Presenter: Steven James Pratt
Presentation Title: Human Wake Box: Finnegans Wake And Human Beatbox 
Research Focus: Beatbox workshops, Finnegans Wake, speech therapy, science.
Affiliation: John Sinclair Foundation
Presentation Type: Oral

The recent publication of rigorous scientific studies of Human Beatbox HBB, reveal a reservoir of new experimental data and highlight future research, such as the construction of building blocks or Beatbox Phonemes, and new IPA symbols to represent the unique beatbox sounds. “Vocal drum sounds in human beatboxing: An acoustic and articulatory exploration using electromagnetic articulography.–The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 149, 191 (2021). 
This paper presents findings from exploration and deep reading of Finnegans Wake (FW) through the lens of Human Beatbox. I present data from my innovative workshops, exhibiting the marriage of music and poetry, creating new approaches to experience Joyce’s impact on speech therapy and upon music. Wake Box workshops feature novel games, such as isolating a word or phrase from FW and expanding it in all directions, imitating sounds and re-composing them with musical styling. This paper is a blueprint for further research, calling for the global networking of language and cultures with fun, multidisciplinary scientific research activity, accessible to all humanity. A mouth and a word from Joyce are all you require.

Your genus is worldwide, your spacest sublime, But Holy Saltmartin, why can’t you beat time?

F.W. Pg. 419..

Of course my musical repeats were made in the name of symmetry. But symmetry is not necessarily balance: that’s a precept we all learned long ago, and it’s worth saying again. What Mozart has done—as any great master does—is to make the leap from prosy symmetry into poetic balance, that is, into art.–Leonard Bernstein, Lecture 2: Musical Symmetry.

Leonard Bernstein, Lecture 2: Musical Symmetry. The Unanswered Question (Six Talks at Harvard) 1976.

Musicians who study the craft may agree that music is a kind of universal language, a nuanced performer may suggest it is like a Universal Language, lacking distinguishing features that set it apart from a traditional language, like English. To pursue the holy grail, to grasp in the air at a new Universal language based upon demonstrable principles and the laws governing grammar, syntax and semantics in English is a fantasy I wish to explore here, through the lens of human beatbox (HBB) and Finnegans Wake (FW). 

Trothblowers, Fig And Thistle Plot A Pig And Whistle.

F.W. Pg. 303

Finnegans Wake is a whole new style, a whole new approach to crafting the tale of the tribe, an epic poem/novel including global history, by a single author. Music and the art of human beatbox share a similar quest: discover your own voice and develop an idiosyncratic style. Make it new! 

If I were to propose a musical genre for FW it would be jazz, due to its tendency to include all other genres and the improvisational elements, jamming encourages the individual to express personal glossings, a moment to moment interpretation of the music-in-flux (notation). Robert Anton Wilson liked to call Joyce’s prose: Hologrammic Prose. Charles Olson developed the principle of Composition By Field, and Ezra Pound/Fenollosa innovated Ideogrammic Method. I’d recommend further investigations into each of these compression principles as defined by Wilson in The Tale Of The Tribe. Claude Shannon described Joyce’s hologrammic compression principle back in 1948, like this:

The Basic English vocabulary is limited to 850 words and the redundancy is very high. This is reflected in the expansion that occurs when a passage is translated into Basic English. Joyce on the other hand enlarges the vocabulary and is alleged to achieve a compression of semantic content.

Claude Shannon, The Mathematical Theory Of Communication (Bell Labs, 1948)

Through the lens of human beatbox, FW offers thousands of syllabic portals to new vocal sounds and phrases. A word-sound genesis machine where combinations can be scaffolded to other vocal music concepts. For Joycean’s and Wakean’s beatbox offers a wellspring of new directions.

For those new to FW or who don’t read so much, don’t fret. A beatbox approach requires no previous experience or familiarity with the text, simply gather some confidence in the spirit of play and take a lucky dip. Pull out a word from the book, or a phrase that is meaningful to you or catches you ear or eye. Repeat the phrase, play with it and pay attention to the musicality or rhythm.


“Previous research suggests that beatboxers only use sounds that exist in the world’s languages. This paper provides evidence to the contrary, showing that beatboxers use non-linguistic articulations and airstream mechanisms to produce many sound effects that have not been attested in any language. An analysis of real-time magnetic resonance videos of beatboxing reveals that beatboxers produce non-linguistic articulations such as ingressive retroflex trills and ingressive lateral bilabial trills. In addition, beatboxers can use both lingual egressive and pulmonic ingressive airstreams, neither of which have been reported in any language. The results of this study affect our understanding of the limits of the human vocal tract, and address questions about the mental units that encode music and phonological grammar.

