Fri, Nov 24, 2006 - Page 15 News List

Sonic marvels from the Mongolian steppe


Baoyinchaoketu chants while playing a horse-headed fiddle.


Garbed in embroidered traditional attire, Aodenggerile, the Mongolian queen of urtiin duu or "long songs" crooned to the curious journalists the lyrical chants from the Mongolian steppe at the press conference on Monday. The sonorous and resonating tunes penetrated the air, soaring freely as if they would break out from the room.

This was one of the sonic adventures the Inner Mongolia Music Ensemble Troupe (內蒙古名族曲藝團) brings to local audiences starting this weekend at the National Concert Hall. Founded in 1957, the troupe has traveled thousands of miles to collect and preserve forms of traditional Mongolian chant. Among these, urtiin duu and khogemi, Mongolian throat singing, are the two most celebrated cultural heritages of these steppe dwellers.

Proclaimed last year by UNESCO as a masterpiece of "oral and intangible heritage of humanity," urtiin duu is characterized by an abundance of ornamentation, great melismatic complexity and an extremely wide vocal range. The songs mostly praise the beauty of the steppe, mountains, rivers, animals and everything that is part of the nomadic way of life.

Popular in Altai Mountains, Lake Baikal region, Mongolia and the Hulun Buir grasslands, the ancient chanting is also documented in The Travels of Marco Polo. These were the songs sung by the warriors of Genghis Khan's army as they ravaged Asia and Europe.

Acclaimed khogemi artist Baoyinchaoketu will take audiences to an imaginary trip to the steppe with his expressive, penetrating low droning hums and high pitched melodies while playing a morin huur or horse-headed fiddle, which is usually the sole musical instrument to accompany the overtone chanting and urtiin duu.

Performance Notes:

What: Grasslands Legend(草原傳奇)When and Where: Today and tomorrow at the National Concert Hall in Taipei (國家音樂廳); Chungli Arts Center (中壢藝術館) on Sunday; National Chiao Tung University (國立交通大學) in Hsinchu on Monday; Taichung's Chunghsing Hall (台中中興堂) on Tuesday. All shows begin at 7:30pmTickets: NT$400 to NT$2,000, available through NTCH ticketing outlets or at

The sounds from this kind of chanting are created by the singer changing the shape of the resonant cavities of the mouth, larynx and pharynx, according to Hsu Po-yun (許博允) of the New Aspect Cultural and Educational Foundation (新象文教基金會), who has spent years studying and collecting ancient musical art forms from Central Asia.

Mongolian people believe the unique tunes were created by their ancestors who were entranced by the sounds of waterfalls and rivers resonating from mountain to mountain and decided to mimic these sonic marvels. Thus khogemi is the sonic portrait of nature and the living things Mongolians encounter on the steppe.

"Whether it's urtiin duu or khogemi, the chanting art forms all evolved from nomadic pastoral cultures that originated in the grasslands of northern Asia. The traditions date as far back as five to seven thousands years. They are closely related to animal husbandry as our ancestors used sounds and chanting to train animals … but as the nomadic lifestyle wanes, the traditional tunes have lost their relevance and the traditions are being rapidly lost," said Deligeer, the producer of the show and one of the most celebrated Mongolian actors in China.

Aiming to save the musical heritages from obscurity and gain international visibility, the troupes performance incorporates eight chanting forms, and includes a total ensemble of 45 musicians, singers and dancers.

Hearing the music of the steppe in a concert hall may not be the best way to experience the sounds of the steppe, but this is a rare opportunity for audiences in Taiwan to get a glimpse of a little known culture.

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