Thursday, 22 November 2012


If you followed the links in my previous post you will have heard the clever wrens singing. 

A clever wren

In human music, what they are doing is called hocketing. Here's a snappy definition from Oxford Music Online:

"(Lat. hoquetus, (h)oketus, (h)ochetus; from Fr. hoquet, Old Fr. hoquet, hoket, ocquet, etc., related to English hickock, hicket, hiccup, and similar onomatopoeic word formations in Celtic, Breton, Dutch etc., meaning bump, knock, shock, hitch, hiccup; attempts at etymological derivation from the Arabic must be regarded as unsuccessful).

The medieval term for a contrapuntal technique of manipulating silence as a precise mensural value in the 13th and 14th centuries. It occurs in a single voice or, most commonly, in two or more voices, which display the dovetailing of sounds and silences by means of the staggered arrangement of rests; a ‘mutual stop-and-go device’ (F.Ll. Harrison). Medieval authors.... mentioned the existence of this practice in popular music."

If you have a library card, you can access Oxford Music Online to discover more obfuscatory explanations and listen to some examples. And please desist from any attempts to prove etymological derivation from the Arabic - you will only be ridiculed.

Here's a clip of the Dirty Projectors demonstrating it very beautifully. Feel free to watch the whole video - I couldn't manage more than 10 seconds of the incoherent young man (there seems to be something about hocketing which encourages over-elaboration) and fast-forwarded to the singers, who start at 7.17 ish.

And here's Meredith Monk and Theo Bleckmann with a longer and more complex example.

Hocketing happens all over the world - the panpipes of the Southern Andes are played that way, although the panpipes of Ecuador (where the wrens were recorded (blimey, try saying that with your teeth out)) are not.

My initial research has not revealed the originator of the practice in humans and I suspect that is unknowable, as it is so old. I like to think that whoever it was, or they were, the inspiration came from listening to the birds.

Thanks for popping in - the salon is always open.


  1. Wowee!!!But I think something is amiss with one of the links (or maybe it's my computer that's amiss) for when I clicked for "Here be Meredith Monk" There be'd Dirty Projectorman talking out of his capacious bottom again. The young singing women werw wonderful though.

    I intend, henceforth, to : a)introduce the phrase: "Ecuador, where the wrens were recorded" at every opportunity and I get (and at some I will create) b)desist from my pathetic attempts to establish an etymological derivation from the Arabic. I feel quite embarrassed now that I ever tried. Sorry everyone.

    1. so sorry - the wretched fellow had infested the place. I (hope I) have inserted the correct link now...

  2. If I have understood it correctly, then I believe the lead up to the end of The Proclaimers' Oh Jean is another splendid example, where the words "And I love" are repeated in a loop, with one brother singing "Lo" and the other brother singing "ve and I" (or rather "v'n'ah" is what you actually hear). Got to go and do warm-up now, so will have to try out the Monk link later...
    Alison x

    1. ooh yes of course! another link opportunity! x

  3. You may have inserted the correct link to avoid Projectorman but I got this instead: "Unfortunately, this UMG music-content is not available in Germany, because GEMA has not granted the respective music publishing rights.
    Sorry about that."
    So I have to contain my soul in patience.

    In the meantime Inge and I have wondered at the girls singing and even more at the wonderful wrens and human birdsong.

    Won't let me look at the Proclaimers either so am retreating, defeated :-(

    (PS Before even reading the definition Inge proclaimed on hearing the word "Hocketing" that it must have something to do with hiccups. What it is to be well-educated lol)

    1. Well, how very restrictive and anti-European of everyone.

  4. So is this hocketing? Or semi-hocketing?

  5. I wouldn't say so, but I'm hardly a hocketing hexpert....