Exploring Vowel Overtone Singing in “Singing in Tune with Nature”

Das neue Chorwerk “Singing in Tune with Nature” der australischen Komponistin Amanda Cole demonstriert wieder einmal, wie vielfältig die kreativen Möglichkeiten des vokalen Obertongesangs in der Chormusik sind. Dieses innovative SATB-Chorwerk war Finalist bei den APRA AMCOS Art Music Awards 2021 in der Kategorie Chor.

“Singing in Tune with Nature” wurde für das N.E.O. Voice Festival 2020 komponiert, das abenteuerliche Vokalmusik zelebriert. Das Festival wurde gegründet, um das weitreichende Potenzial der menschlichen Stimme zu erforschen und neue Werke vorzustellen, die von der neuesten Vokalforschung inspiriert sind.

In diesem Stück verwendet Cole die mikrotonale Reinintonation anstelle der zwölftönigen gleichschwebenden Stimmung des Klaviers. Dadruch wird ermöglicht, dass jedes gesungene Intervall direkt aus der natürlichen harmonischen Obertonreihe abgeleitet wird, die in jeder Stimme vorhanden ist. Der Effekt erzeugt schimmernde Wolken schimmernder Obertöne, ähnlich wie beim Obertongesang, nur zarter, versteckter, und – wie der Hörtest von Wolfgang Saus erfahrbar macht – für jeden Menschen ein wenig anders.

Laut Programmheft ist dieser Ansatz als Metapher für die Wertschätzung und Konzentration auf die Wunder der natürlichen Welt gedacht. Die mikrotonale Stimmung erfordert ein tiefes Zuhören zwischen den Sängern, die zu einem einheitlichen Chor verschmelzen.

Australian composer Amanda Cole’s recent choral work “Singing in Tune with Nature” showcases the creative possibilities of vocal overtone singing. This innovative SATB choir piece is a finalist in the 2021 APRA AMCOS Art Music Awards in the choral category.

“Singing in Tune with Nature” was composed for the 2020 N.E.O. Voice Festival, which celebrates adventurous vocal music. The festival was founded to explore the expansive potential of the human voice and feature new works inspired by cutting-edge vocal research.

In this piece, Cole utilizes microtonal just intonation tuning, rather than the twelve-tone equal temperament of the piano. This allows each sung interval to come directly from the natural harmonic overtone series present in every voice. The effect creates shimmering clouds of lush overtones, similar to overtone singing, only more delicate, more hidden, and – as Wolfgang Saus’ hearing test makes it possible to experience – a little different for each person.

According to the program notes, this approach is meant as a metaphor for appreciating and focusing on the wonders of the natural world. The microtonal tuning requires deep listening between singers, blending as a unified choir.

Beyond her choral writing, Amanda Cole is known for composing experimental electronic and instrumental music. She writes software for interactive performances, often collaborating with other artists. Cole holds a PhD in composition from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, where she currently teaches.

Her nomination for this APRA AMCOS Award recognizes Cole’s adventurous musical voice. “Singing in Tune with Nature” expands our conception of choral possibility, embracing the voice’s hidden overtone colors. Exploring new tuning systems and extended techniques, Cole’s music connects to universal elements of nature and the human spirit.

Neben ihrer Chorarbeit ist Amanda Cole auch als Komponistin experimenteller elektronischer und instrumentaler Musik bekannt. Sie schreibt Software für interaktive Aufführungen und arbeitet dabei oft mit anderen Künstlern zusammen. Cole hat einen Doktortitel in Komposition vom Sydney Conservatorium of Music, wo sie derzeit unterrichtet.

Ihre Nominierung für den APRA AMCOS Award ist eine Anerkennung für Coles abenteuerlustige musikalische Sprache. “Singing in Tune with Nature” (Singen im Einklang mit der Natur) erweitert unsere Vorstellung von chorischen Möglichkeiten, indem es die verborgenen Obertonfarben der Stimme berücksichtigt. Indem sie neue Stimmsysteme und erweiterte Techniken erforscht, verbindet sich Coles Musik mit universellen Elementen der Natur und des menschlichen Geistes.

