It takes less than a minute of listening to Max Schwartz Bent’s new podcast, “Sound Tales,” to recognize his immense talent. What started as an experiment for Bent, a musician and beat boxer, has become a tapestry of stories, songs and sounds created only with the human voice.
“Most sounds we experience in nature have multiple layers, which is why it’s hard to explain exactly what you hear when you walk outside,” he says. “Music is two-dimensional, but experiencing the environment isn’t. I’ve found that the combination of words and soundscape elicit a deep reaction from people.”
Through storytelling and sounds produced completely from his own voice, Bent uses his unique gifts to spark children’s imaginations. As the father of a 5-year old-son, Bent says he has witnessed firsthand how a child responds to the magic of mixing storytelling with sounds.
“The language I use is not written for children,” says Bent. “I’ve learned from my son that kids aren’t concerned if they don’t understand a word or two. I believe in the power of children to fill in the blanks. It’s kind of like their secret superpower. The ‘Sound Tales’ trick is that when the words are combined with the sounds of the voice, it becomes like a dance. The special sauce is the mixture of the voice sounds and the voice words. After all, words are just sounds we’ve given predetermined meaning to.”
“Sound Tales” launched in January with a four-part series titled “Sound Tales: The Journey Home.” The first episodes tell the story of a red-eyed tree frog displaced from the place in which he grew up due to a superstorm.
“The topics that have come out of my writing process are surprising to me, but families are open to them,” says Bent. “I’m writing about immigration, death and self-awareness. What’s cool about doing this in podcast form is that parents and children can listen together. These narratives are unfolding, and I’m letting them.”
A Takoma Park native who now lives in the Northeast Baltimore community of Lauraville, Bent, 40, first became interested in music in high school when he got involved in the production of hip-hop beats. That interest carried through college at the University of Maryland, where he studied biology and the ecosystem.
After graduation, he went on to become a high school science teacher, working in the Prince George’s County and Baltimore City public school systems. During this time, he got involved with the nonprofit educational group Young Audiences of Maryland, which is when he started beatboxing onstage. (He has beatboxed since the age of 8.)
“I had the opportunity to develop a live performance, and for the first time I had to start looking at how to hold an audience’s attention,” says Bent. “I was coming from this direct form of hip-hop where someone plays a beat while another person raps. Being onstage in front of a group of kids by myself made me start thinking about how music impacts people on a larger scale.”
For the past seven years, Bent has been a teaching artist, working in the classroom with teachers and students. He has also performed at such venues as the Smithsonian, which is where the idea for “Sound Tales” was born.
“I wanted to open that show with the image of a fire and wanted people to think about how long we have been making sounds,” says Bent. “I started experimenting with that by adding soundscapes with voice. Since I’m a beatboxer, I’ve challenged myself to create sounds passable for instruments for years, and I’m applying that knowledge to this endeavor. When people are listening to ‘Sound Tales,’ they are having multiple experiences. They go in and out of forgetting the sounds are being made with someone’s mouth.”
In addition to his podcast, Bent is also a member of the group Baby Beats and beatboxes alongside hip-hop artist Jamaal “Black Root” Collier. Baby Beats has made appearances at many local schools and synagogues, performing classic Jewish songs with a hip-hop spin. Bent says being Jewish has greatly informed his beatboxing career.
“I’m influenced by Jewish culture, particularly the tradition of storytelling in the Chasidic culture,” he says. “Being a part of Baby Beats has been big in my development of ‘Sound Tales.’ I’ve been able to see how much of an impact we can have on kids and their parents who are looking to create things of value to them and their families. I am humbled by that.”
For information about “Sound Tales,” visit soundtalespodcast.com/.
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