Kulning or herding calls 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. The knowledge about it today originates, however, from regions near mid-Fennoscandia.
It is called laling, lalning, or lålning in Norway and neighbouring parts of Sweden, kauking or kaukning in some parts of Norway, in the provinces of Dalarna and Hälsingland in Sweden and the former Norwegian provinces in Sweden, Jämtland and Härjedalen, also kulokk, kulokker, kyrlokker or a lockrop.
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 kulokks often include typical half-tones and quarter-tones (also known as "blue tones") found in the music of the region. Linguist/phonetician Robert Eklund, speech therapist Anita McAllister and kulning singer/speech therapist Fanny Pehrson studied the difference between kulning voice production and head-voice (sometimes also somewhat erroneously referred to as falsetto voice) production in both indoors (normal and anechoic rooms) and in an ecologically valid outdoor setting near Dalarna, Sweden. The song analyzed was the same in all cases, and was performed by the same kulning singer (Pehrson). Comparing kulning to head-voice, they found that partials were visible in far higher registers in kulning than in head-voice (easily observed up to 16 kHz) and that they were also less affected by an increased distance from the source than head-voice, with more or less unaffected partial patterns when comparing a distance of 11 meters from the source, compared to 1 meter from the source. In the outdoor setting, they also found that head-voice production exhibited a 25.2 dB decrease at 11 meters from the source, compared to 1 meter from the source, while the corresponding amplitude decrease in kulning was only 9.4 dB, which is a clear indication that kulning is well-suited to carry over long distances in an outdoor setting. Or, as the authors summarize the findings:
"it was shown that kulning fell off less with distance from an intensity point of view, and also that partials in kulning – but not in head voice – remained more or less unperturbed 11 meters from the singer, as compared to 1 meter from the singer. Both results help explain why kulning as a singing mode was developed for calling cattle that might be at considerable distance from the singer".
Function and physiological characteristics
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. 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.
A study done by Finnish and Swedish universities showed that kulning, as compared to falsetto, exhibits a better contact of the vocal folds and a longer glottal closure in the phonation cycle. Using nasofiberendoscopy also showed medial and anteroposterior narrowing of the laryngeal inlet and approximation of the false vocal folds in kulning.
Comparison with other regional song traditions
In comparison with other song traditions used in northern Scandinavia, e.g. joik, there is no evidence that kulning has been used in religious rituals or for other purposes. It has been used on farms in stock-raising since medieval times. The tradition is still alive today, although waning. Kulning is, however, similar to yodeling, a singing style also developed for long-distance sound propagation.
Comparison with herdcalling songs in other countries
Kulning used in music
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. Kulning features in the music of some Scandinavian folk groups, for example Gjallarhorn and Frifot.
Kulning in the media
There are also other examples of kulning to be found in other forms of modern media:
- Vocalist Christine Hals provided traditional Norwegian kulning for the soundtracks of the films Frozen (2013) and Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018).
- In the song "Into the Unknown" for the 2019 film Frozen II, Norwegian singer Aurora's vocals are inspired by kulning.
- Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky's film Offret ("The Sacrifice" – Sweden, 1986) features kulning in its soundtrack.
- TV series Vikings features aggressive kulning during some battle scenes.
- The 2013 videogame Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons features kulning in its soundtrack.
- A 2019 episode of Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? features Daphne Blake and singer Sia at a kulning workshop in Sweden.
- Nyhus, Sven (1993). Aksdal, Bjørn (ed.). Fanitullen : innføring i norsk og samisk folkemusikk (5th ed.). Oslo: Universitetsforlaget. ISBN 8200216926.
- Eklund & McAllister (2015).
- Geneid et al. (2016).
- Glossaire Ethnomusicologie, in FRENCH
- "News". Christine Hals. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
- Cohn, Gabe (29 November 2019). "How to Follow Up 'Frozen'? With Melancholy and a Power Ballad". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 December 2019.
- Grefberg, Gustaf (2013). "Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons - Official Soundtrack". Bandcamp. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
Kulning (vocals) by Emma Sunbring
- Dahlsmtrö, Kajsa & McAllister, Anita (June 2019). "An acoustic analysis of Swedish cattle calls, 'kulning', performed outdoors at three distances" (PDF). Proceedings of FONETIK. Stockholm, Sweden: Stockholm University. PERILUS (XXVII): 61–66. doi:10.5281/zenodo.3246001. ISSN 0282-6690. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
- Geneid, Ahmed; Laukkanen, Anne-Maria; Eklund, Robert & McAllister, Anita (June 2016). "Kulning: A study of the physiological basis for long-distance sound propagation in Swedish cattle calls" (PDF). Proceedings of FONETIK. Stockholm, Sweden: KTH Royal Institute of Technology. 57 (1): 8–10. ISSN 1104-5787. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
- Eklund, Robert & McAllister, Anita (August 2015). "An acoustic analysis of 'kulning' (cattle calls) recorded in an outdoor setting on location in Dalarna (Sweden)" (PDF). Proceedings of 18th Congress of Phonetic Sciences. Glasgow, Scotland: 10–14. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
- McAllister, Anita & Eklund, Robert (June 2015). "An acoustic analysis of the cattle call "kulning": performed outdoors at Säter, Dalarna, Sweden" (PDF). Proceedings from Fonetik. Lund, Sweden: Centre for Languages and Literature, General Linguistics/Phonetics, Lund University: 8–10. ISSN 0280-526X. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
- Eklund, Robert; McAllister, Anita & Pehrson, Fanny (June 2013). Eklund, Robert (ed.). "An acoustic comparison of voice characteristics in 'kulning', head and modal registers" (PDF). Proceedings of Fonetik 2013, the XXVIth Swedish Phonetics Conference, Studies in Language and Culture. Linköping, Sweden: Linköping University (21): 21–24. ISBN 978-91-7519-582-7. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
- Tellenbach, Magdalena (1999). Lockrufe in Skandinavien: Funktion, Klang, Revival (MA) (in German). University of Vienna, Faculty of Humanities.
- Johnson, Anna (1981). Svenska locklåtar i nutidstradition: studier över storform och funktion (Thesis) (in Swedish). University of Uppsala, Department of Musicology.