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Hand Music: No Manual Needed

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Hand Music: No Manual Needed

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Hand Music: No Manual Needed

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And we turn now to a form of entertainment that is very low tech and a little bit rude.

(Soundbite of hand music)

MONTAGNE: This is, well, the music of Robert Wilson. He is a software engineer in Silicon Valley, and he's a practitioner of what he calls manualism. That's the art of playing songs by squeezing air through one's hand, like this version of I Left My Heart in San Francisco.

(Soundbite of hand music)

MONTAGNE: Videos of Robert Wilson's hand music are popular on the Internet. You can see some of them at npr.org, and you can try this at home. Robert Wilson gave me a lesson in technique.

Mr. ROBERT WILSON (Software Engineer; Practitioner of Manualism): The idea is to capture an air pocket in between your palms. It's not that easy.

MONTAGNE: That's all I can do, listen, that's it.

Mr. WILSON: Well, you've got the right cupping sound there. So I've got sort of the heel of my thumb kind of wedged against the inside part of the other hand, and...

MONTAGNE: But you're...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: But I'm basically holding my own hand here. Is that the basic idea, in a sense?

Mr. WILSON: That's right. Yeah, you hold...

MONTAGNE: This is hard.

Mr. WILSON: It is hard.

(Soundbite of hand noise)

Mr. WILSON: That's the right - I heard a little bit of a puff sound there. That's the right idea.

(Soundbite of hand noise)

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: That's it.

(Soundbite of hand music)

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Robert Wilson is part of a long tradition of people who have transformed their bodies into musical instruments. For more than 50 years, the Mills Brothers made some pretty convincing trumpet and trombone sounds by vibrating their lips.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Yes, you are hearing lips, not brass.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: In the 1970's, jazz musician Ron McCroby played what he called the Puccolo, and he was an amazing whistler.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: And here's rap group The Fat Boys with their aptly-named human beatbox.

(Soundbite of music)

THE FAT BOYS (Rap Group): (Rapping) So check it out, party people, it's the human beat box.

(Soundbite of man beat boxing)

MONTAGNE: Perhaps a reigning king of anatomical instrumentation is Bobby McFerrin. Listen carefully. Every sound you will hear he's making with is own voice and body.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Bobby McFerrin and the other chest bumpers, hand squeezers and lip puckers all have something in common. They give new meaning to the phrase body of work.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DON GONYEA, host:

And I'm Don Gonyea.

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