The Null Device

MIFF: Breath Control

This evening, I saw Breath Control: the History of the Human Beatbox. This is a documentary about the art of beatboxing, i.e., using one's mouth to make sounds like those of a drum machine (or other instruments). Beatboxing was a key part of hip-hop culture in its early days on the streets of New York, when performers would add beats (to their or other rappers' vocals or between records played by a DJ), and was brought to the public's attention by old-skool artists such as the Fat Boys and Doug E. Fresh; then it went out of fashion as everybody got samplers and stopped relying on beatboxing. Beatboxing is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance, as a new generation of performers take it beyond the old paradigms of emulating a drum machine, simulating everything from turntables to video games to entire pieces of backing music (at one point in the documentary, one artist plays Salt & Pepa's Push It on a turntable, stops it, takes over the music with his mouth, and then seamlessly restarts it some 16 or so bars later).

It was a pretty interesting documentary: highlights included Congolese-born European artist Marie Dulne (of Zap Mama)'s explanation of the rhythmic characteristics of various languages, from French to African languages to American English, and a rather amusing scene with a music journalist/beatboxer type speaking in his room, with a wall full of vinyl records and an entire shelf of designer sneakers behind him, and of course lots of footage of performances, from street jams in the 1970s to the present day. And then there was the white guy who got into beatboxing from imitating the Smashing Pumpkins' drums, and not via the hip-hop scene; which is living proof that the technique transcends any one subculture. (In fact I'm surprised that it's considered so esoteric; you'd think that hashing out sounds vocally would be as common as singing in the shower.)

The image quality was iffy in places (some of the footage was obviously recorded on consumer-grade video equipment years ago, and looked quite blurry), but that was offset by some very impressive performances; at one stage, the audience broke out in applause for a second or so.

There are 4 comments on "MIFF: Breath Control":

Posted by: Graham Sat Jul 26 09:20:31 2003

I do this myself, along with humming to figure out tunes. (hmm, you've got "We Don't Know Where We're Going..." on a CD-R, haven't you?) Though I've never figured out how to project. I've weirded out a few people by doing impromptu drum'n'bass breakbeat rhythms.

I wouldn't mind getting one of those ideophone things, though.

Posted by: Cris Rojizzle http:// Mon Jul 5 04:39:48 2004

hey wassup im a beatboxer and i live in western australia but that dvd breath control is not for sale over here. how can i get hold of that dvd? i realli want it, holla bak to my email addy. thnx n rezpect peAce -- Plais ONE all the way BABY

Posted by: Graham Mon Jul 5 09:10:09 2004


Posted by: acb Mon Jul 5 11:42:07 2004

"Cris Rojizzle"? Most hip-hop name ever. Homeboy must be down with GLOCK 3.

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