Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday!
Earlier this week, I was perusing new flute music collections at my local instrument shop while my husband, an avid drum enthusiast who often likes to “shred” in our garage, shopped for a new kit. We, of course, were located on opposite sides of the store – Me in Orchestra Snob Land surrounded by walls of beautiful violins while he jammed in Cool Kid Land, adorned with walls of electric guitars in all shapes, sizes, and colors and walkways lined with various other intense-looking rock band equipment. It made me pause for a moment – Why are the classical and rock genres so often separated from each other (both physically and psychologically)? Are there ways that we can bridge the gap between the two worlds? Luckily for flutists, a way has been chartered via beatboxing. “What the heck is beatboxing? Is this some weird new fad the kids made up?” you may ask. Yes and no, but one thing is clear – It is definitely here to stay. In today’s blog, I will take you on a deep dive into flute beatboxing: The background, the key performers, and the videos that make it a famous new-ish flute genre.
What is it? – According to Wikipedia, flute beatboxing is the “production of stereoscopic flute tones (producing two separate sounds by humming while blowing into the flute) combined with vocal percussion and aural prestidigitation (slight-of-ear).” Uhm, okay… Sounds like a science experiment or a magic trick, right? To put it more simply, flute beatboxing is really an integration of flute playing and percussive techniques. Needless to say, it requires the utmost coordination.
The Basic History – The group RadioActive has been credited as hosting the first ever beatboxer on the pan flute (see video below), but others suggest that Tim Barsky was the first beatboxing flutist as evident by a 2001 recording (below) that resurfaced in 2006 (thanks YouTube!). Shortly thereafter, flute beatboxing went viral when performer Greg Pattillo released two very important, well-known flute beatboxing videos: Inspector Gadget and the Super Mario Brothers Theme. These two videos still hold the most views of any flute beatboxing videos on YouTube, Inspector Gadget at 31 million views and Super Mario at 26 million views. According to NoteStem, the “combination of a culturally popular melody, hip-hop style rhythms, and the apparent virtuosity of the technique led [Inspector Gadget] to be a popular video among many..” https://www.notestem.com/blog/flute-beatboxing/ Check these videos out below! I must admit that I posted both of these to my MySpace page back in the day. He is still considered by many as the best flute beatboxer in the industry today. I am definitely a Greg Pattillo fan for life!
The Key Performers –
Tim Barsky – Barsky is originally from Boston, Massachusetts and is now based in the Bay Area. A graduate of Brown University with a degree in Islamic and Judaic Religious Studies, he also studied at the Berklee School of Music with Chasidic folklorist and archivist, Fishel Resler. Barsky was trained as a Jewish storyteller and his theatrical works have put him front and center in the Bay Area theater scene. His theatrical piece, The Bright River, achieved cult status in the Bay Area and he was awarded the Gerbode Playwright’s Grant in 2007 for his work, Track in a Box, a hip hop and circus-based play. A former line-producer for the Burning Man Arts Festival, Barsky is a member of the Hybrid Project at San Francisco’s Intersection for the Arts and has taught beatboxing in San Francisco juvenile facilities. Serving as both the Artistic Director of City Circus (2007-2010) and Co-Founder of Vowel Movement Beatboxers, he has been featured as guest lecturer at The Royal College of Art in London, Stanford University, Oberlin College, and appeared as featured speaker at the American Press Institute.
Greg Pattillo – Greg Pattillo was originally from Seattle, Washington and is now based in Brooklyn, New York. The New York Times has described him as “the best person in the world at what he does.” Holding Bachelors and Masters degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music, Pattillo studied with Joshua Smith, principal flute of the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. Pattillo was the founding member of the Collaborative Arts Insurgency and the 16th and Mission Thursday Night series for performers in San Francisco. In June 2007, Pattillo was named one of 21 winners of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s “Music Under New York” Program, giving him an official permit to play music in the New York City Subway. In May 2010 he premiered a Concerto for Beatbox Flute by Randall Woolf with the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra (video below). He currently performs with Project Trio, a flute/cello/bass chamber group featuring Eric Stephenson on cello and Peter Seymore on double base (check out their videos here: https://www.youtube.com/c/freedomworksfilms).
Other Key Performers include Nathen “Flutebox” Lee who performs with groups such as The Prodigy, Asian Dub Found, and his band The Clinic. Check out his video below (so cool!):
Pattillo’s Beatboxing Notation – Greg Pattillo has created a notion system for flute beatboxing that adds a staff-less percussion line below the flute line using letters to indicate basic beatboxing sounds. For example, the bass drum sound is indicated by a letter “B” and back beat kicks by the letter “P.” This system is based on notation used for drum kits, specifically those relating to the hi-hat, snare rimshot, and bass drum. His method book, Beatbox Flute Method Book, can be purchased from the Carolyn Nussbaum Music Company here: https://www.flute4u.com/Pattillo-G-Beatbox-Flute-Method-Book.html. If you are looking to expand your beatbox study even further, Tilmann Dehnhard has also published a beatboxing etude book, available for purchase here: https://www.musiciansupply.com/shop/c/p/Flute-Beat-Boxing-Tilmann-Dehnhard-x17245091.htm
Do you beatbox on the flute? Interested in learning more about this style and its origins? Want to join the Greg Pattillo fan club (obviously yes!)? What are your favorite beatboxing videos? Any good tips on getting started with beatboxing? Please comment below!
Happy Fluting (and beatboxing)!