Written by Daniel Latto in Latest News

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  • TED: Beardyman: The polyphonic me – Beardyman (2013)
December 29, 2013

I’d like you all to ask yourselves a question which you may never have asked yourselves before: What is possible with the human voice?

What is possible with the human voice?

(Beatboxing) ? Ooh baby ?

? baby ?

? baby ?

? baby ? (Baby crying)

? baby ? (Baby crying) ? baby ? (Cat meowing)

(Dog barking)


(Applause) (Boomerang noises)

It was coming straight for me. I had to. It was, yeah.

As you can probably well imagine, I was a strange child.


Because the thing is, I was constantly trying to extend my repertoire of noises to be the very maximum that it could be. I was constantly experimenting with these noises. And I’m still on that mission. I’m still trying to find every noise that I can possibly make. And the thing is, I’m a bit older and wiser now, and I know that there’s some noises I’ll never be able to make because I’m hemmed in by my physical body, and there’s things it can’t do. And there’s things that no one’s voice can do.

For example, no one can do two notes at the same time. You can do two-tone singing, which monks can do, which is like…

(Two-tone singing)

But that’s cheating. And it hurts your throat. So there’s things you can’t do, and these limitations on the human voice have always really annoyed me, because beatbox is the best way of getting musical ideas out of your head and into the world, but they’re sketches at best, which is what’s annoyed me. If only, if only there was a way for these ideas to come out unimpeded by the restrictions which my body gives it.

So I’ve been working with these guys, and we’ve made a machine. We’ve made a system which is basically a live production machine, a real-time music production machine, and it enables me to, using nothing but my voice, create music in real time as I hear it in my head unimpeded by any physical restrictions that my body might place on me. And I’m going to show you what it can do.

And before I start making noises with it, and using it to manipulate my voice, I want to reiterate that everything that you’re about to hear is being made by my voice. This system has — thank you, beautiful assistant — this system has no sounds in it itself until I start putting sounds in it, so there’s no prerecorded samples of any kind. So once this thing really gets going, and it really starts to mangle the audio I’m putting into it, it becomes not obvious that it is the human voice, but it is, so I’m going to take you through it bit by bit and start nice and simple.

So the polyphony problem: I’ve only got one voice. How do I get around the problem of really wanting to have as many different voices going on at the same time. The simplest way to do it is something like this.


By dancing. It’s like this.




So that’s probably the easiest way. But if you want to do something a little bit more immediate, something that you can’t achieve with live looping, there’s other ways to layer your voice up. There’s things like pitch-shifting, which are awesome, and I’m going to show you now what that sounds like.

So I’m going to start another beat for you, like this.

(Beatboxing) There’s always got to be a bit of a dance at the start, because it’s just fun, so you can clap along if you want. You don’t have to. It’s fine. Check it out. I’m going to lay down a bass sound now. (Music) And now, a rockabilly guitar.

Which is nice. But what if I want to make, say, a — (Applause) — Thanks. What if I want to make, say, a rock organ? Is that possible? Yes, it is, by recording myself like this.

(Organ sound)

And now I have that, I have that recorded. Assign it to a keyboard.


So that’s cool.


But what if I wanted to sound like the whole of Pink Floyd? Impossible, you say. No. It is possible, and you can do it very simply using this machine. It’s really fantastic. Check it out.


So every noise you can hear there is my voice. I didn’t just trigger something which sounds like that. There’s no samples. There’s no synthesizers. That is literally all my voice being manipulated, and when you get to that point, you have to ask, don’t you, what’s the point? Why do this? (Laughter) Because it’s cheaper than hiring the whole of Pink Floyd, I suppose, is the easy answer. But in actual fact, I haven’t made this machine so that I can emulate things that already exist. I’ve made this so that I can make any noise that I can imagine. So with your permission, I’m going to do some things that are in my mind, and I hope you enjoy them, because they’re rather unusual, especially when you’re doing things which are as unusual as this, it can be hard to believe that it is all my voice, you see.

(Voice effects)


Like this.

(Music) So, loosely defined, that is what’s possible with the human voice.

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.


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