The sound rises like a wind pushing along the grass, through the trees. Chirps and croaks and whistles comment all around that central sound as it rises and falls from the throats of men of Tuva.
The southern Siberian republic takes center stage this weekend at the University of Kentucky's ArtsAsia Festival with a visit by Huun Huur Tu, the throat-singing group that has developed a reputation for authentic performances of the Central Asian music and mixing it with everything from choirs to techno artists. However it is performed, the point is to bring the listener back to the natural grassy steppe from which the singers come.
"We have words and we have lyrics about Mother Earth and Eternal Blue Sky Father," says founding member Sayan Bapa. "It's not like messiah messages. We just want to understand our Mother Earth emotionally by sound. Our instruments are very ancient, very traditional, very warm and smooth and strong. "It gives you a real feel about the weather, earth, animals, tiger, forest, river, lakes."
UK associate ethnomusicology professor Donna Kwon spearheaded the effort to bring Huun Huur Tu to Kentucky, having helped present the group at other institutions where she has taught.
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"They're really accomplished performers, very creative," Kwon said. "The way they combine their traditional with their own contemporary compositional senses is really amazing. ... They keep the tradition of the traditional Tuvan music, but do it in ways that are really creative and appealing.
"Every time I play it for students, their eyes get wide and they say, 'Oh, my gosh, what is this?'"
The style goes back centuries and takes years to master, not unlike opera.
"We have in the throat additional vocal chords that don't work all our lives," Bapa says. "If you're just talking or crying, you never touch this part of your voice.
"In our technique, you start moving all these vocal chords, ... sleeping chords. You need to make some tension of your vocal chords or relax or strong tension or smooth tension or slow, low tension. It depends on what you need — the frequency or the pitch.
"If you want a high pitch, you need to make tension and make a hole in your throat like a flute. With a flute, you make it open and close with your fingers. Here, you do it with your voice."
To most listeners, the Tuvan music seems to just be sustained sound, but there are words in the music.
"It is helpful sometimes if you know the words and what they mean, because it's very emotional, and also very beautiful," Bapa says.
But the language is by no means a barrier to connecting with the music based in nature and humanity.
"Yesterday, I hear from one man from New Orleans," Bapa says. "He cried. He said, 'I don't understand what exactly you're singing, what you are talking about during the song. But emotionally it touched me. I don't know why, I don't know how.'"