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Toward a Beatboxology

by Charlie Kew, forward by TyTe


Charlie Kew is keen to see beatboxing become a commonplace musical culture in Western societies. Not only has he completed this degree dissertation but he will also be looking to continue beatboxology as part of his PhD studies.

Charlies work stems largely from contemporary voice composition. A couple of years ago he got interested in beatboxing and since then he has been experimenting with ways to combine these two worlds. His studies began with voice notation but he had to compromise the approach in order to fit it into his degree curriculum. Now my university projects have finished he will be applying his research and experiments back into creating a voice notation system. It will be representing the physical dimensions of voice and hopefully 'all' the sonic possibilities in one format. So far he's been practicing these ideas on paper, but have been looking towards creating animated software.

His work to date is online at

You might find interesting as this was an early investigation into beatbox notation.

Toward a Beatboxology; Do The Beatbox, A new and developing art form.

“Beatboxing for the past like 20 years has been a baby and it's still, I think, only a toddler. Now its walking”. Reepsone-2009

Music Undergraduate Dissertation for Goldsmiths University.

Charlie Kew.

[email protected]

Beatboxing has been developing rapidly. What is commonly known as hip hop vocal percussion, appears to have become too expansive for such ambiguous terms. The contradicting elements will be highlighted, the techniques and musical developments of beatboxing too will be considered. This is an exercise in taking beatbox seriously, and while not the first, it is a first for an academic review of beatbox as its own subject. While this is formerly a musicological research, it is my aim to express the potential for ethno(musico)logical, linguistic and anthropological research. The foremost question to be explored in this essay is; what is beatbox? What culmination of themes does it entail? This may seem like a small question at first, perhaps even one we already have an answer for. However this will be argued as a large misconception. Instead it will be put forward that we know comparatively very little about beatbox, that its impact has been huge and has therefore been steadily settling into our acceptance. Fortunately the evidential material to support this claim is extremely available, well archived, and often of high quality, most of which is available on Youtube.

To understand the development of beatbox it will be referred to in two periods; the 'Old School' that ends with the emergence of battles and the dissemination of beatbox material on the internet, and the current 'New School' which ignites an increased attention to technical abilities. However much I wish it could be, this is not a pedagogy of beatbox technique, nor a sound by sound representation of beatbox's musical evolution. This would take huge and delicate research, what I have deduced is a summary explored throughout the discussion of the Old School and in full detail in the Technical Beatbox section. It should be noted however that while beatbox is a skill, not all beatboxers show an interest in making it advanced. It is therefore an aesthetic also and what will be revealed is not just the advanced and spectacular, but the very immediate, spontaneous and beautiful sides of beatbox.

Historical Precedence

Vocalists of all styles will use their voice making muscles to varying degrees, beatboxers included. However the non- beatbox styles use some of the vocal tract, not all, and mostly have an extensive history of practice . As it may not necessarily come instantly, we will begin by establishing beatbox in a broad picture of human vocal arts. Many are inclined to suggest beatbox has a 'prehistory' extending way beyond the 80's and America. A lineage is drawn from Indian 'bols' and African vocal traditions, based on their association to the term 'vocal percussion'. These are cultures with heavily based oral traditions, Africa also implies multiple musical cultures. In India a Bol is a syllable, pronounced to aid and facilitate the learning of the tabla by embodiment of the drums' sonic characteristics. It includes both vowels and consonants and it often reaches quite remarkable speeds, much like beatbox. Troubadours too are said to be of significance in the build up to beatbox, but it was beyond me to find more commonalities than the travelling lifestyles and issues over authenticity. What we can deduce is the need for beatbox to be examined in a larger context and a reminder, that it has not just 'popped up- out of the blue'. Closer to the dawn of the word beatbox, there was the barbershop quartet. A popular American vocal practice that went through revival in the early 20th century, it could be argued to share some broad, visual aesthetic similarities. The attention to gesture, facial expression and theatrical movements may be similar and at a stretch, the musical attentiveness to the use of lyrics and vocal styles could be in this family tree. But what relationships can we draw between sounds, or cultural movements?

During the 1950's and 60's a popular vocal movement in Black American culture was doo-wop. Toop explains how it had particular influences in 'The Force MD's' rap group in combination with rapping and break dancing, and amongst the streets and youth before hip hop. My impression is that beatbox was not the first of youth based street vocal experimentation, nor was it the first in music. For just outside of doo-wop, is Jazz, and in the mid 20th century Scat was emerging as a form of improvised vocal expression which received a considerable amount of participation and investment from singers in Jazz and beyond. When scatting, vowels are used as shapes that accompany the musical style, of course consonants too make an appearance, but are less dominant because of scats relationship to pitch and harmony. The vowel is of importance to beatbox as it is to all voice sounds, without due consideration the sound will lack a definitive paradigm of shape and expression. An analyses of trajectories in style through these examples does not exist, so for now cannot be more deeply examined. But for one last broad comparison let us consider singing. Classical singing is seen as the most restricted form, where strength comes entirely from the vocal folds and artists work to smooth out any nuances caused by other parts of the vocal tract. If we were to see beatbox as a singing style, would it be the most unrestricted one?

