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Thomas J. West Music

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Beardyman And The Ultimate Music Looping Machine


I always enjoy catching a random TED Talk as they fly by my newsfeed. I have covered several of them on my blog in the past, most notably those by Ken Robinson on creativity and the education system.


Today, a new TED Talk delivered by a beatboxer known as Beardyman crossed my path. If you follow any musical artists that are not mainstream, you have probably seen and heard looping artists such as Kimbra and Julia Easterlin by now. They use a looping station and an iPad, Ableton, or similar technology to record short loops of their voices, layering them into a beat, bass line, pad, background vocals, and finally singing the words to the lead on top of it all. POSTYR Project from Denmark accomplishes similar effects with a 5-voice vocal group. These artists are creating amazing pieces of music live on the spot. It's part improvisation, part composition, part performance art.


Up until now, the nature of looping technology has made it such that the music created is extremely repetitive. Performers can turn on and off layers of sound and add effects to the loops to change their quality over time, but the music remains fairly simple in form, sharing much with the exploding genre of club/electronica music invading the laptops and tablets of America's youth, Beardyman, however, has taken live looping to the next level. His live performance rig, amusingly dubbed the Beardytron, combines looping gear and tablet controls with full 88-key midi controllers, making it not only possible for him to record and alter his voice in unpredictable ways, but also use his vocal sounds as a sound patch to perform any harmony imaginable on the keyboard.


Gone are the limitations of looping with this new approach. Beardyman, in a very practiced and impressive fashion, seemlessly multi-tasks behind the controls as he records sounds into a headset mic while patching them in and performing sounds on the keyboard. The result is music that is part club mix, part ambient new age music, and definitely interesting. Here is Beardyman's TED Talk. Be sure to stick around for the last 3 minutes when he gets into the ambient sound demonstration.
What Beardyman has done is basically set musical creativity into overdrive. It is now possible to take musical ideas straight from the mind and perform them in real time with only the limitations of the technology and the human's ability to process and execute the ideas holding them back. Beardyman is to live music composition what John Coltrane is to live jazz improvisation - reaching the limits of what the human brain is capable of in real time performance.


In browsing Beardyman's website, his live show centers around the theme of "1 Album Per Hour" where he takes suggestions from the audience on topics and then creates original songs on the spot, including his own improvised rhymes. (Warning: much of his content is NSFW). He has an assitant off stage who is scouring the internet for images to throw up on a projector behind him, mixing the images with live feeds from several cameras. This is truly 21st century performance art in action.


Performers such as these are pushing the boundaries of what we think of as music. It gives me pause to think about ways that we could possibly combine the best of the organic ensemble music-making of our heritage in choir, orchestra, and band performance with the digital capabilities of today's technology. I think that Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir is the closest thing we have so far to a blending of the very emotional and interpersonal qualities of a vocal choir and the capabilities of modern technology.


There is so much depth and nuance to our traditional forms of music-making. Wind bands, orchestras, and choirs have a firm place in our educational system, and for good reason - those forms of expression lend themselves to music as a field of study intellectually. There is much to be gained by incorporating modern technology into this mix. After all, at one point in our history, the clarinet was a new invention. Being able to manipulate the organic sounds of a music ensemble with live looping technology, or producing an album of music composed with these capabilities in mind. Is this on anyone's radar?



This article (c) 2013 Thomas J. West. All content on ThomasJWestMusic dot com is licensed under a Creative Contributions Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. Please contact the author before publishing on or off-line.

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Posted by ★ Owner on August 3, 2013 at 9:05 AM 1317 Views

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