Tag Archive for: choral phonetics

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.

Do You Hear a Melody or Syllables? Saus’ Hearing Test.

In this video you will learn how to hear harmonics in vowels. This will open up a new dimension of sound perception to you. This way of hearing is rare on the fly, but it can be learned and is a prerequisite for understanding and learning choral phonetics. And it makes learning overtone singing easy and fast.

Do You Hear Syllables or a Melody?

After this video, your hearing is immediately changed, and that irreversibly. It is like a picture puzzle: once you have seen both sides, you will always see them. After the video, you are always able to hear harmonics in sounds. As soon as you have perceived both syllables and overtones, you can decide what you want to hear. And if you focus on harmonics for the next 3 weeks from today, your overtone hearing will become an integral part of your sound perception. Your brain will form new synapses.

Side Effects

You’ll be surprised what additional changes come after that:

  • You will hear more empathically, understand better how other people feel, just by hearing their voice.
  • When you sing in a choir, you will perceive intonation quite differently and unconsciously find a resonance with other voices.
  • Many also report that they perceive colors and scents more intensely afterwards.
  • You will notice a more conscious access to resonance in your voice.

If you immediately heard the melody in the first example, then you already were an overtone listener. Then the video will help you understand and become aware that you hear differently than 95% of the people around you.

But I Never Sang a Melody

One of the most exciting things about overtone listening for me is: In the end, everyone has heard the melody once, right? – but I never sang a melody! In all the singing examples, all the pitch frequencies are unchanged. I have not changed a single pitch. So in the classical sense I did not sing a melody. I only changed resonances and thus volume ratios, so in the classical sense I sang syllables on a single note, which is what most people heard at the beginning.

Despite Contradiction Everybody is Right

So if someone thought at the beginning that there was no melody, he was right, even when the melody became obvious to everyone. And everyone who hears a melody is also right. One would have to define melody independently of the tone pitch.

Many years ago, after I found out that others do not hear the same as I do, I had sent a sound file of the first example to various experts. But nobody found a melody, not even with the most modern methods of analysis. Why not? Because apparently no one thought to look for a melody. However, after hearing the melody, one finds it in the sound spectrum. But only as a volume pattern, not as a pitch change. Isn’t that exciting?

Personally, I have learned from this to approach perceptions of other people with less prejudice, especially people from the spiritual realm, who I might have dismissed as unscientific in the past. Leaving paradigms behind is probably part of the coming zeitgeist in many ways.

Find more information about the test as well as an audio version for download in my blogpost “A Melody Only Some Can Hear – Take the Hearing Test”.

Video Content

00:00 The magic of listening
00:21 Brain and sound processing
01:31 Melody hidden in syllables
01:50 Hearing test part 1 – 5% hear the melody
02:05 The melody revealed
02:58 Why some sounds remain hidden
04:02 Hearing test part 2 – 20% hear the melody
04:52 Hearing test part 3 – 40-60% hear the melody
05:20 Hearing test part 4 – 100% hear the melody
06:27 Steps to discover the melody
06:54 Step 1 – Overtone singing technique
07:03 Step 2 – Vowels between u and i
07:16 Step 3 – Consonant n
07:24 Step 4 – Consonants n and t
07:56 Step 5 – other consonants
08:32 Step 6 – Intermediate step consonant transitions
09:20 Trust your perception
09:56 Step 7 – back to syllables
10:18 Step 8 – your hearing has now been changed

Video Transcription

The most important thing in overtone singing is listening. It turns out that not everyone hears the overtones spontaneously. These are studies from the early 2000s in Heidelberg at the University Clinic, which showed that it depends on which part of the brain processes the sound. There is an auditory center on the right side that hears harmonics, and there is an auditory center on the left side that is responsible for the mathematical part of music, that is, intervals and melodies and rhythm and things like that. On the right hemisphere the timbre is analyzed, but that also includes the information of the overtones, which are usually not heard separately. And then there is an interpretation of sound as language. That happens on the left side in the Broca and Wernicke centers, which are both located on the left side. And now it’s important that when you sing overtones, that you hear the overtones. That means that you have to activate the right side, the right auditory cortex. For that, I have a test that you can use first to check where you stand, and at the end, there’s a systematic guide to the perception on the right hemisphere. So when this video is over, you’ll hear completely differently if you don’t already heared the overtones right from the first example. Now I’ll sing a meaningless sequence of syllables, and I’ll sing them on a single note, that means I won’t change any pitch, yet there’s a melody in these syllables, and I’ll hide this melody in the resonances of the vowels. Let’s see if you can hear that.