Early Old School

The beginning of the term beatbox research is almost inseparable from hip hops four elements, some feel inclined to call beatboxing the fifth. Tyte and White Noise explain that the 'beat box' (not beatbox), an electronic drum machine, inspired “The Art of Human Vocal Percussion”. When expressed as “Human Beatbox”, it neatly summarizes the styles we see in 80's hiphop culture. If we listen to the Eli Compu Rhythm CR7030 it becomes even clearer that the work of early beatboxers was inspired by certain cultural influences. We may not know a lot of how early developments were unfolding off the records, due to the traditionally hip hop underground nature of beatbox. But by following key developments in technological music production we may be able to infer a general relationship to beatboxings quickly progressing techniques.

1986 'Big Fun in the Big Town' is one of the earliest (available) filmed documents presenting a number of people doing the beatbox in various contexts. The majority of them are supporting rappers, which appears to be a symbiotic relationship such as instrument and singer might, supporting and therefore raising demand for one another. Some are simply entertaining themselves and those around them just as the b-boys and graffiti artists and it seems to be of interest to a generally younger generation. Rap began with the MC, the voice that arose from a mixed influence of club DJ's making announcements and the soft tone of radio DJ's talking on records. In FREESTYLE we also see a number of beatboxers on the street, in the company of the rappers taking the documentaries focus. Eluard Burt II compares rap to preaching and explains; “if it gets good a preachers no longer speaking, he's just making sounds”. He also mentions the unity of the 'cypher' form, when rappers gather in a circle around the sounds. This happens frequently in beatbox communities and too the nature of freestyle is prominent throughout. So it would appear that beatbox has more than just a functional relationship to rap.

The characteristics of DJing too has had influence on beatbox. Hip hop turntable techniques began with extending the more favoured passages of records and has since embodied a complex technical vocabulary. Being able to play different music in flow is quite a crucial concept for beatbox, not one that takes hold immediately. We see many beatboxers use the concept of quickly changing beats and scratch sounds accompanied by gestures. There is a larger concept at play here, evident with the introduction of terms like Human Orchestra in the 90's. The idea that a person can sound like something else is somewhat unbound, but from what we have examined we see an inclination toward electronic instruments. This clearly expands and we see the same 'gesture' accompanied imitations with acoustic instruments in New School Beatbox.

Few of the early human beatbox's commit themselves to “do[ing] the beatbox” as out rightly as the young Doug. E. Fresh. While many have been supporting the rhythm for rappers, on stage in the case of Biz Markie, Fresh enthusiastically demonstrates his unique style solo and uses the term 'gift' to describe his performance. While expressing the struggles of his own performances, hip-hop innovator GrandMaster Flash uses a relatively contradicting term; “We were forced to add gimmicks. Like the beatbox”. It would appear that a mixed opinion on the value and role of beatbox had existed from the beginning. Musically speaking most of what we hear early on is the bass drum and snare, summarized by Big Buff Love's style in collaboration with the Fat Boys. He essentially has two techniques, the in- out accentuated breathing for a pitched ostinato, as well as the over accentuated bilabial plosive which he uses in combination with ‘S’ tongue and ‘F’ lip fricatives and lip oscillations, to create enough variation for engaging beats. Doug. E. Fresh has sharp retroflex clicks which make for a distinctive style compared to Buff Love’s, using the diaphragm far less and the facial muscles more. While the retroflex click can be difficult to master there are simpler sounds to be made with other areas of the tongue. Biz Markie uses the tip of the tongue against the basin of the mouth, to create a familiar and approachable popping sound. While there are a few others known to beatbox at this time there is little more happening in the way of style or technique, right now we are simply dealing with an idea.

Commercial Old School

Live performances aside, from the mid 80's the sound of beatboxing was commercially available. In 1984 both Doug.E.Fresh in The Treacherous Three clicking all over 'Xmas Rap', and Fat Boy Buffy's percussive contribution to 'Stick Em', mark the beginning of a trend of beatbox features in records, lasting the pursuing decade. They all portray common traits; such as little a cappella, often there's a simultaneous or mixed combination of voice and electronic production. Also there's the tendency to celebrate the human beatbox, particularly in early tracks, to the point it becomes a main theme in the music. There is little evidence to suggest people were signing deals with beatboxers as it could be said a further ten years on for Bjorks album 'Medulla', but rather groups that decide to incorporate the human beatbox idea.

Will Smith and his performances in 'The Fresh Prince of Bel Air' mark the first of large steps into popular media, reaching an audience way beyond the beatbox foundations. When talent shows emerge as a popular television formats in the late 1990's so do opportunities for those outside of hip-hop and media to share their beatboxing to a larger demographic. Internet sensation French Pepool covers popular songs on Nouvelle Star and Joel Turner gives a varied demonstration on American Idol. Although the idea reaches a wider audience, even through till the 00's its impact is weaker than when it landed in hip hop, with reactions being less hyped and a little more intrigued, if not bemused. Let us not forget however that even in hip hop this is a new thing, over a decade away from being analytically scrutinised.

