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February 23, 2008

TransMongolia - Gesang des Himmels

There is no experience akin to hearing throat singing for the first time. It is such a foreign sound to anyone who has not grown up in the deserts of central Asia. And yet it resonates deep within us, because as foreign as it sounds, it still comes from something very universal and recognizable: the human voice.

Imagine a cross between an operatic tenor, a yodeling cowboy, a church organ, a sitar, and a growling bluesman. Throat singers sound kind of like that. But different. By aligning all the resonant chambers in their vocal chords, they are able to harmonize with themselves. This produces an eerie effect which is all the more alien because it comes out of a song with recognizable lyrics.

So what happens when you get five Mongolians together who all throat-sing and play 2-stringed horse-headed trapezoidal string instruments (and wear crazy costumes to boot)? Well, you get this really wild group TransMongolia, who make music with enough drive to send you galloping around your house (or preferred music-listening area). And I say galloping, because the rhythms they use somehow invariably conjure up the feeling of horseback-riding (a Mongol specialty). Really. Listen. This music really feels like trotting, prancing, and galloping, and it's quite infectious.

Though it feels really ancient and primordial at times (the all-vocal chant Tengeriin Duu could very well be the sound that separated the world from the heavens at the beginning of time), Transmongolia ain't your mother's throat singing (well, actually, it was my mother who discovered this band whilst visiting Austria...).
Though they draw from centuries-old tradition, Transmongolia sounds very contemporary; I could imagine them appealing to fans of Metallica as much as listeners of world music. In fact, traditionally throat singing is performed solo and unaccompanied, so the idea of a throat-singing musical group only dates back to the '80s, with the groundbreaking Tuvan group Huun-Huur Tu.

The members of Transmongolia augment their singing with a variety of instruments including: the forementioned 2-stringed horse-headed trapezoidal string instruments, roughly equivalent to a string quartet; 2- and 3-stringed mongolian banjos; a jews harp; a very haunting mongolian oboe; a didjeridu; drums and other percussion. The album is very well-produced and recorded, with a wide variety of textures, tempos, and moods. Whether aurally sparse or dense, it never sounds like too much or too little, and the all-acoustic setting allows the beautiful overtones to ring through.
Hosoo / Ensemble Transmongolia - Gesang des Himmels
Year: 2005

get ready to gallop.
mr | mp3 192+kbps vbr | w/o covers | 95mb

Covers/Scans: booklet (outside), booklet (inside), cd, tray, back

find out more about throat singing at wikipedia


Anonymous said...

Actually I was looking around for some Mongolian stuff..., and guess what? I found it here!
I once stumbled over a couple of Mongolians performing in a park and ever since then I regret I didn't buy an album...
Thanks, annaniems

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much!!! This is a gem! Saw them on youtube and i Was blown away - Su