Labia Mea for 8 voices a cappella (2016) – Vahram Sarkissian

Labia Mea (2016)

Vahram Sarkissian

8 mixed voices a cappella

Premiere: 2016, Vahram Sarkissian (alle Stimmen), online

In a groundbreaking artistic endeavour, Armenian-Canadian composer and vocal artist Vahram Sarkissian performs “Labia Mea”, his captivating composition for 8 mixed voices a cappella that pushes the boundaries of vocal possibilities to incredible heights. This experimental work is the result of three years of tireless research and meticulous experimentation with extended vocal techniques.

“Labia Mea” seem like an unbelievable achievement to me, as Vahram Sarkissian actually recorded all eight vocal parts, originally written for an 8-part mixed ensemble, on his own. The range of the composition is nothing short of spectacular, spanning seven octaves, approximately H1 (B0) to d5 (D8), and encompassing a breathtaking sonic palette. Such a wide range envelops the listener in a tapestry of sound that can hardly be attributed to earthly voices.

The work ventures into uncharted territory, using a wealth of unconventional techniques that defy traditional norms. From the haunting melodies of throat singing to the hypnotic harmonies of overtone singing, from the rhythmic intricacies of vocal percussion to extreme registers, Labia Mea pushes the boundaries of what the human voice can do.

Inspired by Psalm 50 (“Domine labia mea aperies”), the composition embarks on a journey of self-expression. As the piece progresses, a process of text accumulation develops, gradually moving from ethereal sounds to compound phonemes, then to words and finally to the full text.

“Labia Mea becomes a profound manifestation of the inner struggle for self-expression. Every facet of the human experience finds its voice in the composition, with intellectual perception, emotional depth and spiritual insight all vying for attention. As Vahram Sarkissian weaves these elements together, a symphony of self-discovery unfolds that resonates with the listener’s own search for authenticity.

At a time when music often follows familiar patterns, Vahram Sarkissian challenges convention and dares to redefine what is possible. Be captivated by the wonders of ‘Labia Mea’ and witness the transformative power of a single voice pushing the boundaries of artistic innovation.


A big thanks to Olaf Katzer, the director of AuditivVokal Dresden, who brought this composition to my attention. AuditivVokal has been working closely with me over the past few months to achieve a professional level in overtone singing. This enables the ensemble to master works with demanding extended vocal techniques and take on additional composition commissions.

If you are interested in efficient professional overtone singing training for your choir or professional ensemble, feel free to schedule an informal conversation, either by phone or using the appointment planner. I have specialized in working with singers for 40 years and am available to assist you.

To schedule an appointment, please visit Appointment Booking (mention in the comments that it’s for a free conversation).

Foto des Notenbandes Deutsche Volkslieder im Satz für Obertongesang von Jan Heinke

In memoriam Jan Heinke – German Folk Song Collection

Hello fellow aficionados of Jan Heinke’s overtone music,

I am eager to share with you an emotionally charged story that has profoundly touched me. In April of last year, my dear friend and talented musician, Jan Heinke, sadly passed away. However, just hours before his untimely departure, he sent me an email containing a very special attachment.

In the email, Jan confided that he felt he wouldn’t be able to complete his work and requested that I see it through. I instantly knew what I had to do. Attached was a vast compilation of folk songs from around the globe, meticulously arranged for overtone singing by Jan – several hundred songs in total! He had initially begun working on this project in 2013 and had received a grant from the Kulturstiftung Sachsen to support his efforts.

In collaboration with Jan’s life partner, Claudia, we managed to finalize the first volume of the series, featuring 126 German folk songs adapted for polyphonic overtone singing. To commemorate the anniversary of his passing on April 20th, 2023, this volume will be made available on Jan’s website as a free e-book, complete with a complimentary Creative Commons license.

Jan’s nine years of dedicated work on these arrangements will now be posthumously shared with the public, fulfilling his cherished desire. According to a report on the project, the initial objective was to explore the potential of overtone singing as a vocal technique for both performers and composers in Western culture, an area that had not yet been extensively investigated. These song arrangements were intended to encourage the practical application of overtone singing in music.

I am both grateful and honored to continue Jan’s legacy and share his remarkable work with the world. His music will live on and inspire others – exactly as he wished.