Reed Blaylock, Nimisha Patil, Timothy Greer, Shrikanth Narayanan, Sounds of the Human Vocal Tract.

The peculiar vocal art of Beatboxing and other vocal exercises strengthen the lungs and chest muscles, help boost and regulate our immune system and activate uplifting endorphins in the brain. Breathing in certain ways can get you high. Sufficiently stimulating music and literature, that which is rich with epiphany, boosts our physical and mental health and immunological system. Together, Beatboxing and FW complement each other, both innovative and playful approaches to language, imitation and art.  Beatbox is open to anybody with a mouth. An artform not limited to first world technologically advanced societies. Find your voice.     

Early beatbox in the late 1970’s and early 80s started out by imitating drums, now in 2021 it’s evolved into a wide phalanx of sounds. The diversity and global appeal of FW and Beatbox communities respectively, is reflected by fast mutating forms, potentially bridging language barriers between cultures with adjacent aims and objectives, captivating narrative, meaning, harmony. Go seek and expand beyond borders and cultural barriers, reach outwards. Further study of the similarities and differences between native languages on sound production in Beatbox will nourish FW studies, if you want it.

a rude breathing on the void of to be, a venter hearing his own bauchspeech in backwards

F.W Pg. 100.

This investigation was conducted with a single beatboxer. The next step is to collect and analyze HBB articulatory behavior from multiple beatboxers with several training levels in order to generalize our findings and relate them to the HBB level of practice. It would also be very interesting to study the impact of the native language on vocal drum sound production.

Vocal Drum Sounds…(2021)

Ideogrammic languages thrive on moving pictures, they move structurally with scenes of thought, interacting processing, juxtaposition, under the control of the writer/storyteller. I.M may enrich the on-going search for new symbols and sigils to adequately represent the unique sounds produced by some beatbox artists. As you’ll see, combined with what I’m calling Imitation Games, Wakeboxing can take on a whole new form, like spoken film/cinema. Combined with new, soft artificial intelligence advances in real-time speech to image software.  


Do speech and beatboxing articulations share the same mental representations? Is beatboxing grammatical in the same way that phonology is grammatical? How is the musical component of beatboxing represented in the mind? To address these questions, a comprehensive inventory of beatboxing sounds and their articulations must first be compiled.

Sounds Of The Human Vocal Tract.

In this mess-age of social media and reduced attention spans, Wakeboxing encourages everybody to dive in and play. We all have our own way into the FW labyrinth, you get out that which you put in. Pick a page and a word and you’re off. The imitation game is based on imitating sounds around you, use your voice and body, and proceed to next imitating sounds from imagination. The intrepid Wakeboxer can build their bespoke sound categories: animal, mechanical, digital, manimal, natural elements etc. Make a list of each sound, spell them phonetically and descriptively, in natural language. A trip around Old McDonald’s farm will get you started. The inward nasal grunt bass sounds like a pig and everybody can bark like a dog and meow like a cat if nurtured into it. 

When you’re listening to music you enjoy, try to accompany it and after stop the music and replay it silently inside your head. I’ve found this works well with instrumental music, Jazz and EDM. Now make the music with your mouth. The parallel between wind and brass instruments and the sound of bird calls is exemplified by Charlie ‘Bird” Parker. Be-Bop methodology was innovated by Bird together with Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and like-minded individuals. Beethoven composed some music including bird calls explicitly.  

Moving to non-biological sounds, techno music and electronic dance music imitate and sample directly the acoustic environment, sampling an array of sounds, synthesizing, transforming, repeating, deleting, transposing into tonal frequencies, notes, phrases and compositional pieces. Modern Beatboxers expertly imitate electronic sounds, originating from genres like Drum & Bass, Bass Music, Trap, Dub-Step, Grime, Drill and Hip Hop. Proto-punk and heavy metal artists notoriously imitated the sounds of industry around them, hammers striking the anvil, the clatter of metal pistons and whirring engine turbines, electricity buzzing with feedback. Imitation can drive artistic creativity and produce reflections on the human condition and cultural landscape. And let’s not forget Alan Turing.        

The symbiotic relationship between music genres and styles is led by the music producers, with Beatboxers often imitating these producers and genres, to me this reflects a healthy scene where cross-fertilization occurs independently and at a grass-roots level. A growing number of Beatbox artists produce their own songs and strive for their unique sounds, in some sense completing the loop between DJ producer / audience / beatboxer and back to the producer for DJs. A subgenre of the Beatbox community use a “Loopstation” to enable multi-track recording and playback, on-the-fly. You can watch many of the top Beatboxers going live on youtube, twitch and other platforms, exhibiting their skills in imitation and innovation based on their co-conspirators.


