While advanced vocal techniques lie at the heart of contemporary beatboxing, skilled beatbox artists also gesture in their performances, creating intricate and highly effective intertwinings of sound and body movement. This research project is a collaboration with expert beatbox artists, in which we use motion-capture technology combined with interviews to explore performers’ use of gesture. In particular, we look at crossmodal connections between gestural and sonic features, the impact of performers’ movements on vocal sound production, and the effect of their gestures on audience experience.
Music is increasingly understood as a multimodal rather than purely sonic phenomenon, with movement being a particularly important modality; sound is created from movement and musical sound can make people want to move or dance. Across musical styles worldwide, vocalists tend to gesture while they sing, and in doing so, they often highlight crossmodal perceptual connections between vocalization and body movement. Studies have found that co-performance gestures can influence audience members’ perception of pitch or note duration. This suggests that performers’ gestures are likely to affect audience perception also in real musical contexts. Vocalists themselves often give a great deal of thought to how they integrate body movement in their performances.
This project is dedicated to examining the use and effects of gesturing in a particular performance genre – contemporary beatboxing – which has developed over the past decades into a highly popular cultural phenomenon as well as an arena for outstanding virtuosity and creativity. Having its origins in the imitation of drum machine sounds and beats, skilled performers of the genre now typically work with a wide range of extended vocal techniques, impressing audiences with their virtuosity and expressivity. The creativity of beatbox artists is shared with millions of fans worldwide via performers’ social media posts, as well as on-stage at competitions and other events. The “Gesture in Contemporary Beatbox Performance” project at MPIEA has been privileged to collaborate with some of the best beatbox artists in the world, allowing us a unique insight into multimodal creativity in this genre.