"My brain is weird," Darren Foreman tells New Times when prompted to explain his uncanny gift for sound.
Internationally renowned as Beardyman, the 32-year-old Londoner seems to possess the auditory equivalent of photographic memory. Not only can he tap into a seemingly endless mental database, from the precise timbre of any musical instrument to miscellaneous pop-culture references, but he can also mimic each sound with perfect recall during his improvised live performances.
The man is a walking audio encyclopedia, a human sampler.
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"I find listening to commercial radio a bit like cheese-grating my face," says Foreman in idiosyncratically comedic fashion. "I don't have perfect pitch -- my brother does. If he hears a song in the wrong key, it makes him uncomfortable. I'm blessed not to have it, I think."
"Still, I'm fascinated by the history of music and the cultures which created it," he explains. "There's a symbiotic relationship between music and culture, one feeds the other. It's like space-time and energy, one makes the other the way it is. I love it."
Foreman initially made a name for himself as a UK beatbox champion. (In fact, the country's very first to win two consecutive championships, in 2006 and 2007). And as a beatboxing enthusiast who grew up in the '80s, it's no surprise that he cites the "Man of 10,000 Sound Effects," Michael Winslow of Police Academy fame, as an early childhood hero.
"Michael Winslow is amazing," gushes Foreman. "He grew up on an army base and had only his noises for company. When I was a kid, he was the only person in the popular consciousness mimicking things with his mouth. I had been doing it since I was old enough to make noises. Language always seemed like too tight a circle to draw around the noises your mouth could make. My parents showed me Michael Winslow and he became a sort of exemplar for me. But I'd been making noises before I saw him. I played with him when he last came to London."
Of course, there is bound to be a limit to the range of sounds that can be mimicked with the human mouth. This happens to be the subject of "The Polyphonic Me," Beardyman's famous 2013 TED talk, in which he discussed confronting the restrictions of his own body as a sound-making medium and turning to audio technology as a way to go further.
"I've always loved technology," he explains. "Society has only ever advanced as a response to new technologies. Political change can be viewed as a desperate grapple with emerging technologies. It seemed very natural to me to extend my search for creative freedom through technology. Technology can set you free to go wherever your mind suggests. I'd seen a few people doing interesting things with emerging technologies in the field of live looping and audio manipulation, and began to formulate a vision of what it was I wanted to do."
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Broadening his sonic palette while also injecting a sort of hyperreal immediacy into his live performances, cutting-edge audio tools have enabled Beardyman to transcend the role of performer to become something more along the lines of a sonic shaman. His shows engage spectators through an interactive participatory experience in which the creative process itself becomes the focal point.
Take, for example, One Album Per Hour, his recurring music comedy show during which an entire album is produced in real time with help from a special guest producer and members of the live audience.
"I've always wanted to just make music in real time," he says. "Improvisation is the key to happiness, I think. Being able to do [One Album Per Hour] with Jack Black and Tim Minchin as producers was out of this world. They're heroes of mine, and it was a massive honor to have them involved. They were writing me lyrics, giving me song titles, jamming transatlantic with Google's crazy codec!"
And though Beardyman isn't only out to provide considerable entertainment value and laughs -- he is a bona fide musician and songwriter, after all -- improvisation was also a major part of the creative process for Distractions, his new artist album.
Beautifully kaleidoscopic, refracting sun-soaked classic rock and pop sensibilities through delicately intricate electronica, the album is both a landmark in songwriting and document of the sheer musical magic Foreman is capable of conjuring when he simply presses the record button and starts improvising.
"I didn't have any game plan or anything," he says about Distractions. "The songs came about very organically as the result of experiments with my live rig, as I was developing it. The rig is a bespoke-built distributed system that's hard coded to run at maximum CPU efficiency, so that I can improvise electronic music and mangle my voice into whatever I choose."
He explains: "The album was something of a distraction, hence the name. I was determined to let songs generate themselves, rather than be forced out."
That moment when you realize that any random hour of Beardyman's time can result in some freaking incredible album you'll be jamming out to for the rest of your life, right? Which, of course, makes missing his show at Bardot Miami on March 21 completely out of the question.
What to expect?
"I have no idea," he admits. "I improvise everything, so who knows. Probably something approaching maximum dopeness. I'm excited to show the humans of Miami what I can do with my new system."
Beardyman's Distractions Tour. Saturday, March 21. Bardot, 3456 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 10 p.m. and tickets cost $15 to $20 plus fees via showclix.com. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-576-7750 or visit bardotmiami.com.
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