Matt Witt – Overtone Singing

2 minute read
The River Tone, looking towards Burrow Mump, taken from Stanmoor Bridge in Somerset. Image courtesy Of Somerset Rivers.

As part of my research for this edition, I attended a workshop on overtone singing hosted by Ravi, a local Glastonbury musician.

Overtone singing is a form of throat singing originating in Mongolia in which the singer produces multiple tones by altering the shape of the mouth, tongue and throat while making a sound with the vocal chords. The alterations produce an otherworldly sound that is hard to imagine is made with the vocal chords alone. The accompanying track recorded this month marks one of my first experiments with the technique.

While developing this song I noticed a new form of singing emerging from me, a tendency to continue and distort notes and produce weird noises by moving different parts of my mouth and throat.

It wasn’t until I attended an overtone singing workshop with Ravi, that I realised this was the beginnings of playing with overtone singing. Whether the technique works on this specific track is a question, but it marks a shift in the understanding and use of my voice as an instrument.

I have never taken a formal singing lesson or taken part in conscious vocal work, I found Ravi’s workshop experience very liberating and empowering and would highly recommend it particularly for those who are introverted, socially shy, or have issues expressing themselves verbally.

During the workshop, I realised I had not properly expressed myself vocally for a long time. Ravi’s instructions and background explanations highlighted the importance of communal sound making and voice experimentation. I learned that there are a whole range sounds that I have never made with my voice and how making sound communally provided a space in which I could journey into my voice without feeling self-conscious. I was able to really listen and interact with the sounds that were being created, both from my own voice and from the circle of singers that surrounded us.

Behind closed eyes voice seems to take on new forms, visual, felt, spacial. Vocal sound has this power to open up space, this focused awareness that can also be reached via meditation and yoga. The notes reach down into the body, vibrate and resonate within. What’s more, it also forces you to pay attention to your breath, the driving force behind the sounds falls to the front of your awareness, requires you to listen to the rate of your outward breaths and control your rate of exhaling, which links into Pranayama practice.

The creation of music has always been a solitary thing for me, and this workshop highlighted the importance of communal sound making, ceremony, circles, interaction and how one simple tool can open up doors that lead deeper into the self, while also opening out widely onto the world.

This is the start of a journey towards embodiment of the voice and it’s liberating to start to recognise the power that lies within, that is very rarely released.

Read a full interview with Ravi here:

By Matt Witt

Image above: example spectrogram of a singer who is manipulating their vocal cavities to perform overtone singing.