End of next week I return to Europe again to attend a conference entitled “Music practices, identity and tradition: overtone and polyphonic singing in Sardinia and Central Asia.” It is organised by Sabrina Salis of the University of Sassari, Sardinia. Speakers and performers include Gian Nicola Spanu from the University of Sassari, Populos Tenore Nugoresu, Keith Howard from SOAS, London and myself. I’ll give a workshop and talk. Here is the abstract of my talk:
Discourses of authenticity surrounding traditional overtone singing practices.
The technique of singing overtones has been capturing the attention of a steadily growing number of listeners over the past decades. For audiences and practicing musicians alike, it brings to the forefront facts of the musical nature of an auditory reality that is inhabited by humans all over the world. For audiences new to the ability of the human voice to produce several pitches at the same time, the phenomenon itself leads to a breakthrough of habitual patterns of auditory perception and cognition; it may become a catalyst for deeper, personal transformations on levels beyond musical and auditory realms. For certain musicians from Sardinia, Tibet and the Altai-region, who are part of older traditions, the phenomenon itself is obviously not new. What is new, is the scientifically informed discourse that develops around their music, and also the associations that audiences make between their own traditional music on the one hand, and different traditions and (ancient) philosophical ideas about music on the other. Scientific discourse and ancient music philosophies are thus informed by previously unknown, older musical traditions, and vice versa.
Traditions, like those kept alive by Tibetan choirs, North-Asian throat singers and Sardinian polyphonic groups, sometimes lend authority, authenticity and credibility to singing harmonics for musicians outside these traditions. But what does this authority-claim mean for those inside and outside the traditions? Who are claiming what and on what bases? For example, how do non-traditional overtone singers use or abuse various traditions? Is it right to claim that traditions have a higher authority over certain musical techniques, in this case, overtone singing? Can this authority be extended to musical or acoustic phenomena as such? Several case studies from the literature and fieldwork will show the complexity of this issue, with different stances taken by musicians (and a scholar) inside and outside traditions. The overall picture emerging from such comparisons expands on the idea of my PhD Thresholds of the audible: about the polyphony of the body (2013). It shows that music, in theory and in practice, is a tool for drawing boundaries that inevitably keep fluctuating.