The 'Man of 10,000 Sounds' Micheal Winslow was a popular figure in 80's 'Police Academy' films (and later series 1997). Winslow confesses to simply making sounds from an early age, imitating his sonic environment as a part of his daily routine. As an adult this passion has lead to a wide and detailed knowledge of sounds, comic and inspiring, including hip hop beats. Another notable voice of this time was Bobby McFerrin, a musician with dynamic interests and skills who also inspires young beatboxers of the coming New School. His style may be more accurately described as scat and he uses body percussion more so than vocal, but is equally fascinated by the palate of the human voice. Neither McFerrin nor Winslow claim to be beatboxers, but their appreciation and devotion to the personalities of their vocal chords made them big inspirations. They are the first of examples to be mentioned, that will express the complexity of establishing definitive perimeters on beatbox.

Performers going by the title of beatbox in the mid to late 90's had made an impact on the mainstream world, if only in small doses. Those who were not witnessing beatbox in a film or on television were most likely hearing the work of Rahzel or Kenny X. Unlike predecessors of the beatbox lime light these musicians made many solo performances in addition to their records, strictly solo in the sense that often they would present their skills unaccompanied by rappers or soundtracks. Kenny collaborated widely, giving him a variety of musical inspirations. Rahzel's work equally reflects an increase in both artistic treatment of the music and technique and of beatboxing as a musical concept. Rahzel released a hidden solo vocal track on the album 'make the music 2000'. He famously achieved 'the tricky part, the beat and the chorus at the same time' and performed the routine countless times across the globe. The skill is straight forward to interpret when considered linguistically, Rahzel has worked his beatbox sounds around a lyrical phrase, without diminishing the authentic pronunciation of the individual lines. It certainly left people stunned to be hearing two simultaneous lines of music and it is not something that can be done on the fly. Kid Lucky presents us with a slightly alternative demonstration, his is a freestyle where the focus is not the deceiving layering of sounds but the improvising of rap and beats combined. Perhaps owed to the expansion of influences in genre beatbox was no longer just an idea but a skill, so we shall examine the last major technical leaps of the Old School.

There are two ways to create multiple layers in beatboxing. It is one of the first questions a beginner beatboxer may be asking and is often one of the introductory subjects of educative forums and tutorials. Truly separate simultaneous vocal sounds happen when air is directed through the nasal airways, while the mouth creates pressure with the cheeks.. It requires a certain stillness in the vocal tract and makes percussive projection more challenging. ReepsOne's 4 Levels routine demonstrates the alternative (in combination with former, as most complex beatbox becomes), that is the effective choice of patterns which create an illusion of layers. McFerrin actually describes this technique in interview “if I gave them [the audience] enough of the melody, and left the melody to sing the bass line or the percussive line or something harmonicly... in their own imagination they'd sing it, they'd fill in the blanks.” This idea in beatboxing drummed up a certain mystery element that was popular in the 90's; the ability to reduce audiences to question whether they are hearing one voice, or whether some kind of electronic or recorded assistance is being utilised. Performers are lead to introduce themselves with disclaimers such as “everything your hearing in this beat, is all from my mouth”, to assure their bewildered audiences.

A Growl is an engagement of the vocal cords and an oscillation of the arytenoid cartilages. This technique was first brought to light in Jazz by singers such as Louis Armstrong, LaVern Baker and James Brown. As well as Jazz this harsh voice technique also shares connections to rock and metal vocal styles. In this video we hear a metal vocalist Mike Pattons' rendition of avant-garde composer John Zorn's 'Litany for Heliogabalus IV'. It contains passages of growling and passages that resemble vocal percussion. In beatbox the technique begins at a level one might describe as distortion, we can hear in Kenny Muhammads 'Kraftwerk Numbers' cover an unvocalised growl under the numbers in the intro, and often it will be used to add a bass resonance to percussion.

We hear JockBox in 1986 combine a prominent K consonant with a ‘CH’ fricative to give it a dense resonance. The Inward K is a highly revered sound and it is made anywhere between the top and side of the tongue, pulling against the inside top teeth to the roof of the mouth. When sustained it sounds a short fricative, it can be aspirated or un-aspirated and ranges from a sharp high click to a deep rim shot sound. Injective sounds are found in many singing styles, but rarely as often as in beatboxing. While rests do appear in beatboxing and can be used for regaining breath, it is heavily essential that sounds can be made continuously for an extended period of time. A beatboxer will be poorly equipped without a set of inward sounds.

Kenny established the Wind Technique, which is often associated to his Kraftwerk routine. I feel inclined to discuss this as a concept, rather than a technique, because it highlights the issue of the sound of breath. Instead of avoiding the microphone while breathing, or training all your sounds to disguise the breath, one can also use soft fricatives to accentuate breath into a musical device. Breathing itself is an important part of singing and certainly is to beatboxing, yet in what detail may require wider research into the physiological requisites. What is clear in the Wind Technique routine and in Kenny's style in general, is that there is no hiding the breath, instead there is a heavy artistic application of it.

