Overtone singing is a technique with which a single human voice can simultaneously produce two or more clearly audible tones. The usual sensation of hearing a single tone in the voice shifts to hearing a low drone with seemingly independant tones high above it. This unique style of singing challenges the ears and the voice to explore the subtle dimensions and colors of sound. In Central Asia this way of vocalising has been practiced for centuries by Tibetan monks and several Turco-Mongol nomadic tribes (most notable in parts of Tuva and Western Mongolia). In recent decades it has stirred western audiences thanks to such musical pioneers as Karlheinz Stockhausen, David Hykes’ Harmonic Choir and Michael Vetter.
Mark’s book Overtone Singing. Physics and Metaphysics of Harmonics in East and West is a thorough, readible overview of this unique way of making sound, aimed at non-specialists and scholars alike.
Overtone singing must be heard in order to know what it is. Listen to some examples of overtone singing here or go to the audio/video pages of this website.
In South Siberia the art of overtone singing is called throat singing, and developed to refined levels.
Left: Andreï Chuldum-ool playing the igil (horse-head fiddle) to accompany his throat singing, called khöömei in his native Republic of Tuva. Right: Mrs. Raisa Modorova from the neighbouring Republic of Altai, while performing a so-called algysh to the spirits of a river in the local throat singing style called kai.