At his Jan. 28 Jepson Center performance, Adam Matta will take art and technology – the two Pulse Festival buzzwords – and combine them in mind–blowing ways. Which, you’ll wonder, is the art, and which is the tech?
Ah, but there’s the rub. Matta is a beatboxer, using his voice and a microphone to create the sounds of a full drum kit – he doesn’t sound at all like a synthetic drum machine – in its myriad poly–rhythmic patterns. That’s organic, right?
At Pulse, he’ll appear onstage with a bicycle wheel mounted on a pedestal. There’s a loop of recording tape stretched over the outside of the wheel. When the tape comes in contact with a playback head, the sound is amplified. Matta edges the bike wheel back and forth like a turntable, creating an audio scratch right out of hip hop.
He has a loop pedal on the floor in front of him, which allows him to record his beatbox vocal percussion, layer it, add bass (he’s good at that, too) and then add more live sounds. It’s a kind of abstract impressionism, a riff on streetcorner beatboxing that elevates one art form into the realm of another.
Based in New York, Matta has had solo shows at the New Museum for Contemporary Art, Galapagos, PS 122, La Mama, and Here Arts Center. He has performed at Carnegie Hall with Bobby McFerrin and appeared at venues such as Madison Square Garden, the Apollo Theater and Jazz at Lincoln Center.
His is the sort of performance art that simply did not exist a decade ago.
Did you start out as a percussionist, or are you more of a product of hip hop culture?
Adam Matta: Both and neither. I just start doing the beatbox on my own as a teenager. I just started doing it as a nervous habit. I never really thought I was ever going to do it in public. I did study drums for a little while; I was a drummer in a couple of really basic bands. But after a while my friends overheard me beatboxing and encouraged me to do it on the mic. So I started doing open mics, and that led to more and more gigs.
I was knocked out by your jazz recordings, where you’re “playing” horns too. Do you feel like it’s unlimited now, the things you can do with it?
Adam Matta: Yeah, I love being experimental. Beatboxing is blowing up worldwide, and there’s a lot of guys coming out with really interesting sounds. Really unique sounds. And taking this to new levels of versatility and virtuosity. There’s all kinds of technical abilities that probably nobody ever thought possible five years ago. So that’s pretty good.
You collaborated at Lincoln Center with Bora Yoon, who’s also coming here for Pulse. She and I talked about looping, and how discovering the electronic part of it opened a huge new door for her. Was that a big deal for you too?
Adam Matta: Definitely, definitely. I felt like I was doing something with my percussion that I wanted to repeat. When I made my snare sound, or a pattern, I wanted to loop it because I felt it needed repetition. I was into ethereal art and photocopies, like Andy Warhol printmaking. And I wanted a serial representation of that sound. So that’s why I bought my first loop pedal, and I started to see where it could go.
Tell me about the bicycle wheel piece. How did you come up with that?
Adam Matta: I was really into biking, and I wanted to kind of combine bicycles and art, and music. So I had the idea to put a tape loop on the wheel, so when you rode the bike it would make sounds. But I realized that would fall apart the minute you started riding it.
Marcel Duchamp’s bicycle wheel sculpture came to mind. I made it stationary, and it worked. It came together.
How long does it take to get that good at it – to make all those sounds competently and comfortably? To where you can riff and free–form?
Adam Matta: I was doing it for three or four years on my own. I didn’t even consider it practice. It was just coming out of me. That incubated for three, four years – and once I started doing it on the mic, right away musicians started to invite me to jam with them, and I was able to combine it with other music.
But it also depends on what you’re doing, and for what extent. Now I’ve been doing it for 10 years, so the sound has definitely been refined, and I’ve come up with a lot of new patterns along the way, and new ideas, and been exposed to a lot of different kinds of music that inspired me in different ways.
One reason I like to teach beatbox, and to spread the word, is that you can kind of get going with not much practice – you can start to jam with your friends with just the sounds that you automatically make.
Obviously, the more you do it, the more depth it’ll have and the more intricate it’ll get.
Pulse: Adam Matta performance
Where: Jepson Center, 121 Barnard St.
When: At 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 28