This album marks the official ending of a long period of doubt and uncertainty what to do with my music in light of the music industry. Basically, I have been slow, very slow, to catch on with the possibilities of the internet, and apparently refused to make up my mind. The first signs of dealing with it has been to launch some videos on YouTube, including a live concert with Sinan Art. Now, here is my next step: the first physical release of new music made just by myself in some twenty years (besides collaborative projects such as Oorbeek,Parafonia, the Superstringtrio and ad hoc projects such as the Odna soundtrack). I have about a dozen of other releases in the pipeline, partly new, partly old, some of it by me but mostly collaborations, spanning many kinds of music and sound-art.
I had some ideas for the design, starting from the excellent photography of Yi-Jin Hsieh. I decided to use one of her photos and then to turn everything upside down/inside out, with a nod to Chinese writing, which used to be vertical and starts where our Indo-European-language book(let)s normally end, folding open to the right instead of left. So the Chinese cover of the printed album is intentionally the negative and upside down version of the English cover. UN-intentionally the title of track 2 (a kargyraa solo in Tuvan style) somewhat related to this turning around of things, as you see here (I only realised this when I took the photo):
JiJi Liu quickly jumped in to turn my design ideas into proper InDesign-shape that printers need, took care of many details, and suggested to use cardboard instead of a digipack, a great improvement. Our CD agent, named Rush Blood, was not trying to push for a quick and easy fix, he also loves all these details. He does photography, calligraphy and together we went to check the first test plates as they rolled off the presses. The smells and sounds brought me back to my childhood when I joined my dad, the architect, to fetch all kinds of print-work. I inherited a great love of paper, carton, printing, binding etc. etc. from him and truly enjoy getting back to publishing something palpable and beautiful.
To check out the album details go to my brand new Bandcamp profile. Bandcamp is the place where I buy more and more music, streaming/digital and sometimes as a ‘hard copy’ (CD or LP). It brims with creative output in many genres and is the platform that is really supportive of artists. The release date of my album, Friday September 2, 2022, happens to be Bandcamp Friday, the day they pay an even bigger share than usual to their artists. If you want to order the CD, the added advantage of Bandcamp is that you automatically get unlimited access to the streaming and audio files on Bandcamp. This would require another step if you order the CD directly from me – but if you prefer that, then just drop me a line and I’ll be happy to help you get it to you and sort out how to do that. And do note:
First weeks: free shipping around the world – saves quite a bit I would say.
Also: second CD half price.
If you are curious about future releases you can also go to Bandcamp to sign up for new releases, you’ll probably be notified well before the release date. Even better: become a Bandcamp member and write a line or two about this album (… if you like it…).
This weekend a new work by Chinese-German composer Yang Song in which my voice and Jew’s harp are featured, will have its world premiere: In Einem Moment – 须臾. The piece features orchestra and tape, as it is often still called, meaning pre-recorded audio played back during the live performance. Yang Song studied electro-acoustic composition and created an 8-channel version with spatial and some digital effects superimposed on the voice and instrument recordings. Among the recordings are not just pieces of throat singing (khöömii or khöömei), but also vocalisations inspired by a special genre of folk song I have practiced in a free style for many years: Mongolian long song or urtyn duu.
The timing of the invitation, some four months ago, was auspicious, because I had just began to delve deeper into the Mongolian long song genre with the intention to include it in my live repertoire. So a month or so earlier I picked up a book plus CD I had bought in Mongolia but never properly studied: Alain Desjaques’s Dix-Huit Chants Mongols Dzahtchin et Ourianhai. (If this sounds familiar to some readers, I wrote more about that in this recent blogpost.)*
While I was working on that material, Yang Song got in touch with me through a common friend, Frank Kouwenhoven, of CHIME in Leiden. Song grew up in Inner-Mongolia, part of the PRC, from partial Mongolian parentage, but in a Chinese-language environment. In the program notes to her piece, she admits that she is familiar with traditional Mongol music and yet not really used to them. “In my family Mongolian blood flows; I was used to be surrounded by Mongolian music in various formats, even though I did not understand the lyrics.”
The question was if I could provide a number of different techniques of throat singing / overtone singing, Mongolian long song, and Jew’s harp, to use as the ground material for her electronic composition and the orchestral piece. I wanted to oblige, as her music immediately appealed to me and our first conversation made clear we had many things in common aesthetically. At the same time I was a bit confused: Why Me? Wouldn’t it be easier and more logical to ask a musician from Inner-Mongolia to provide the basic tracks for her piece? Even though I am a Dutchman living in Taiwan, and she is a Chinese Mongol in Germany, we had a similar proximity, or rather: distance to the music that inspired her. Noticing that this was apparently what she wanted (someone with a certain distance to the living source of Mongol traditional music) I put the question aside and started to work.
