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Sounds of Siberia

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Who: Huun Huur Tu Tuvan Throat Singers

Where: MY Place

When: Saturday, March 29

Quick, somebody get these guys a drink of water before they pass out.

That’s the first thing you think when you hear the melodic but bizarre singing from Huun-Huur-Tu, presenting arguably the world’s oldest form of music. The group’s name literally means "sun propeller," or the vertical separation of rays of sunlight that occurs just after sunrise or just before sunset.

For the members of Huun-Huur-Tu, this analogy is the best way to describe what happens when they throat sing – they separate rays of sound to produce articulated harmonics in unison. In a nutshell, the Huun-Huur-Tu singer can produce two or more tones simultaneously, kind of like stream lines you see in a waterfall or the echo you hear in a mountain range, or the whistling of a wind through a valley.

Legend has it throat singing started when shepherds and farmers in Tuva, South Siberia, spent their lives in nature with a spiritual connection to the land.

Throat singing in the western world is a niche’ market but possible after years and years of practice. It might be called harmonic singing, overtone singing, diphonic singing or biphonic singing. All types refer to similar, but not necessarily identical vocal techniques.

So what do Huun-Huur-Tu sound like? An article in Scientific American best sums it up: " One tone is a low, sustained fundamental pitch, similar to the drone of a bagpipe. The second is a series of flutelike harmonics, which resonate high above the drone and may be musically stylized to represent such sounds as the whistle of a bird, the syncopated rhythms of a mountain stream or the lilt of a cantering horse."

If you thought being able to throat sing was interesting enough in itself, the backgrounds of the four guys who perform it in Huun-Huur-Tu are just as fascinating. Several of the members grew up as shepherds in remote villages, while another was a bassist in a Russian jazz rock band. Another was a classical percussionist in the largest Russian state ensemble, known as the Siberian Souvenir.

Huun-Huur-Tu are perhaps the best known practitioners of throat singing, travelling the world with an assortment of costumes and ancient instruments. The result is a unique and mesmerizing production providing a first-hand education in a mystical foreign culture. On the flipside, innovation is very important to the group. In 1993 the Tuvans collaborated with modern day musicians like Frank Zappa, Ry Cooder and The Chieftains.

With more than 10 albums under their belt, five tours across North America, and festival performances throughout most of Europe, these guys are as committed to their cause as the Rolling Stones and just like them, an international living treasure. Check out their Web site www.huunhuurtu.com for more information.

Brought to you by the Whistler Arts Council, tickets to Huun Huur Tu Tuvan are $20 for adults and $12 for students/seniors. Show starts at 8 p.m. Ph: 604-935-8418.

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