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TED2013

Beardyman: The polyphonic me

February 26, 2013

Frustrated by not being able to sing two notes at the same time, musical inventor Beardyman built a machine to allow him to create loops and layers from just the sounds he makes with his voice. Given that he can effortlessly conjure the sound of everything from crying babies to buzzing flies, not to mention mimic pretty much any musical instrument imaginable, that's a lot of different sounds. Sit back and let the wall of sound of this dazzling performance wash over you.

Beardyman - Beatboxer and inventor
Beardyman, “ruler of beats and destroyer of dance floors,” has developed a real-time music-production system that places live looping at the center of a new musical paradigm. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I'd like you all
00:13
to ask yourselves a question
00:14
which you may never have asked yourselves before:
00:17
What is possible with the human voice?
00:21
What is possible with the human voice?
00:25
(Beatboxing)
00:33
♪ Ooh baby ♪
00:57
♪ baby ♪
01:00
♪ baby ♪
01:03
♪ baby ♪ (Baby crying)
01:05
♪ baby ♪ (Baby crying)
01:07
♪ baby ♪ (Cat meowing)
01:10
(Dog barking)
01:15
Yeah.
01:22
(Applause)
01:23
(Boomerang noises)
01:31
It was coming straight for me. I had to. It was, yeah.
01:39
As you can probably well imagine,
01:43
I was a strange child.
01:46
(Laughter)
01:48
Because the thing is, I was constantly trying
01:55
to extend my repertoire of noises to be
01:58
the very maximum that it could be.
02:02
I was constantly experimenting with these noises.
02:04
And I'm still on that mission.
02:07
I'm still trying to find every noise
02:09
that I can possibly make.
02:10
And the thing is, I'm a bit older and wiser now,
02:13
and I know that there's some noises
02:15
I'll never be able to make because I'm hemmed in
02:17
by my physical body, and there's things it can't do.
02:19
And there's things that no one's voice can do.
02:22
For example, no one can do two notes at the same time.
02:24
You can do two-tone singing,
02:28
which monks can do, which is like...
02:30
(Two-tone singing)
02:33
But that's cheating.
02:43
And it hurts your throat.
02:46
So there's things you can't do, and these limitations
02:48
on the human voice have always really annoyed me,
02:51
because beatbox is the best way of getting
02:54
musical ideas out of your head and into the world,
02:57
but they're sketches at best,
03:01
which is what's annoyed me.
03:03
If only, if only there was a way
03:05
for these ideas to come out unimpeded
03:07
by the restrictions which my body gives it.
03:10
So I've been working with these guys,
03:14
and we've made a machine.
03:17
We've made a system which is basically
03:21
a live production machine,
03:23
a real-time music production machine,
03:26
and it enables me to, using nothing but my voice,
03:30
create music in real time as I hear it in my head
03:34
unimpeded by any physical restrictions
03:38
that my body might place on me.
03:41
And I'm going to show you what it can do.
03:43
And before I start making noises with it,
03:47
and using it to manipulate my voice,
03:51
I want to reiterate that everything that you're about to hear
03:53
is being made by my voice.
03:56
This system has --
04:00
thank you, beautiful assistant --
04:03
this system has no sounds in it itself
04:05
until I start putting sounds in it,
04:10
so there's no prerecorded samples of any kind.
04:12
So once this thing really gets going,
04:16
and it really starts to mangle the audio I'm putting into it,
04:18
it becomes not obvious that it is the human voice,
04:20
but it is, so I'm going to take you through it bit by bit
04:24
and start nice and simple.
04:27
So the polyphony problem: I've only got one voice.
04:28
How do I get around the problem
04:31
of really wanting to have as many different voices
04:33
going on at the same time.
04:35
The simplest way to do it is something like this.
04:37
(Beatboxing)
04:38
By dancing. It's like this.
04:45
(Music)
04:47
Thanks.
05:19
(Applause)
05:20
So that's probably the easiest way.
05:22
But if you want to do something a little bit more immediate,
05:26
something that you can't achieve with live looping,
05:29
there's other ways to layer your voice up.
05:31
There's things like pitch-shifting,
05:32
which are awesome,
05:35
and I'm going to show you now what that sounds like.
05:36
So I'm going to start another beat for you, like this.
05:38
(Beatboxing)
05:41
There's always got to be a bit of a dance at the start,
05:48
because it's just fun, so
05:50
you can clap along if you want.
05:52
You don't have to. It's fine. Check it out.
05:54
I'm going to lay down a bass sound now.
05:57
(Music)
06:01
And now, a rockabilly guitar.
06:11
Which is nice. But what if I want to make, say, a -- (Applause) --
06:26
Thanks. What if I want to make, say, a rock organ?
06:30
Is that possible? Yes, it is,
06:33
by recording myself like this.
06:36
(Organ sound)
06:38
And now I have that, I have that recorded.
06:41
Assign it to a keyboard.
06:46
(Music)
06:47
So that's cool.
06:51
(Applause)
06:53
But what if I wanted to sound like the whole of Pink Floyd?
06:55
Impossible, you say. No.
07:01
It is possible, and you can do it very simply
07:03
using this machine. It's really fantastic. Check it out.
07:06
(Music)
07:10
So every noise you can hear there is my voice.
07:44
I didn't just trigger something which sounds like that.
07:47
There's no samples. There's no synthesizers.
07:51
That is literally all my voice being manipulated,
07:53
and when you get to that point, you have to ask, don't you,
07:57
what's the point?
08:00
Why do this? (Laughter)
08:02
Because it's cheaper than hiring the whole of Pink Floyd,
08:06
I suppose, is the easy answer.
08:09
But in actual fact, I haven't made this machine
08:10
so that I can emulate things that already exist.
08:14
I've made this so that I can make
08:17
any noise that I can imagine.
08:20
So with your permission, I'm going to do
08:21
some things that are in my mind,
08:24
and I hope you enjoy them,
08:26
because they're rather unusual,
08:28
especially when you're doing things which are
08:30
as unusual as this, it can be hard to believe
08:33
that it is all my voice, you see.
08:36
(Voice effects)
08:38
(Music)
08:51
Like this.
09:13
(Music)
09:15
So, loosely defined,
10:46
that is what's possible with the human voice.
10:50
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.
10:54
(Applause)
10:56

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Beardyman - Beatboxer and inventor
Beardyman, “ruler of beats and destroyer of dance floors,” has developed a real-time music-production system that places live looping at the center of a new musical paradigm.

Why you should listen

Beardyman, AKA Darren Foreman, was studying product design at Brighton University in the UK when he started beatboxing. After winning two consecutive UK Beatbox Championships, he turned to live looping (recording and playing back audio samples in real time) as a way to layer his vocal ablutions into dance-floor-rocking hour-long sets. He released his debut album in 2011 and has been rocking stages all over the world ever since.

Working with DMGAudio, Beardyman built what he calls the "Beardytron_5000 mkII," a real-time music-production system that could be the solution to the problem of how to smash a dance floor using only your voice -- and how to compose and produce complex and highly nuanced electronic dance music in real time. “There was nothing available that does what I need, so I was forced to make it myself," he says.

The original video is available on TED.com
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