So, that was a very well-known melody from the classical period. As a little hint: It was composed in Bonn and I don’t want to hide it at all. The point is to learn to listen to it, it’s not about showing now what you can’t do, but just the opposite. It was “Joy, Beautiful Sparks of the Gods” in this register.

Typically, only 5% of people hear this melody spontaneously. If you now know what to listen for, you may now already have a little inkling of the melody or even hear it clearly. For those who don’t hear the melody now, this has nothing to do with musicality, but only with the preference on which side your brain processes this sound. There is usually a block when the left brain decides that this is speech, but it doesn’t understand a word. Then it tells the rest of the brain: Shut up, I need all the attention. And language is very dominant in our brain. That’s why this side, here the speech center, is apparently particularly active in most people. But now I would like to change this filter that says important and unimportant, language is important, timbre and overtones are unimportant. I would like to turn that around. And I do that by systematically removing information in the sound for the left side, for the speech center. I do this step by step in such a way that you will recognize at which point this flips over. At the end, you will definitely hear the melody.

Now I’ve only used Ü sounds like that, and that means in the phonetic vowel triangle I’ve only gone along vowels where the second formant, as they used to call it, or I call it “second resonant frequency”, changes. I left out all the frequencies that move in the direction of the vowel A, that would change the first resonance. So now usually there’s about 20% of the people who perceive the melody now. For the rest, I go one step further and leave out the consonants. Now usually about 40 to 60 % of the people are with me and hear this melody. If you don’t hear it yet, I go one step further.

Now everyone should have heard the melody. Who now does not hear the melody, as a whistling melody, then I unfortunately can not help. But I have never experienced that someone has not heard the melody. It can only be that one hears in such a way that it does not belong to the voice. Most people hear it as a whistling melody. And there it is separated in the brain, one then hears two separate melodies, respectively one hears a humming tone and in addition a whistling melody. For some people, this whistling melody can no longer be assigned to the voice, while others can associate this whistling tone with the voice. The main thing is that you hear this melody now.

If it has disappeared now, go back to that example where the consonants weren’t there yet, or where the consonant was N. I can fine-tune that again by replacing the T-sound with a D-sound. You’ll notices here, the more sibilants are added, the more this melody now moves into the background of awareness, and the speech center pushes itself into the foreground. But the melody is still there. Particularly interesting is the transition where you’re no longer sure, is it just my imagination, because I know what I’m supposed to hear, or did I actually hear that? And that’s a very interesting transition, because that’s where the conscious mind decides whether it trusts the right hemisphere of the brain. It’s a trust thing. You know that I’m singing the melody, so you can trust me. If you don’t trust me, then trust your own perception. If you mistrust it, then yes, you don’t know. But still the melody is there. I know that I am singing it. Next step.

Now I have added a little bit of movement into the first resonance again. And now I take a little bit more movement into it, and then I’m back at the beginning, which I started with.

And I hope that now most of you have come along up to that point. But if you have lost the melody two or three examples earlyer then it’s still perfect, then the right hemisphere is now activated. And this is an essential foundation to learn to sing harmonics.

Why Does Choral Music Sound So Good?

I was very happy about this video from Barnaby Martin. It is a wonderful introduction to the basics of my → Choral Phonetics. In this video he shows why formants are so important for intonation.

Choral phonetics uses our hidden ability to perceive resonances in the vocal tract as pitches (→ hearing test). And it trains a special fine motoricity of the tongue to control these resonances and to adapt the timbre to chords. This know-how enables singers to tune resonances just as precisely as their vocal tones. This turns timbre into a musical instrument. Choir sounds, as they can be heard in the video, become controllable.

