By Martin McKenna
The noise is only coming from his throat, but every part of the body of human beatboxer Shlomo is moving. The fingers on his left hand play imaginary bass and scratch imaginary decks while their sounds tear out of the speakers behind him and into the chests of the audience. His right hand grips the microphone to his mouth and follows his head as it flails to the rhythm. The lights spinning around the room struggle to move as quickly as he does.
As he loops his own sounds, a layered crescendo builds. Finally, he summons impossibly deep sounds from his neck and the beat explodes into the room. A rail delineating the stage visibly oscillates with the sound waves. Every puff of air in his microphone feels like a clap to the chest. The lights strobe red, then green, blue, pink and yellow.
The audience are exhilarated and stunned to find themselves at the centre of a one-man rave. They have come to Trinity College’s Science Gallery for the closing night of the Biorhythm exhibition. The evening promised to explore the voice in music and the physiology that facilitates it.
Róisín Elsafty opened proceedings with sean nós from her native Connemara. Jennifer Walsh followed, performing implausible vocal feats to mimic the shrill sounds of birds, crickets and maggots. The audience was then treated to a video of a trans-nasal endoscopy of Walsh. A fibre optic camera inserted into her nose as she performed the piece showed her vocal chords dance and flit in the fleshy cavity of her voicebox. Professor Conrad Timon from the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin took the stage to explain the footage and took questions from an inquisitive audience. “Why does the voice break?” “How do we become hoarse?” “What’s the role of the epiglottis?” The Mornington Singers, founded as the graduate choir of Trinity, closed proceedings for the evening.
The Science Gallery sets out to “ignite creativity and discovery where science and art collide”, and as host Gerry Godley pointed out, it is easier to talk about that than to do it. But Timon’s endoscopy video inspired real curiosity in the audience. Having just heard the results of the vocal chord movements, they were now watching them – impossible without the fibre optic technology in the camera.
It is the development of curiosity that makes a scientist. Raving with Shlomo at 200 vocal chord vibrations per second, it is hard not to feel that this development is being accelerated.