Gear Love: The Beardytron 5000 MKII

The Beardytron 5000 MKII is the brainchild of multi-vocalist, musician, and beatboxer Darren Alexander Foreman, aka Beardyman. Having started out his live performances in cafes using guitar looping pedals, his techniques and scope soon outgrew the technology that was available to him and he needed something far more complex. This eventually led him to the development, from the ground up, of The Beardytron 5000MKII controlled via multiple ipads.



The Early Years



In the beginning, Beardyman worked his way through almost every looping pedal he could get his hands on, finally settling on a DIY setup of multiple Korg KP3 KAOSS Pads linked together which enabled him to keep everything in time, but he still found that it was only a rudimentary solution and didn’t quite cut it.

“whilst they were the best thing out there at the time as an effect/pseudo-looping solution, and they can resample into themselves, they do all of that very clunkily and slowly.”

What he was looking for didn’t seem to exist yet, after trying Mobius freeware inside a Plogue Bidule modular patching environment, he found this unreliable and even Ableton Live restricted his ability to create tracks on the fly, with the only sound source being his eclectic array of vocal techniques. The key here was to minimise the obstacles in the way, so any ideas in his head can be created immediately, manipulated as desired and then move onto the next idea that pops into his head.

“I’ve always been very dissatisfied with the way that my shows have been because for me the dream is to have a musical idea just pop into existence the moment I think of it,”

The Birth Of The Beardytron



After meeting Sebastian Lexer, a programmer and lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, they teamed up and started work on a setup within Max/MSP but were quickly setback by restraints in CPU power. This led to the realisation that, to really get the right setup, he was going to have to develop it from the ground up.

A chance encounter with Dave Gamble, owner of DMGAudio and creator and developer of a huge number of plug-ins, set him on the right path and he’d found just the right person to work on the development of the Beardytron and get it right!

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Developing Intuitive Sound Manipulation



There are several main channels setup for the obvious key components of any track; pads, bass, drums, melody etc. The tricky part is configuring these channels so they can be tweaked on the fly and the overall output sounds good straight away with a track that never existed 30 seconds earlier!

Each channel has had to be set up with intricate presets to get the most out of each sound, such as channel compression, bus compression, EQ to make sure the Drums and Bass stand out, routing of sidechain compression to create space in the mix which has all had to be gently tweaked to allow a one-size-fits-all setting for the multiple genres that he can get through in any one show.

On top of all this, they have 15 instances of SugarBytes’ Turnado, a multi-effect, real-time audio manipulation tool, within which they have created hundreds of presets to quickly get the most out of any specific genre and using the ‘Dictator’ mode, he can then use one fader to control up to eight different effects at once! Having all these instances of Turnado linked means he can efficiently control things such as high and low-pass filtering, build-ups and drops, and the muting and unmuting of channels in real-time!



CPU and Driving Forces Behind the Machine



The main controls are displayed across three ipads, two for controlling the Beardytron and another to control apps for extra noises plus MIDI keyboards, Native Instruments Guitar Rig and Rob Papen’s delay. To keep all this functioning smoothly with minimal latency is obviously a big challenge and on this topic, Beardyman is keeping his cards close to his chest, as it’s something that he would like to get patented somewhere down the line, as well as make the software commercially available.

One thing he does concede is that there is a multi-threading engine going on within the looper to apportion CPU power according to what’s going to be the most efficient audio-processing routine, which enables the use of multiple plug-ins. On top of this, there are never-ending tweaks that Beardyman and Gamble are making to increase the efficiency of the setup.

“that is the end game, to make it so that anyone can put sounds into it, and with just a couple macro parameters, decide how it’s going to behave.”

The End Result



The constant tweaks and developments have led Beardyman into completely uncharted realms, with an incredibly intuitive and intelligent setup that is extremely ahead of its time and probably completely unusable for most musicians except only the most tech-savvy multi vocalists!

So, sit back and watch the musical savant do his thing!



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