Consider this — Warsha Easwar, a psychologist, Arjun Nair, a full-time music director, Avinash Tiwari, a businessman, Raj Verma, a sessions beatboxer and keyboardist and Clyde Fernandes, a budding producer — put them together and you get India’s most in-tune a cappella band, Voctronica.
If voice is God’s gift, these folks have been hugely blessed to convert voice into instruments. And believe me, when you hear them, it’s hard to believe it’s all music from their vocals chords.
VERUS FERREIRA met up with Arjun Nair to find out just how the five beatboxers get their act together, produce variation and modulation in voice that makes their voices sound like music.
How did Voctronica come about?
The first setup of Voctronica was put together by Sony Music India, British Council India and Shlomo (UK based beat boxing pioneer) through a series of online auditions. Fifteen persons were selected to attend a workshop based on videos they had submitted with MC Testament (who is a part of Shlomo’s original Vocal Orchestra), seven of whom finally became Voctronica, with Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy as the frontman. The setup dissolved due to operational difficulties, and the current setup began taking shape about 4 years ago. Back then it was a six member setup, but for the last 2 years we have been a five-member band.
Did any of you undergo specialised training to become beat boxers?
Both the beat boxers are self-taught, having learnt the art off the internet, as have most beat boxers around the globe. It’s like a language, the more you speak it, the better you get.
What challenges do you face making music without instruments?
There are a few things right off the bat; an instrument helps in keeping a key and pitch reference. Sans instruments, we work hard on our internal pitching and timing to create the desired blend with each other. The throat tends to dry up due to vocal fatigue, so drinking water is essential. It can get extremely taxing at times when we’re performing long sets.
People think that because we’re all voices and no instruments, we don’t need a sound check to perform. This couldn’t be further from truth; since it’s actually tougher to mix five elements within the human vocal range to help them sit apart from each other, and achieve the sound we strive for. A song or an arrangement sounds very different in an acoustic environment and very different on microphones, so that’s a part of the process that also takes a bit of time and tweaking.
Each member is given a specific instrument to perform. Who does the sequences or role playing change?
Avinash primarily handles rhythms. I do vocal bass, Raj does electronic bass tones and beats, Clyde and Warsha handle the singing as well as melodic and harmonic instrumental elements; everything from brass to wind and string instruments. However, this is not set in stone. We all do multiple parts and switch roles to accommodate a higher quality output. For example, Avinash takes over bass when Arjun is singing, or Raj may also sing lead or harmony in some tracks.
Do you do on the spot jams requested by the audience?
There’s a concept called a ‘circle jam’ where we take words from the audience and weave them with improvised beats and harmonies. The result is different each time and can never be performed again since it was all in the moment.