He's lent his lips to the "Godfather of Soul" and spit in the general direction of LL Cool J, Run DMC, and even the great Ray Charles. Of course it's musical spit we're talking about here — the kind of juice used to fuel the lips, breath and vocal stylings of San Francisco's own Kid Beyond (aka Andrew Chaikin). Armed with only a microphone, a laptop and one versatile delivery system — his mouth — Kid Beyond has been beatboxing for over twenty years and dishing out smoldering performances on tour and at his regular gig as host of the monthly San Francisco beatboxing event the "Vowel Movement." While beats are Kid Beyond's trade, don't be surprised to hear guitar, bass, keys, turntable scratches, horns, movie samples and soulful singing flow from his mouth. Using Ableton Live, Kid Beyond combines these elements, creating full-fledged compositions in real time. We sat down to discuss how KB uses Live to flesh out his songs onstage and in the studio.
"For years, I had this idea in the back of my head — I'd love to be able to be a one-man vocal band. I could lay down a beatbox loop, then more beatboxing or vocal turntablism, then a vocal bassline, then the synth parts, then sing or rap over all that. There were hardware looping devices available, but none of them gave me the kind of power and flexibility that I wanted. Once I found Live, it was all possible."
While many people open their Live sets with a full set of session clips or a set arrangement, Kid Beyond prefers the empty slate approach:
"Onstage, I start each song with an empty Live set — empty of clips, that is, but full of predefined tracks and effects. Then, one by one, I record live audio clips into each track."
KB takes a less-is-more approach with his gear as well: it has to fit in the overhead compartment on an airplane. A mic, a PC laptop, an uninterruptible power supply, M-Audio FireWire 410 audio interface, a rugged Ground Control Pro footboard, Roland expression pedal, his tonsils and a mess of cables are all he needs to perform a show. Not that you'd notice the gear once the lights go down.
"I never touch the laptop during the show; I don't want it coming between me and the audience. I like it to be just me and my mic and the footwork. I use a good ol' Shure SM58 microphone — when you sling as much saliva as I do, you need a mic that can take punishment."
Live is KB's software hub, with Bome MIDI Translator helping to translate MIDI events into keystrokes.
"I can press one button on my footpedal and have a dozen things happen in Live at once — turn a bunch of tracks on or off, record on multiple tracks, activate a bunch of effects, etc."
The ease and stability of plug-in effects in Live is another draw for Kid Beyond:
"The ability to chain so many effects together and drag them around in real time, to beat-warp and time-stretch on the fly — it all happens so seamlessly, which is wonderful when you're dealing with multiple tracks of live audio."
On top of all this, KB has other tricks up his sleeve.
"Lately I've been playing around with recording live audio to multiple tracks, and/or muted tracks. For example, maybe I'll have a bassline that's 16 beats long, so I'll sing it and record a 16-beat loop, but at the same time I can be recording little 2-beat chunks of it to tracks that are muted, and then play those chunks back later, unmuted, in a different order."