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polyphonic overtone singing - explained visually

Anna-Maria Hefele · Youtube · 67 HN points · 2 HN comments
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by Anna-Maria Hefele | -
Video & Sound Visualisation: Bodo Maass
⇊⇊⇊ more info: ⇊⇊⇊

Sound Visualization made with Overtone Analyzer |
thanks to Bodo Maass for making this cool video for me!

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Jan 02, 2020 · 66 points, 22 comments · submitted by peter_d_sherman
I have yet to see a real performance where this technique is used artistically and in a way that sounds pleasant.
Obviously "pleasant" is pretty subjective, but here's Huun-Huur-Tu performing:
Pleasantness is in the ear of the beholder, but I've always enjoyed listening to On Ensemble, where Shoji uses this technique in pieces like After Rain [1] and Yamasong [2]. Or if you're feeling funky, the remix [3].




Have you watched Ghengis Blues? That's actually the very first place I ever heard of Tuvan throat singing, which has a lot of polyphonic overtones going on.

The story is great, and the mix with blues is really interesting. The dude has the most thunderous voice I've ever heard. Subwoofer gold.

Definitely an interesting sound, but not my definition of singing. The term "polyphonic singing" makes me want to hear a single person sing in a way such that it sounds like two or more people singing in harmony.
There is at least one person who does Amazing Grace with a moving "bass" line underneath. Most people just stick to the key note though, which in my mind is cheating since the whole song is basic pentatonic to begin with.

So I definitely agree that the level one might consider a solo song, with melody and changing chord progression and/or oblique harmony, sung by a single person in solo, is rather rare.

I think some of Bobby McFerrin's work might be as close as you're going to get.
His live song Drive has 2 distinct types of overtone singing in there. Some people think he's a tad weird, but his skill is unmistakable once you get used to "do" being the primary lyric.
it's very brief, but she gets quite a reaction from the band at around 6:10:
I noticed David Lee Roth (Van Halen and solo) does exactly that polyphonic vocal riff in a number of songs.
His vocal track separated. Try around 3:25 or so:
It's only 3:28 long. I think you meant 2:25 since he does a really good overtone at about 2:30. Thanks for this perfect example. Usually I'm the only one who knows wtf I'm talking about when I mention such obscure things.
Oops, yes...2:25.
You know this music isn't FOR you to consume and enjoy. It is a part of another culture.
Did you just assume OP’s culture?
Created an account just to link you a few: 1. The HU - Yuve Yuve Yu ( 2. Sowulo - Wolfwiga ( 3. Jim Cole & Spectral Voices - Noctilucent Clouds (
Why is she dressed like that?
Because she can dress however she wants
Interestingly, this technique is often called throat singing, because it typically occurs with a style of singing that does begin in the throat. But the overtones themselves are "singled out" by the shape of your tongue, which is why it sounds so much like a varietal RearrrearrrRRRRearrrr effect. The "throat" part of throat singing is the rough "frog" and grinding sounds you hear in Tuva (for example), which is done to provide richer overtones for singling out with the tongue.

I saw an illustrated guide of how to do it, but it was so long ago I probably won't find it again. It's basically a lot like how you pronounce the R sound, except that your tongue takes on a bit of an S wave shape. If you look at a referee's whistle, you can get a fairly good idea what shape it is that you are forming inside your mouth. The shape of the whistle is to emphasize a specific frequency in the hiss noise made by blowing into it. Polyphonic overtone singing is pretty much exactly the same thing, but using voice instead of hiss to generate the complex tones.

And just like learning to whistle, at first you'll sound like a raving lunatic and maybe even come close to passing out from hyperventilating. But once you begin finding the ideal tongue placements for a pitch, you'll very rapidly learn more, and it'll be exactly as automatic as after you learn to whistle. They're very very similar things to do, and the difficulty is identical.

If you are tongue tied (as I am) you probably won't ever be able to do it right. But you should be able to coax out at least a bit of overtone.

Now go out and try it, and enjoy knowing your neighbours will be forever terrified of you.

You can use instruments to create a tone instead of your own voice, which should at least get around the hyperventilation problem. For example, if you have an electric toothbrush, you can modulate the sound it makes as it buzzes against your teeth by changing the shape of your oral cavity. (It seems to work better when the brush is held to your teeth, I guess the resonations carry better).

For an actual musical instrument (OK, many will debate that point!), The Jew's harp uses the same principle as well. I recall hearing a legend of a Japanese player who'd lost all their teeth holding an ax to their chin and using that to get a resonation going. I'm not entirely sure how that was meant to work.

>> And just like learning to whistle, at first you'll sound like a raving lunatic and maybe even come close to passing out from hyperventilating.

Is it possible to learn to wolf-whistle as an adult? All the people I know who can told me they learned as children. I didn't and I wouldn't know where to start.

Edit: I'm not sure if I'm using the term "wolf whistle" right (not a native English speaker). I mean the kind of whistle one makes by putting the fingers in the mouth and sort of pressing the tongue down, and that sounds really loud.

