Huun-Huur-Tu

The Orphan's Lament

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From the first track, their second album, Orphan's Lament grabs your attention with "Prayer" -- the deep, unearthly, sounds of Tibetan Lamaist chant. Next they move to khoomei singing. Known in the West as "throat singing," the performer produces two or more high- and low-pitched tones simultaneously. The resulting sound -- somewhat eerie, somewhat haunting -- is a combination somewhere between the sounds of a long whistle and a Jew's harp.

But Huun Huur Tu also adds new elements to the traditional sounds of Tuvan music. In addition to the igil, a two-stringed horsehead fiddle played with a bow, and the khomuz, a Jew's harp, (both traditional instruments) the group has incorporated percussion -- not a usual device in Tuvan music. Their use of a large goat-skin drum, generally reserved for shamanistic rituals, gives a rhythm to their music, making it very appealing to a Western ear. Similarly, their use of pouch rattle (made from a bull's scrotum filled with sheep knucklebones) adds a beat.

The fact Huun Huur Tu plays together, as a group, is itself unusual. Not content to blindly follow traditional Central Asian folk music, Huun Huur Tu's four, sometimes five, performers create an ensemble that offers a complex, fascinating, and harmonious mixture.

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