I sent her my updated and expanded Anthology of Overtone Singing: a selection of my field recordings from traditional of overtone singing plus several of my own pieces and demonstrations (and which will be published soon as the 2022 version of my book Overtone Singing is in its final stages of publication). She sent me back samples of it and of recordings she found on the web. We agreed to work on 7 short pieces of about 30 to 90 seconds. Although initially it seemed she wanted to let me improvise, over time her ideas became more fixed. She wanted to let the orchestra sing or recite some of the long song syllables, so she ended up needing fixed lyrics. I then wrote lyrics inspired by Mongolian phonemes (I only speak a few words of Mongolian and do not want to make a fool of myself pretending I can sings ongs in fluently Mongolian). She also set out the rhythmical structure, fundamental notes and durations for my parts, all of which I recorded in a studio.
I am curious about the result but will not be able to hear it in its full 8-channel form with live orchestra. If you are near Saarbrücken, please go and listen for me – at least Frank Kouwenhoven will be there to give his account of how it sounded! Since this is a radio concert, I think it will be live on the radio too this Friday.
May 20, 2022, 19:00
Variationen über ein Thema von Frank Bridge für Streicher op. 10
„In einem Moment – 须臾“
Uraufführung / World Premiere
Violinkonzert d-Moll op. 15
German Radio Philharmonic. Conductor: Martyn Brabbins.
On 12/12/2021 we started the founding of the TOSA, or Taiwan Overtone Singing Association. It was an old dream of mine to have a more solid vehicle for my work and that of others in the field of overtone singing. But lacking reading and writing skills in Chinese I was unable to give that wish a concrete form. But then my close collaborators Sunny Chen and Jackal Mei began to question me about this and make suggestions about how to let this community grow and organise some bigger events. By now there are quite some people who have studied overtone singing with me or with other local practitioners, or with foreign teachers (often from Inner Mongolia or Tuva). There are several skilled performers and others who are improving their skills rapidly. I tend to be a bit of a loner in my work in overtone singing, but I think the time has come to really help others flower if they wish to become good overtone singers. And to show more people the beauty of this technique in all its forms, whether artistic or therapeutic, traditional or modern.
TOSA members performing on January 1 at Mei Garden Restaurant, Taipei
In the end it was Sunny Chen who has done endless amounts of paperwork to have the first small meeting of founders last December. My heartfelt thanks to her and all those who signed up as founders. The next step is to go public, and this will happen right after Chinese New Year, on February 19. On that day our chairman Sky Tseng will tell more about bigger and smaller events we are going to host every year; about a practising group to brush up your overtone singing and chanting; about concerts we will jointly attend or important books and pieces or CDs we will discuss. Professor Chung Minder, or taimu as he is known to many, will look back to twenty years of overtone singing in Taiwan, and perhaps look forward too. My old friends, and long-time overtone singing lovers (and love-couple in the first place) Wei-Lin and Qi-Chung will do a presentation, and so do I: this serves as the upbeat to a full concert we are preparing for later this year.
To make all of this happen, we need to reach a minimum of 45 members by January 28 (and not by February 19, as we thought before). We hope you will consider to sign up this month and give our association a flying start. A little extra support at this point is much needed since only a small inner circle of people knows about this initiative. Once we get started in February we can reach out to more people.
The most prolific researcher in the field of overtone singing is a man with many faces. His name is Tran Quang Hai and you can call him (and all options are correct): Vietnamese or French; a professional musician or a professional musicologist; an instrumentalist or a singer; an improviser or a composer; a traditional, a popular or an experimental musician (all three will do); an expert in Vietnamese traditional musics and an astute chronicler of its year-to-year development in the past decades.* Tran Quang Hai has a new book out celebrating his 50 years of music research in many different areas. We recently met in Paris, where he shared some interesting facts about the Vietnamese Jew’s harp (dan moi) I did not know before. On the trip back to Amsterdam I read most of the articles in his book that I had not seen before, so more on that too. Before talking about our meeting, his book and the origin of the word dan moi (Jew’s harp), some historical background. Since Hai is Tran Quang Hai’s first name I will refer to him as Hai.
I learned of Hai’s work on overtone singing in the early 1990s. When I got to know him personally, I was astounded and (I will admit) a bit intimidated by his unbridled energy. He loves to share what he does, and he is in fact overflowing with enthusiasm: for overtone singing, for Vietnamese music, for playing the Jew’s harp and spoons, for ethnomusicology, for his constant travels as a performer and teacher. After my visits I was usually exhilirated (about all the new things I had learned or shared with him) and at the same time exhausted (feeling my life was a mess with no progress at all).
