Archive for the ‘Beatbox’ Category

Mouth noises as art

January 30, 2008


I have a pretty low tolerance for most of what passes for performance art. I think David Blaine is a self-serving, self-promoting charlatan, for instance. His so-called career can’t fade fast enough for me.

So when I got an email that beatbox artist Adam Matta was doing a performance at the new New Museum in Manhattan last Friday, I was thisclose to hitting DELETE before curiosity got the better of me. Okay, so it sounded moderately interesting, especially when I saw the YouTube link. For me, YouTube has become the “show me what you got, kid” source for cutting through all the hype and seeing what someone can really do. In Adam Matta’s case, the answer is a lot.

So what is beatbox? Here’s how that impeccable source of information Wikipedia describes it: “Beatboxing is a form of vocal percussion connected with hip hop culture [it has been called the “fifth element” of hip hop] although it is not limited to hip hop music… It is primarily concerned with the art of producing drum beats, rhythm, and musical sounds using one’s mouth, lips, tongue, voice, and more. It may also involve singing, vocal imitation of turntablism, the simulation of horns, strings, and other musical instruments.” Here’s what it sounds like, as practiced by Mr. Matta [keep in mind that he is making all the sounds you hear on this clip with his mouth—I particularly like the “turntable” stuff toward the end]:

In some ways, it feels to me like a more focused, more urban version of what Bobby McFerrin does. In fact, Matta has performed with Bobby’s son Taylor McFerrin, a hip-hop producer and performer building on his father’s tradition of one-man showmanship.

Matta is a visual artist too; he has studied and exhibited in Italy and New York. His media include painting, drawing and, not surprisingly, a performance-based medium he calls “bicycle drawing.” With paint on his mountain bike tires, he does bike tricks on canvas mounted on board. You can find out more about this part of his career as well as his music at his website.

The YouTube video below illustrates his art background. In addition to his voice, he uses a homemade instrument, an homage to one of Dada artist Marcel Duchamp’s Readymades, Bicycle Wheel, now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Matta’s version utilizes a tape head and recording tape stretched around the wheel rim, allowing him to play samples with it.

And finally, a clip of Adam Matta and fellow performer Kimba. Kimba, a parrot, adds only a little to the vocals, but her rhythm is impeccable.