Joseph Patton ƒ?TM07: Going to Extremes

By Nora Clancy

You hail from the South, but where’s your drawl?
J: I’m from Mississippi, which many people don’t believe because I don’t have much of an accent. My Mom and Dad are both from deep, deep South, in the Delta of all places. So they both have rich accents. I’m jealous of them. It’s something I’m gonna have to deal with for the rest of my life.
Do you have a passion?
J: I like to travel.
Where did you spend this summer?
J: This summer I was in the Western part of North Carolina, right below the Smokey Mountains. I was working as a whitewater raft-guide with Laura Kerr ‘07, Kramer Gillin ‘07, and Joe Rand ’07. It was located in a gorge, so we had a number of rivers around, [including] the Ocoee River. When the 1996 Summer Olympics was in Georgia, they did the whitewater kayaking on the Ocoee.

How was the experience?
J: We only got paid minimum wage, but it was still absolutely beautiful. It was a breath of fresh air to collect our thoughts.
What was it like to spend most of your entire summer in the water?
J: I was frightened by water. I was trying to get over my fear. It’s mostly the whitewater that scares me—the fact that the water is moving, like, really fast.

Did you worry about getting swept away?
J: The thing that people worry about is “foot entrapment.” People that don’t know what they are doing fall out into whitewater and try to stand up, right when they stand up normally their foot gets wedged into a rock and they can’t get up and the water just pushes them over. It’s kind of frightening. There’s so many fearless people working on the river, but for me I could never get over the fact that whitewater scared the hell out of me.
What is the draw if it is so dangerous?
J: It’s exciting. It’s like being on a rollercoaster, except it’s a natural rollercoaster. For me the whole package was great, but I think I can live without that whole “am I gonna die today” element.
What makes a good whitewater rafter or kayaker?
J: Part of it is fearlessness. I think I might have fearlessness in certain things. I can be put in any place; I can travel, and survive.
Have you always been this fearless?
J: It’s funny, because I recall in Middle School and High School, being so timid. When we’d order pizza or something like that, I would refuse to call. For me it was more intimidating to not see a person’s face and have to talk to them. Obviously at some point I dropped that.
Is “fearlessness” essential for travel?
J: That’s what’s so good about travel. It is almost easier to just throw yourself out there. If you’re gonna go out there, hell, everything might as well be different.
You’ve been in Mongolia for a semester, you’ve been whitewater rafting for the summer. What’s next, how do you top that?
J: I really got in to horse riding while I was in Mongolia. Kramer Gillin ’07 and I have been talking about flying to Mongolia together and buying horses, which would be like $100. Then we’ll split up and ride our own ways, then somehow meet up.
How likely is that plan?
J: It’s always very likely until I consider the debt.

You used to play the didgeridoo. How did you make the leap from learning Mongolian throat singing?
J: It just so happened that the didgeridoo sounds so much like a style of throat singing. It’s low and by doing similar things with your mouth, by placing your tongue to the roof your mouth and adjusting your lips and your mouth cavity you can produce these overtones, and that’s what’s so cool about it, that you are able to produce these two notes.

How did you learn to throat sing?
J: My brother Sam went to Oberlin, where he learned throat singing. He came back and sang it for me, and I was so amazed. I demanded, “teach me, teach me!” He did, and everything just rolled into place. I get here and lo and behold, there’s Jack [Weatherford].

Almost from the first day I got here as a freshman, Jack immediately latched on to me, and I became his show and tell!
Tell us about your technique.

J: When I think about it I to visualize ripping up [my] throat, because you’re putting so much extreme pressure on your vocal chords. You are constricting your throat and squeezing like you are lifting something really heavy and bracing yourself. You do all of that and focus all of that squeezing on your throat. There are certain vocal chords called “false” vocal chords that normally don’t do much for humans. They are some how activated by so much extreme pressure. By pushing and pushing they start moving ever so slowly. The idea is that because they move so slowly, that’s why the pitch is so low. It’s an octave or two below normal.

Did you take throat singing lessons in Mongolia?
J: I had a teacher when I was in Mongolia. I spent a lot of intensive hours with him learning not only the history, but also the other styles of throat singing. I would just let out a noise, and try to impersonate him, and then he would say something to the translator. The translator would look to me and say, “he said do it again.” Over and over, and I’m just making these God-awful voices. He said, “you know you are doing something right if it hurts and you’re coughing.” After taking lessons I really started to understand how serious it is. At the last lesson he explained to me that he had taught me everything he could teach me.

How do you practice? Do you have throat singing scales?
J: No. You just…let it out.