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Lotus in the Park

By Michael Krautkraemer

On Saturday September 30, 2017, the IAUNRC co-sponsored two acts performing in this year’s Lotus World Music and Arts Festival during the public event Lotus in the Park.

Lotus in the Park is the annual free component of the internationally-known Lotus Fest, where acts perform short sets and small information sessions about their musical forms. This year the IAUNRC co-sponsored Alash, a group of Tuvan musicians who are master throat-singers, and Sahba Motallebi & Naghmeh Farahmand, who play Iranian strings and percussion. I took the opportunity, on what I might add was an absolutely beautiful afternoon, to go check out both groups.

As per usual, Bloomington traffic and road construction got the better of me and I showed up later than I had wanted to Alash, who were playing first. The tent (if such can be said of an outdoor canopy with no sides) was filled to capacity, so I had to content myself with watching and photographing from the back.

 

If you’ve never heard Tuvan throat-singing before, go look it up on YouTube right now.

Now you’ll believe me when I tell you that it’s absolutely unlike anything for which the average person you know has any point of reference. As their manager, Sean Quirk, pointed out, it is rather silly to call the techniques that Alash use “throat-singing” as opposed to any other kind of singing (all singing comes from throats, after all), but the categorization helps to underscore how different their vocal styles are from what people would generally expect.

Throat-singers utilize overtones to produce more than one pitch simultaneously, which can have a very haunting, though quite natural-sounding, effect. Mr. Quirk explained that this is commonly thought to be the result of people’s attempts to reproduce the sounds of the natural world that surrounded them, such as streams, birds, wind, and the like.

Overtones are the harmonic tones that are generated when a sound wave is made. They are present in all singing, but by manipulating their throat, vocal track, and mouth, the singers in Alash are able to selectively amplify them and manipulate them. This allows them to produce multiple pitches and the manipulation thereof allows them to produce some amazing sounds.

In addition to performing several pieces, the singers demonstrated three different throat-singing styles that produced some incredible effects as overtones and undertones swirled in and out around a main drone. The styles were Xöömei, Sygyt, and Kargyraa and each emphasized different overtones for completely different sound.

After Alash were done, I had an hour to wander around, cross third street and grab a taco from a food truck, and try to get in a better position for the Iranian musicians. I didn’t make it back on time, so I photographed that one from the back, too. Ms. Motallebi plays the tar and setar, two traditional Persian stringed instruments and Ms. Farahmand plays Iranian percussion.

They played several pieces to start, and Ms. Motallebi explained a bit about the style of music. Traditional Persian music is based on improvisation around certain modes and themes, not unlike jazz, although it sounded much more scripted than most jazz I have heard. In fact, it was hard to believe that the two were basically making it up as they went along; they were that in step. After a few songs, Ms. Farahmand demonstrated both the capabilities of a very ordinary-looking daf, or drum, as well as her virtuosity with it.

All in all, Lotus in the Park was a very well-attended success (as it has been every year since I’ve been in Bloomington) and the acts that the IAUNRC sponsored were quite well-received.