EOL 5: CD review

Mongolia CD cover

Living Music of the Steppes:
Instrumental Music and Song of Mongolia

Multicultural Media: Music of the Earth MCM3001. Compact Disc. Producers: Yuji Ichihashi, Aki Sato, and Stephen McArthur. Original recordings: Haruo Hasumi. Liner Notes by Haruo Hasumi; photos and map.

Living Music of the Steppes: Instrumental Music and Song of Mongolia is the first disc in the "Music of the Earth" series from Multicultural Media. The twenty-one tracks on this CD offer the listener a sample of the vocal techniques as well as some solo instrumental pieces from across Mongolia. All tracks originally appeared in the eighty-volume CD collection Music of the Earth: Fieldworkers’ Sound Collections released by the Victor Company of Japan (JVC) in 1992.

These recordings were made in the early 1990s by Haruo Hasumi, professor of Mongolian at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. The first seven recordings group bogïno duu and urtïn duu ("short" and "long" song) selections with a few purely instrumental numbers and selection from the "epic song" tradition while the next nine recordings combine köömiy ("pharynx" or "throat" singing) performance with solo instrumental recordings on the morin khuur (horse-head, two string spiked- fiddle), shudraga (three stringed, plucked lute), and the yatag (board zither) among others. These sixteen selections were recorded primarily in the capital city Ulaanbaatar in the east of Mongolia, and in the Hovd province in the western half of Mongolia. The last five recordings were made among expatriate Mongolians residing in either Japan or Northern China. These last five tracks incorporate many of the genres heard in the previous two sections including morin khuur solo and urtïn duu, as well as epic song performances and narrative.

AU iconAudio 1 (AU 280 Kb): "Song of Praise: Altai Mountain Paean" excerpt

RealAudio iconAudio 1 (RealAudio): "Song of Praise: Altai Mountain Paean" excerpt

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Track seven (Audio 1) is particularly noteworthy because of the combination of the syllabic epic singing style and tseendjnii köömiy (a köömiy style where the secondary tone is very high pitched); no mention of this is made in the liner notes.
AU iconAudio 2 (AU, 282 Kb): Urtïn duu: "The Hallowed Road," excerpt

RealAudio iconAudio 2 (RealAudio): Urtïn duu: "The Hallowed Road" excerpt

The overall recording quality is high, although a significant amount of hiss is audible on the quieter selections. A few recordings feature widely popular singers such as Norobbanzad performing Erkhim törü ("The Hallowed Road") which falls in the urtïn duu tradition (Audio 2).
The liner notes, written by Haruo Hasumi, paint an idyllic picture of life in Mongolia where time is occupied with herding and with song to coax female animals to nurse their young. To his credit, Hasumi does mention that the musical landscape of Mongolia, particularly in Ulaanbaatar, has been touched by some eighteenth and nineteenth century "Western" composers, such as Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Mussorgsky, and that only since Perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet regime has an interest in folk culture been revived. However these notes offer little in way of a scholarly investigation of Mongolian music.
AU iconAudio 3 (AU, 192 Kb): "The Snow-Crowned Altai Mountains" excerpt

RealAudio iconAudio 3 (RealAudio): "The Snow-Crowned Altai Mountains" excerpt

For instance, no explanation other than the performer’s name is given concerning track four (Audio 3) where the singer, Jargalsaihan, offers a bel canto vocal rendition of the bogïno duu song "The Snow-Crowned Altai Mountains" that is strikingly different from the other vocal tracks.
AU iconAudio 4 (AU, 224 Kb): Köömiy: "Shiilen böör," excerpt .

RealAudio iconAudio 4 (RealAudio): Köömiy: "Shiilen böör" excerpt

Furthermore, Hasumi gives no hint that there are at least six different styles of köömiy: tseedjnii köömiy (mentioned above), bagalzuuriin köömiy (which has a rough drone and a mid-range harmonic), and kharkhira köömiy (characterized by its extremely low drone), to name a few. This recording offers only the tseedjnii köömiy style of köömiy (Audio 4) which may serve to misrepresent the complexities and diversity of Mongolian köömiy singing to those hearing it for the first time.
In conclusion, while this recording offers an inexperienced listener of Mongolian music a concise snapshot of the variety in this music, the notes are far too vague to allow an in-depth understanding of the entirety of the tradition or how it competes with and/or combines with more recent musical imports such as Virtuosos from the Mongol Plateau (King Records) or Mongolian Epic Song (Seven Seas).   This disc offers little to the already existing repertoire of Mongolian traditional music recordings, except, perhaps, an inexpensive alternative to CDs from other labels such as Inedit or UNESCO.

Paul Jong-Chul Yoon

Paul Jong-Chul Yoon is currently a graduate student at Columbia University. His current work focuses on the Korean American community in Flushing, Queens. Past work has addressed issues of Asian American and Japanese American identity with a specific focus on the New York City taiko group Soh Daiko.

The Review Editor thanks Aaron A. Fox for his assistance in making this page.

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28 October 1999