There is no evidence that the technical elements of beatboxing emerging in various ways throughout the 80's and early 90's were topics of discussion. While the increase in technique was necessary to stimulate attention it appears to be accepted as a biological predisposition rather than a skill set to acquire. The fruition of more technique is inseparable from the increase in sonic repertoire, and the expansion of electronic instruments. Schloss outlines how sampling began with records created from other records, and leads to the advent of digital samplers. “Sampling allows the musician to record sounds from other instruments, nature, or even non- musical sources”. Errico states that early samplers such as Akai MPC and E-Mu SP-1200 were used to create instrumental beats and marked the 'golden era of hip hop', a time where the relationship of rapper and beat-maker was strong. It is possible concepts like sampling may have helped open the palate for beatboxers in the ways it has opened the palate for hip hop music production.

Early New School and Beatbox Battles

Isolated and without a cultural context, many of the early New School beatboxers faced challenging conditions for what they were doing. Aside from some of the older hip hop activists, the impression made by interviews and forums is that the majority of practising beatboxers in the 90's would have been children, hooked on an idea from a film or a short clip watched using dial up internet. There was not a self aware audience to perform to only the friends and family interested enough to listen, this all changed in the new millennium. Gavin Tyte et al founded in 2001, streamlining the connectivity of a “World Beatbox Community”. They also created Standard Beatbox Notation “A simple, easy-to-learn, and consistent method of representing both human beatbox sounds and rhythms using ordinary characters on a standard English (US/UK) computer keyboard.” So a practically invisible beatbox community could now share techniques and encouragement with freedom and ease.

Tyte explains that “beatboxers were held back by people's perceptions of them as novelty value circus acts”. In the U.K the world touring national champion Faith SFX became a prominent figure in Grime for his unique voice. Self acclaimed “Multivocalism” artist Kila Kela had released a multitracked vocal album as early as 2002 and Shockwave from Massachusetts was combining beatbox ideas into theatre, comedy and freestyle. Together and yet so far apart, they paved a direction for new perspectives on originality, permitting the study of any technique for any style. Considering the importance of authenticity in hip hop culture, it may be easier to appreciate why the transition from Old School was not overwhelmingly popular with the world wide audience. The individuals here were cradling the beatbox candle in much bigger winds and the flame was flickering. It was considered a passed event, another throwback of a commercially disseminated interpretation, of a recent yet distant world. The beatboxers mentioned (in this paragraph, Joel Turner and Pepool included) and the unaccountable others like them, fit into the early New School because they are not from the hip hop hot zone. They were not deterred by the odds to keep the beatbox spirit alive.

“In the early days of hip hop in the U.S, keepin it real to the street meant doing 'dance music'.” This aesthetic may be one of the most primary and definitive attributes of how we currently understand beatbox music in the New School. In its present form it is best described by the umbrella term EDM- electronic dance music. The EDM movement has the electronic rock group Kraftwerk at its origins, with qualities of musical futurism and a re-imagined relationship between technology and music.  Again we see the 'beat box' is an important character, “It's hard to imagine electronic dance music without Roland drum machines”, notably the TR-808, the sounds of which have often been imitated and reconditioned for availability in sample libraries.

This is where we can make a deeper insight into what imitating a drum machine might mean. From the 90's the power of commercial computers were strong enough to run DAW (digital audio workstation), audio editing software. Whereas in the past this software had been designed to emulate tape experimentation by the release date of Ableton Live, DAW had become more accessible, offering more performance and play. In an interview with UKF, Reepone describes beatboxing “almost as if you had Ableton or Logic, floating around in your head”. DAW has an equal footing in terms of the imitated subjects of beatbox, but it takes a whole lot more dynamical music thinking than imitating the original beat box's.

The majority of beatbox actually being performed and heard in the early New School, was in battles. In 2005 early German hip-hop activist Beelow feels that the people need a communal beatbox event. Using connections made as enthusiastic beatboxer, DJ battle host and aerosol artist, he decides to host the first of the world championship battles, “From this point of view, I saw how to create a mutli-mega event with thousands of people, t.v stations, media press, radio shows, interviews, public relations”. This resulted in a mass growth of published videographic material, a physical bond for world wide beatboxers and a new direction for the beatbox idea- skill. Those who could master the regional audience would be invited to compete with their peers at the World Beatbox Battle 2005. This lead to a large increase in videographic material available for a true beatbox fan base to dig into. In more present battles “Wild Cards” stimulate the contributions of beatbox videos to the internet, offering 3 places in the competition to those who submit a video of their skills online. In combination

By today, and proportionately increasing, there is the video documentation of a large variety of beatbox material available on the web. In 2008 Pepouni joins Swissbeatbox a company founded in 2006 aiming to start a German speaking beatbox community, they switch their language to English and quickly become one of the largest documenting organisations of the latest and greatest beatboxing talent. As well as scouting and filming their company sells artwork and clothing, “Our aim is to make beatboxing an integral part of the peoples music appreciation. It's more than just a hip-hop thing, its an impossible music movement through all genres, countries, languages and ethnicities.” FLYOTW is an Oxford based creative film studio, amongst other things they provide a number of high quality videos of some of the most exceptional beatbox skills. These videos offer a variety of formats; studio sessions, groups or cyphers and pairs either simultaneously or synchronously, battles, all of which show a particular side to the versatility of beatboxing.

