Overtone singing choirs: History and present

by Moisés Pérez

Although overtone singing is a vocal technique that was created in the West in the second half of the twentieth century, we can take a look back at its use in choral context over the past 50 years. In this tour we will only consider the most relevant for their legacy and musical contribution.

From the beginning of the development of these techniques, inspired by the khoomei singing of Central Asia, they have been linked to a choral or group format.

The first examples of these are the Collegium Vocale Köln founded in 1966 for which in 1968 Karlheinz Stockhausen composed “Stimmung“, which is considered to be the first major Western composition based entirely on the production of vocal harmonics. This vocal group from Germany has sung this work more than 300 times around the world until 1986.


In 1973 Roberto Laneri founded Prima Prima Materia, an Italian harmonics singing quartet. Raw musicians individually researched and developed vocal techniques originally used in the tantric rituals of northern India, Mongolia, and Tibet, based on the use of overtones. In 1977 they recorded “The Tail of the Tiger”. After participating in various European festivals it disbanded in 1980, although Roberto Laneri has continued to create groups such as In forma di Cristalli.

In 1975 the American David Hykes created what is considered the first vocal group of harmonics singing: The Harmonic Choir. Formed by 5 singers, he performed for 10 years at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York, sometimes playing various instruments. His best-known, high-quality album is “Hearing Solar Winds”, which inspired, among others, the founders of MuOM.

In September 1985 Christian Bollmann created the Obertonchor , Düsseldorf  , with a journey of more than a decade and 12 albums including varied styles and instruments. In 1986 and 1988 the choir toured Germany. In 1988 he recorded “Rise my soul” and in 1992 “Spirit Menja”. In 1989 Christian Bollmann wrote the composition “Sai” for harmonic choir of 12 to 16 singers. It integrates archaic responsory forms (alternating chants), different harmonic techniques, as well as the mantras created from the vocal circle “Sai Ja Om”. In 2002 and 2003, the choir developed the “Gesänge des Boathius” reconstructed by musicologist Sebnem Javuz at the harmonics festival in St. Petersburg. Aposteln (Cologne).

In 1991, Jim Cole, inspired by the album Hearing Solar Winds, formed the group Spectral Voices, , of which a recording made in 1994 in a huge metal water tank is notable. There is currently a group with the same name but it is progressive death metal.

Spectral Voices
Obertonchor Düsseldorf

In 1989 Andrew Skeoch created The Eternal Choir, based in Melbourne (Australia), with a style similar to The Harmonic Choir, without lyrics and with a vocation for improvisation. He recorded the album “Bliss” in 1989.

In the year 2000 two groups are created in North America. Baird Hersey cover Prana.. Which in 2004 released the album The Eternal Embrace with 9 singers. They have collaborated with the famous mantra singer Krishna Dass, who has participated in the albums Gathering in the light (2007) and Sadhana (2014). It currently has 5 singers and does not appear to be active.

One voice harmonic choir

That same year, The One Voice Harmonic Choir was created in Vancouver (Canada), a sextet that also uses the technique of Tuvan and Mongolian Kargyraa, and that uses various instruments (Tibetan bells and bowls, gongs, screws, percussion, harmonium, soprano saxophone, guitars). His compositions are in several languages ​​and have very heterogeneous musical influences. They currently perform sporadic concerts in the Labyrinth of the Cathedral of the Church of Christ.


There are several meeting groups where the positive effects of group harmonics singing and its choral possibilities are explored, some of an amateur nature.

Of note is the biannual harmonics singing meeting of the European Overtone Choir, an international project that began in 2006 where most singers are amateurs but has the support and guidance of the famous harmonics singer Wolfgang Saus.

At a professional level and currently active offering concerts we find:

The Spektrum Choir of Prague (Czech Republic), created in 2003 and conducted by Jan Stanek, includes a repertoire of 20th century spiritual music, Renaissance compositions (Arcadelt, Monteverdi) and choral arrangements of spiritual and folk songs. He currently has about 16 singers. The choir has recorded Message from the Journey (2005), Villarosa (2009) and Paian (2015).

Obertonchor München, was founded in 2007 by Matthias Privler. The choir combines classical a cappella music with compositions featuring harmonics singing. The ensemble has approximately 12-14 members, of whom only 2 singers master harmonics singing techniques. Anna-Maria Hefele has been part of this choir.

MuOM Ecstatic Voices, initially created as a quartet in Barcelona in 2008, and with different formations in its career has an average of 7-8 singers. All singers are experts in Western harmonic singing techniques (vocals, 1 and 2 cavities) and many of them can do Central Asian diphonic singing (kargyraa, khoomei, sygyt, ezengiler, bonbarnadyr styles, among d ‘others). It is distinguished from other choirs by being able to combine original styles of harmonics singing with Western ones, as well as creating compositions that contain harmonic polyphonies, (each singer is emitting a different or equal harmonic for strings) a more of the polyphony of the fundamentals, creating two distinguishable harmonic sound planes. In this sense in some pieces they use drones or pedals, looking for effects of polyphonies and tensions of the harmonics. They have 3 albums released Andapidam (2009), Mu (2013) and Ecstatic Voices (2017).

Partial  based in Switzerland, it is a choir created in 2015 by Christian Zehnder and Marcello Wick that has about 30 singers and their own compositions.