throatsinger, ensemble and live electronics
Commissioned and premiered by Stroma (soloist: Jonny Marks)

Although the voice doesn’t appear often in my music, I have nevertheless been fascinated with it for a long time — particularly its rich, complex timbre and its elastic, endlessly malleable pitch. I’m especially interested in those unique styles of vocal production that leave us Westerners wondering ‘how do they do that’?

Tuvan throatsinging (or ‘overtone singing’) is one of those styles. It requires an extremely difficult-to-replicate technique in which you vibrate both the vocal cords and the ‘false folds' in the throat, then with very specific diaphragm and lung action and the careful and precise manipulation of the tongue, lips and soft palate, you can pull out specific overtones from the voice’s natural spectrum. The result is quite unlike any other style of vocalisation in the world — an almost otherworldly sound that seems to emanate from some other place in the body.

There are several different types of throatsinging that a singer is expected to be able to produce. The low style, kargyraa, creates an incredible sound — rich, deep and gravelly, full of vibrations and intense harmonics. The high style, sygyt (whistling), is a more melodic style, in which the singer amplifies individual overtones of the vocal spectrum, while attenuating others. This can be done to such specificity that distinct melodic lines are heard.

In Sygyt, I play with the way in which the ensemble can imitate, surround, extrapolate and embed the throatsinger’s two styles. Although the harmonies of the ensemble are mostly drawn from the harmonic series, at times these are superimposed over the ‘wrong’ bass note, hinting at earlier, Romantic musical languages.