In fact, going to Paris has been almost synonymous with visiting Hai and his lovely wife Bach Yen (whose singing carreer goes way way back). And these visits became almost synonymous with absolutely great Vietnamese food. Bach Yen often spent hours and hours to buy fine ingredients like all kinds of fresh leaves, vegetables, seafood and meat and prepare them the Vietnamese way. We would have excellent diners, drank nice wine, as the couple made an annual ‘pilgrimage’ to different regions in France to stock up on boxes of quality wine to share with friends at home.
After moving to Taiwan, my encounters with Tran Quang Hai were scarce, and visits to both of them even more. In 2019, it has been around ten years since we last met in Paris. So I was delighted to see them again some weeks ago. Tran Quang Hai retired a decade ago from the ethnomusicology department at the Musée de L’Homme in Paris, but has remained an active performer and workshop leader for all these years. Bach Yen is a famous singer of popular songs and entertainment music, as well as a singer of many different genres of traditional music. Together they have given hundreds of concerts in Europe and elsewhere, and they continue to do so. Here is a photo of their appearance in Genoa, Italy, a week or so after I met them.
Late August, when I walked down the platform of Gare de Lyon, Hai and Bach Yen were waiting for me. Once again I was overwhelmed to be in their buzzing, energetic presence. The first thing they did, was to get out their cameras and make many photos together. Then we strolled to their car, and their warm hands and arms embraced my arms. I sometimes think of myself as someone who easily touches people, but this time I thought I am quite distant compared to them. It was really (excusez le mot) touching to stroll down the platform chatting and to be ‘wrapped’ by their tender hands and arms on both sides. Hai told me once about using his hands to heal people and showed me some methods. But it seems the couple just radiates warmth and energy naturally, even without using a special method.
For our Vietnamese food, this time we drove to a place called Pho Bida, pronounced Fo Beeyaa. Pho is the famous Vietnamese noodle soup, but what about Bida? It turns out to be derived from ‘billiard’, as the former location of this restaurant housed a popular billiard room as well. The place is not very spacious but we were early and could chose any seat. By the time we left lots of people waited outside. The food was great and loved by Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese alike: highly recommended! (Pho Bida Vietnam, 36 rue Nationale, 75013 Paris)
Tran Quang Hai’s New Book
When we sat down, Hai gave me his new book, a thick volume with many of his articles and listst of all his achievements, titles, appearances, etc. organized in a single volume. Some articles I have known for a long time. So I particularly enjoyed reading those things I did not know in detail.
First, an article about Vietnamese music and its historical background, very helpful for understanding the relationship to Chinese music and culture. It also covers many of the recent developments in Vietnamese music, making it in effect a kind of encyclopaedic entry into Vietnam and all its music. With this work Hai most clearly follows in the footsteps of his late father Tran Van Khe, also a well-known musician and musicologist.
“Tran Quang Hai. 50 Years of Research in Vietnamese Traditional Music and Overtone Singing.”
Second, an article that accompanied a double CD issued in France in 1997, dedicated to the absolutely fascinating world of mountain tribe musics in Vietnam. There is a dazzling array of types of instruments and ways of playing, and these liner notes give a good overview of this field.
If you are interested in overtone singing and still love printed matter, as I do myself, then this is a good way to get your (physical) hands on several key articles on this technique by Dr. Tran Quang Hai and understand the background of his research. (Note for academic readers: for research purposes it is better to consult online pdfs of the articles in their original format). Available here.
Tran Quang Hai and the Dan Moi
During our lunch I also learned where the common name of the Vietnamese brass Jew’s harp comes from. It is usually referred to as dan moi, which is a Vietnamese word (compare for example dan tranh/đàn tranh, the plucked zither, or the unique one-string zither dan bau/đàn bầu). However, the thin, finely crafted Jew’s harp, probably smaller than any other type of Jew’s harp, originates from the mountain tribes who live close to Yunnan in South China. The Hmong’s native language and culture has little to do with that of the dominant Viet or Kinh ethnic group, who are historically tied to China. When travelling in the mountains in North Vietnam (around Sapa), I encountered the Hmong people who play this instrument and managed to get one made locally by their craftsmen. They referred to it as gya, phonetically speaking, though in writing it is referred to as djam. A personal note from Tran Quang Hai shortly after publishing this post: the Hmong name of the Jew’s harp is ncas (pronounced ncha).
The djam I bought in Sapa from girls who played the instrument along the mountain road. (photo by the author).
