HUGE appreciation to Harry Yeff (Reeps One)...
for talking about his involvement with the docuseries, We Speak Music, and its concept; working alongside Nokia Bell Labs’ Experiments in Art and Technology and what it is all about – he also recommends an artist that is worth watching out for.
I ask him about his beatboxing career and how he got started in music; what he has planned coming next and, indeed, whether it is easy to get into beatboxing – Reeps One selects a precious memory from his time in music.
Hi, Reeps One. How are you? How has your week been?
Good. I was in N.Y. at the start of the week and now I’ve just arrived in Seoul Korea – it’s beautiful here.
How are you enjoying the weather right now? Does the warmer climate inspire you, creatively?
I love the cold. That truth tends to confuse people but my mind and body just work better in a cold climate. You don't have time to be anxious and lazy in the cold: you zone in and hyper-focus on your goals. That’s as true for myself as it is in nature: the cold inspires survival and precision. I like that.
For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?
My artist name is Reeps One. I'm a multi-disciplinary based in London - most of my work centers around the human voice and the lateral technologies surrounding it. The last two years my job has been to do two things: push my voice as far as it can possibly go and explore how the human voice is evolving on a global level. Last year, I completed my third Harvard Uni residency and have since become and E.A.T. artist with Nokia Bell Labs and a Culture Leader with The World Economic Forum.
But, the short answer is I make music and art.
We Speak Music is a docuseries you are involved with? What is the concept behind it?
The strange thing is the human voice is that it’s as old as humanity itself; you would think it would have been explored inside and out by now but that’s simply not the case. In the last ten years, there has been an explosion in voice culture. New techniques and peak physical capabilities are emerging and that has the artistic academic worlds scratching its head. I wanted to champion why this evolution actually impacts people’s lives. You can’t talk about the human voice without connecting it to communication, sense of self; sense of place and expression.
It’s how we connect with ourselves and each other.
What was it like working with Nokia Bell Labs’ Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.)?
Incredible to be a part of their history. I would be here all day If I were to list all of the technologies they invented - but the E.A.T. program was an innovation in culture and the arts which was very rare coming from a tech-based institution in the ’60s. In 1968, Bell Labs paired artists like Robert Rauschenberg with top engineers for an event called The 9 Evening.
It was miles ahead if its time. Being the newest E.A.T. artist, I was asked to create a piece that fuses voice and emerging tech and I'm very proud to say that’s how the documentary ends. I created an A.I. second voice that I can collaborate with and I couldn't have predicted the results.
Is there an episode or part of the docuseries that stands as a favourite? Were there standout moments that took you by surprise?
Episode four. I had the pleasure of visiting Lavelle School for the blind in N.Y. There they are using the practicality of beatboxing to teach a class of young people to learn how to better control their voices. The kids are all on the spectrum in different ways and vocal experimentation is the first group activity the school has found that they can all take part in. The results are astonishing: some kids have gone from hardly articulating to being able to speak with flow for the first time. Beatboxing is teaching young people to speak. Who would have guessed?
Do you think the human voice is undervalued? Have we experienced all it has to offer or are there new spaces and places it can reach?
It’s not undervalued because we indirectly gain so much value from it. But, with more direct awareness we can gain even more; we can improve our quality of life by simply being mindful of our voices. They are the gateway from our subconscious to the physical would. It would be a shame to not use them to their full potential. My job is to make people think about that.
It seems, as technology takes over and we are all addicted to our phones, we use our voices less. Is there a worry many young people are less connected with the voice and communication and favouring electronics?!
It’s simple - we need a healthy communication diet. The efficiency of information-transfer in the digital is undeniable, but can’t have that as the sacrifice of fundamental human connection. Our ideas are sown by the contexts we share within and we are at the risk of losing certain types of intimacy and accountability we get from simply speaking to one another.
What comes next for you? What does the rest of 2019 hold in store?
I’m currently in Korea. I head to H.K. Art Basel in a couple of weeks followed by speaking at The United Nations in May about art and technology. It’s such an exciting time and I want to try and push for artistic and progressive discussion on a global level. But, of course, I will be releasing a lot more art and much in the coming months - so that’s what I’m the most excited about. (Typical artist).
Do you have a standout memory from your time in music so far?
Very tough. A simple one was playing the Arcadia Stage at Boomtown to nine-thousand people. The rest of the line-up was D.J.s so, to feel that power and to be speaking music in a way that made people dance for an hour was a huge moment for me. The booth was so high up that the audience couldn't see me. They didn't know it was just a human voice and they didn't need to. We were all just together enjoying music. That was a benchmark for me.
When did beatboxing come into your life? When did you realise you had a natural talent?
It actually started from being around early-Grime and Dubstep producers. I had always experimented with making beats with my voice but it was the London sound that I connected with. Then things really started to evolve.
Is it easy to learn beatboxing? How would you sell it to anyone interested?
If you are speaking, you can make music with your voice. Don't think of it as beatboxing; see it as a way to write and make music all the time. A nonstop music tool. Most people will realise they do that anyway - it's just up to them if they want to make people dance.
Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?
Aphex Twin - Ambient Works 11
It changed how people view electronic music and opened up a new type of listener. It's an amazing album to think to.
Daphne Oram - Electronic Sound Patterns
The original sound pack and an incredible woman Electronic music pioneer.
The Prodigy - Music for The Jilted Generation
The legendary masters of high-energy Electronic music that brought together all parts of U.K. music. R.I.P. Keith Flint.
IN THIS PHOTO: Gene Shinozaki/PHOTO CREDIT: @zach.mov
Are there any new artists, beatbox or not, you recommend we check out?
Gene Shinozaki is a really interesting vocal talent. He's just released a new album fusing new-school beatboxing Jazz and Electronic. I look forward to seeing what he does.
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
I never stop. Ever...but, if I do, musically painting and writing….
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Anything by Squarepusher
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