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Kulning or herding calls (called kauking and kaukning in some parts of Norway, in the province of Dalarna in Sweden and the former Norwegian provinces in Sweden Jämtland and Härjedalen, also kulokker, kyrlokker or a lockrop) is a domestic Scandinavian music form, often used to call livestock (cows, goats, etc.) down from high mountain pastures where they have been grazing during the day. It is possible that the sound also serves to scare away predators (wolves, bears, etc.), but this is not the main purpose of the call.
The song form is often used by women, as they were the ones tending the herds and flocks in the high mountain pastures, but there are recordings of these calls sung by men. There is some speculation that it was one of the first ways to tame animals in herds (see domestication) in the Scandinavian and Ural regions, with prehistoric origins. The knowledge about it today originates, however, from regions near mid-Fennoscandia.
The song has a high-pitched vocal technique, i.e. a loud call using head tones, so that it can be heard or be used to communicate over long distances. It has a fascinating and haunting tone, often conveying a feeling of sadness, in large part because the lokks often include typical half-tones and quarter-tones (also known as "blue tones") found in the music of the region.
The kulokks can belong to an individual, but are sometimes family-based and are handed down so that a family's cows know they are being called and thus respond. A number of calls contain names of individual (sometimes the "lead") animals, as herds are not very large.
When a call is made in a valley, it rings and echoes against the mountains. The animals, a number of whom wear bells tuned so that the livestock's location can be heard, begin to respond to the call, answering back and the sound of the bells indicates that they are moving down the mountain towards their home farm.
In comparison with other regional song traditions, e.g. joik, there is no evidence that this genre has been used in religious rituals or for other purposes. It has been used on farms in stock-raising since the medieval times. The tradition continues today.
Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg based a few of his classical music compositions for piano and for orchestra on kulokker that he had heard. An early Norwegian opera includes a soprano aria that is half aria and half kulning.
- Tellenbach, Magdalena, - Lockrufe in Skandinavien: Funktion, Klang, Revival, Universität Wien, Geistwissenschaftliche Fakultät 1999 (in German)
- Johnson, Anna - Svenska locklåtar i nutidstradition: studier över storform och funktion, Institutionen för musikvetenskap vid Uppsala universitet, 99-0841282-5 ; 8:1 Uppsala 1981 (in Swedish)
- Listen to "kaukning" - Emma Härdelin is singing a cattle call
- Folk Music in Jamtland, Sweden
- "Kulning – herding calls from Sweden", PECUS. Man and animal in antiquity. Proceedings of the conference at the Swedish Institute in Rome, September 9–12, 2002. Ed. Barbro Santillo Frizell (The Swedish Institute in Rome. Projects and Seminars, 1), Rome 2004.