So I asked Hai how the name dan moi came about. He explained: there is no Jew’s harp in the music of the ethnic Vietnamese. So when he learned about the traditions of the mountain people around 50 years ago, he had to make up a new name himself in order to accommodate the minorities’ instrument in the system and language of Vietnam. To use ‘dan’ (meaning ‘instrument’) was an obvious beginning point. Hai decided to add ‘moi’ for lips, to designate it is played between the lips. Most brass or metal Jew’s harps are held against the teeth, with the lamella vibrating between the teeth; the dan moi is held between the lips and vibrates there. In this sense it is more like a type of wooden or bamboo Jew’s harp, particularly the ones vibrated by a string attached to one side.
A Hmong girl playing the djam for me in 2003 (photo by the author).
The dan moi went on to become a very popular instrument around the world once non-Vietnamese musicians discovered them, at the turn of the millenium. Many people asked me for it when I brought them back in 2003. I remember giving one to Tuvan throat singer Sainkho around 2004. She immediately fell for its bright sound and expressive qualities, and asked for more several times after (and so did other people). At the same time, a German company saw the potential of this cheap instrument to reach a huge audience and set up (web)shop, calling it www.danmoi.com. It has a become a one-stop shop to buy all kinds of Jew’s harps. So dan moi, Hai’s new name for the djham, a minority instrument, and for Jew’s harps in general, now has become sort of a symbol of 21st century global Jew’s harp culture. And it seems to be growing year by year: here in Taiwan I have seen many new Jew’s harp enthusiasts taking the stages recently, often sporting a collection of world Jew’s harps, including, of course, the dan moi.
Here is a video where you see the movement of the dan moi lamella in slow motion, played by Hai’s student Dang Khai Nguyen.
Learn more about Tran Quang Hai
Hai is still actively teaching, find out where his next workshops are by going to his blog:
(the blog itself amounts to a ‘wikipedia’ of sorts for throat/overtone singing, where you will find a huge amount o copies of scientific and popular articles, videos, and indeed copies of wikipedia entries, as well as some original posts about Hai’s workshops and travels).
Go here to find more entries in English and in Vietnamese:
And for more news from Fusica and Mark van Tongeren subscribe to these blogposts here.
Finally, back to some Asian flavour, but East-Asian instead of the South-East Asian of Hai’s origins. Here is a hilarious video from the time Hai was flown into Japan to demonstrate overtone/throat singing in a hypertheatrical popular entertainment program.
TRAN QUANG HAI on JAPANESE TELEVISION, part 2, December 26, 2012
* OK, for this one I have no way to tell if it is true, but Hai does mention in his new book (page 32) that he wrote “more than 500 articles in Vietnamese for 30 Vietnamese magazines in America, Europe, Asia and Australia.”
Here is a letter I wrote earlier this year when I was about to turn 50 (want to get on the mailinglist too? let me know!):
I love the number 49 and its symbolism. Much better than 50. So I prefer to send out a shout to everyone on the last day of my 49th year in which I am walking on this strange and wonderful place called earth, rather than on the first day of the 50th year. My dear sister Daphne somehow knew I wanted to celebrate while I was still 49, when she organised a surprise party for me several months ago. I completely and totally bought it, even after my mom and two friends showed up in a park where you would not expect that. What a great present!
And then the Tuvans, for whom 49 is a special number, play their magic on me too. Tuva and its inhabitants have shaped my life in many ways. When I was halfway on to this point of my life and getting close to 25 years old, I first visited Tuva and fell in love with the place forever. 12 Years later I visited Tuva with June Wen, and it was then and there that we found out that we are destined for each other. That led to our marriage, to our kids, to me moving to Taiwan. Life-changing experiences in which Tuva seemed to play a role.
And right now, guess what? Earlier this year I began organising several Tuvan concerts here in Taiwan, and I was asked to curate two different acts for the Asian Pacific Traditional Arts Festival. And today (last day of 49) the first Tuvan group, a young quartet called Ezengi, has just finished their job (which they did very well) and returns to Tuva. And tomorrow (first day of 50) four fine senior musicians arrive from Tuva to Taiwan for this weekend’s performances: Shonchalai and Nachyn Choodu, Andrei Öpei and Valerii Mongush. Coincidence?
