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Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

Beatbox Poetry MP3 by Christian Bök

The discussion about whether rap counts as poetry is still ongoing (count me among the affirmative), but how about human beatboxing? That’s the performance practice in which the voice emulates the instrumentals of hip-hop, instrumentals usually performed on technology, such as turntables and drum machines. Beatboxing is a nimble onomatopoeia that yields music.

The writing.upenn.edu/pennsound website, hosted by the University of Pennsylvania, is to modern poetry what Charles Amkirkhanian’s Other Minds catalog at archive.org is to 20th- century (and now 21st-) composition. It’s a deep repository of audio (and video, and much more). And allowing for a particularly expansive definition of poetry, among those many files is a recording by Christian Bök, titled “Synth Loops,” that is, in fact, a human beatbox performance (MP3).

It’s an excerpt from his Cyborg Opera. In an interview at the academic journal Postmodern Culture last year he described the project as “a kind of ‘spoken techno’ that emulates the robotic pulses heard everywhere in our daily lives” (virginia.edu). There’s some sibilance in the track that made me wonder if Bök is German (the umlaut helped, too), but he’s from Canada. Perhaps it was the accent of techno I was hearing.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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