What otherwise requires many years of experience and voice training for choristers can be achieved much faster with the knowledge of choral phonetics. Choir singers and conductors usually learn the necessary vocal techniques in just a few days and can develop them into a retrievable skill set within half a year. This refines not only intonation and homogeneity in the ensemble, but also the carrying capacity and lightness of the voice.

Besides, Barnaby Martin has a great talent to explain complex musical phenomena in a simple and entertaining way. Be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel “Listening In”, there are a lot of first-class videos about the effects of musical sounds.Among other things I recommend his video about the completely crazy intonation movements that Jacob Collier uses in his choir pieces. Guys, choral phonetics is slowly becoming mainstream :)!

Laughing woman holds her ears shut

Can you hear the melody? – Take the Hearing Test

In just 3:20 minutes, this listening test opens your ears to a new dimension of hearing that only around 5% of musicians are aware of: overtone listening. This ability is essential for learning overtone singing. And it is a prerequisite for the practical realisation of vocal and choral phonetics.

New Videos

In 2004, a research group led by Dr Peter Schneider at Heidelberg University Hospital discovered that people perceive sounds differently depending on which hemisphere of the brain is responsible for processing the sound. They developed the Heidelberg Hearing Test to find out whether someone tends to perceive fundamental tones or overtones in a sound. →You can take the Heidelberg test here

My hearing test is different. It tests whether someone is more likely to recognise vowels or overtones in a sound. In the second part, it teaches you to shift the threshold between vowel and overtone perception in favour of the overtones.

→Video about the background.

Saus’ Hearing Test

Relax and listen to the first sound example. I am singing a series of meaningless syllables on a single note. If you recognise a well-known classical melody in it, then congratulations, you have a pronounced overtone hearing and are one of the 5% of people who have this perception spontaneously.

Sound example 1

Download mp3

If you can’t hear the melody, don’t worry. At the end of the listening test you will hear the overtones.

In the next sound examples, I remove more and more sound information from the voice, which the brain interprets as part of speech. Next, I sing the syllables by changing only the 2nd vowel formant. I keep the first one unmoved in a low register. The syllables then only contain Ü sounds, the melody now becomes clearer for some.

Sound example 2

Download mp3

If the melody is now clear, congratulations. At this point 20-30% hear the melody. But maybe you only sense the melody and don’t know whether you are imagining it. Trust your imagination. After all, your hearing picks up the melody, but a filter in your consciousness tells you that the information is not important. Speech recognition is much more important.

I want to reveal the melody at this point: It is “Ode to Joy” from the 9th Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven. In the next sound example, I whistle it tonelessly. This will help your brain learn what to listen for. Afterwards, listen to sound example 2 again.

Sound sample 3

Download mp3

Is it easier now? If not, listen to the next example.

In sound example 4, I leave out the consonants. Now Broca’s centre, the brain region for speech recognition, has nothing more to do and passes the auditory attention on to other regions.

Sound example 4

Download mp3

Now about 60-80% are on board. If you can’t hear the melody here, you are probably categorised as a fundamental listener in the Heidelberg hearing test. This has nothing to do with musicality. You are in the company of some of the best flutists, drummers and pianists.

In the next example, I completely defamiliarise the sound. I lower the third formant by 2 octaves with a special tongue position until it reaches the same frequency as the second. This creates a double resonance that does not occur in the German language.

Sound example 5


Download mp3

The technique is called overtone singing. The ear now lacks information from the usual vocal sound and individual partials become so loud due to the double resonance that the brain separates the sounds and informs your consciousness that these are two separate tones.

You will probably now hear a flute-like melody and the voice. Overtone singing is an acoustic illusion. In fact, you are hearing more than 70 partials. Physical reality and perception rarely coincide.

In the last sound example, I go all the way back to the beginning. Try to keep your focus on the melody the whole time. Listen to sound example 6 more often, it trains your overtone hearing and makes you more aware of the sound details.

Sound sample 6

Download mp3

Our reality is created within ourselves. And it can be changed.


Tag Archive for: choral phonetics

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