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How To Wreck A Nice Speech: Hearing Things With The Vocoder, From World War II To Hip-Hop
Thursday, May 10, 2012 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm EDT
Invented by Bell Labs in 1928 to reduce bandwidth over the Trans Atlantic Cable, the vocoder would end up guarding phone conversations from eavesdroppers during World War II. By the Vietnam War, the “spectral decomposer” had been re-freaked as a robotic voice for musicians. How To Wreck A Nice Beach is about hearing things, from a misunderstood technology which in itself often spoke under conditions of anonymity. This is a terminal beach-slap of the history of electronic voices: from Nazi research labs to Stalin gulags, from World’s Fairs to Hiroshima, from Churchill and JKF to Kubrick and Kinski, The O.C. and Rammellzee, artificial larynges and Auto-Tune. Vocoder compression technology is now a cell phone standard–we communicate via flawed digital replicas of ourselves every day. Imperfect to be real, we revel in signal corruption.
Dave Tompkins’ first book, How To Wreck A Nice Beach: The Vocoder From World War II To Hip-Hop, is now out in paperback. Amazon named it “top pick” for Entertainment book of the year in 2010. He has presented on the vocoder in Germany, Netherlands (Jan Van Eyck), New York (Eyebeam Institute), London, Poland (Unsound Festival), and at the NSA Cryptologic Symposium held at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. Tompkins has written for Grantland, Oxford American, The Believer and The Wire. Tompkins is currently researching Sustained Decay bass sub-frequencies in Florida. Born in North Carolina, he now lives in Brooklyn.
Co-hosted with the MIT Cool Japan Project.