots of more obvious humour, that produce some wierd images. Try 'Kamgalanyr' (We have protection force) which is more in the folk song idiom - but this is a folk song that could come straight out of a Disney film about the 7 dwarfs, happily singing away while they work. Here it's a group chorus giving us the message: "We have the powerful USSR giving a happy life to us".

In fact a good deal of the album keeps to a more basic "folk" sound - though always with a rough, underground edge to it, the influence of western musical culture.

And "Western" is in more than one way the correct designation for some of the numbers: Suddenly one realizes that horse-riding is obviously a basic part of Tuvan culture, listening to that special, rolling, somehow always amusing horse-riding rhythm, the "clickety-click" that we all know from cowboy films and songs. In actual fact it's a rhythm that can also be heard in music from other northern, shamanist, horse-riding cultures, like that of the Sami of northern Scandinavia. It's difficult, hearing these songs, not to see oneself rambling along, on old faithful, on the vast, grassy steppes of some anonymous continent.

Last but not least, the record closes with a 10 minute solo demonstration of throat singing, mostly kargiraa, some of it actually mixed together with the high whistling "sigit" style.
Wow!

Jack Donen

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DAVID HYKES & THE HARMONIC CHOIR: 'Earth to The Unknown Power'

Efter deres lidt skuffende koncert, med en desværre trekvart tom sal, i Glyptoteket i København i vinters, er det velgørende at høre denne plade, hvor David Hykes og The Harmonic Choir præsenterer de samme kompositioner, men således at de her, mellem hjemmets fire vægge, virkelig får luftet husets følelsesmæssige og åndelige dimensioner.

Det er overtonesang, med lidt diskret zarbspil (mellemøstlig tromme) i baggrunden, der her er på menuen. Og sunget af det kor der, igennem de sidste 20 år, har gjort genren kendt i den vestlige verden. Lederen og inspiratoren Hykes fortæller, at han siden 1975 har arbejdet med at "aktivere" den harmoniske serie, som en grundlæggende bærer af musikalsk mening, på vejen mod dannelsen af "en global sakral musik".

Hykes er også kendt udenfor de snævre overtonesang kredse. Han har bidraget med musik til flere film, blandt andre 'Dead Poets Society', 'Ghost' og 'Baraka', samt trænet Peter Brooks franske 'Mahabharata' rollebesætning. Og koret har været "Artists in Residence" i 7 år i verdens største katedral, The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, i New York.

Rent teknisk er lyden på denne plade skabt på en ret bemærkelsesværdig måde: Koncerten fandt sted i november 1995, i New Yorks store musikcenter 'The Kitchen', hvorfra koncertens live lyd blev digitalt overført og afspillet i le Thoronet Klosteret i Frankrig. Den således frembragte lyd, nu tilføjet klosterets akustik, blev så sendt retur til 'The Kitchens' forstærkersystem, hvor publikummet altså sad i en slags "virtuel kloster" og (nød) musikken….. Der er altså nogen, der gider!

Men til nu til selveste musikken: Skalaerne på titelnummeret her, er inspireret af et par indiske ragaer, og sangen udforsker rent teknisk dé 12 bestanddele af den harmoniske overtonesang, som Hykes opstiller. Blandt andre: parallel bevægelse af grund- og overtone, fast grundtone med bevægelig overtone, fast overtone med bevægelig grundtone, harmonisk ornamentering, vibrato og tremolo lyde, harmonisk polyrytme.

Teknisk komplekst og avanceret, filosofisk højtflyvende, men lyttemæssigt er pladen ligefrem og spændende. En sanselig, blid og kærlig udforskning af stemmens mange muligheder.

Et nummer på pladen hvor der ikke synges særlig meget overtonesang er alligevel et af de smukkeste. 'Le souffle du Seigneur' tager udgangspunkt i nogle gamle sufimestres digte. Det er nogle digte, "som viser den fine agtelse, i den autentiske Islam, for Yeshua (Kristus), som en af de store mestre i en ubrudt linie siden tidens oprindelse". Det er digte, der lovpriser Jesus ånde, og "åndedrættets krop".

Psykologisk er det spændende her, at man i sangens udtryk forsøger at konkretisere ideen om ånde og dens forbindelse med det åndelige - der rent sprogligt, i mange kulturer, ligesom i den danske, har samme rod som ordet åndedræt. Her taler Hykes om "'en anden krop', der kan besjæles, eller få liv, igennem (sangens) ånde".

Dette er cross culture på højt (dvs. åndeligt) niveau, og sangene udtrykker en længselsfyldt inderlighed, der i øvrigt klart demonstrerer Hykes grundig træning i klassisk indisk sang.

En spændende plade, der rører ved steder man ikke er så vant til at mærke.

Jack Donen

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DAVID HYKES AND THE HARMONIC CHOIR: 'Breath of the Heart'

Dette er et ægte kup, dansk Fønix Musik har lavet. David Hykes og hans Harmonic Choir er anerkendt og respekteret verden rundt, som kreative kunstnere og foregangsmænd indenfor overtonesang.

CDen består af liveoptagelser fra to koncerter, der fandt sted på Glyptoteket i København sidste efterår, og i øvrigt også rent teknisk understøtter optagelserne den gode internationale renommé som danske lydteknikere har.

Igennem titlen påpeger Hykes den ældgamle opfattelse som findes overalt i verden, at åndedrættet er forbundet med det åndelige. Og i hans sange er der da også klart en higen efter noget højt åndeligt, noget der synes at åbenbare sig til både kunstneren og lytteren i denne mærkværdige og magiske fænomen, der kaldes overtone- eller her harmonisk - sang.

Jeg har hørt - en kvinde - beskrive korets sang som alvorlig, udpræget mandlig udtryk, i modsætning til et mere hjertepræget udtryk som kvinder ville kunne præstere. I så fald er det fem høje troldmænd vi hører her, der lytter intenst og med indføling til hinanden, mens de improviserer og fylder rummet med dybtfølte grundtoner og fritflyvende, fortryllende overtonelyd.

Jack Donen

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