Spectral Voices: Tell Your Instincts to Mellow Out (Part 2)

August 31, 2010 § 2 Comments

(For part 1, click here.)

Spectral Voices is an ambient project I happened upon in college while scouring the internet for recordings of Mongolian throat singers.  It turns out that through well-practiced manipulations of the vocal apparatus, humans are able isolate and emphasize the naturally occurring overtones that lend each of our voices its unique timbre.  (Overtones also allow us to distinguish between different vowel sounds, even when there is no difference in intonation.)  The apparent affect is that of two pitches being sung simultaneously.  Accomplished throat singers can do some truly amazing things with these techniques.  (I hope to post more on the topic in the near future.)

Believe it or not, even without a lot of practice it’s possible to do some basic throat singing given you have access to a resonant enough space.  A few friends and I used to experiment in the all-concrete racket ball court at our school.  Your shower would probably work too, especially if it has glass doors.  Take a seat in the tub, inhale deeply, and sing ‘EEEEERRRRRREEEEEEERRRRRRR’ on a single, lower-register pitch.  As your tongue moves from the front of your mouth to the back then to the front again, you should start to hear some higher notes emerge above the drone.  If things go especially well, the frequency of this whistling will slide up and down like a piccolo trombone.

In the case of the Spectral Voices (SV) project, singing transpires in the extremely resonant interior space of an empty, 120-foot-tall water tower.  We’re talking 20 to 30-second reverb here!  A history of the endeavor found on the SV website describes the properties of the space and the result of singing in this way:

“The huge reverberation made it possible for a single voice to build complex chords simply by singing several pitches in succession.  A series of notes would hang in the air, turning melodies into chords.  The resonant acoustics reinforced even the quietest sounds, giving a sense of fullness and volume — in turn, enabling the musicians to sing breaths as long as 40 seconds.  Singing long notes with very long reverberation creates music that lingers in space and in the mind.  The experience is very peaceful; time seems to stand still.”

I like the first disc, Coalescence, the best.  Not only is the listener struggling to forge a path in a novel soundscape (which is the case with any first listening) but the performer as well.  Everyone is a stranger to this land; these are the raw echoes of the drama that unfolds when the blind leads the blind into the darkness.

Go ahead and take a break and have a listen to a few of the tracks.  Free audio samples can be found here.


No.  That’s not a well-rehearsed choir with thick synthesizer back-ups making all that noise.  There is no amplification and no digital vocal effects.

At most, this is only three voices!  Often only one or two!  And it’s all improvised on the spot without any subsequent, in-studio modification.  The produce of this rare blend of musical ingredients is otherworldly.

The listener feels themselves to be the axis about which immense, emergent, rhizomic ‘structures’ turn.  Pieces develop gradually in the manner of glacial shockwaves, moving slowly outward away from you like vast lichen colonies stretching further, to the pulse of geologic time, until they reach all the way to the dark and distant horizons of perception.  Though the above description from the website may say otherwise, it’s actually not always a ‘very peaceful’ experience, in the same way coming face to face with apparent infinities is not always very peaceful.  It is usually downright unsettling.

This is music you could easily lose yourself in, an alien jungle you could really start losing your mind in.

On second thought, those survival instincts might just come in handy after all.


Spectral Voices: Tell Your Instincts to Mellow Out (Part 1)

August 31, 2010 § 1 Comment

At first fleeting glance, you are instantly concerned.  (Yes, I know what you’re thinking because I’ve been there.)

“Oh no!” is the initial knee-jerk outburst.  It’s followed immediately by a veritable avalanche of rhetorical questions.  You’ve backslid into the sloughs of outrage.  There is a terrific profusion of interrobangs:

“What?!  Are you kidding me?!  Album names like, Innertones, Coalescence, and Sky?!  Cover art consisting of funerary fonts tugged gently into liquid nautilus vortices, transparent sepia monoliths superimposed on sepia silver linings, and the last whispers of autumn refracted in tranquil streams?!  Tracks with titles like, ‘Noctilucent Clouds‘, ‘Nuage‘, ‘Primeval Forest‘, and ‘Heartbeat to Avalon‘?!”

“Wait.”  Now, you’ll try to be funny, but it’ll come off cruel.  “I know this guy.  He’s some kind of warlock right?!  Or maybe a prophet of Baal?!  What’s his side project again?!  ‘Cradled in the Arms of Moloch’?!  ‘David Koresh and the Ouija Priests’?!  Something like that?!”

Instincts recommend flight, so you shift strategies, resorting to tact in order to lubricate your exit.  “I bet it’s cool.  I’m personally just not into the whole Age of Aquarius thing.  Agree to disagree?”

And away you go, unscathed.  Close call.

Incredible, isn’t it, the intensity of that reflex?  How suddenly it overtakes you, almost as if you’ve always been angry at curly letters, ripples, and clouds, almost as if the decision to hate this stuff was hardwired/socialized in the core of your mind long ago.  Strangely, you’ve not heard a single note.

Yes, this sort of automatic prejudging may very well be an inevitable by-product of our inductive faculties.  But need we give in so completely, so easily?

If you could withhold final judgment for a moment, you might actually grow to like this, you know?  How about telling that grumpy little magistrate inside you to mellow out for two seconds?  How about listening to a couple of testimonies before condemning the defendant.  (By the way, if you are entering our little hermeneutic here already a fan of the whole ‘Age of Aquarius thing’, this admonition is not for you.  You are definitely going to like this.)

Click here for part 2.

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