From the outskirts of Kansas City, one woman beatboxes, loops and records her way to every corner of the globe.
In the same Los Angeles recording studio where Frank Sinatra recorded hits like My Way and New York, New York, and The Beach Boys laid down Good Vibrations and California Girls, the Hawaii-born, one-woman band named Kawehi rolls in wearing skinny jeans and a white T-Shirt.
Kawehi is here to record a dramatic musical mash-up of Beethoven’s 5th and the Intel “bong” — two of the most easily identifiable four-note sounds in the world. She’s recording an audio track for an Intel TV commercial, but more importantly, she’s showing the world how she uses technology to create amazing musical experiences.
“I went from playing to a crowd of six people in a bar who were probably there to drink and watch a football game to selling out shows in Europe,” said the 33-year-old Kawehi.
When her cover of Nirvana’s Heart-Shaped Box went viral on YouTube in 2014, Kawehi’s music echoed in eardrums from Florida to Frankfurt and every small town in between.
“It’s been quite an amazing ride.”
She is a solo artist who writes, arranges and records her own music. On her I am Kawehi Vimeo page, videos show her creating an explosion of beautiful sound — often with just a microphone, a laptop and her voice.
“Because I don’t have a band, I have to create the band behind me,” she said. “So you start off with, say, beatboxing, and you add some bass. And maybe you’ll add keyboards, guitar…”
By recording sounds and layering them together in real-time, Kawehi is able to create the rich sound of a multi-person band.
She brought her gear to the legendary Eastwest Studios in Hollywood to create a similar multi-person musical experience. The studio’s walls are covered in chalkboard graffiti and seem to hum with the history of so much famous sound. The place is furnished with a cowhide couch, giant mirrors and dripping chandeliers. The lighting is so dim, even the coolest of rock stars would have to remove their sunglasses.
“Kawehi is a one-woman orchestra,” said Paul Tapp, Director of Technology for Intel Marketing.
“She’s typically layering eight tracks at a time, and applying a few real-time effects such as reverb, delay and distortion, so it’s hitting the processor pretty hard,” he said, referring to the ‘brain’ of her Apple Macbook. He said that the 5th Gen Intel Core processor is probably more critical to Kawehi’s performance than any individual instrument.
From Hollywood to Harmony
Kawehi moved to Los Angeles from Hawaii at age 20, thinking that was the ticket to fulfilling her rock-star dream. She met her husband and musical partner Paul Wight, and the two scraped a living together until one day they’d had enough.
“Everybody moves to LA to be a musician, but it’s really hard,” said Kawehi. “It’s expensive, and it’s really tough to accomplish anything artistically because you’re working so hard just to pay the rent.”
One day her husband came home and showed her photographs of a 5,000-sq-foot building that just happened to have dual recording studios below the living space. It was cheaper than their little place in LA. Everything about it looked perfect… except that it was in Kansas.
The couple took a leap of faith, packed all their belongings in a U-Haul and moved to Lawrence, Kansas.
They quickly put the recording studios to work, releasing videos and experimenting with music and technology. Kawehi writes and performs while Paul produces and creates videos. They team up to stuff envelopes, book tour dates and set up shows.
They’ve made seven EPs, all crowdfunded via Kickstarter, including her most recent project called Interaktiv, which was fully funded in an hour. She said it’s a great platform for any do-it-yourselfer.
“I just want to do this for the rest of my life,” said Kawehi. “Playing shows, making records and just kind of living my days that way.”
Tech ‘n’ Roll
When Intel approached Kawehi to make some music, she jumped at the chance.
“It’s really been a super-fun project for me, because I was able to do what I do,” she said.
Just like in a live concert, Kawehi riffs and rolls and wings it, making each session a unique and original experience.
“We chose Kawehi because she’s a great poster-child for how modern musicians are disrupting the traditional production process,” said Intel’s Tapp. “She effortlessly incorporates the sounds of instruments in her songs that she has never even needed to learn.” He said creating music through a computer requires a very different skillset.
“Of course, as Intel, we love these great examples of where artists really push our technology,” he said.
Tapp said to replicate Kawehi’s Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) would require a computer with highly responsive processing power.
“Kawehi uses a Macbook, but you could also use a 2-in-1 with 6th Gen Intel Core and Thunderbolt 3,” he said. “The low-latency requirement is key here, meaning the system needs to be able to process the audio and pump it out instantaneously.”
He said that computer set up could be replicated by using the leading software options such as Ableton, Cakewalk, Cubase or ProTools. She uses the Universal Audio Apollo Twin audio interface and her MIDI keyboard is the Novation MiniNova.
Tapp said Kawehi also uses the Novation LaunchPad for triggering her sample loops.
“Computers are already inseparable from music,” said Tapp. “You’ve be very hard pressed to create, record and publish music today without a computer somewhere in the mix.”
Back in the Hollywood studio, Kawehi takes a break from recording and talks about how using technology has allowed her to share her music with the rest of the world, despite being tucked away in the middle of the U.S.
“Sure we spend a lot of time on airplanes,” she said. She’s recently toured the US and Europe, but enjoys her quiet time at home with her husband and three dogs. “But at the end of the day, I can live where I want. I can make music from anywhere.”
Editor’s Note: In this Experience Amazing series, iQ explores how computer technology inside is enabling incredible experiences outside. We look at how computer technology powers new experiences and discoveries in science, the maker movement, fashion, sports and entertainment. To learn more about the tech behind these stories, visit Experience Amazing.