Huun-Huur-Tu | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Just over a year ago, on one of last winter's most bitterly cold nights, Huun-Huur-Tu, the strange folk ensemble from Tuva, a small region in southern Siberia just north of Mongolia, made its Chicago debut with a fascinating exposition of khoomei (throat singing)--a haunting vocal style in which the singers sound as if they're simultaneously producing two or three different notes. The exoticism of the phenomenon tended to obscure the gorgeous melodic swoops in their material. At the performance ethnomusicologist Ted Levin explained their techniques and provided summaries of the elaborate story lines that are typically set within the songs, tales of nomadic herders somewhat akin to America's early cowboy songs. This time around Huun-Huur-Tu will be without Levin as musical tour guide, but there might not be need for one. As vocalist Sayan Bapa explains in the new CD's liner notes, "Timbre is the basis of everything in Tuvan music." Apart from the miraculous array of vocal sounds--high-pitched whistles to low guttural groans imitating a staggering number of animal sounds--the group uses native instruments such as the igil, a two-stringed violinlike bowed instrument, and the khomuz, a Jew's harp played with unbelievable range, to form a sumptuous bouquet of sound. Their recently released second album, the breathtaking The Orphan's Lament (Shanachie), features a heightened lyricism that makes foreign turns of phrase and emotional expression easily accessible, but it's less an introduction to their music than a forward-looking statement. The more you know about the music, the more spellbinding it becomes, but by no means is ignorance an impediment to genuine appreciation. Saturday, 8 PM, Ramsey Auditorium, Wilson Hall, Fermilab, Kirk and Pine, Batavia; 708-840-2787.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Clark Quin.

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