Khoomij or throat singing strikes most Western ears as something more than quirky. At my house, I put on khoomij music when I want to torture my teenage daughters.
However, let me quickly add that I appreciate throat singing on its own terms. This is a type of vocal music popular in Central Asia, particularly in Tibet, Mongolia and Tuva. The vocalist sings in an extremely low bass register, pushing the tones through the vocal chords so they vibrate and create a new, eerie overtone that comes from somewhere deep in the throat. There are actually several distinct styles of throat singing that range from Buddhist religious chant to the sygt style of Mongolia where the vocalist holds each note to produce a series of piccolo-like harmonic overtones.
This sygt style is heard Altai. Most of the tracks such as "Mongolian Mood" are ambitious syntheses between western-programmed keyboards and sygt overtones. In contrast, the track "Shepherd At a Mountain Lake" is an excellent example of droning Mongolian violin and the vocal overtones.
Altai is aimed at an audience that may have heard the traditional sounds of Tuvan throat singers but couldn't get past the Asian setting. There is a risk to this enterprise. When khoomij is programmed over ambient dance music, it may still be too quirky for most Western ears. In that process, does one sacrifice the potency of the original music and gain nothing of the sense of the thing itself? There are some forms that simply must be approached by the listener making a concerted effort to plug into that particular ethos. To dilute or change khoomij to make it somehow palatable to Western ears may do a terrible disservice to the integrity of the music. - Aaron Howard
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