And then, there was this other coincidence this year. When I fist visited Tuva I learned about a Scythian ornament found during archaeological excavations, consisting of a panther biting its own tail. A wonderful symbol of infinity and the ever-repeating cycles of events. “Ma fin est mon commencement” (“my end is my beginning’) as mediaeval poets and musicians such as Guillaume de Machaut knew so well. This spring a very noble and inspiring friend, the philosopher Fons Elders, sent around a message with his view about this symbol, which is known as the ouroboros in the western world. A little later I performed in the Oosterkerk in Amsterdam with the wonderful Turkish ney player Sinan Arat, a concert I had arranged to be filmed so that I could share it with everybody. In the background of our stage happened to be . . . an ouroboros. So a few days ago, while working on the video I decided to call it “The Ouroboros Concert”. The next day I took the Tuvans to the Pacific Ocean – Tuva being very far removed from any sea or ocean. They decided to try surfing and that’s how I noticed the Scythian ouroboros tattooed on the arm of Anchy Damdyn. What a great idea! The first time ever I imagined I could have a tattoo too.
So by way of celebration and to express the gratitude I feel for being a human amidst so many wonderful human beings I share this Ouroboros concert video with you.
Hier is een brief die ik onlangs rondstuurde, toen ik op het punt stond 49 te worden (ook op de mailinglijst? laat het weten!):
49 Is een prachtig getal met een prachtige symboliek. Veel beter dan 50. Dus stuur ik een groet aan iedereen op de laatste dag van de 49 jaar dat ik op deze vreemde, wonderlijke planeet rondloop, in plaats van de eerste dag van mijn 50e. Mijn lieve zus Daphne voelde kennelijk al aan dat ik liever even stil sta bij mijn leven op mijn 49e, toen ze een surprise party voor me oganiseerde enkele maanden geleden. Ik stonk er totaal in, zelfs nadat mijn moeder en enkele vrienden spontaan opdoken in een park waar je hen toch niet 1-2-3 samen verwacht. Wat een geweldig cadeau!
En de Toevanen, voor wie het getal 49 ook speciale betekenis heeft, duiken ook weer op haast magische wijze op. Zoals jullie weten hebben Toeva en haar inwoners mijn leven op allerlei manieren vorm gegeven. Toen ik halverwege het punt was waar ik nu ben, dus bijna 25 jaar oud, bezocht ik Toeva voor het eerst en raakte voorgoed verslingerd aan deze plek. 12 Jaar later ging ik naar Toeva met June en we ontdekten, toen en daar, dat we voorbestemd waren voor elkaar. Dat leidde dus tot ons huwelijk, kinderen en tenslotte mijn verhuizing naar Taiwan. Nog een levenswending waar Toeva haast een sturende hand in leek te hebben.
En wat is er nu aan de hand? Ik begon eerder dit jaar een aantal Toevaanse concerten te organiseren hier in Taiwan, en werd onder andere verzocht twee programma’s in te vullen voor het Asian Pacific Traditional Arts Festival. En vandaag (de laatste dag dat ik 49 ben) vertrekt de eerste Toevaanse groep, een jong kwartet genaamd Ezengi (nadat ze zich trouwens uitstekend gekweten hebben van hun taak). En morgen (de eerste dag dat ik 50 ben) arriveren er vier geweldige senior musici uit Toeva: Shonchalai en Nachyn Choodu, Andrei Öpei en Valerii Mongush. Toeval?
En dan was er nog iets dit jaar. Toen ik Toeva voor het eerst bezocht leerde ik een Scythisch ornament kennen, dat bij archeologische opgravingen gevonden was en dat bestaat uit een panter die in zijn staart bijt. Een prachtig symbool van oneindigheid en de eeuwigdurende cycli van gebeurtenissen. “Ma fin est mon commencement” zoals middeleeuwse dichters en musici als Guillaume de Machaut heel goed wisten. Dit voorjaar stuurde vriend en inspiratiebron Fons Elders een bericht rond met daarin zijn visie op dit symbool, dat bekend staat als oeroboros in de westerse wereld. Iets later trad ik op in de Oosterkerk in Amsterdam met een geweldige Turkse ney-speler, Sinan Arat, een concert dat ik liet opnemen op video (en waarvoor je de link onderaan vindt). Juist achter ons podium bevond zich . . . een mooie uit hout gesneden oeroboros. En dus besloot ik een aantal dagen geleden toen ik met de video bezig was om ons optreden Het Oeroboros Concert te noemen. De volgende dag (afgelopen zaterdag) nam ik de Toevaanse musici mee naar de oceaan (waar de Toevanen verder van verwijderd zijn dan zo’n beetje wie dan ook ter wereld). Ze wilden graag gaan surfen en zo ontdekte ik de tatoeage van zo’n Scytische oeroboros op de arm van Anchy Damdyn. Wat een geweldig idee! Nooit eerder had ik ook maar een seconde de gedachte gekoesterd dat een tatoeage voor mij zelf ook best interessant kon zijn.