Over the last decade the aesthetic of skill has been the melting point at which the New School beatbox has erupted. It does not account for everything, but the community spirit of events has generated a new ideology for appropriate voice behaviours. The techniques we are about to discuss when attempted by an amateur, could amount to something as insignificant as a babys' ramblings, yet in the high adrenaline competitions have been cultivated into powerful displays of EDM and more. Technical beatboxing is visionary, in that it points to the question; what is sonicly possible between our nose and our diaphragm? It can be an overwhelmingly exciting, particularly in the heat of high adrenaline battles, because nobody has ever thought of this before. We begin to see every part of muscle in the vocal tract become a subject of investigation, thanks to the produce of beatbox- organisations, this is hugely accessible and well archived data. Even in singing as Dayme explains, the research struggles to keep up with progressions in style, “It is not easy to study an instrument that lives inside a human body.” I believe Dayme's chapter 'New areas of potential research in singing' may be of higher relevance to the beatbox tradition in current states, as a more concrete understanding of the voice will be crucial for beatbox pedagogy.

Technical Beatbox

Sounds and styles become more unique to the individual, or at least the variety of techniques available make individuals sound more distinctive. Furthermore the large aesthetic inclination toward EDM leads to a more creative interpretation of what sounds can constitute a beat. This makes categorising a maze between the overlapping vocal muscles, sounds and techniques, a surplus of structural frameworks and terminology exist to substitute the lack of efficient language to describe this world, but here we will work with two structures. The fundamentals of beatbox discussed so far include the injectives, wind technique and simultaneous sounds. The following are the remainder over the fundamentals;

-Letters B T and K are often recommended as the go to sounds for beginner beatboxers, followed closely by PF the classic snare. The phonetics reflect the basic components of a drum kit, and the concept of BTK teaches the individual to associate a linguistic connotation to the sound. Bellatrix admits she has a small sound repertoire compared to most artists, one can assume she has spent most of her training articulating her fundamental sounds. I believe the importance of BTK is not entirely the drum sounds, but encouragement to consider unusual phonetics as common speech. Therefore making complex sounds more familiar to the brain,  through a linguistic relationship.

-In early beatboxing the beat constructions are easily interpreted. The break beat made from mixing tracks to create a new beat pattern is often employed by beatboxers from Kenny Muhammad Onwards. We've mentioned how many genres have influenced the musical content and aesthetics of beatbox. So it would appear that a genre associated knowledge of the structure of beat patterns and characteristics of beat/ percussion oriented genre is of importance.

-Skiller, 'the fast mouth of the east' is known for intentionally pushing the boundaries of speed. A lot of his routines express the concept of how quickly sounds can be produced and how fast a beat can be made to feel. Other beatboxers followed this aesthetic concept, Alem for example has a notably different style, made of fuller and less sharp sounds than Skiller, but still able to execute them at impressive speeds. Beat Rhino makes a unique impression on the world of speed, filling sharp percussive sounds with smooth breathy fricatives creating what feels like an impossibly fast routine. While not everyone is particularly focused on speed, its often the case that an aspiring beatboxer will have a competence to execute fast passages and styles, or at least fast percussion fills.

-The Inward Drag technique takes an entirely new approach to the use of the diaphragm. One may retrospectively consider Buff Loves in and out vocals and Kenny's Kraftwerk covers as primitive Inward Drag routines, however the term doesn't appear until the later 2000's. Essentially it requires breathing in and out rhythmically, either to the metre or particular divisions of the metre. Sounds are then made over the top of the breaths in accordance to its direction. It means that the injective and projective sounds will have an intrinsic nature to the rhythm of the music. There will be no empty spaces between sounds, as each will be cushioned between a continuous flow of breath. ReepsOne is a proficient advocate of Inward Drag, pushing the diaphragm to the point of a trill. It's useful not only at high speeds, characters such as BigBen utilise the continuous, natural waves of breath to create deep throbbing bass lines (4mins in).

-Using words in routines serves the same as it does for the MC, it hypes the crowd and works as a signature element for the performer (Ultimate drop, Renegade Master, Complexify, Shadow Sumo, lets go, etc.) Beatboxers will often use the regular singing voice too, either to add tonal qualities to their music or for actual songs. When singing lyrics its often not about the quality of the voice but how its being used as a sample in the beat, how well it fits around the other sounds and what the performer does to the quality of the voice and the lyrics during the performance. Falsetto is used particularly for an electronic aesthetic and often in combination with other techniques, particularly oscillations. A very popular technique utilising falsetto voice is the siren, because of its tinny and synthetic quality. It's created by a resonance between the top teeth and inside bottom lip. Tom Thum favours this sound and is able to make a crackling vinyl effect simultaneously.

