Voices of the World: An Anthology of Vocal Expression

    -- Le Chant du Monde CMX 3741010.12, CNRS/Musee de l’Homme, 1996.

This incredible three-CD compilation is essential for your library. It contains a wide-ranging selection of vocal expressions from around the world. More than a hundred selections are showcased in this anthology, which lasts over three-and-a-half hours. A number of archival pieces are available commercially for the first time here, while others have appeared on recordings in previous years.

A selective summary of the contents will give an overview of the breadth and diversity of the selections, and demonstrate the organizing principles of the collection (groupings of tracks are by articulatory or acoustic relations). The first two CDs demonstrate specific vocal techniques, while the third CD is devoted to diverse forms of vocal polyphony. It will be seen that the term “vocal expressions” as used here includes much more than the Western concept of “song”: the notes for one piece speak of the choir accompanying the soloist with a “sort of rhythmic snorting, by means of audible gasping.” Go ahead, be adventurous and listen.

The first CD features “calls, cries and clamours” (Pygmy hunting calls, Romanian funeral lamentations, Swiss cattle calls); “voice and breath” (Inuit throat-game songs, a whispered song from Burundi); “spoken, declaimed, sung” (cantillation of the Koran, Buddhist hymn, sermon by a Philadelphia pastor); “compass and register” (Korea, PNG, Brazil, Bolivia, Malawi).

The second CD features “colours and timbres” (Vietnam, Indonesia, Russia, Spain); “disguised voices” (China, Gabon, Ivory Coast); “ornamentation” (Sioux, Mongolia, Iran, Lebanon); “singing in a musical instrument” (Laos, Australia); “imitation of instruments” (Canada, Chad, India); “harmonics” (Irish jig on a Jew’s harp, overtone songs from South Africa and Mongolia, buzzing of a beetle’s wings held in front of the mouth).

Forms of vocal polyphony heard on the third CD include heterophony, echoes, overlapping voices, drones, ostinati, parallel motion, oblique motion, contrary motion, chords, counterpoint, and “combined techniques.” These forms are visually laid out in a useful chart.

The booklet that accompanies the recordings contains 188 pages, half in French, half in English. Some of the translation into English is a little awkward, but you’ll figure it out. The main coordinator of the anthology is the renowned scholar Hugo Zemp, assisted by about two dozen other ethnomusicologists (most of them associated with the French Society of Ethnomusicology).

The notes for each selection average a few paragraphs each, and refer the listener to other recordings where more of the same type of music may be heard. The documentation is enhanced by sonograms of sixteen sounds represented on the CDs, plus other charts, an introductory essay, an essay on the physiology of vocal sound production, a glossary of technical terms, and a geographic index of the recordings.

This compilation is a sequel to the earlier anthology Musical Instruments of the World (LDX 274675), likewise produced by the Musee de l’Homme (France) and likewise indispensable to your collection.

    -- reviewed by Paul Neeley

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Artists in Christian Testimony