Studio Music…What’s On?


"Modern Art" The Rippingtons
“Modern Art” The Rippingtons

Like many artists, I listen to music when I’m working in my studio. What I choose depends on my mood, the time of day and the day of the week…I tend to crank up the rock and roll on Friday afternoons (Terry and the Pirates is a favorite or anything else with my Guitar God John Cippolina). My default, however, is a playlist I call Chill Music, set to Shuffle. Here’s most of who’s on it, in no particular order:

Karunesh (New Age)

The Rippingtons (Smooth jazz)

Craig Chaquico (Smooth jazz)

Peter White (Smooth jazz)

Sting (well, you know…)

John Adorney (Smooth jazz)

Darshan Ambiant (New Age)

Vickie Logan (New Age)

David Arkenstone (New Age)

Brad Jacobsen (Smooth jazz)

Davol (New Age)

Degi (Mongolian violin traditional songs)

Nightnoise (Celtic)

Minstrel Streams (New Age)

Marc Antoine (Jazz)

Kenny G (Jazz)

Yanni (New Age)

Shastro (New Age)

Nils (Jazz)

I went through iTunes, listening to the samples and picked individual songs that fit the theme. Some artists, like The Rippingtons, Karunesh and Sting, I’ve got whole albums. I also sometimes hear something on our cable Soundscapes channel and jot down the artist and song.

If I want to liven things up I have playlists for mellow rock, the 1960s, road music and individual musicians like Mark Knopfler, John Mayer and Fleetwood Mac. There’s also one for “new” Celtic, which includes Peatbog Fairies, Kila and Shooglenifty. I also like Celtic music from singers such as Enya and traditional groups like Clannad and Nightnoise.

I have LOTS of music from Mongolia, brought back on CDs and downloaded into iTunes. That ranges from traditional music like khoomii (throat singing) and morin khuur (horsehead fiddle) to neo-folk (Altan Urag, Altan Orgil, Khishigten), pop music (A Sound, A Capella, Camerton, Nomin Talst, Bold), rock (The Lemons, Madness), classical composers like Jantsannarov and the man who, if anyone, is the heart and voice of Mongolia, Javkhlan.

What kind of music do you listen to while you work? Let me know in the comments!





Mongolia Monday- Music, Part 3: Something Old, Something New

For the final part of this three-part series, here are three videos that, to me, show one of the most interesting and fun parts of contemporary Mongol music, the synthesis of traditional and modern forms.

Altan Urag is probably the best known group outside of Mongolia, due to their attendance at many internatinal music festivals. They play what we would call “Neo-folk” music, traditional songs uniquely interpreted. This one, “Khiliin Chadad” combines traditional Mongol instruments like the morin khuur (horse head fiddle), Jew’s harp (used by Mongol shaman), plus khoomii (throat-singing) with a Middle Eastern-sounding drum rhythmn and Spanish-style guitar. It’s quite a combination.

Hurd, whose lead singer is Chono (“wolf” in Mongolian), is one of the most famous rock bands in Mongolia. The song, Eh Oron ( which I think should have been spelled Ikh Oron), is a rock anthem, with morin khuur. The video’s visuals are a photographic journey through both the land and traditional culture of the country. Picture Led Zepplin extolling the virtues of the English countryside and the various activities at county fairs with a violin section added in the middle. But somehow, in Mongolia, it all makes perfect sense.

Javhlan, one of Mongolia’s most loved singers, has a world-class voice and then some. He only records traditional songs. But he sets them to a variety of western rhythms…samba, waltz, pop and others. He often wears traditional Mongol men’s clothing in his videos, as in this one, and usually includes lovely shots of the land. I’ve been told that these days he lives out in the countryside in a ger and I’ll bet it’s a really nice one. I have six or seven of his CDs loaded into iTunes and listen to him often while I’m painting.

Mongolia Monday- Music, Part 2: Three Western Musical Genres Mongol-Style

There doesn’t seem to be a western musical genre that hasn’t found its way to Mongolia over the last twenty years or more. I get a kick out listening to pop, rock, jazz, etc, with lyrics sung in Mongolian. There are covers of western songs, but most are original compositions by Mongolian songwriters. There are standards too, obviously well-loved songs that have been recorded many times.

Rock arrived in Mongolia very shortly after democracy. Groups like Haranga, Chono and Nisvanis were extremely popular and there are still lots of videos of their music on YouTube. Today the alt rock band The Lemons is very popular.

Boy Bands were big in the United States at the same time the youth music scene started up in Ulaanbaatar. The most successful Mongolian group in this pop genre was Camerton, four guys with great voices who created wonderful harmonies. They’ve all done solo albums and one member, Bold, has gone on to write, record and produce at least a half dozen albums and now has his own production company, B Productions.

Hip Hop isn’t really my thing at all, but it’s a very important genre in Mongolia and often is used to draw attention to serious social issues like alcoholism. I chose this one because it’s about the Democracy Movement and includes images from that time.