The following is a look at the techniques of individual vocal tract areas, as explored by New School beatboxing.

-ChonkyBeats amongst others can create an astonishingly tight and popping snare, a sound that has recently been increasing in popularity. In addition to the tight lips there are the rolling taps on a tight-skin drum.

- The everyday raspberry can become a convincing bass noise with training. It can be used to reinforce percussive sounds as the Human Beatboxers would, and is later used for longer sustained bass lines. This 'raspberry' oscillation ranges from very tight and high pitched to very loose and low. It therefore serves not only for bass lines but for high distortion sounds, but tends to offer more personalisation at lower frequencies.

-Reeps One creates the 'Wob' Bass, a variation on a regular tight lip oscillation that uses the tongue to stop the airflow at the lips.  The result is a wobble sound providing the name, and is often repeated in succession and also in combination with falsetto singing for an interesting electronic sound.

-The lips will vibrate in various ways on the in breath too and when high pressured it goes by the name of the Inward Zipper, with respect to its relation to the sound of a zip being pulled. When used for low sounds it is more often generated at the side of the mouth. Ball Zee's studio session demonstrates its qualities, making patterns and combining with a inward vocalisation for extra sub bass quality.

-The lips continue to vibrate even against mouth air pressure alone, when rapid direction change Is incorporated it gets the name Lip Roll. It has a vibrant popping sound and can be executed at high speeds. A disambiguation of terms is necessary here to distinguish this technique from the percussion fill often refereed to as a lip roll, executed by allowing the lips to rest gently against each other while ejecting tongue consonants.

-The lateral click favoured by Biz Markie can be produced to a high volume with some speed as demonstrated by New School beatboxer Wawad in his GBBB 14 video.

-Babeli favours the alveolar click, a sound familiar to anyone whose tried to imitate a horse's hooves on cobbled streets. He adjusts his lips to a low whistle position to create a deep resonance.

-In addition to clicks the tongue is relied upon for the fundamental 'T' or HiHat in percussion terms. This can be trained to a dry authentic sound or pronounced like a tut allowing nasal airflow from the lungs.

-The tongue can be oscillated on both the in and out breath. Many will be familiar with the outward as it comes naturally to most people. In New School beatbox it often takes the role of a bass sound, it can be honed to a very high pressured focused point. The inwards oscillation of the tongue also goes by the name Click Roll, not to be confused with the non aspirated Doug. E. Fresh style click roll, which uses the same retroflex click mouth position. Aspirated click rolls can be sustained as long as the breath and can be adjusted in pitch and layered with other sounds. It's equally difficult to fit into routines because of the time needed to adjust the mouth position.

-By placing the tongue against the underside of the uvular and exhaling as if gargling water, a small vibration between the two will occur.  FaithSFX combines this with falsetto singing and describes it as his signature sound in interview.

-Known in linguistics as the epiglottis consonant and in the beatbox community as the 808 kick or Throat kick is a sound easily understood by those of European languages, and is simple to interpret in beatboxing, making it a common part of beatboxers repertoire. It can be utilised as an 808 snare by adding 'CH' or 'F' fricatives or a deep bongo with a 'G' consonant. Experts have the ability to make there 808's unnaturally fast.

-In New School beatbox BigBen perhaps has the lowest and clearest growl technique which he uses to produce very full and rich bass lines. Others such as KRNFX go for a higher vocalised growl and prove just how smooth an oscillation of the arytenoid cartilage can become with training.

-Throat singing is hundered's of years old and was most commonly found in the naturally and politically divided regions of Tibet. It is important to distinguish at this point a difference in the broader term overtone singing to that of throat singing, as there ambiguity often arises. Overtone singing is where the mouth manipulates the natural harmonic resonance of the voice, this does not appear to be thoroughly revised by beatboxer's but the shaping of the mouth for sonic effect has an important role in beatbox too. Throat singing however is strictly a matter of constricting the throat, a style no as khoomei. Khoomei is in fact a widely favoured sound in beatbox, it has a much cleaner resonance than a lip or tongue oscillation, and growl, and offers varieties in harshness and of course harmonics. It's origins lie in the daily life of Nomad culture, it is typically not desirable for woman of this culture to throat sing however in Inuit tradition it is predominantly females that perform in a quasi-battle format. It is impressive that such a powerful and spiritually oriented technique has been self taught by EDM enthused youth, however overtone singing is a very large area and can incorporate a number of styles. Many of which are unexplored by both beatboxers and researches, particularly for their cultural relevance beyond their sonic properties.