F.W. Pg. 396

This presentation aims to infuse the Beatbox community with support for all musical genres and hint at further study into musical practices, such as Jazz Scat Singing and Indian Konnakol (spoken drum language) synthesized with the most musical of all works in literature, FW. Singing matter, shouting matter, dancing matter, the tale of the tribe. Consider these suspicions of Leonard Bernstein on the correspondences between music and literature: Note/Phoneme. Motive/Morpheme. Phrase/Word. Section/Clause. Movement/Sentence. Piece/Piece.

Searching for disordered speech in Finnegans Wake is a bit like looking for the hay in the proverbial haystack rather than the needle. Due to the sheer number of neologisms, portmanteau words, polyglot puns, nonsense refrains, and borrowings from over sixty different languages which James Joyce incorporated into his final work, it could be argued that disordered speech forms the very linguistic ground of Wakese and is therefore in a sense not disordered at all.

Christopher Eagle: Literature, Speech Disorders, and Disability: Talking Normal.


  • Exhibit 1. Natural Sounds. Imitate sounds of you hear out in the natural world, wind, thunder, ocean waves, rivers, rainfall). Next imitate sounds of creatures, snakes, wolves, cats, dogs, birds, dolphins, crickets, bees, baboons.
  • Exhibit 2. Urban & Human: Imitate sounds around cities, engines, trains, alarms, robotic gears, traffic. Next imitate human sounds, strange accents, turntable speech, try some speech modulation and filters FX.
  • Exhibit 3. Joyce’s Imitation Game. Seek a word/phrase from FW that reflects the sounds you have imitated so far, either phonetically or descriptively. Conduct a web search and translate your word/phrase into another language. Take notes. Move backward or forward on the page six lines from the word/phrase and begin to read again armed with your multilingual notes. What grabs your attention and asks to be spoken.
  • Exhibit 4.Composition. Create four phrases by combining the natural, urban, human and FW word/phrase sounds. Speak it aloud, repeat, delete, sing, shout, grunt and moan. Animate and give your compositions life, use your imagination to make pictograms that link your sound and image, what’s the narrative?

A prerogative of each beatboxer is to experiment with their own vocal instrument to create new sounds, never produced before and more and more difficult to articulate. As a consequence, a much more subtle and adapted notation system is needed in order to capture the acoustic and articulatory richness of HBB production. An articulatory-based writing system seems promising and has recently been used for beatbox-sound automatic recognition purpose.

Beatbox Sounds Recognition Using a Speech-dedicated HMM-GMM Based System. 1999.


If there were ten words to try to memorize from FW, to keep you’re beatbox fresh, I’d recommend the Thunderwords. Each has 100 letters and with practice can be spoken in one breath. Here I’ll look at two, the first and last as they appear in the book. A helpful TIP! is to first break them down into digestible chunks and then link them back together again. Quick like a fox to the videos by Joyce Geek, Adam Harvey, for a guided breakdown on pronouncing all ten and unpacking their semantic compression. 

A routine or jam can be encoded into a single word or vice-versa. The artist’s ability to repeat, transform and delete syllables and to permutate rhythmic cycles brings about infinite possibilities: grammatical, syntactic and semantic plus harmonic, temporal and imitative. One idea to get going is repeat words that produce desired rhythms: “Boots And Cats” and “Poffertjes Kroketjes” produce a 4/4 pulse. Saying “wan wan wan” or, “yeah yeah yeah” but speaking inwards produces a lower pitched, robotic like voice effect and various sub bass tones.

A task for the budding Beatboxer/Musician is to apprehend the beat and swing within each thunderword while adding put own special sauce on top. Perhaps go on to compose your own thunderwords tailored to tell your narrative tale?


F.W, Pg. 3


F.W, Pg. 424




Considering Joyce’s op-writing in refractions of the ‘writing’ of kymograph, phoneloscope and phonometre, all of them transmuting sound into visual elements and influencing the comprehension of language we are having today, Finnegans Wake operates not primarily as an issueless predicament of multiple meanings, but as one that previously imposes, arguably creative or constrained, pronunciation of phonemes that function as signifiers of textual signifiers.


The sounds were annotated and transcribed to the system by means of a beatbox specific morphographic writing system (Vocal Grammatics). The recognition-system robustness to recording conditions was assessed on recordings of six different microphones and settings. The decoding part was made with monophone acoustic models trained with a classical HMM-GMM model.

