how to: do the khoomii

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The karma, somehow, is all wrong. We are in a deconsecrated church in Essex and a giant backdrop featuring a fierce-looking cane-brandishing dominatrix, left over from the previous night's gay and lesbian disco, is leering down at us from a great height.

Crouched underneath the overbearing Medusa, a thirtysomething student of Mongolian throat-singing produces a drone reminiscent of Rolf Harris's didgeridoo on a bad day. Outside, a boy racer screeches his vehicle to a halt.

Thankfully, the throat-singer is able to rise above such worldly distractions. As we, his students, open our mouths in astonishment, he closes his eyes and adds a high whistle to the mantra, entering a transcendent level of cosmic consciousness. I close my eyes but all I can see is Rolf struggling to harmonise with a bagpipe-player and a camping kettle.

"Hi, I'm Michael." Before Michael (right) tells us how khoomii changed his life, he wants to know why we've come to his workshop. Diana, who's interested in the Indo-European language Sanskrit, has been trying to track the music down for years; today's session is a real treat for her. Jennie's a singer, keen to delve into the origins of traditional music. Jo giggles and asks Karen why she's come. "I wanted to do something different on my birthday," Karen explains. When I own up to being a reporter, there are a few sighs of disapproval before Dave jumps in to enthuse about a documentary he caught on the telly: "I just couldn't believe a human being could produce those sounds."

Michael's been to the top of the mountain - the Altai mountain region to be exact - and he's been to the promised land. Now, he wants to spread the word, or rather the sounds, of khoomii: a technique enabling two notes to be sung at the same time. His teacher, Tserendaava, told him to mingle with Mongolian herdsmen and try to imitate the sound of nature.

Suddenly, he asks us if we know where Mongolia is. We all cough, look down at our feet and try to avoid his expectant gaze. "It's in central Asia," he finally declares. "You've really got to go out there to hear the wind and the water running between the rocks." It can't have been easy living in central London surrounded by the synthetic sounds of a modern metropolis. "Oh no," he counters, "the tube trains make interesting harmonic sounds. I now listen to things in a different way. I even listen to vacuum cleaners and start picking up melodies."

Gathered together in a converted church of a Sunday, the Biblical language he uses to describe his spiritual journey from computer database analyst to Buddhist throat-singer seems entirely natural. After attending a Mongolian folk-and-dance evening in 1988, "I was gobsmacked, totally dumbstruck" - he spent years "searching in the wilderness", experimenting in the loo and combing second-hand music shops for obscure records. Eventually he gave up his job and took himself to Chandman Sum, the birthplace of khoomii.

Performing to the locals was like taking coals to Newcastle. But one man from the Tibet Foundation gave him a medal and another cried. His teacher recommended a few nights out in the hills, listening to the wind.

There is no doubting the dark, other-worldly beauty of Mongolian overtone singing, but is he not just a New Age throwback to the eccentric young men who decided to "go East" in the 1960s?

Michael shakes his long, flowing, ginger locks and smiles. "Anything out of the ordinary is construed as eccentric. I suppose the eccentric part of me is that I have a goal, which is to reach the infinite note."

But there's a Taoist twist: the infinite note might not exist. "Who knows if it does? It might and it might not. I can only say there's a long way to go yet before I find out."

ANTHONY CLAVANE

Group classes begin again in the autumn. Individual tuition is all year round (0181-907 2715)

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