Alternative Aesthetics

Despite the powerful displays of experimental vocal-hyper-styles reminiscent of a Romantic virtuosity, there may be something far simpler to the core nature of beatbox. Recently there has been a recline in the attitudes toward technique, it seems that while all very exciting, it too often leads away from musicality, which may be more at the root of such an impromptu art form. It would be wrong to pin beatbox to a matter of showmanship too, this point can be further reflected in the work of a multi instrumentalist and 'vocal adventurer'. Again not a beatboxer by definition, the notably gentler vocal style of Mal Webb results in playful multi tracked songs and often looped performances, not to mention, the discovery of sideways yodelling. It's the discretion of the individual that is really key here, more so than the vocal technique or style involved. A playful, intimate and imaginative idea that beatbox largely encourages in a musical context (despite contradicting social standards), is that one can make any sound they please, for any music they please. Beatbox entails a large amount of personal exploration into the voice. Due to its cultural heritage beatbox has often shared aesthetics with hip hop and EDM, but perhaps this will not always be considered a necessity?

Outside of battles there have been countless collaborations occurring around the theme of beatbox. Many of which extend and strengthen the relationship of beatbox to older and more traditional artistic dynamics, musically speaking. Bellatrix forms a (recently separated) female acappella group called the 'Boxettes' who perform a combination of vocal beats and singing, this format of vocal combination groups is plentiful in the present day. Dharni for example makes a number of appearances in duo with pop singer K-Leah, which can be easily related to the beatbox rapper duo tradition of hip hop culture. Southbank resident Shlomo collaborates with composer Anna Merideth to create the first composed Concerto for Beatbox and Orchestra. This is a first for a classical compositional approach to beatbox, a growing interest in beatbox from outside of its EDM and skill based influences.

As well as collaborations with people, beatboxing is all the while being put through a number of acoustic and electronic instrument extensions, meaning; people beatbox into things. The first of course is the microphone, perhaps easily overlooked, the design of common stage microphones known as cardioid is most sensitive from an onward projection. Tyte outlines a number of techniques developed solely in regard to how the microphone is held. Hands are sometimes used for certain techniques or for generally creating filters either with microphones or without. Later beatbox is combined with a number of instruments for different effects, Herymoonshaker for example will often perform with a harmonica and it appears to be a popular choice for others. Some beatboxers also utilise their skills with flute's and even didgeridoo's, but this is yet to become something of a category in the community. Whilst no acoustic instrument has been designed specifically for beatbox, electronic ones have. Audix Fireball V is a microphone designed for the quality and comfort of beatbox and harmonicas. While the RC-505's tabletop and finger-rather-than-foot design, becomes the standard equipment of the loop category in major beatbox battles.

Beardyman's investigations into the possibilities of voices interaction with electronics is as equally expansive as his testament to spontaneity. A quest to narrow the distance between the music in his head and that which emerges from his mouth and finger tips, leads him to develop the Beardytron-5000-mkii after collaborations with Sebastian Lexer and Dave Gamble. This level of electronic adaptation marks a distinctive aesthetic when compared to the 'all from my mouth' mantra of amplification-only styles, effects are favoured to varying degrees even by the RC-505 loopers. As well as the technology what really characterises Beardyman's performances is the spontaneity and comedy, an area favoured by Shockwave as mentioned. Continuing this trend into comedy, we meet the equally funny 'disinformationist' Reggie Watt's, a “comedian/musician” who incorporates beatbox vocal ideas into his performances. As well as keyboard and loop pedals he utilises an incredible combination of accents, dialects, nonsense, singing styles, gesture, theatre and general rhetoric, to entertain his audience.

Beatbox can happen with just the voice, but that does not restrict it from being a part of bigger themes. It is these themes that allow us to examine the world of beatbox and the individual beatboxers. Without official terminology we can say 'comedy beatbox', 'technological beatbox' or 'technical beatbox' etc. for a more specific description of a performer, because they are all express how the voice can be a multifaceted interface between ideas.  Will we be stuck in a continuum of increasingly stretched and overlapping terminologies? After all every beatboxer is a totally new combination of musical, cultural and technical qualities, subject to their own character and personality. Each has had a hand at interpreting what beatbox is since analytical definitions are rare. So perhaps to avoid the continuum we must ask; how precisely can we form a definition for what beatbox is?

Unexplored Territory

Investigations into the brains behaviour while beatboxing have included taking imagery of the brain while beatboxing, and para-linguistic studies into the mechanisms of beatbox production. The latter makes a detailed analysis of beatbox in comparison to its phonetic structures and concludes that MRI may be a viable way of deepening the understanding of beatbox repertoire. This highlights a very ground breaking aspect about beatbox, something which addresses the very nature of how we interpret it.  Reeps One in interview describes himself as someone who “speaks music”, which is an enlightening observation. There is a large linguistic nature to beatbox which must be considered. In a technical sense this can be related to BTK, where the student is encouraged to think phonetically about the sound their making. But it is not simply a case of technicality, as often the nature of musical communication between beatboxers represents a high sensitivity. This is edging toward more philosophical questions about the relationship of musical and linguistic communication and expression, but what is for sure is that no music before has had such predominant linguistic features or been so loosely attached to style, that it affords the artist opportunities to seamlessly slip between the two.