Human beatbox sound recognition using an automatic speech recognition toolkit.

The multi-sensorial nature of languages, hitting the eye world and the ear world make them tricky to define and distinguish from each other, and to communicate clearly. In short it’s process oriented. The International Phonetic Alphabet is a universally acknowledged, peer reviewed system for sound-notation, and the rules of English grammar act as a loosely acknowledged system for Alphabetical notation. Only the madman is absolutely sure. Recent text generating algorithms, such as GPT-3, have thrust alphabetical text generation forward, leaving many readers/listeners unable to distinguish with certainty, human from artificial intelligence. GPT-3 is good at Imitation Games. 

A similar revolution in video presents similar challenges, upping the stakes of the game. Deep Fake tools have become weaponized in some circles. The dangers of ambiguity, once the sandpit of artists, poets and musicians, are all employed for political gain, mass deceptions in a mass-media hall of mirrors. In 2021 we each hold a responsibility to use powerful tools and technology, including language for altruistic and benevolent purposes. Beatbox and FW are here for the betterment of all-around-the-globe-humanity.   

audible-visible-gnosible-edible world

F.W. Pg. 88.

Natural language processing is the ability to give simple spoken commands in natural language, which immediately return accurate results, like the next iteration Siri or Alexa. DALL:E is a good example of text to image software, the results of typing “Avacado + Chair” into the DALL:E engine produce a tasty selection of aesthetically pleasing furniture. User-friendly interfaces based on natural language commands may soon be only limited by human imagination. 

It strikes me that the limits of alphabetical languages are to be transcended by the study and imitation of ideogramic and/or pictographic languages. Ideogrammic–pre DALL:E systems of correspondence and intersections–are constructed using universal forms found in nature, the sun, moon, mountains, droplets of liquid and trees. Ideogrammic languages are a wellspring for training artificial general intelligence and the next generation of innovative Beatboxers and their vocal grammatical narrative cinematics. Turning back to the FW, I recognize similar imagist techniques and onomatopoeia, the art of poetry and the juxtaposition of language all charged to the highest possible degree. The full theatrical experience, the infinite flux of beatbox beingness. Make it wholesome. 

As Peter Quadrino writes, “Joyce instead turns language into a wild circus, throwing every verbal trick imaginable into the mix and demanding that we not merely look at the words on the page but speak them aloud, awakening the auditory sense and adding new dimensions to our experience of words.”

The sum of the psychological benefits from music and group creative activity, experiment, plus the hard scientific insights into human physiology, pulmonary systems, diet (beatboxers famously drink lots of water) lead to basic health benefits. Comprehension of our interactive nervous system and the narrative engines purring within us all. 

P.S. The devil mostly speaks a language of his own called Bellsybabble which he makes up himself as he goes along.

James Joyce, To His Grandson, Stephen. 1936.


Human beatbox sound recognition using an automatic speech recognition toolkit.
Solene Evain, Adrien Contesse, Antoine Pinchaud, Didier Schwab, Benjamin Lecouteux and Nathalie Henrich Bernardoni. –

Vocal drum sounds in human beatboxing: An acoustic and articulatory exploration using electromagnetic articulography.
Annalisa Paroni, Nathalie Henrich Bernardoni, Christophe Savariaux, Hélène Lœvenbruck, Pascale Calabrese, Thomas Pellegrini, Sandrine Mouysset, and Silvain Gerber.

Human Beatboxing : A preliminary study on temporal reduction. (2020)
Alexis Dehais Underdown , Paul Vignes, Lise Crevier Buchman, Didier Demolin, Laboratoire de Phonétique et Phonologie (Sorbonne Nouvelle / CNRS), Hopital Foch, Univ. VSQ.

Sounds of the Human Vocal Tract.
Reed Blaylock, Nimisha Patil, Timothy Greer, Shrikanth Narayanan.

Lecture 2: Musical Symmetry. The Unanswered Question (Six Talks at Harvard) 
Leonard Bernstein.

Joyce comments: “has been reconstricted out of oral style into the verbal for all time with ritual rhythmics” (36.09). And says: “and my drummers have tattled tall tales of me in the land” (545.26), including drum language in the traditions he is working with.

Karl Reisman, In The Muddle Is The Sounddance.

Evidently, both groups approached language as a system of mutually connected signs where the value of each sign is determined by the presence of others, so that “meaning inheres not in sounds themselves – ‘d’ and ‘t,’ for example – but in the contrast or difference between them.

Margot Norris, The Decentered Universe of Finnegans Wake (London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976)

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