In this Ted Talk essay on “The Orchestra in My Mouth” by Tom Thum, the author explores contemporary beatboxing. Although most audiences do not recognize beatboxing as a refined form of mainstream music, beatboxing employs sound to capture and communicate the essence of different cultures, with the increased sophistication that is achieved through the adoption of various equipment to improve performance quality.
The Main Theme
The primary goal of Thum’s presentation is to inform the audience of the sophistication of beatboxing despite its humble beginnings as a form of music. Thum argues that very few individuals have “managed to make a career out of the innate ability for inhuman noisemaking” (00:03:56-00:03:58). The reference to beatboxing as inhuman noisemaking confers a level of simplicity to beatboxing, which is derived from the act being an individual’s attempt to mimic electronic sounds. Nonetheless, Thum posits that beatboxing can “take you on a journey throughout the continents and throughout sound itself” (00:04:42-00:04:49). Beatboxing intertwines culture and sound in a manner that overshadows its presumed simplicity. Therefore, beatboxing has undergone a significant transformation to become a complex art.
Before watching Thum’s video, people will not realize that beatboxing had developed into a refined music form. Dean Hosenie argues that a beatboxing record could make the top 40 if beatboxing performers maintain their credibility (BBC par. 10). During high school years, talent shows expose children to beatboxing in its rudimentary form. Consequently, they may view beatboxing as a ‘weird’ ability rather than a musical performance. However, the suggestion that a beatboxing record could feature in the top 40 implies that beatboxing is no longer a ‘talent show’ level act.
Thum’s presentation is important because it initiates the discourse on the need to recognize beatboxing as a music genre formally. Pabón-Colón notes that beatboxing has not enjoyed much popularity for the better part of its history despite the efforts of performers to bring it into mainstream music (183). The sophistication that beatboxing has acquired over the years should enable it to make its mark on the mainstream contemporary music industry. Based on the readily apparent progress in the quality of beatboxing performances, beatboxing can achieve the status of being a music genre.
Applying the Information
People can apply this information when they decipher the meaning of beatboxing performances. Prior emphasizes that “the pleasures of listening [to beatboxing] reside in multiple tensions and exchanges between organic and inorganic” (143). Culture and the mimicked machine sounds are essential aspects of beatboxing, which represent the organic and inorganic elements. As a result, the interpretation of beatboxing performances requires much cultural sensitivity because the choice of mimicked sound and rhythm embodies culture-specific ideas.
People can be surprised to observe the range of equipment that contemporary beatboxing performers utilize on stage. Thum’s closing performance involved a variety of devices that allowed him to convert a solo performance into a ‘group’ performance by leveraging technology (00:09:48-00:11:08). It may be the first time when people may listen to orchestra-like beatboxing. Thum’s final performance can redefine the human perception of beatboxing.
Thum designs his performance-based presentation to restart the discourse on beatboxing as a holistic form of music with deep cultural meaning. In the Ted Talk video “The Orchestra in My Mouth,” Thum makes the advancements of beatboxing apparent to the audience. On the whole, Thum makes a strong argument for the need to mold a new perception of beatboxing that captures the current state of beatboxing as an art.
BBC. “Beatbox Collective: ‘Beatboxing Should Be Seen as an Art Form.’” British Broadcasting Corporation, 2018, www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-42820405.
Pabón-Colón, Jessica Nydia. “Writin,’ Breakin,’ Beatboxin’: Strategically Performing “Women” in Hip-Hop.” Signs: Journal of Women of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 43, no. 1, 2017, pp. 175-200, doi:10.1086/692481.
Prior, Nick. Popular Music, Digital Technology, and Society. Sage Publications, 2018.
Thum, Tom. “The Orchestra in My Mouth.” TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, 2013, www.ted.com/talks/tom_thum_the_orchestra_in_my_mouth.