Dus om even stil te staan bij dit bijzondere moment in mijn leven en uitdrukking te geven aan de dankbaarheid om een mens te zijn te midden van allerlei fantastische mensen met wie ik mij omringd weet, deel ik nu deze Oeroboros concertvideo met jullie.
It is about time I start to teach some interesting musical instruments. The first workshop will be about Jew’s harps (also known as mouth harps): the small instrument you put against your teeth or lips to let it vibrate and then resonate in your mouth cavities. It is one of the most typical instruments in which harmonics or overtones are the main sound material you work with. But unlike overtone singing, it is very easy to learn the basics of the Jew’s harp (at least, for some types or models). And yet the Jew’s harp can be a musically challenging instrument too, inviting you while playing to discover more and more. It can be mystical and secretive, folksy and dance-like, serious and subtle, humorous and erotic… It is really like a semi-electronic version of the human voice, only not from the digital age but almost as old as humankind.
Some of my Jew’s harps, made of wood, bamboo, bronze, metal. All, except one, from Asia.
There are hundreds of varieties of Jew’s harps, which are indigenous to many peoples from the Eurasian plateau (Siberia, Europe, China, Central Asia), South and South-East Asia (Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Philippines, Irian Jaya, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia), Polynesia and other places.
Let me divert a bit before continuing about the Jew’s harp (or scroll down for the workshop details). My interest in overtones stemmed from the question: what is sound colour? I wondered about this in the late 1980s as a musicology student (after being rejected by the conservatory). Soon enough I would focus most of attention to the voice and continue to do so, to the present day. But the quest for this neglected musical parameter timbre naturally extended to all kinds of instruments: Jew’s harps, musical bows and mouth bows, bells and gongs, didgeridoos, singing bowls, and basically any stringed and wind instrument, as long as it was played with multiphonics/overtones/colouristic changes. (Writing some 25 years after my quest started, things have improved quite a bit: many more textbooks dealing with music and sound now pay attention to the role of sound colour and overtones).
Young girls with indigenous Jew’s harps djam. They typically do not show the Jew’s harp they play. Sapa, Northern Vietnam. (photo: author, 2003)
From my ethonmusicology studies at the University of Amsterdam, I already heard quite a few interesting examples. I also closely followed a Dutch radio program, De Wandelende Tak, where travellers brought their recordings and stories from around the world: amazing first-hand material, often unpolished, raw, but ever so authentic and impressive because of the stories of the travellers (musicians, music anthropoligists, but also many others). And surely there was the third source: records! Already a vinyl-junky (more because of funk, soul, disco and jazz music than “traditional” music, up to that time), I scourched archives, libraries, second-hand record stores and markets, to find gems from faraway places.
For the question of sound colour I was particularly amazed by a set of records by The International Library of African Music (ILAM), with recordings collected and selectively issued by the great Hugh Tracey. Tracey was ahead of his time, a true academic dedicated to collect, preserve, compare, describe and analyse the vast musical universe of sub-Saharan Africa, without (post-)colonial tendencies such as thinking the music would be inferior to our Western music (the world at large still suffers from this problem…). I discovered the ILAM records in the once-famous Ethnomusicology Center Jaap Kunst at the music department where I studied. The Center included a sound archive with many rare items. The ILAM LPs came with small cards for each song, giving few details that would explain what these pieces were about and what the instruments were like.
It was mind-boggling to hear, and read about, the wealth of instruments that African musicians (often ‘ordinary people’) had produced. The entire southern part of Africa seemed to buzz with unusual timbres, overtones and noises. Together with the material I found from Mongolia, Siberia and Tibet, I felt that a great gap in my own Western musical background began to be filled (I only later fully realised that in Europe one can find just as many instrumental varieties and colours, if one looks back far enough). The rare African records which found their way only to some selected libraries around the world, have been reissued now, by a fellow-Dutchman and musician, Michael Baird, on his SWP label.
Hugh Tracey with his Sound of Africa and Music of Africa LPs*
Most of the instruments I learned about while exploring timbre and overtones, I have never seen or learnt to play. There are some exceptions: I have been fiddling around with the Vietnamese dan bau (a special kind of monochord or one-stringed zither found only in Vietnam), the didgeridoo (yedaki in one of the indigenous terms), the igil or horse-head fiddle from Tuva, gongs, singing bowls and musical bows and mouth bows of the Xhosa.
Dan Bau (Vietnamese monochord)
Xhosa musicians (South Africa) with umrubhe mouth bows (third and fourth from left). Photo: author
But back to the Jew’s harp! I took to this instrument more seriously, because it is so prominent in Siberia,where I began to do much of my fieldwork. It is also easier to play, to carry around (like your voice) and to collect (Jew’s harp prices range from very cheap to very affordable). There are very fine examples of Jew’s harps produced and played in Tuva, the Altai and more robust from Sakha (or Yakutia), which is the world’s leading Jew’s harp ‘nation’ (the Jew’s harp is the national symbol of the Yakut people). Recently the irregular International Jew’s Harp Festival was held in Sakha: at that occasion more than 1300 players were recorded, playing simultaneously.
