FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004


Peter Kowald


LOST RIVERS (dedicated to my teachers. S. N.)

People sing.
All people of this world - with the exception of deaf and dump, larynx operated, and otherwise obstructed - sing. Mostly songs.

With occasions, and without:
at celebrations, at work, in basements, on mountains, in pubs, in choruses, on television, in the dark, on stages, in kindergardens, bathtubs, churches, on horses, in cars, on deck, at the beginning of school, hanging out late at bars, for birthdays, at funerals.
For money. Out of pleasure, in fear, because of joy, with sorrow, for fun.

This has to do with various things like solitude/solidarity, delight/pain etc., but in any case with

high, low, beautiful, rough, firm, smooth, broken, out of tune, in tune, soft, loud. And, of course, it has to do with breath.

Sainkho is a singer
(like all of us: I have heard her sing inn the kitchen, on the train, in the street, in the restaurant).

Sainkho is a singer
(like no one else: she studied at the conservatory, decided to
sing on stage. That is nothing special.
She sings higher, lower, more beautifully, rougher, firmer,
smoother, more broken, more out of and more in tune, softer
and louder than most of us. That is something special.
And (something special also, definitely in Wuppertal): she is
from Tuva:

Tuva is a little republic of the (in these days dissolving) Soviet Union in South Sibiria, on the northern border of Mongolia, east of the Altai Mountains, between the Saja- and the Tannu Ola Mountains. The capital, Kysil, has been estimated as the geographical centre of Asia -(see obelisk there).
Like neighbouring Mongolia (despite the many similarities in their culture, Tuvinian is not related to Mongolian language, but, being a Turk language, to modern Turkish) man, woman and child lived a nomadic life only until recently (Sainkho's grandparents still did), with horses, sheep, yaks, and camels, moving around with their yurts, houselike tents made from skins, linen and felt.

Music in Tuva is not so much the Music College of Kysil, but rather the mouth-harps, the knee- (or horse-) violins, and mostly song.
Song, compared to our folk, pop and classical singing, seems off the beaten track for our ears because of the (unusual trills and) richness of overtones: a voice produces two, sometimes three clearly distinguishable tones simultaneously (vertically, so to speak), forming the overtones (harmonics) over a fundamental tone into a melody - sometimes a few octaves higher than the basic note - through moving the lips, tongue, lower jawbone, palate, actually the whole mouth cavity (this overtone singing also in Tuva is called "khomei", the Mongolian word for throat/larynx).

Tradition 1)
says that riding horses the noise of the hoofs drowned out the singing voice, and so man developed the higher and farther reaching overtones (man, because this type of singing was until recently (see above) reserved exclusively for men. It was believed it would lead woman to infertility). Meanwhile women (see/listen to Sainkho) also sing in this style/with this technique.

Tradition 2)
says that the shamans listened a lot to the sound of their - singing - bow, which was plucked or bowed, and they heard especially the melody of the single tone, its colour, its timbre, just the overtones. This way man and woman were able since early times (and since childhood) to recognise the physical basic structure of the tones and - on top of the original archaic monotony - to realise the melody of sound colour (Klangfarbenmelodie).

Tradition 3) 4) 5) are not known to me.

In any case:
Sainkho says that her father (both parents were teachers and live in Kysil today) is interested in music and sings often. She studied at Music College, but was refused the obligated work permit as a singer in Tuva by the Philharmonic Committee and decided to leave for Moscow, where she was immediately accepted. At the same time she studied the techniques of cult, Shamanistic and Buddhist-Lamaistic singing of her Sibirian home.

Shamanistic traditions after the revolution of 1922 survived secretly, while the Buddhist-Lamaistic traditions - in the West rather known through Tibetan monks - have disappeared in Tuva (but, of course, didn't leave the world, even not in Tuva).

Anecdote 1)
During our concert tour of Sibiria in May 1991, at a party (vodka was served in quite big glasses) in Kysil, I met a shaman, whom I asked
much too nosily (after all, one hardly meets shamans in Wuppertal)
questions about shamanistic matters. He answered
"comeonletshaveadrinkfirst" and said nothing about shamanism for
the rest of Ihe night. I didn't ask him a second time either.

Anecdote 2)
A singer of the traditional overtone music, who had sung a few pieces at the same party, explained toe me (holding thumb and index finger about 1/8 of an inch apart): the music has to pass through a small hole, a narrow channel. It is difficult, but it has to pass through there. And after it is through, it can open, open widely, and then you can hear all the animals and the wind, all of nature. But first it has to pass through this little hole.

Sainkho has been singing concerts and touring internationally with Tuvinian-Sibirian music since 1 986 (Sainkho the folksinger). In 1988 she began working with the improvisation group TRIO and the Vassilieve Theatre in Moscow (Sainkho the New Music singer (a very vague term, I know).

is Sainkho's first production of an album (a CD is even more an album than an album) under her name and directorship. it is stocktaking and at the same time something like a name-card. The tapes were produced on three separate afternoons without any specific preparation for this production. Only a few takes of the various pieces/songs/ideas were recorded, and these have not been changed or reworked, smoothed, re-planed or in any other way refined. They were left in their grown, pure, somewhat raw state, liveliness was more important than perfection. I, being the producer (whatever that is: in this case the one who is present at the recording, who gives courage here and there and makes tea) and myself a musician was amazed at how Sainkho without shrinking or shaking, without dams and barriers (see below), (that is without other musicians and audience) could set her sounds against the un-suggestive, rather antiseptic atmosphere of the studio (I know of other experiences, also my own).

Sainkho remembers a little river, that had disappeared one day near the village where she grew up (a today abandoned gold-mining village). Some years later she found a book cataloging dried-up and disappeared rivers of Russia: the image remains and leads to this titIe.
Stream of my thoughts: in the cultural history of the Occident (from Heraklitos to Fluxus, the exceptions prove the tendency), the image of floating and letting go is rather unpopular: instead, there is an altitude of taking apart, culling into pieces, separating, analysing, specialising.

I consider good and right that there is room in us for waving feeling and willing thinking.

I find it essential, that there is proper (and not properly at all) floating
between these Two.

That our world looks the way it looks in these times has to do a lot with dams and barriers.
See Sainkho's title.

And hear Sankho's music: there is floating in a lot of ways. And that - on top of her artistic abilities makes her music so right. Period.

to Jost, for among other things, his trust in himself (Sainkho was almost unknown to him before the production), in Sainkho and in me. And in this littIe strange disc (can a CD stand 74 minutes of unaccompanied voice?),

to tomas, from whose writing (and thinking, is that possible?) I have tried to steal (even trying is cheating, said the teacher at the examination),

to Sainkho for her trust in the producer (she let me edit, cut, and make the sequence of the pieces all by myself and accepted the result (this one) without wavering and clamoring, i. e. nothing was changed). And especially for her music.

Because Sainkho is a singer. Like none of us and no one else. Period again.


English version by Kowald with a little help of three English speaking friends.

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