For the overtones put your tongue somewhere between an L and an R sound. Then move around your lips to create different o shapes while humming. Move around your tongue slightly in different ways as well. At some point you'll accidently create an overtone for a brief moment. Then see if you can recreate that. Slowly you'll be able to consistently hit the overtones and from there it's smooth sailing.

For the throat singing it's the exact same technique beat boxers use to create the deep bass. Just try to make a exagurated sigh. Do so until you accidently do throat singing for a brief second, then see if you can recreate that for a longer duration.

It's all about trial and error! It's really not as hard to learn as it might seem :)

Nov 06, 2019 · 1 points, 1 comments · submitted by peter_d_sherman
Holy cow! She sounds like a human Hammond Organ!
Openmindedness isn't the same thing as being open to accepting a mistaken belief.

Perhaps not, but I think it's very close. I'm not advocating for noncritical acceptance of anything, but making the point that any jump from "X is a physical law" to "Y is impossible" depends critically on the assumption that the only way to achieve Y is through X, and that there is no possibility of a back door that entirely sidesteps X. This not be openmindedness exactly, but failing to account for this possibility strikes me as an example of closedmindedness.

The only way to know is with a controlled experiment that checks whether the people can detect no better than chance whether music is 24-bit.

Which people, which music, under what circumstances? And whose results do you trust? I feel safe guessing that many companies selling high-end audiophile quackery claim to have done tests showing that their equipment makes a positive difference to sound quality. Some of them are simply lying, some are misinterpreting their data, others have something real too small to be reliably measurable, and a tiny remainder might have a genuine breakthrough because they are approaching an unsolvable problem in a way that sidesteps the previous barriers. The question is how much openmindedness is right to account for this probability without being overwhelmed by the garbage.

If no one can tell the difference between 24-bit and 16-bit, then 24-bit simply doesn't matter.

I'd probably make the bet that there exist certain 24-bit sound files that certain listeners can discern from the same sound file that has been downsampled to 16-bit. While the difference may well be too small to be actually considered "better", I don't think that any physical laws that prevent this. I think it would be fun to see such a test. This Youtube video on "overtone singing" might offer insight on the sorts of effects that might be enhanced by the greater bit depth:

> I'd probably make the bet that there exist certain 24-bit sound files that certain listeners can discern from the same sound file that has been downsampled to 16-bit.

I would take you up on that bet. This has been tried before, and no difference was found, even when dithering wasn't used! The noise floor on 16 bit audio is around -96dB. There are very few HiFi systems that can manage that. Even in the highly unlikely event that there are listeners that can distinguish it, it's likely any difference will end up eliminated by noise in the analog components.

I probably should have written 16/44.1 vs 24/192, since I was thinking mostly of the waveform 'beat' interactions as shown in the linked video. Do you feel those are also indistinguishable? I can't afford an actual bet on it, but I'm interested enough to explore a bit and see what I can find.
The frequency of a 'beat' is completely different to what we normally refer to as the frequency of a sound. The beat's frequency relates to how quickly the amplitude of the sound wave varies. The frequency of a tone relates to how quickly the pressure waves oscillate back and forth.

Besides, if a combination of sounds outside the audible spectrum DID combine to produce audible sounds (maths says they don't, but maybe non-ideal properties of air etc mean they might?), the resultant audible sounds would be picked up by the recording equipment anyway! So you'd never need to record the inaudible source sounds, just the resultant audible bit.

Unless your listener can hear frequencies above 22.05kHz, it's theoretically impossible because the sampling theorem says 44.1kHz sampling can perfectly reproduce all frequencies below 22.05kHz.

Any differences within normal human audible frequency ranges must be caused by imperfect DAC. Agreed?

(No, I don't have a perfect DAC, but if the audible artifacts are because of a DAC that produces less perfect analog waveforms below 22kHz when fed a 44kHz source rather than a 192kHz source, isn't that squarely the DAC's fault? It should also be made abundantly clear that this is a hypothetical. Is this actually a problem? Has anyone simulated an analog waveform from 44.1kHz sample, compared it to oscilloscope readings from a decent quality DAC, and noticed theoretically audible differences?)

Do you have a perfect DAC we can use as a reference?
1) I don't believe ultrasonic beat frequencies are by themselves audible (though I could be wrong about this).

2) It is possible to exploit nonlinearities in air to make audible sounds from ultrasound, but IIRC levels above 100 dBSPL are required. I think Disneyworld has an attraction that uses this.

3) It is highly likely that an arbitrary sound sample will sound different on playback if you add e.g. an 80kHz tone, as harmonic distortion of amplifiers and speakers tends to increase with frequency. This is generally considered a bad thing though, as it is a difference that would not be heard by a live listener.

[edit] Wikipedia link for #2:

To understand how this works, consider that the speed of sound in air varies with air pressure. Furthermore sound is a pressure wave. Hand-wavingly this means that a sufficiently intense sound wave will alter its own propagation speed, which will in turn cause all sorts of interesting effects.

An analogous effect for light is used in many green lasers: some piezoelectric crystals will vary their index-of-refraction when an electric field is applied; a sufficiently powerful laser will generate a strong enough electric field. This can be used to frequency double infrared lasers into visible light.

Extremely interesting overtone singing:

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