It's a beautiful, haunting Scandinavian high-pitched, very musical vocal style, designed to resonantly call in herds of cows or goats from high pastures and long distances, sung out particularly by women. The sounds are designed to carry large distances to attract the animals, but also theoretically to scare away bears or wolves. Also a formal musical style, it can convey a feeling of sadness, in large part because the lokks, or kulokks, or calls, often include typical half-tones and quarter-tones (also known as "blue tones") found in local, traditional folk music. The notes are sung with the head-voice, mainly by women, but if by men, then with falsetto.
The sound is designed to reverberate around valleys, and cause the cattle, who often wear bells around their necks, to respond and begin to move, the bells indicating their whereabouts and then direction.
Kulning is very much part of music traditions used in northern Scandinavia, such the joik form. It is variously known in different regions with alternative names laling, lalning or lålning in Norway and neighbouring parts of Sweden, also kauking or kaukning in Norway, in the provinces of Dalarna and Hälsingland in Sweden and , Jämtland and Härjedalen, also kulokker, kyrlokker or a lockrop.
Here’s short first burst by folk artist Myrkur Øksemorder, from band folk/metal band Myrkur, aka Danish musician Amalie Bruun:
Swedish artist Jonna Jinton has also demonstrated it in several videos, not just pastures but also lakes, mountains and other places:
And in this example it is integrated in a church song performed by Swedish singer Åsa Larsson:
Here's an example in a track by Canada's Saskatchewan singer and wintry specialist Jenna Nash:
As a demonstration and learning technique, as shown by Maria Misgeld, it can be a little more shrill and challenging:
More tuneful now, here’s Finnish folk group Gjallarhorn, whose music seems to also feature didgerdoo and violin:
The best known kulning singer is Norwegian vocalist Christine Hals, who has appeared doing it in 2018 Marvel's super hero film Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Disney's 2013, animated film Frozen. Many of her videos see her apparently impervious to the cold. As well as goats and many other animals here's a song in which she's calling the aurora borealis:
A more war-like version of kulning regularly appears on the TV series Vikings, and in a softer form, Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky's film Offret ("The Sacrifice” 1986).
Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg was inspired by kulning, or kulokke, for many of his classical works, not merely songs , for example, but also instrumental pieces, such as The Cow Keeper's Song:
Or Solveig's song from on his opera Peer Gynt, here sung by Julia Zhu:
Can you hear any more kulning calling out? Do any other videos, songs, or images come to mind? Feel free to share other examples from songs, instrumentals, on albums, or other contexts in comments below. You can also get in touch the contact page, and also visit us on social media: Song Bar Twitter, Song Bar Facebook. Song Bar YouTube. and Song Bar Instagram. Please subscribe, follow and share.
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