WILLIAMSTOWN -- The sound begins as a low rumble, like thunder rolling over low hills. High tones follow like the wind as it sweeps across the wide steppes. A whistle marks an eagle flying overhead, while a gentle rhythm plays like a stream.
A single human voice creates this aural landscape -- all at the same time.
On Monday at 8 p.m., hear the mesmerizing sound of Xöömei Tuvan throat singing at a free concert by Alash Ensemble in Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall at Williams College.
The tiny Russian republic of Tuva lies between Siberia to the north and Mongolia in the south. While the singing may recall echoes of Tibetan Buddhist monastic chants, the nomadic Tuvans sing of more earthly matters -- the love of a woman, the strength of a horse -- along with admiration and respect for the wonders of nature.
Each year since 2006, the Kyzyl Arts College-trained members of Alash -- Bady-Dorzhu Ondar, Ayan-ool Sam and Ayan Shirizhik -- visit America, accompanied by interpreter and manager Sean Quirk, bringing their unique skills to rapt audiences and singers eager to make these sounds themselves.
Midway through the current tour, Quirk spoke by phone from Tennessee, where, he said, locals find a very close kinship with this mountain music.
After hearing Tuvan throat singing pioneers Huun-Huur-Tu over a decade ago, Quirk, a Wisconsin native, traveled to Tuva on a Fulbright fellowship -- and stayed to marry and raise four children in a yurt, a traditional round tent dwelling.
Alash members, Quirk said, grew up "listening to all kinds of other music, as well as being rooted in traditional music since they were young."
That influence shows itself subtly, he said, spliced into the musical vocabulary of each of the performers. The drone of the Russian bayan accordion, for example, joins traditional Tuvan stringed, percussion and wind instruments that accompany the singing.
Alash's vocal agility impressed Russian leader Vladimir Putin when he visited Tuva.
"He said if he had not seen it with his own two eyes he would not have believed it was a human voice," Quirk said.
The group also tours in Europe and appeared at an International Mystic Music Festival in Turkey, where Tuva is seen as a land of origin. (Tuvans speak a language with ancient roots unaffected by Islam, as the modern Turkish language is.)
While most Tuvan throat singing involves secular folk songs, "a whole side of the music is considered to be a way of making an offering to a place and the spirits that inhabit it," he explained, and mimics nature sounds like wind and water. The ensemble's name, "Alash," is the name of a revered Tuvan river.
"It's a very rich and elaborate form of music once you get into it, very filling," he said.
Alash's collaborations include the Sun Ra Arkestra, and they performed on Béla Fleck's Grammy-winning jazz holiday album and subsequent tours. Over the years, they have played venues from music festivals to Carnegie Hall.
Past visits to Massachusetts involved epic snow storms and overzealous customs officials who burned traditional instruments made from horse hooves and sheep ankle bones, "leaving only an empty bull's scrotum," Quirk said.
In 2009, the group spent a week instructing Williams College professor Brad Wells' professional vocal ensemble "Roomful of Teeth."
"It's fascinating to discover different ways that the voice creates beauty," Wells said, "and how cultures around the world have evolved singing languages that they find meaningful."
For outsiders to drop into and swim in those waters is enriching, he added: "I am endlessly captivated by the range that this instrument of ours that we all share is capable of."
Teaching Tuvan throat singing to his Williams students was surprisingly successful, he said.
"It's easier for younger people to grab onto some different ways of singing than it is for older and more advanced singers."
The process involves manipulating vocal folds, air flow and the shape of the mouth and lips to create layers of sound and overtones, along with suboctave guttural sounds.
Wells has worked with diverse singers including Inuit, Georgian and Korean traditions, and said that different world cultures do some of the things that Tuvans do, but from their lowest form of throat singing to their highest overtones, there's no greater range of singing that he knows of.
"It's a crazy big range," he said. "It's mind blowing to hear them sing the way they do. It's gorgeous and otherworldly."
If you go ...
What: Alash Ensemble Tuvan Throat Singers, part of the Ernest Brown World Music Series
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Where: Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall, Williams College, Williamstown
Information: music.williams.edu (413) 597-3146.