22 Aug 2015

Masterclass: Jonny Marks

From RNZ Music, 2:35 pm on 22 August 2015

The All Seeing Hand’s Jonny Marks is one of the more unusual vocalists in contemporary popular music.

His guttural growls and synth-like whistles are based on techniques from the Tuvan Throat singing, or Hooliin Chor, tradition of Mongolia.

Jonny was turned onto the technique by the late Jack Body at the New Zealand School of Music, where he was studying composition.

Jack would regularly play the class music from around the world and ask the students to identify the instrumentation. The day that Tuvan Throat Singing came on, “no one picked the voice”.

After a period of muddling diligently through the basic concepts himself, Jonny headed to Inner Mongolia.

 It was important for my technique and my understanding on a deeper level to engage with the culture and go and meet the people and find a proper teacher”.

Tracking down a singing teacher in Northern China, with pretty much no Mandarin, and no local knowledge was as difficult and comical as you might imagine. Jonny hit a number of dead ends, including a “hopeless alcoholic” who would parade him at boozy banquets, and sniff the crown of his head with disconcerting regularity, before settling at a Mongolian performing arts school.

There’s kind of a renaissance for youth to be looking at Mongolian culture and really embracing it. So this school was doing dance, songs, instruments… and it was a private school, so all the students that were there were really there wanting to engage, it was great.”

Ahead of a throat singing workshop at The Audio Foundation in Auckland, Jonny popped by the Music 101 studio to introduce Emma Smith and Sophie Wilson to the basics of the technique, including vocal production and overtones, tongue strength, and a beguiling mix of macho drinking culture and stomach crunches which we’ve called ‘core fitness’. 

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