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The perfect human instrument

Deep in the Heart of Tuva: Cowboy Music From the Wild East
Deep in the Heart of Tuva: Cowboy Music From the Wild East
By various artists

Ellipsis Arts: 1996

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This review first appeared in the December 6, 1996 issue of the North County Times.

Despite the title, this ain't cowboy music like you'll ever hear at a hoedown. Instead, this is Tuvan folk singing – exotic (at least to American ears) music from Central Asia, between Mongolia, Russia and China.

And it's different, all right, truly unlike anything else on the planet. The Tuvan singers create their tones deep in their throats, what we might call guttural, and in so doing can create multiple notes, giving themselves the ability to provide their own harmonies. In their throat-singing, the Tuvans come closer to creating the perfect human instrument than perhaps any other vocal tradition. The whistles and growls they generate sound at times positively nonhuman, whether flute or beast depends on the particular effect they're achieving.

But it's never dull; alien and exotic to Western ears, yes. But given a chance, its beauty compels and warms and charms.

The book that the CD comes in presents a concise history of Tuva, along with its culture and, for the truly brave, a recipe for traditional Tuvan sheep's blood sausage.