Next week: Mongol music that is a synthesis of traditional and western styles

Mongolia Monday- Music, Part 1: Three Traditional Forms

Morin khuur player who also sang khoomii. Hustai National Park, 2011

I thought I’d do a three part series on Mongolian music, using YouTube videos that I’ve found, and starting with three traditional forms- khoomii (throat singing), Urtyn Duu (long song) and morin khuur (horsehead fiddle). Next week, it will be Mongolian musicians and singers performing in western musical genres like rock and the third week will be music that is a synthesis of the first two.

You can read more about Mongolian music here.

Khoomii may the musical form best known by westerners due to a number of “folk” CDs available that feature throat singing, which originated in western Mongolia in an area just to the south of the Khar Us Nur lake complex.

Urtyn Duu means “long song”, but not that the songs themselves are long. The name refers to the singer stretching out the syllables of the words. Although both genders sing this form, the most famous long singers seem to be women.

Morin Khuur is the horsehead fiddle, probably the most famous Mongolian musical instrument and is one of the symbols of the country. With only two strings, the player can create truly beautiful musical sounds and also perfect imitations of the sounds that horses make. The selection in the video is one of my most favorite pieces of Mongolian music, “Mongolian Melody” by one of Mongol’s most esteemed composers, Jantsannarov.

Mongolia Monday- Ethnic Folk Group Altain Orgil

Mongol ethnic folk group Altain Orgil is essentially the house band at the City Nomads restaurant in Ulaanbaatar. I had never heard of them until I bought one of the CDs on a whim at the HiFi shop on Seoul St. Wow. I will be at City Nomads at 7:30pm sharp next time I’m in UB.

There are a number of these groups around, young people who are not only preserving traditional singing forms and instruments like khoomii, long song and morin khuur, but adding their own individual vibes and twists. What makes Altain Orgil interesting to me, besides loving their music, is that they often wear authentic-looking Mongol shamanic clothing when they perform. Unfortunately, I could only find a couple images of the group, but there are a number of videos on YouTube and I’ve posted a few of them below.

Mongolia Monday- Mongol Culture in Music Videos

As I’ve wandered around YouTube looking for music from Mongolia, one thread I’ve noticed is the use of traditional clothes, historical themes, stories and cultural elements across musical genres. I thought I’d share four of my favorites this week.

First up is Batbold, whose video “Bi Mongol Hun” or “I Am A Mongolian” is a visual compendium of traditional Mongol steppe culture. One of the things I like about it is seeing how the bowls, buckets and other household items that you see for sale in the antique shops in UB were and are actually used by the herders.

Sometimes the videos tell stories. The famous Mongolian rock band, Haranga, seems to have dipped back into history, possibly to the time of Chinggis Khan, for this song. I’ll admit that I’m a little hazy on the plot, not being able to understand the words, but the horse is clearly the star. Anyone who can explain this song or provide a translation of the lyrics, please comment!

Other times, all you need is horses, snow and a song about a woman.

Finally, an all-star cast (I recognized Ganaa from the vocal group Camerton), provides an eight minute crash course in Mongol history and culture. Fabulous traditional costume. All singing, all dancing!


Mongolia Monday- Contemporary Music, Part 3

This is the last part, for now, about the music scene in Mongolia. This time I want to show what a variety of musical styles there are.

First is Nomin Talst (which I believe means “azure crystal”). They seem to have started as literally a boy band in around 1995 and are much loved. An Italian guy who married a Mongol girl started a fan page for them on Facebook. The first video is  for what I think was their first hit “Bid”, which means “We”.  At least it’s the first cut on their greatest hits CD. They score way high on energy and cuteness.

This next one came to me from a blog that I subscribe to, AsianGypsy. I still tear up when I watch it because it encapsulates so much of what I have come to love about Mongolia. It’s called “Minii Mongol Naadam”, which means “My Mongol Naadam”.  “Naadam” means “festival” in the general sense, but specifically it’s the big national holiday. The main celebration takes place in Ulaanbaatar, but there are local versions all over the country. I got to do both this last July. You can see photos on my blog here and here. Naadam is centered around competitions in the Three Manly Sports – horse racing, wrestling and archery, all of which are represented in the video.

Here they are, all grown up.

Next is Altan Urag, which means “Golden Lineage (of Chinggis Khan). There are seven members. They are trained in both traditional instruments like the morin khuur (horsehead fiddle)and bishgur (traditional horn) and singing methods like throat singing and long song. The group has traveled to music festivals internationally and may be the musicians best known outside of Mongolia.

The next one is just the music with no video, but well worth a listen, of course.

Finally, one of the best traditional pop vocalists, Javkhan. I only recently found out about him and then realized how often I had heard him on my driver’s CDs or radios as I’ve traveled around Mongolia. He really ought to be a big international star like Julio Inglesias or Tom Jones. Jaw-dropping voice.

Finding this last video solved a mystery for me. I’d heard a particular song about once per trip, but could never find out what it was because I didn’t speak Mongolian and was never with someone who spoke English. I sort of memorized a couple of bars of the chorus and hummed it for a few people, but no luck. Then I saw this and the mystery was solved. Great visuals with old film footage, too. A short course in Mongol culture, complete with warriors on horseback. But it mostly seems to be tribute to Mongol women (busgui) from socialist times to the woman who won a Beijing Olympics shooting medal, plus teachers, nurses, and some gorgeous fashion models.

If you’re interested in more, visit the blog Mongolian Music.