Features October 3, 2018

Have you met TED? How two talks reaffirmed Tom Thum’s passion for beatboxing

Have you met TED? How two talks reaffirmed Tom Thum’s passion for beatboxing

If you’re familiar with the concept of TED Talks, it’s a good bet that you’ve seen beatboxer Tom Thum (aka Tom Horn) at his best.

His 2013 talk/demonstration/highly entertaining performance Beatbox Brilliance is currently hovering above 67 million views on YouTube.

Debuted at TEDx – the touring platform for TED talks – in Sydney, the 11-minute video has become the highest-viewed TEDx speech of all time, worldwide.

For Horn, at the time, it was just any other gig. He was going to turn up and do what he always did; delight, entertain and inform via his otherworldly beatboxing abilities.

“I didn’t really think much at all, to be honest. I thought of my routine, what I was gonna do the morning of, and then just kinda went out there,” Horn tells TMN.

“If I had’ve prepared for what I now know it was, I definitely would’ve f*cked it up.”

Garnering over a million views in its first two days online, Horn recounts how the ravenous online attention confirmed that his unique choice of career was one worthy of pursuing.

“I’d been playing a lot of gigs, but, you know, in rural towns in Europe and little small gigs.

“I was at a point where I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I need to think about something else. I don’t wanna be touring the rest of my life, just doing small things. Maybe it’s time to start diversifying.’ I think it gave me the kick up the ass that I needed, it was reinvigorating.”

The video might have put Thum’s eclectic skills in front of a lot of people, but it also was seen by the right people. Going viral opened all kinds of doors for the musician. Like what he’s currently up to now, scoring and recording full orchestral pieces with classical composers.

“I never thought I’d be doing stuff with orchestras, yet here I am in the Adelaide Hills turning my ideas into orchestral pieces, which is weird but super great.”

His thirst for the educational stage not yet quenched, Horn returned to the TEDx stage last month for a much more scientifically-minded sermon.

“I was talking to my mate who works for TEDx at a bar in Sydney and I’d had this idea for ages. I was like, ‘Man, this’d be so sick. Literally sick. I might actually vomit,'” laughs Horn.

Bringing aboard ear nose and throat surgeon, Dr Matthew Broadhurst, Horn’s idea consisted of giving his audience a never before seen show – from the inside of his throat.

“No one’s done it with beatboxing. It’s been done with opera. It’s been done with singers. It’s been done with speech pathology, but never for what I do.

“Which is like a really quite acute realisation of all that kind of muscular structure inside the face,” says Horn.

Armed with a couple of medical grade cameras, Dr Broadhurst was able to show in gory detail exactly how a human’s vocal cords work and, more importantly, how Horn manages to make those ultra-realistic sounds come out of his mouth.

Of course, while Horn looks cool, calm and collected, in actuality it’s pretty difficult to beatbox with a hefty length of tube stuffed in your orifices.

The whole process involved applying a numbing anaesthetic to Horn’s nose and throat timed just right so that it wouldn’t hurt the musician but also that he’d have enough sensation to produce his famous beats.

“We’d figured out that you’d need to put the anaesthetic in my nose ten minutes before I went on stage, if we went exactly to script,” says Horn.

“Turns out, because of all the different factors that could give you extra time on stage, we went for way longer and so during the entire performance, I could feel it in there. Oh, my God, it was so hard. Cool, but hard.”

“There’s other parts of the talk that had been edited out where I’m like, ‘Ugh! You’re gonna have to stop for a second and pull it out a little bit.'”

While he remains a creative at heart, Horn is ecstatic that he got to show people a peek behind the curtain of something that we all take for granted.

“People just think, ‘Talking, oh yeah, it’s pretty simple. Everyone does that every single day of their life forever.’

“But the actual structures that are in play when you’re even just making the simplest sounds are so mind-boggling, I just wanted to shed light on that.”

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