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  • (Beatboxing) Yo, what up?

  • My name is Tom Thum,

  • and I've got to say it's a pleasure to be back at TEDx.

  • When I first stepped upon the Sydney stage in 2013

  • as a starry-eyed boy from Brisbane,

  • I had no idea that I was about to deliver the most watched TEDx presentation ever.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • But you know, I was stoked because it was completely unexpected.

  • However, standing before you today

  • as a slightly inflated, time-battered version of myself five years later,

  • I'm very confident.

  • (Laughter)

  • Confident that I'm about deliver

  • the most instantly switched off and walked-out-on,

  • vomit-inducing talk of all time.

  • I'm about to show you things

  • that I think you'll find hard to unsee,

  • but all in the name of science.

  • First, for those unfamiliar with what I do,

  • I guess if you distilled it right down to its essence,

  • you would call me a beatboxer.

  • (Beatboxing) Yo, for example ...

  • here's a sample:

  • (Beatboxing)

  • (Rhythm changes)

  • (Hums a tune)

  • (Applause and cheers)

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

  • And being a beatboxer,

  • it means that professionally,

  • I am 100 percent reliant on the --

  • (Beatboxing) flexibility of the unfiltered human voice.

  • And for years, my contemporaries and I have been fielding questions like,

  • \"Oh my God, that's so cool.

  • When did you figure out you could do that?\"

  • After I practiced for thousands and thousands of hours --

  • (Laughter)

  • \"And what do you do for a real job?\"

  • \"I'm a full-time beatboxer, Your Honor.\"

  • But there is one question that I get quite a lot

  • that's a little bit more difficult to answer,

  • and that is how are you doing it --

  • how are you making those noises?

  • And I mean, I know muscle memory dictates where I position my lips

  • in order to --

  • (Beatboxing)

  • but I have no idea about the inner mechanics of everything.

  • You know, all the flappy bits and kind of dangly things

  • and how they interact in --

  • (Laughter)

  • in a way that allows me to --

  • (Beatboxing)

  • To put it metaphorically,

  • I know how to drive,

  • I just don't know what's under the hood.

  • So I decided to find out

  • and invite 5,000 captive strangers,

  • a few uncomfortable cameras,

  • everybody watching online and their browser history

  • into a place where not even the most intimate of encounters have been ...

  • my throat.

  • And to help me do that,

  • I'd like to introduce to the stage a very specialist guest

  • from the Queensland Voice Center,

  • a man that's been in my mouth more times than I'd care to admit,

  • a legend of the larynx,

  • ENT doctor and laryngeal surgeon,

  • Matthew Broadhurst.

  • (Applause and cheers)

  • MB: Thank you, Tom, thank you.

  • And a very good evening everyone.

  • It is a pleasure to be here on the TEDx stage tonight.

  • (Laughter)

  • Whoo.

  • (Laughter)

  • TT: He's not warming up his hands.

  • It doesn't get that intimate.

  • MB: We set out a little while ago to try to go deep into the world --

  • and the throat --

  • of this beatboxer extraordinaire

  • to try to understand how such a vast array of sounds are humanly possible.

  • And what we found --

  • these are going in the mouth by the way --

  • and what we found was something absolutely amazing.

  • Even after my two years of laryngeal surgery

  • in Harvard Medical School

  • with world-renowned professor Steven Zeitels,

  • we never saw anything as extraordinary or fascinating as this,

  • and that's what we're going to show you tonight.

  • (Laughter)

  • Alright, so for those of you who might be a little squeamish,

  • the next 10 minutes or so will get incrementally more graphic

  • and stomach-churning,

  • so let's get into it --

  • TT: Feel free to use the bucket.

  • (Laughter)

  • MB: So when we make sound,

  • we use the vocal cords to take air from the lungs

  • and then turn it into a vibrating air column in the throat.

  • If you think of it like a trumpet,

  • we've got the mouthpiece -- that's the vocal folds --

  • and then the horn section is the throat.

  • If we took your head off,

  • took a bit of your neck off

  • and left you as a torso with just your vocal folds vibrating,

  • this is what you'd sound like.

  • (Flatulent sound)

  • TT: (High pitch)

  • MB: Pretty hard to communicate, but fortunately we've got a throat.

  • We've got all the soft tissues,

  • and that actually gives you all the incredible dynamics of sound

  • that you'll hear tonight.

  • Now, this is a rigid laryngoscope.

  • TT: Hmm, spicy boy.

  • (Laughter)

  • MB: I know, I know.

  • (Laughter)

  • 10 millimeters in diameter,

  • it gives us the highest resolution image of the larynx we can get.

  • And we teed up with a stroboscope here

  • and a trigger microphone.

  • The mic will pick up the frequency

  • and that will allow us to show you how this all works.

  • So, if we can have the lights down?

  • TT: (Low pitch)

  • MB: Turn the light on here.

  • TT: (High and low pitches)

  • MB: So I've got the frequency of sound matched with the stroboscope.

  • That's the light you're seeing flickering in the cup.

  • TT: (Low pitch)

  • MB: And that's at about 80 hertz or so.

  • So what we can do then is we can take that

  • and put the phase of the strobe and the sound just out of sync.

  • That lets us capture real-time, slow-motion activity of vibrating tissues.

  • When we apply that to the larynx,

  • we get this fluid, slow-motion of the vibrating vocal folds.

  • So that's what we're going to get on and do.

  • Alright, you ready?

  • TT: Yup.

  • (Laughter)

  • MB: OK, so here we go.

  • We're going to have a look at the voice box.

  • (Laughter)

  • It's very hard not to gag with this.

  • Say, \"e.\"

  • TT: (Singing) E --

  • MB: So down the bottom you see the vocal cords,

  • the little cord-like structures.

  • (Laughter)

  • And now just look at the skin on the neck

  • and you'll see how strong the light is to penetrate the skin.

  • Alright, so if you'll have the lights back on?

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • Alright, so just give us a comfortable \"e.\"

  • TT: (Singing) E.

  • (Laughter)

  • TT: (Singing) E.

  • (Audience gasps)

  • MB: So that's the vibrating vocal folds;

  • about 120 hertz.

  • Means they've collided 120 times a second

  • just to make that sound.

  • And we can also see that they're absolutely, perfectly normal.

  • So all his beatboxing, all those sounds for years

  • with Tom's way of doing it --

  • absolutely no damage whatsoever.

  • That's really remarkable.

  • Well done.

  • OK.

  • TT: (High pitch)

  • We've got this.

  • MB: So watch now as the vocal cords go from high pitch to low pitch.

  • You'll see them go from long and skinny to short and fat.

  • Really think \"e.\"

  • TT: (High to low pitch) E.

  • MB: Right.

  • TT: (High to low pitch) E.

  • MB: And what you can see is that his vocal range is so extreme --

  • much more extreme than any other performer I've worked with --

  • the machine actually can't capture the really high pitches.

  • TT: (High pitch)

  • MB: So we know that whistle register is somewhere around 2,092 hertz.

  • That means the vocal cords,

  • well over 2,000 times a second,

  • are banging together just to make that sound.

  • That's really extraordinary.

  • If you think about them, they're only 15 millimeters long,

  • so that's barely the width of your thumb.

  • That's incred --

  • (Laughter)

  • That's amazing this organ can do such a thing.

  • So now we're going to swap over to the flexible laryngoscope.

  • This is a little more graphic.

  • TT: He bought it at SEXPO.

  • (Laughter)

  • MB: That wasn't in the script.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • TT: Secondhand.

  • (Laughter)

  • MB: Now, we've had to time this bit perfectly

  • because of the requirement for local anesthetic.

  • You've got to numb the nose, get the camera in.

  • It doesn't help for producing a lot of the sounds,

  • but it gives us a really cool view of what's happening.

  • So hold onto the stomachs, and let's see what we can do.

  • (Audience gasps)

  • So we're going to the back of the nose.

  • And there you can see the soft palate.

  • A lot of the sounds we make from day to day,

  • even the simple ones,

  • are incredibly complex.

  • The sound \"kh\" for example.

  • It's the soft palate sealing up precisely against the back of the nose.

  • So if you say it loudly five times,

  • feel your own soft palate snapping against the back of the throat.

  • Kh, kh, kh, kh, kh, kh.

  • Alright, so this is what it looks like when Tom does it.

  • TT: Kh, kh, kh, kh, kh.

  • A cacophony of cackling kookaburras and cockatoos in Kakadu

  • couldn't quite quit ketamine.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • MB: Alright, now in the beatboxing world,

  • of course, they can use that for all sorts of different effects.

  • I can help you.

  • TT: This is fine, we're professionals.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Beatboxing)

  • MB: Alright.

  • (Applause and cheers)

  • Now we're going to slide down a little further.

  • If you'll just have the lights off

  • and just see if you can see the light in the mouth somewhere.

  • You'll be able to see exactly where the camera is at.

  • (Laughter)

  • TT: (Singing)

  • Surprise.

  • (Laughter)

  • MB: Alright.

  • (Audience gasps)

  • So what you can see there, that's the base of the tongue.

  • The side walls of the screen,

  • that's the pharynx.

  • All muscle walls,

  • and in the deep, dark decks is the larynx.

  • TT: Oh, should we have the lights back on?

  • I think it's a good idea.

  • It's getting a bit creepy with them off.

  • MB: Turn the lights on, thanks.

  • Good.

  • Now having examined over 15,000 larynxes and throats in my time,

  • I can tell you that Tom's is as anatomically normal

  • as anyone else's.

  • It's just his unique use of all the muscles and soft tissues

  • which lets him do all these amazing sounds that you're going to hear.

  • So we will dissect some of these sounds for you now.

  • TT: It's in there really. Definitely.

  • (Laughter)

  • OK.

  • (High-pitched sounds)

  • (High-pitched sounds)

  • (Hooting)