Friday, December 12, 2003

Musical Surprises

I had never seen My Fair Lady before I started it tonight, and didn't really know much about it, but certainly something I did not expect to find in it was overtone singing.

For those of you who don't know the story, it's about a linguistics professor taking a bet to teach a London commoner to speak like a duchess. That's enough of a synopsis for our purposes. Early on, there's a scene where Professor Higgins (Rex Harrison) and Colonel Pickering (someone else) are having some sort of linguistically geeky conversation. Higgins taps a tuning fork, sings an A with it, and proceeds to sing overtones! It only lasts a few seconds, though, and then he asks Pickering how many vowel sounds he heard (claiming 130, surely some artistic license there) but I immediately rewound the tape to hear it again. Sure enough — there it was, a very basic example of exactly the Tuvan sort of stuff I've been trying to do. It was sort of fuzzy (and pretty obviously dubbed-over) but there it was. Wow.

This movie was made in 1964. I don't know for sure, but there can't have been much — if anything — known about Tuva or Tuvan throat singing known in the West around then. I wonder what other sorts of overtone singing were going on then? I'm really curious about that now.

No comments: