Beardyman makes an album in an hour
We nerd out over the BeardyTron5000_MkII. What the hell is that, you ask? Beardyman explains all:
Hello Beardyman! There is a lot of equipment involved in your new shows. What does this now include and how long does it take to set up and sync everything together.
Well, my old setup was based around a cluster of kaoss pads, thrown together in a way that was complex but fairly unsubtle and severely limited in terms of what it could do. Most of the set-up and most of the set consisted of work-arounds. Now I have far less restrictions in terms of what I’m able to achieve live. It’s now one laptop, three iPads connected via a proprietary protocol, an eventide pitch factor pedal, a TC helicon Voicelive, an RME fireface UFX, and I’m about to incorporate a roland VG-99 guitar effects and synthesis unit which models any guitar, so my one guitar can become any guitar ever built at the flick of a switch. There’s also a Korg R3 synth and a 61-key midi keyboard to control the instant sampler. It all takes an hour to set up and an hour to pack down. To sync it all takes a minute or so.
Your new setup the BeardyTron5000_MkII has until now been shrouded in secrecy. How did you decide on the name and what happened to MkI?
MkI is no more… sold all my kaoss pads! I was so bored of them. They were never good enough for what I wanted to do. I got quite good at using them, but it just wasn’t good enough. The name came from other people independently coming up with it impromptu. After a while I began to feel that calling it anything else would just be wrong.
How long did it take to create the BeardyTron5000_MkII? Can you describe the collaborative process that took place between yourself and the software creators. Is this ongoing? Are they updating the software as time goes by with new features?
It’s been a six-year project. It started when I decided to try and build my own system and has ended with me charging other far cleverer people than me with the task. Four years ago I teamed up with Sebastian Lexer, an avant-guard composer and lecturer in Max-MSP because I was coming up against problem after problem trying to build my own system in a hobbyist software package called bidule, using a looper called mobius as the looper at its core. Unfortunately it wasn’t working out, stability, latency and CPU overload problems were making it impossible, so I approached Seb and tried to convince him to help with that project, but he insisted in starting out afresh in Max MSP. But three years down the line, this was yielding very slow and painful results with similar issues to the ones I had been encountering. We needed the engine written in C++, a much lower level language which can run way more efficiently. So, I approached Dave Gamble of DMG Audio whom I had met through Oli (Far Too Loud), who claimed he could make the engine for the system in a couple of weeks. I thought this was so cool I asked him to recode the project from the ground up, which he did, and it took longer than either of us anticipated. We faced many of the problems I had encountered before, stability, CPU overload, and latency issues. But because we were talking so directly to the computer we could code it much more efficiently and bit by bit we chipped away at the issues. We had to call in another expert coder to properly sort out the multithreading in the system. There’d have been no way to complete the project without going that deep.
We’re constantly adding more features and constantly reviewing the system to make it more efficient and easy to use and expand its feature set.
The software for the BeardyTron5000_MkII is custom made for you. Are there any plans to release any of it for the rest of the world to enjoy and use or will you be keeping it all for yourself?
I’m talking to a company at the moment about releasing it commercially. With any luck that’ll happen this year.
From a performance point of view what does your new setup allow you to do that you couldn’t do before? How has that affected the music that you are now creating?
Well, the restrictions in my old system were very annoying. I had to wait for all the units to catch up with each other any time I changed speed, no-one knew this, they probably just thought I was doing boring things on purpose. I always made it look I meant to do everything I was doing when in actual fact it was performance to work around defects in the system. I used to have to guess when the beat was gonna come in if I’d muted everything, which is very hard, nigh-on impossible. Now things never sound scrappy, unless I want them to. I now have five discreet channels which each contain groups of loops. To be honest, anything more I was to tell you would mean I’d have to kill you.
Fair enough! In terms of the live show, do you have a basic set list and an idea of what you are going to perform or do you improvise a great deal for each show.
It really depends. I have a set list usually, but I very rarely stick to it. I like to be free. Life is full of restrictions on your behaviour. On stage you can be be free.
Your forthcoming Brighton show is called “One Album Per Hour Music Comedy Show”. What do you have planned for this and will it differ in content from the rest of your UK tour?
It’ll be a show in a seated venue rather than a gig in a standing venue. The rest of the tour will be basically a showcase of everything I can do with the system including songs I’ve written using it and a bunch of new material, interspersed with whatever else seems like a good idea at the time. There’ll be an element of suggestions based stuff from the audience, but not loads. In the Brighton show, the entire thing from start to finish will be based on titles made up by the audience, in essence making an album in an hour.
I saw that you recently spent time at Herbie Hancock’s house showing off the Beardytron5000_ Mk II. Firstly what was he like, what did he make of it, and did you guys record any music together?
We jammed, it was awesome. He’s a legend, an incredible guy. And he took us to Starbucks in his Tesla. Which was insane. That thing pulls some G’s.
You got a standing ovation when you performed at TED in LA. Can you tell us a bit more about that show, what it meant to be invited along to perform and how you prepared for it.
I have never prepared for anything as much in my life. . . . insane. It was a demo. . . I was worried the thing would crash. Luckily it didn’t.
What are your plans for the rest of 2013? Another album? More touring?
I’m making many musics at the moment and will be releasing a series of EPs this year. Probably in about three months time, for some reason it takes that long to market them or whatever. But yeah, I’m proud of the stuff I’ve made, which is nice. I’m excited for people to hear it.
UPDATE: Due to an unforeseen technical issue the UK Beardytron_Beta_Tour has had to be postponed to the earliest dates available at the below venues. This production issue does not affect the One Album Per Hour musical comedy show at Brighton Festival due to a different technical set up. This will still take place on Saturday 4th May where the Beardytron and its master will be in full effect.
Beardyman said, “I’m so sorry for any inconvenience this may cause, but it’s completely out of my control. I understand this will be a massive ball ache to many of you and I really hope you can make the new dates and to see you there.”
NEW UK DATES
2nd June – Arches, Glasgow
3rd June – Leadmill, Sheffield
4th June – Waterfront, Norwich
6th June – Koko, London
Interview by 25ThC