Research

Re-sounding the Spirits of Altaian Oral Epic Performance: Kai throat-singing and its repercussions

Authors:

  • Carole Pegg

Abstract

This paper, which focuses on the ‘spirits’ and force of oral epic performance, is based on my fieldwork in the Republic of Altai, also called ‘Mountain’ or Gorny-Altai, which lies in southern Siberia within the Russian Federation. The Altai-Sayan mountains, which also embrace the republics of Tyva and Khakassia in southern Siberia and run down through West Mongolia, form the cradle of throat-singing, a remarkable vocal technique in which richly textured harmonic clusters are manipulated by a single vocalist to create more than one simultaneous sound. The style of deep guttural Altaian kai throat-singing, essential to ritual oral epic performance, is less well-known. Here, I argue that kai is performative action that re-situates or re-negotiates the performer’s social place in local, global and spiritual worlds. In the cause of balance, this paper draws attention to the under-researched perspective of the power of the spirit-charged epic-teller. After briefly introducing the landscape, peoples and languages of Altai, I consider both the traditional kai performance complex and a contemporary re-sounding of the last ‘with spirit’ Altaian oral epic-teller, ‘Elbek’ Kalkin. Finally, I debate some of the issues arising from transferring performative experiences in the field to archival digital documents and how the World...

Keywords:

Republic of AltaiGorny-AltaiSiberiathroat-singingkairitualoral epic performanceElbek KalkinarchivingWorld Oral Literature Projectendangered oral literaturesrevitalisation
  • Year: 2010
  • Volume: 8
  • Page/Article: 125-139
  • DOI: 10.25894/ldd220
  • Published on 31 Jul 2014