Bridging genres, beatboxer Adam Matta inspires students
By Varun Bhuchar, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Thursday, October 25, 2012
For the past week, New York City-based audiovisual artist Adam Matta has been in residency at the College visiting classes, working with graduate students and teaching beatboxing workshops to a capella groups on campus. His week culminates with two performances tonight in the Warner Bentley Theater at the Hopkins Center.
Growing up, Matta never thought he would become a musician or that his beatboxing would lead to a professional career. His family pursued music more as a hobby than something to be made into an actual career, Matta said.
“My mom played piano when she was younger, and my father sang and played tabla in an Arabic band,” Matta said. “There is some music in my family’s roots but not necessarily on a professional level.”
For Matta, his beatboxing was something he did for fun to pass the time. He would not have taken it further than a hobby had his friends not encouraged him to do something bigger with it, he said.
“My friends said, ‘Yo, you’re pretty good at that. You should do open mics,’” Matta said. “I started doing open mics in downtown New York and one thing would lead to another. Like, somebody would see me in the audience and say, ‘Hey, you’re pretty good. What are you doing next month? I got a band, you know, we’d love to have you jam with us.’ And so it just kept building from there.”
Matta’s performances vary depending on whether he is performing alone or in a group. As a result, his shows are often different from one iteration to the next.
“In the solo show, I do solo pieces with just a microphone, and I also use a loop pedal to layer my voice in real time and create whole tracks by myself,” Matta said. “But then I also collaborate with a wide variety of artists. I collaborate with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who play old time fiddle and banjo music. And I collaborate with a lot of hip-hop theater where I’m on stage performing soundscapes in theatrical productions.”
Matta’s membership in the Carolina Chocolate Drops is surprising because the group is a folk band — a genre of music that rarely, if ever, uses beatboxing. He got to know the band through one of his frequent collaborators, Sxip Shirey, according to Matta.
Shirey’s band had collaborated with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and he decided to bring Matta on board for a new project. The session was successful and resulted in the release of an EP, and Matta stayed in touch with the band. This eventually proved to be a golden opportunity for him.
“In 2010, the [Carolina Chocolate Drops] lost one of their original members — he quit to go back to school,” Matta said. “When he quit, they were like, ‘Well, what are we gonna do?’ So they said, ‘Hey, what are you doing next year?’”
Matta’s visit to Dartmouth is largely a result of the impression he made on music professor Spencer Topel during the latter’s time as a graduate student at Cornell University, Topel said.
“[Matta] did an artist residency [at Cornell] with the Grizzly House,” he said. “I really enjoyed watching how he empowered students to do cool projects and brought a kind of wonderful vitality to the arts scene at Cornell.”
Every year, the Hopkins Center and the music department arrange for two musicians to stay in residency at the College. This year, when the music department was asked for names, Matta’s was on the top of Topel’s list.
“I suggested Adam Matta because I think he’s absolutely terrific, and he would be a good fit for a lot of our activities happening on campus such as the Dartmouth Aires, Friday Night Rock and the different things happening in Collis in terms of performances,” Topel said.
Matta’s week at Dartmouth is designed to “engage the campus on every level,” according to Topel. These activities include a beatboxing session with campus a capella groups, visits to a variety of classes, a collaboration with digital music students and his double-header performance tonight in the Warner Bentley Theater.
Matta has visited classes in disciplines other than music, including professor Jodie Mack’s animation class, and performed with digital music students in One Wheelock last night. All of this serves to underline that despite his technical proficiency, Matta is more than a beatboxer.
“He just clearly does more than beatboxing,” Topel said. “He’s kind of like a human synthesizer. He has this amazing range of sounds he just does vocally.”