Publication Date



Mark Slobin




This dissertation is about the politics and poetics of worldly recognition through sonic or musical performance, what I refer to as "audibility." I engage this topic in historical and ethnographic perspective when listening closely to the remarkable voice of Mongol xöömei (throat-singing). I show how a range of actors-talented herders, xöömeich (throat-singers), professional musicians, and researchers, among others-employed xöömei to gain audibility during and after socialism (1924-1992) within and beyond Mongolia. Drawing upon a plural inheritance in pastoralism, socialism, and capitalism, they foreground yazguur, a post-colonial notion that fuses Indigenous values of "origins" and the socialistic onus to sound "original." The maintenance of yazguur mitigates literal and conceptual distances between the far off past and the modern world, between pastoral and urban places.

While many popular, official, or academic narratives emphasize friction between tradition and modernity or pastoralism and globalization in Mongolia, I observe that it is precisely this friction, following Anna Tsing, that engendered Mongol xöömei as conceptualized and performed today as an original voice. In response, I focus upon the sounds and sources, concepts and practices that my research associates engage in order to realize political or economic agendas to maintain yazguur. I pay careful attention to how Euro-American disciplines like anthropology and ethnomusicology contributed conceptual tools, such as "culture" or "folk music," to colonial regimes like Soviet-backed socialism in Mongolia.

But I also consider how my research associates, in turn, have leveraged or imbued these tools and their instantiations with Indigenous values, especially an ethics of interrelation with the surrounding world of baigal' (nature-existence). I suggest that this topic challenges ethnomusicology to hold itself more accountable to other senses of the world alongside the globalized one it tends to foreground when studying circulation, transnationalism, or globalization. For to study xöömei in Mongolia is to encounter a conflicted, but dynamic relationship between colonial and Indigenous versions of the voice, humanity, and the world itself.



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