Отклонения, лирически и прозаически
Research
Reinventing Music-Making:
Beardyman or What You Get When You Add Computer Technology to Voice

The introduction in the late 1960s of a more sturdily built turntable, later to become known as the DJ-ing turntable, was the key to unlocking music-making freedom. The ability to easily manipulate the record and the stylus, further enhanced by the deployment of a mixer, opened the door for a new type of music artist, the DJ-turntablist [1] who utilized various record-playing techniques such as "cutting-up" and "scratching" of a song or two songs simultaneously, originating the so called ‘live’ remix. Thus, turntable manipulation techniques enabled social groups previously excluded from the music-making ‘elite’ to produce music.

The postmodern aim of subverting authoritative eligibility mechanisms applied to music was achieved – the DJ "could selectively take any sound and leave behind the posing rock star hero attitudes provided by corporate rock, toss aside the leads [and] re-edit other people’s texts and call them their own."[2] Together with the new music makers and their new sound, new audiences emerged, attracted by the diversity and freedom promise contained in this remixed music. The act of listening to music was no longer an elitist experience only available to those who could afford to go to a concert or order musicians at their restaurant table or at their homes.

The late 1970s saw the invention of sound making and processing equipment such as drum machines, synthesizers and samplers, which allowed for the new artist’s ultimate riddance of dependance on expensive musical instruments (and musicians) in order to produce sophisticated music. The machines had begun replacing the humans, and new genres of music were born and developed, allowing for an ever greater freedom of choice of music styles.

The digital era’s quintessence, the personal computer, brought the music-recording studio to one’s home. The music artist of the 1990s and early 2000s had attained a freedom never before imagined – the liberty to create unimpeded, at any time they liked or felt inspired, at little or no cost, completely independent of studio-owners or producers. This also made it possible for numerous artists to realise themselves – an accomplishment that would be impossible just a couple of decades earlier by reasons of financial capacity or (subjective) industry control mechanisms.

Powerful computer technology also gave rise to a new phenomenon in the sphere of digitalized music making, beatboxing combined with live looping technology. While "beatboxing" has enjoyed great popularity for a couple of decades now, its modern-day version, originating in early hip-hop times, the 1980s, the vocal imitation of musical instruments enhanced by digital tools employed live, is relatively new. Using one's mouth, lips, tongue and voice, the beatboxer can produce drum beats, rhythms and sounds, traditionally created by the brass, the wind, the string sections, the piano, drums etc. Manipulating these sounds with looping technology, comprising MIDI controllers, samplers and effects processors, the artist is capable of producing an uninterrupted music session of a multitude of instruments and voices, in real time, live.

Probably the most renowned live looping digital beatboxer is Beardyman, a musician from London, whose live performances have entertained thousands and video recordings of his acts have attracted tens of millions of viewers on the internet, particularly on YouTube.[3]

Beardyman is capable of imitating virtually any musical instrument and of reproducing a huge number of vocal performances by music scene stars of the past and present. To further the parodic re-representation, traditionally associated to postmodern interpretation, Beardyman not only remixes songs and tunes, creating his music, but he also employs visual remix techniques, e.g. appears on stage dressed as Elvis, as an Austrian climate change lecturer, a monkey, a DJ, a rapper, a scatman singer and so on and so forth. In his "Kitchen Diaries" video, Beardyman appeared as a beatboxing cook who created a music recipe by using various kitchen utensils [4].

Beardyman's ironic approach to musical styles and related fashion and appearance is best illustrated in his video Dolbyman. In the video, besides offering a laconic vocal depiction of most musical styles that emerged throughout the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, the artist also employs video montage technique to superimpose multiple video clippings of himself dressed according to each music style's fashion trend. We see him as a Kiss member, as a DJ turntablist, a 1980s hip-hop singer, a 1990s gangsta rapper, a dancing blond "cutie", an elderly neighbour complaining about the noise, 1940s scatman singer, a jazz band, a 1970s disco star, a 1980s new wave music artist etc.[5] Thus, in the Dolbyman video alone, we are offered a multifaceted portrayal of the trends thriving among a couple of generations, in a colourful pastiche.

Augmented by digital tools, the beatboxer’s voice talent employed live creates a listening experience of a new type that may be compared to the use of computer generated characters/actors in recent film productions, cf. the animated versions of actors/actresses Anthony Hopkins, Robin Wright Penn, John Malkovich, Angelina Jolie and others in the 2007 film remix of the Anglo-Saxon English epic poem Beowulf, directed by Robert Zemeckis [5]. While listening to Beardyman’s performances, one would often find it very hard to distinguish the vocal imitation of, for instance, the flute or the guitar, from the authentic sound produced by those instruments.

While of course not offering a substitute for traditional music making, just as computer generated actors do not replace human beings, digital beatboxing creates a niche of its own, a new musical style if you wish, that remixes many styles into a fresh listening experience. And this stands for freedom of expression, for subverting traditional concepts, for creating new boundaries, for recreating life itself through a new way of experiencing its pulse – music.

© 2 August 2010, Stefan Stefanov


REFERENCES & SOURCES

1. Term coined in 1995 by DJ Babu to describe the difference between a DJ who just plays records, and one who performs by touching and moving the records, stylus and mixer to manipulate sound.

2. Postmodernist Music: The Culture of "Cool" Vs. Commodity (Shop as Usual... and Avoid Panic Buying) by A.S. Van Dorston, http://www.fastnbulbous.com/postmodernist.htm

3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beardyman

4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7GGkKpBR-g

5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpKuVPykj0A

6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beowulf_(2007_film)