Tuva, Among the Spirits
Smithsonian Folkways (www.si.edu/folkways)

In 1987, musicologist Ted Levin became the first American to conduct ethnographic field work in Tuva, which was then a republic of the Soviet Union. The recordings he made, focusing on the traditional multi-tonal throat singing, xöömei, became the basis of the earlier CD Tuva: Voices from the Center of Asia, which anticipated the later export and popularity of the group Huun-Huur-Tu. Keeping in mind the threat of rapid westernization effacing the role of music in the traditional Tuvan lifestyle, Levin returned to Tuva with the members of Huun-Huur-Tu to document the nature-mimetic aspects of xöömei. As mentioned above in my review of the Huun-Huur-Tu album, listening to xöömei as sung on horseback is an ear-opening experience. The rhythmic amplitude and timbre modulations employed in certain styles of xöömei clearly must have originated in the gentle, periodic jolts that the horse's gait imparts to the singing. Levin also discovers that borbangnadyr, a gurgling, rolling style of throat-singing, blends in well with the sound of a flowing stream, and that the singer is able to seek and match the characteristic modulations of the harmonics generated by the rushing water. There are other such sonic epiphanies included in this album, and my hat goes off to recording engineer, Joel Gordon, for having captured it all with great fidelity. This album provides us with insights about a musical culture that developed primarily in communion with nature rather than with human civilization." Let's hope that it does not turn into a "historical" recording any time soon. - John Cho

Will You Subscribe?