Think you’ve heard it all when it comes to beatboxing? Think again

6 Jul 2018

Artist and beatboxer Reeps One on stage at Inspirefest 2018. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

At Inspirefest 2018, beatboxer and artist Reeps One teamed up with Nokia Bell Labs to put on an incredible performance, going toe-to-toe with a machine.

For years, we’ve been told that the humble phone call is dying, and in its place are text and brief voice messages as more and more people favour the (albeit slightly more cumbersome) back and forth involved.

But there is a fundamental problem with this, as Nokia Bell Labs’ head of Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT), Domhnaill Hernon, explained at Inspirefest 2018 in his second stage appearance at the event.

While the fundamental purpose of technology is to make our lives easier and to convey a message quickly, much of the human emotion crucial to this is lost in the medium.

Perhaps the most obvious of these examples is how many of our social interactions have moved away from actual physical contact and meetings with friends, to a set of emoji reactions.

At Bell Labs’ EAT division, it is all about experimentation. As Hernon said on stage, the group collaborated with the incredibly talented artist and beatboxer Reeps One to find new ways of fusing the human voice and the latest technology.

When not touring festivals and events across the world, Reeps One is gathering a massive online following, garnering more than 100m views on various video platforms.

Furthermore, Reeps One is pushing boundaries when it comes to academic research, with a residency at none other than Harvard University. He was also the subject of a study of expert behaviour at the University of College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. Marking another milestone, it was the first neurological investigation of its kind to utilise voice as a medium.

An entirely new set of artistic tools

In what was a world premiere, Reeps One presented the first ever beatboxing battle between him and an artificial intelligence (AI) opponent.

To do this, he partnered with programmer and artist CJ Carr to develop a deep-learning program, which took a lecture Reeps One gave in Sweden and transformed it into an entirely new string of sounds.

“Now, machines can be programmed to learn how to mimic the human voice and begin to not just learn, but to create,” Reeps One said regarding his work with Bell Labs’ EAT on this project, called ‘Second Self’.

“I really hope [this project] inspires others to use this idea of a format that you teach these tools to interact with your hyper-specialism or toolset that was not available before.”

You can watch the whole performance of ‘Second Self’ over at Nokia Bell Labs EAT’s own website.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Ultra Early Bird tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic