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The Timbre of the Universe

By Nobleman Nash Hollowhill – January 6, 2010

In my practices of Throat Singing, Overtone Singing, Didgeridoo playing, and various other musical instruments, I have become somewhat sensitive to timbre. Timbre refers to the individual thumbprint of each instrument that is left on the music it plays. Because every fundamental tone is made up of many different overlapping frequencies, this gives a unique sound to every single piece of music and the instrument(s) used. Guitar players will probably know about the harmonic pitches that can be played by touching a string at the 12th fret, producing a tone that is one octave (2:1 ratio) higher than the string’s open position note. In addition, the 7th, 15th, 5th, 17th frets, (in approximate order of amplitude,) and a few others can also produce audible tones, and most of these are integer multiple ratios of the frequency of the open position of the string. The Overtone Series ( refers to the long string of notes that exist at certain ratios to every fundamental tone, and extend far beyond the octave. For a piano, the overtone series is different from that of a flute, which is different from a violin, which all are different from the human voice. This is what gives each a unique sound when playing the same note or tune. Also, this accounts for different people having different voices, as well as using different timbres to express different emotions.

Often after practicing with bringing out certain overtone frequencies in my own voice, I hear a strange phase-shifting effect overlayed onto a person’s regular speech ( This is the person’s individual timbre of their voice, in addition to the timbre of the vowels and consonants being spoken. In order to become aware of this region of sound, a simple awareness and heightened sensitivity to auditory subtlety is required. In order to become capable of producing these overtones at higher amplitudes, one must reprogram the muscle memories associated with speech or singing. When on psilocybin and LSD, I experienced just this. I became more aware of the timbre of my own voice, and often amused myself by using overly dramatic or goofy vowel sounds which contained richer overtone soundscapes and sounded more palatable to my state of mind, regardless of the changed pronunciation or meaning of the words. I began to mimic the vocal styles of Terence McKenna, Bob Dylan, Professor Frink from The Simpsons, Tim Leary, Alan Alda, David Lynch, and stereotypical Scandinavian or German pronunciations, the vowel Ü for instance, which is created by forming an OO shape with the lips but producing an EE vowel sound with the teeth and tongue. The opposite of these voices would be for example, Ben Stein or Al Gore. So whenever I was talking with someone whose voice had an abundance of audible overtones, I could hear a slight tinge in their voice that reminded me of, say, Alan Alda.

Some people have likened Terence McKenna’s voice to that of a gnome, which is ironic because he is a proponent for taking this archetype seriously. In fact, to me, all of the people I mentioned above in the overtone-rich category seem to possess a certain gnome-like quality to their voices. Sadly, Al Gore will never sound like anything more than a bureaucrat, no matter how many times he says the phrase, “Global Warming.” This is due to the flat, monotone, woody timbre of his voice. The phrase, “Gleyooboyerowl Woyeeraiyayming,” however, is full of sweeping semi-audible tones that makes it extremely fun to say, improvise on, and good practice for those taking psychedelics and trying to train their ears to hear the amazing world of forgotten sound in our universe. This can be a good exercise for people who want to reprogram their muscle memory so that these tones can be produced effortlessly. Even if Al Gore started to speak like this, he would eventually begin to sound more like a gnome.

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