I can feel a long blog post coming on….this one has a lot of interconnected parts.
Last night my pals Ari and Laura took me to see Huun Huur Tu, which is a group of 4 Tuvan guys who play two musical instruments apiece, sometimes 3, and do that anomalous, unearthly, nothing-really-like-it resonant art known as Tuvan throat singing (there are other peoples that do this technique as well, but the Tuvan version became famous after noted physicist Richard Feynman became interested in both the land and its customs. )
First off, the Century Ballroom with its ornate wooden moldings, high ceiling, wood floors created a sonic chamber that was unparalleled in my experience. The stringed instruments and the drums sang to the walls and the walls sang back. Because we were in the upper balcony with open windows nearby, we could hear fire sirens and the low-power fans for ventilation – but somehow because of the shape of the building, it all seemed more integrated into the sounds of the concert.
Tuvan throat singing itself will completely startle you if you are not prepared for it. The low register part of it sounds quite honestly like a constipated bullfrog intoning the mantra, “OM.” ….Ari can actually do this, and he scared the heck out of my then-boyfriend by doing it in the back of the car while I was taking people home one day. But the unearthly part is what happens as you watch the performers and think, hmm, what a nice flute accompaniment is going on, or isn’t that a theramin, or is there a woman actually singing? — and you realize that it’s the SAME guy and all the other dudes in the band are watching him, silently. As he moves his mouth, this groaning bullfrog noise is calling the angels out to sing as well.
The relationship of the voice to the instruments was also not the same, and I think would not have been so readily apparent if it had not been a live performance. The strings and the voices at times blended together imperceptibly; the vocal cords and the bows across the strings were singing with each other, rather than the American-pluck-over-here-and-my-voice-sings-apart-from-that. Seeing it live helped me to understand the relationships; if you had a CD of this music, you’d hear the effect but not know what part was handwork and what was in the throat. They used other instruments to full advantage as well: mouth harps made that humorous perfect BOING noise like a calliope of springs, and quite a few traveling songs had the percussive effect of cowboy horse clopping along with the folk tunes.
The building architecture enabled the sound to completely surround us. Being in the middle of all this calibrated noise got me thinking about how when things resonate perfectly – the right words, the right emotional communication, the right actions, the right intentions – it can create this experience far greater than the sum of the parts. Tuvan throat singing is not just the bullfrog and the flute components, it’s all the vibrational frequencies in between that are created not only by the stringed instruments but in the act of Tuvan throat singing itself.
A few hours before this concert, I presented a document about my vision of community to other folks at MSDN. I got some feedback and a support, which was key for me in preparing more features for you, but what struck me at the concert was how much the music reflected what I want to achieve with community at MSDN.
Now, we don’t have to go crazy with this metaphor – the corporate voice of Microsoft isn’t a constipated bullfrog, and Scoble at his most renegade is not exactly the voice of the angels. 😀 But I don’t want to build “just features“ on MSDN – I want to create an experience that resonates across all the multiple moving parts, especially the human ones.
If the Tuvan throat singer held back – didn’t give you the lower strange noises – he sang in normal voice (and many of the singers had quite wonderful normal singing voices). His tones did not wander and in failing to wander expressively would never reach the overtones. The organic magic would never happen. You had to have the oscillations to have the harmonics. The imperfections are what created the perfect tone. I think you can see where I’m going with this.
As we walked down the hill toward the downtown parking lot where our cars were parked, Ari started happily groaning and fluting Tuvan-style and it struck me how in his line of work (he’s an underemployed game designer at present) it would be helpful to have the ability both to code and to do sound effects. At the very least, there’s that to consider.
More later when I’ve had more coffee,