TIBETAN CHANT AND HARMONIC SINGING

Chant for Mandala Ceremony (Tibetan Gelupa sect) 1

In the tradition of hoomi singing in Mongolia and sacred chant in Tibet, singers work consciously with the physics of sound vibrations and the perceptual qualities required both to produce the sounds and to hear them. Each singer produces a fundamental note in the extreme bass register (around 60 hz.), and by changing the position of the larynx and jaw, and the shape of the moth with the tongue, cheeks, and lips, produces a whole spectrum of sound from the harmonic series of the sung fundamental note. Spectral elements are brought into the foreground – they are not simply colouring the fundamental note. The harmonic content of words is then brought to life and experienced physically as sound vibrations. Different harmonics, or ears of resonance are emphasized with different vowel progressions.

David Hykes, founder / director of the Harmonic Choir, describes harmonic singing as building architecture of sound above a sung note. The actual practice of harmonic singing involves several stages: the first stage is to produce the sequence [m]- [u]-[a]-[ei]-[i] moving from a nasalized, closed consonant through an ascending progression of vowels. It is important to feel the vibrations physically, in the floor, in the air. Hearing the upper harmonics of the sung vowels is an important prerequisite to actually producing the sounds. Harmonic singing involves a series of timbral transformations through changes in pitch, register, and spectral elements.

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