To hear how one of them sounds alone, have a look at one of the stars of contemporary Sakha Jew’s harp culture, Albina Degtyareva, playing her piece The legend of the creation of the world. (you can see her playing in the above video as well).
Obviousy, what she does is very difficult. Mrs. Degtyareva plays what I call the Rolls Royce of the Jew’s harps, a top model made by master makers from Yakutia. Not quite the right model to start with. We will start learning with the Vietnamese djam/dan moi, the most easy type of all Jew’s harps, with a very crisp, beautiful sound.
In the one-day workshop you will get to know the Jew’s harp and learn to play it. You place it in front of the lips or against the teeth. It has a thin lamella, attached to a frame. After plucking it, it starts to vibrate back and forth between the teeth and/or lips, producing tones of many frequencies. The colour of the tones are defined by overtones or harmonics which can be clearly heard, and which change when the shape of the mouth is changed.
Although Taiwan boasts some of the most extraordinary Jew’s harps, made and played by the Tayal people, we will learn to play the Jew’s harp from a mountain tribe of Northern Vietnam, the Hmong. Their Jew’s harp is called djam, more populary known by its Vietnamese name, dan moi. In 2003 I traveled to Vietnam and witnessed the local Hmong musicians play Jew’s harps. I also purchase some original instruments from them. Nowadays most djam are produced by Vietnamese makers in the bigger cities, such as Hanoi.
Tuvan xomus (left) and Vietnamese djam made by Hmong makers (right),
with their cases. photo: author
During the workshop every student will get a djam to practice which you can take home afterwards, so you can continue to learn by yourself. During the day you will get to know basic techniques of playing the Jew’s harp and learn a lot about the cultures around this instrument in traditional, contemporary, folk, pop and art music. We will listen to recordings and I will play live examples of different Jew’s harps.
At the end of the day
* you have learned about an instrument you a) did not even know it existed or b) thought to be very exotic
* you will be able to actually play a new instrument yourself and
* you can bring it home with you.
Djam made by Vietnamese (Kinh) makers.
For whom: Anyone curious about music traditions, sound and voice, and learning to play a new instrument. No previous musical experience required.
Age: 10 and up
Language: English (with Chinese translation)
Date/Time : 18 October 2015. Time: 10 AM – 5 PM (Lunchbreak on your own (1-2 PM).
Place: Canjune Training Center, Daan
Price: 1500 NT$
Discounts: students 20% (bring your ID); a parent with a kid 20 % (3000 – 600 = 2400).
Interested? Get more inquiries from Mark (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Yvonne (email@example.com) or just register and we’ll send you the payment details. Or call us: 0910382749 / 0933178272.
In April two excellent musicians and friends from Tuva are coming to Taiwan, so that people here can get better acquainted with this fascinating musical culture from the North. Get to know Tuvan music and culture and learn throat singing directly from established, original masters!
be amazed by Tuva’s signature sounds of throat singing
hear the beats of the shaman drum and Jew’s harp
resonate with the buzzing strings of horse-head fiddles and lute
At Wistaria, an atmospheric original Japanese building, you will be seated on tatami mats. The concert is purely acoustic, so you can enjoy the sounds directly with your own ears. An excellent way to get to know the amazing acoustic world that Tuvans have developed over the centuries. Tuva’s auditory culture has become an icon in the last two decades for its remarkable throat singing techniques, which they share with Mongolia. Choduraa Tumat and Otkun Dostay both perform seveal throat singing techniques, which you will be able to hear at close range: the soft, light technique called khöömei, the whistle-like sygyt and the thundering low kargyraa. In Tuva we also find the horse-head fiddle (igil) and erhu-like fiddle (byzaanchy), lutes (doshpuluur, chanzy) and flute (shoor), the Jew’s harp (khomus) and the shaman’s drum (dunggur), among others. Choduraa Tumat and Otkun Dostay master many of these and will play tunes and pieces from different regions and times in Tuva. Songs and pieces will be alternated with stories about and from Tuva and its rich musical folklore. The only public Tuvan concert in a very special intimate setting!
As a donation we suggest 500 NT$ for the perfomance, tea and a snack. Call Wistaria and leave your name and number for a seat: (02)2363-7375 or register here.
