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Paul Pena Wrote a Song

A low guttural sound hums along-side a high-pitched whistle. The sounds oscillate wildly. Even though you try to fine tune the station, it's no use. You've got what you think is space noise. But a minute later, you hear a DJ telling you that what you just heard was a single person's voice hitting up to four notes at once. It's called Tuvan throat singing. This is the exact experience that Paul Pena had back in 1984. While looking for a Korean language lesson program, he stumbled across Radio Moscow and his life changed.

"I heard about 20 seconds of this stuff that made me think my radio was going on the blink. I thought, `Wow, man, my tubes are going,' until this lady came on and said, `Did you hear how they sing two notes at once?' And then they gave me the wrong name for the people and said the `Tubash people'. So for seven years I asked people who are the `Tubash people' and no one knew since they don't exist". Luckily for Pena, he found a Tuvan throat singing record that he was able to play until he wore down the diamond tip needle. And from then on, he began to imitate the sounds.

Without any throat singing training, Pena went at it much like how a little kid tries to imitate just about anything. Since he is blind, Pena he thinks that he has an advantage `Maybe by having to use my ears more than most, I can say that's coming from that part of the throat or that sort of thing.' He claims to have achieved the true sound of the throat singing while he was unleashing a "healthy number" in the toilet. When I asked him a bit confused, `What came out?', he replied, "Both!"

What makes Pena really special is that he befriended Ondar in 1993 after a Tuvan concert in San Francisco when he approached him and began singing in Tuvan! Ondar was in disbelief that an American could learn to throat sing by himself. Since then, they have become friends, and Pena even made a trip to the throat-singing symposium in Tuva! He sung Tuvan songs to a packed crowd, and also sung a blues and Tuvan throat-singing song and won the competition.

"My voice is lower than most Tuvans. They have a style that makes your voice lower. When I use that, there's a slow song when I hit a note that's four white keys from the left of the piano." Pena voice sounds as low as it can get. and even though Tuvans have low voices, he hits rock bottom even though he sits high a top many other throat singers in the world.