Gesture, movement and facial expression are concepts studied in varying disciplines including music, but are yet to be looked at in the context of beatbox. Which is unfortunate, as while these subjects share key relationships to all music, the movement and facial expressions of beatboxers are of fruitful variety. Firstly one must appreciate the air-turntables or any of the other movements that reinforce the concept of the vocalists sound, self explanatory in their nature. While these movements may be easily interpreted, as beatbox develops the performers gestural responses become less about air-instruments and instead share a response to the levels of mental focus. Arms will wave, fingers point and curl, legs unconsciously stomp and twitch, often without a logically percievable relationship to the music. “Vocalizations reflect the motives and effects of the whole body in action. We hear how inner and outer body parts may come into action in harmonious combination under the control of the motives and experience, or fall into clumsy disorder.” Beyond the high focus muscle reactions we see many beatboxers who will utilise movement at all times, taking into consideration the entirety of their performance space, posture and facial expression. 'Pass the Sound' by the Beatbox Collective highlights the most intuitive aspects of this concept, the group focus (/imagine) their sounds into physical spaces which become the subject for sonic/ gestural play.

There has been a growing requests for beatbox education, highlighted hugely by the number of online video tutorials. The first were created by Tyte along side, now tutorials are plentiful, produced by amateurs to professionals and not only online. Aside from the many beatboxers who engage in workshops and interactive events, there is the Beatbox Academy, a co-production from Shlomo and the Battersea Arts Centre offering beatbox education. Guildhall and the Barbican have co-developed the “Performance and Creative Enterprise Degree including musicians, composers, theatre makers, devisors, spoken word artists, beatboxers and poets.” But perhaps the beatbox could be of significance to mainstream educational institutions? Nicholas Bannan's booklet 'The Voice in Education' is a heartfelt recognition of a decline beginning in the 1970's of singing in education and communities. “The point is that to let down a generation of school children by effectively withdrawing the opportunity to participate in singing is to let them down for life.” While the issues of social engagement between trained and untrained musicians may still play a role, I think what makes beatbox refreshing is how it points to a way back to the voice for those who have missed out from their cultural background. Vocal traditions are of importance to all cultures and we are used to them being old and some what concrete. This would be a mis interpretation of beatbox.

Within 40 years, what may have been less than a thought in the mind of an MC, has mapped into 55 countries of the world. Beatbox has been lifted from its primordial realm of hip hop and by the nature of EDM has opened itself to include an immensely diverse range of practices. Its people show a fearless toward exploring and combining vocal ideas both new and old. It has introduced vocal technique unbeknown to the world before it and by doing so revitalises interest in vocal virtuosity, not to mention community participation. Freedom of individual expression is at its heart much like Hip Hop and it has been treated with the same uncertainty. But the beatbox family speak a language more complex than music and more personal than an instrument. They limit themselves only to the voice.

Beatbox may come to accomplice philosophical critics of the voice, composers looking for more audible sound thoughts and instrumentalists attempting to embody the sound of their instrument. We may see it grow further into comedy, theatre and other performance arts, and continue to reflect itself in technological innovations. We may discover yet more techniques and further establish more styles. But in its totality at this present day, beatbox is pointing toward something of a hyper intermedium, an omni-voice that is unbound by traditions and ideology. It invites interpretation and has been dependant upon it for its continuation. with the internet making our individual influences more unique there is no reason why it cannot continue to diversify. Without analytical documentation it may take time before it becomes commonplace vocal practice for Western cultures, in education or in communities, but one thing the beatbox certainly is, is positive. It is a huge encouragement for the people of earth to vocalise, express and communicate.


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Injectives- Getting injective sounds to be as comfortable and familiar as ejective will create a great deal of balance in your repertoire, like how string players must appreciate up bows and down bows.

Simultaneous Sounds.- Either physically making two sounds or using patterns for the illusion of layers. In some sense its possible to make 3 or maybe 4 sounds simultaneously, just by employing different areas into the stream of air, but try not to hurt yourself.

Wind Technique- Breath is at the centre of every sound in the sense that its either fully employed or fully restricted. The breath can move in a number of ways, the diaphragm is a large and powerful muscle but can be made analogous to an accordion.

Inward Drag- The rhythmical pumping of the diaphragm, creates a framework for applying sounds and builds incredible strength and control of the main breathing apparatus.

BTK.- Reducing a sound to the concept of language in order to understand its qualities, based on a drum kit, but an essential musical concept highlighted in tabla.

Beat Patterns.- An understanding of musical structures and genre.

Speed.- How fast can you go?

Terminology Associating Beatbox

-The/ Beatbox/ing/er

-Human Beatbox

-Human Orchestra

-Human/ Vocal Percussion

-Vocal Art/ Multi Vocalism

-Face/ Mouth Music

- Imitation/ Sound Effects

-Scat/ Improvisation

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