These days I’m doing a little investigation work to help Andrew Colwell, a PhD candidate at Wesleyan University working on the global circulation of Mongol xöömeí/throat-singing, including the engagements or perceptions of non-Mongolian actors (such as Demetrios Stratos).
His interest was piqued by one of my articles I wrote in 2011 in collaboration with a former student of mine Elena Ceolin and with Graziano Tisato: “Demetrio Stratos rethinks voice techniques: a historical investigation at ISTC in Padova”. The article was based on Elena’s wonderful BA dissertation (I was her co-supervisor), investigating Demetrio Stratos’ visit and research at the ISTC in Padova (Institute of Cognitive Science and Technologies) in the late Seventies. Co-author Graziano Tisato, researcher at the ISTC, is an expert on vocal analysis since the Seventies; he was personally involved in the analysis of Stratos vocal effects; he engineered the first model synthesis for the overtone singing in 1989.
In 2011 we find out through Area member Paolo Tofani, that Stratos likely first heard xöömeí in 1976/7, when a friend journalist first gave him a cassette of Mongolian music. Only after that, he went to Cuba in 1978 to the XI Youth Festival, with his band Area partners. [Paolo Tofani, in interview with Elena Ceolin, Graziano Tisato and the Italian composer Giovanni Floreani; March 21 2011, Tofani’s home in the countryside near Piacenza]. Question (by Tisato]: Come avvenne che Stratos si interessasse al canto praticato in Tuva e Mongolia? [How did it happen that Stratos took an interest in Tuva and Mongolia singing?]. Answer: La storia vera è questa. Nel 1976/1977 un giornalista di “Ciao 2001” era stato in Mongolia e ci aveva portato una cassetta con i loro canti tradizionali. [The real story is: In 1976/1977 a journalist of “Hello 2001” had been in Mongolia and had brought us a cassette with their traditional songs].
Now – as Andrew Colwell points us out and wants to prove/verify – this is in contradiction with Mark van Tongeren book “Overtone Singing” (Fusica, Amsterdam 2002). Van Tongeren states that Stratos’ trip to Cuba took place in 1974 where he witnessed a cultural delegation from Mongolia.
To clarify this point, I got in touch with Ares Tavolazzi, former Area member, so now we again can confirm what we found out from the beginning: The trip to Cuba was in 1978, and Stratos learned xöömeí chants before, from a cassette in 1976/7.
Here is what Tavolazzi recalls: “L’undicesimo Festival della Gioventù si tenne a Cuba dal 28 luglio al 5 agosto del 1978. I canti della Mongolia li abbiamo conosciuti precedentemente, nel 1975-76 circa, attraverso un amico di Milano di cui non ricordo il nome, che ci riforniva di audiocassette spesso molto interessanti”. [Translation: “The XI Youth Festival in Cuba took plase from 29 July to 5 Aug. 1978. We knew Mongolian chants from before, 1975-76, thanks to a friend of ours from Milan whose name unfortunately I can no longer recall. He gave us many cassettes which were often very interesting”].
Tavolazzi places the fact even a full year early [1975/6], but Tisato is inclined to think that the actual period is more likely 1976/7: This is reflected in the fact that the first Stratos’ recordings made in 1975 were not as experimental as the ones made in 1976/77, which suggests that Stratos became gradually influenced by the new singing thecniques after 1976.