Simanaitis Says

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SO HOW COME I’M writing about Mariah Carey, Ima Sumac, Tim Storms, Mongolian throat singers, and death metal growlers? I had intended this to be about Daubenton’s bat, Myotis daubentonii. 

According to Science, December 23, 2022, researchers recently determined that anatomy of a Daubenton’s bat’s voice box “allows it to have a seven-octave vocal range.” 

Image from Science, December 23, 2022.

For comparison,” Science notes, “most humans can claim only four octaves.” 

Well, this is what got me thinking about Sumac, and learning about Carey, Storms and, would you believe, death metal growlers and Mongolian throat singers. Here are tidbits on all these, not to forget the Daubenton’s bat. 

The Bat First. Bats use echolocation to help navigate their world; so do dolphins. Details are offered in “Bats Expand Their Vocal Range by Recruiting Different Laryngeal Structures for Echolocation and Social Communication,” by Jonas Håkansson et al, PLOS Biol. 10.1371, November 29, 2022. The researchers say, “Echolocating bats produce very diverse vocal signals for echolocation and social communication that span an impressive frequency range of 1 to 120 kHz or 7 octaves. This tremendous vocal range is unparalleled in mammalian sound production and thought to be produced by specialized laryngeal vocal membranes on top of vocal folds.”

The researchers continue, “By filming vocal membranes in excised bat larynges (Myotis daubentonii) in vitro with ultra-high-speed video (up to 250,000 fps) and using deep learning networks to extract their motion, we provide the first direct observations that vocal membranes exhibit flow-induced self-sustained vibrations to produce 10 to 95 kHz echolocation and social communication calls in bats…. Furthermore, we show that bats extend their lower vocal range by recruiting their ventricular folds—as in death metal growls—that vibrate at distinctly lower frequencies of 1 to 5 kHz for producing agonistic social calls.”

Full disclosure: I misread this as “agnostic” and had a devil of a time figuring out what these social calls were. Once unmisread, I learned from Merriam-Webster that “agonistic” means “argumentative,” “of, relating to, or being aggressive or defensive social interaction (such as fighting, fleeing, or submitting) between individuals usually of the same species.” 

Yeah, we all do this, but not at such low sound frequencies. But what about those death metal growlers and Mongolian throat singers?

Tuvan Throat Singers. A Wikipedia entry offers details of this Mongolian genre, said to be “human mimicry of nature’s sounds.” The singer produces a fundamental pitch and, at the same time, adds one or more atop that.

Death Metal Growlers. Not being into death metal, I had to look this one up too. Suffice to say, as Wikipedia notes, “their unintelligibility contributes to death metal’s abrasive style and often dark and obscene subject matter.”

Well, this is probably more than I need to know, particularly because Science says “most humans can claim only four octaves.”

Sopranos to Basso Profundos. According to Wikipedia yet again, “The vocal range of classical performance covers about five octaves.” Among female voices, there are sopranos, mezzo-sopranos (Joyce DiDonato is my fav), and contraltos. Male voices include countertenors (Iestyn Davies, my fav), tenors, baritones, and basses. 

Joyce DiDonato, left, in the title role and Kate Lindsay (another fav mezzo) as Nerone in Handel’s Agrippina. Image by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

Wikipedia offers examples of several of these vocal types. I recommend you spring for Metropolitan Opera membership and then stream Handel’s Agrippina, which features Joyce and Iestyn in starring roles.

Vocal Extremes. Ima Sumac recurred in my memory bank from my youth, known back then as having a range “very close to five octaves.” 

Above, Ima Sumac, in 1954. Below, Mariah Carey, in 2018.

Mariah Carey is known today “for her five-octave vocal rangemelismatic singing style, her signature use of the whistle register and songwriting.” 

But the current world record seems to be held by basso profundo Tim Storms, said to have an amazing range of ten octaves. 

To hear more about Tim’s vocal range, check out “He’s Got the Lowest Voice in the World.”

Not to disparage the Daubenton’s bats. After all, they’re the ones getting us into all this. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023

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