Sunday April 12, 10-17 1-day workshop Tuvan throat singing and culture, at Canjune Training Center
Learn to sing khöömei,sygyt and/or kargyraa with Otkun Dostay and Choduraa Tumat. The one-day Throat Singing workshop will have not just one, but two expert throat singers, including a female throat singer. A rare opportunity to learn the three basic Tuvan styles of throat singing: khöömei, sygyt and kargyraa, which tend to be a little softer and therefore easier than the Mongolian counterpart. During the day you will learn about Tuvan music and culture and get plenty of chance to hear throat singing and try it for yourself. With a maximum of 15 students (plus perhaps a few listeners), there is a chance to get personal feedback from Choduraa or Otkun for everyone. About half the time will be devoted to throat singing, the other half to other music and culture of Tuva.
Otkun Dostay teaching khöömei in Venice
We aim at a 50/50 divide of male/female voices. The workshop is held in English/Russian with Chinese translation. Mark will be there to help translate Russian-English, if needed.
This presentation features introductions, videos about the beautiful, unknown land of Tuva, a display of many styles of throat singing and different musical instruments. Choduraa Tumat and Otkun Dostay both perform seveal throat singing techniques: the soft, light technique called khöömei, the whistle-like sygyt and the thundering low kargyraa and other substyles. They will also present a selection of pieces and instruments found in Tuva, such as the horse-head fiddle (igil) and erhu-like fiddle (byzaanchy), lutes (doshpuluur, chanzy) and flute (shoor), the Jew’s harp (khomus) and the shaman’s drum (dunggur). Choduraa Tumat and Otkun Dostay master many of these. Songs and pieces will be alternated with stories about and from Tuva and its rich musical folklore. Afterwards there is a chance to talk to the musicians during the Q&A.
The concert at NCCU is free and open for everyone. Just register here. Without reservation there may still be places when you come, there is no guarantee but there are 300+ seats.
In the late 1980s Dostay was the youngest member of the internationally acclaimed Tuva Ensemble. During the late Soviet era he enrolled a theatre school in Leningrad (now Sint-Petersburg), and was engaged in acting, dancing and storytelling. With fellow students Stanislav Iril and Olaak Ondar he took part in Buddhist ceremonies in Leningrad and founded the group Özüm (‘sprouts’). They recorded their first CD in 1991, published by Window to Europe/Orpheus. Dostay has continued to direct Özüm with changing group members over time. He plays horse-head fiddle, all the Tuvan varieties of Jew’s harp and the shaman’s drum. He organised festivals to commemorate the great throat-singer Gennadi Tumat in his native village Khandagayti. He is currently active as the founder-director of the Tuvan-Japanese friendship Center and works as a correspondent for Tuvan State Radio, under the State TV & Radio Company. He regularly performs in solo, duo and ensemble projects, which he toured in Germany, Italy, Norway, The Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Morroco, Japan and China. He has been involved in recording, producing and playing on several CDs of Tuvan music published in Russia, Japan and Europe. In 2013 he published his first solo CD, an exciting mix of traditional songs and melodies with 21st-century sounds.
Born in Western Tuva, as a girl Tumat was fond of listening to khoomei and sygyt throat singing performed by her brothers. She studied traditional music in music college in Tuva and went on to become one of the world’s most active female overtone/throat singers, as well as the founder and artistic leader of the all-female throat-singing folk ensemble Tyva Kyzy (‘Daughters of Tuva’, www.tyvakyzy.com). She is an accomplished performer of all basic throat-singing styles, sings traditional folk songs, and plays various Tuvan string instruments, Jew’s harps and zither. As a performer, she received many titles in Tuva. She is a teacher of traditional music and khöömei throat-singing at the Pedagogical College of Tuvan State University in Tuva’s capitol Kyzyl. With Tyva Kyzy and with solo projects she toured extensivly in the USA, Poland, Russia, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Japan. She recorded and released several CDs and DVDs, among which her outstanding solo CD Belek/ The Gift.
1970年生於圖瓦Khandagaity小鎮，為知名喉音演唱與馬頭琴表演者，亦是著名圖瓦民族音樂團體《圖瓦樂團》Tuva Ensemble的一員，於音樂上有卓越的成就，不斷受邀至日本、土耳其及荷蘭等地演出。歐特昆一直以來致力於圖瓦傳統音樂的傳承與創新，舉辦圖瓦喉音國際音樂節《Övur之地—西奇與呼麥》（Sygyt and khoomei in the land of Övur)。他不僅擔任全女子喉音團體《圖瓦的女兒》的經紀人，同時也在電視台製作音樂節目，極力推廣傳統音樂。目前於圖瓦的聯合國教科文組織UNESCO部門擔任主席。