Warm regards, Wolfgang

Jan Heinke – Memories of Jan
Download: Deutsche Volkslieder arranged for Overtone Singing PDF

Foto des Notenbandes Deutsche Volkslieder im Satz für Obertongesang von Jan Heinke

David Harris – Neque Diliges

Neque Diliges

Composition by David Harris, 2021, for mixed 6-part choir with overtone singing.

Performed by Laude, David Harris – conductor, 2021.

Sheet music: https://www.seeadot.com/store#!/Neque-Diliges/


A Costly Final Chord

How Things Fall. He had little time to arrange his piece for Nordic Voices, says Koka Nikoladze, born in 1989 in Georgia, now living in Norway, composing and inventing instruments. How Things Fall and then spectrally spray, “How Things Fall,” 2021, performed by the Norwegian professional ensemble Nordic Voices, known for brilliantly handling overtone singing (from 1:44). Nikoladze keeps the final chord from us. He auctioned the final chord on ebay and realized $13,900. I love the Nordic self-irony, just right for lockdown times.

Bernat Vivancos – Obriu-me els llavis, Senyor

Obriu-me els llavis, Senyor

(2000, Oslo)

Recording: Latvian Radio Choir, Sigvards Klava, 2011.
5 choirs (17 voices):
4 mixed choirs (at least 32 singers, preferably 64)
with divisi and a male voice choir.

Obriu-me els llavis, Senyor is one of those a cappella works that I present in almost all of my lectures as a reference for completely new possibilities in choral music. It begins with a cluster that achieves an immense effect through its pure intonation alone, before a shimmering chorus of overtones rises from a dense chord of precise vocals as if it were not from this world. It is one of my favourite passages from one of my favourite CDs: Blanc. This CD is one of my most listened to and is an absolute recommendation. Latvian Radio Choir, conducted by Sigvards Klava, is one of the best in the world.

The fascinating thing about the overtones of the Latvian Radio Choir is that they maintain the lightness of the voice and the intonation of the fundamental notes without any obvious change in timbre when they change overtone technique. This is my sound ideal. The overtones seem almost unreal, one can hardly believe that the entire sound is sung exclusively a cappella. This skill unfolds the true magic of overtone singing. This is the future of professional overtone singing: the imperceptible, softly flowing transition from the classical voice to the world of overtones and back again.

Bernat Vivancos’ music is like a city of angels: blissful sounds populated by saintly spirits hiding between the notes as birds in a tree.
Lasse Thoresen

If you want to buy the CD, I recommend downloading it from the publisher’s website. There you can download a higher quality than the usual CD. And under the tab ”Scores” you will find a very special extra: free download of the sheet music.

Interview with the composer:


Lutang – for Accordion and Overtone Singing by Feliz Anne Reyes Macahis

“solo accordion piece developed through close collaboration with Goran Stevanovic. The vocal control is as crucial as the accordion playing. The sung notes and the sound as a result of overtone singing, as well as whispering, are important materials in this piece.”
Feliz Anne Reyes Macahis about lu:tαŋ [Translated by ws]

Since Karlheinz Stockhausen’s “Stimmung” (1968) overtone singing has had a place in serious music as “extended vocal technique”. The Philippine composer Feliz Anne Reyes Macahis, who lives in Austria, wrote this work for the accordionist Goran Stevanović. Goran Stevanović studied accordion in Bijeljina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and at the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien in Hannover. The award-winning musician currently lives and works in Hanover and is involved in contemporary music and music education.



Sōmei Satō – MANDARA, Music for Tape (1982)

Sōmei Satō creates a multi-track overtone choir with his own voice and uses vowel overtone singing as an effect. I have heard something similar from Roberto Laneri’s “Two views of the Amazon” from 1981. At the beginning of the 1980s, this probably sounded more like electronic music to most listeners, as overtone singing was still virtually unknown in the West.

Premiere 1982. Tokyo.
Commitioned by Japan Foundation

Sōmei Satō – マントラ MANTRA, Music for Tape (1986)

One of the very early compositions for western overtone singing. At that time overtone singing was hardly known.

World premiere Tokyo 1986.