How to Wreck a Nice Beach

More Crosstalk on the Vocoder
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Bode Breaker

By Dave Tompkins at 9:47pm ET

This bonus beach was engineered, with much patience, by Monk-One, winter 2010, while I sat in a fisherman’s beer chair in his basement. The mix is meant to accompany the book. Sometimes it ditches the book altogether. Sometimes it throws the book in the trunk and drives it to the middle of nowhere and burns magic hour donuts in a Piggly Wiggly parking lot. Or crullers in the sand. Who bugged the dunes?

All tracks contain some species of vocoder unless otherwise imagined. I apologize to summer, for the darkness, and the BB&Q Band, for running out of space.

Listen here: “The Bees in Your Beargut” or “Bonus Beach”

(Hold the control key and click the red text above to open the file in iTunes.)

More Monk can be heard here.

Excessive track listing below.

Read More…

Thanks, Ralph!

By Dave Tompkins at 2:26pm ET

While in Boston, I delivered a copy of How to Wreck a Nice Beach to Ralph LaRue Miller. I sang “Barnacle Bill” while he looked at old photos of himself on the vocoder conch phone.

Ralph was one of the main Bell Labs engineers behind Project X, the Indestructible Speech rig deployed by the Allies during World War II. He was the first to tell me how the X-men were using two turntables with a vocoder in a Pentagon basement in 1943.

Ralph is also the first person to understand my book title. He is 103 1/3rd years old.

In the background is Ralph’s daughter Barbara Powell, a retired CIA librarian.

I first met Ralph when he was 96, on the morning after the invasion of Iraq had begun. (I had an idea to run Cheney and Rummy through the vocoder’s artificial speech analyzer/woodchipper.) That day, Ralph informed me that crosstalk could sneak between the pulse.*

He was right.

Before I left, Ralph said, “Thanks… MAYBE!” and started cackling.

There was lots of cackling that day.**

Another bugged outing with Ralph LaRue Miller.

*This was at lunch. The waiter was under the impression that Ralph had invented the Internet.

**For instance, Hua told me that Donnie Wahlberg manned the T-shirt cannon during the Boston-Lakers series of 2008.

Laser Base Plates

By Dave Tompkins at 3:51pm ET

Bill Sebastian imagined his Outer Visual Communicator as a hexagonal piece of a larger dome, like the one the Martians jacked from Buckshot Fuller for It Came From Outer Space. Sebastian built the OVC for Sun Ra, partially in a basement at MIT (where he worked on laser-base plates for NASA) and in a barn in Ore City, Texas.

The farmers freaked.

To jump back and quote myself: Bill envisioned that he and Sun Ra would sit inside the OVC Dome and remap the chromatic spectrum of the universe. Without acid.  All you need is a touch-sensitive capacitant keyboard, a 16-foot hexagonal screen, “17 millions colors at mind-dazzling speeds,” retinal compliance from the Suboptic Shadow World, and five years of your pre-digital life.

“The best view is inside the dome,” Sebastian told me.

Donnie Wahlberg and Jordan Knight remember Bill Sebastian as the resident synethesiologist at Michael Jonzun’s Mission Control Studios in Boston. The OVC made Sun Ra’s Chicago-Saturn commute go a little faster.  Though, as any Incredible Melting Man will tell you, one should be careful when staring at the sun through the rings of Saturn.

If that is indeed Bill entering the OVC Dome in the photo above, I’m pretty certain he’s never coming back.

In the meantime, I’m meeting with Bill today to give him a copy of How to Wreck a Nice Beach. (Bill is one of my favorite book contributors.)

As for Boston: We did the book thing last night at a downtown bar called Good Life. They had my slideshow hooked up to all the TVs in the bar, which has two floors. (A bar without a TV in Boston is a lonely-ass bar.)  So after the Sox beat the Twins, baseball fans were treated to eight TVs of Michael Jonzun in cosmic French tresses, my stepbrother’s old Camaro, the Peachoid of Gaffney South Carolina, the Federal Screw Works of Troy, Michigan, Bell Labs vocoder guys, etc.—the usual, the works.

I also met nice some folks from MIT who research the psycho-acoustics of bird talk. (Vocoder inventor Homer Dudley considered birds as the o.g. speech synthesizers.) One of their professors worked at Bell Labs and had engineered an electronic bird larynx*. I’m pretty sure that’s what I heard—Mao was playing “Heaven of My Life” by Change, so you (hopefully) know how that goes. Or it could’ve been Wajeed’s talk box version of “I Want You,” which is a sick addition to the Marvin Chronicles. He also played a good weird remix of Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much.” (Never knew how that went.) And MIT danced. Thanks for coming out MIT. Go nightjar. Go Waajeed.

Thanks Mao, Hua, 7L, Coleman, Blade Runners, Geeta, Tall Matt, Pete L’Official, Jeff at Good Life and all the TVs.

*It is possible that I completely checked out after hearing the words electronic bird larynx, because really, could it get any better?

Why I Want Boston to Continue Mailing Elbows to Orlando, and It’s Not Just Because Their Point Guard Is Named After Rondo Hatton

By Dave Tompkins at 10:30am ET

(Image: Bill Sebastian with his Outer Visual Communicator, circa 1980. According to Sebastian, the OVC was designed to remap the chromatic spectrum of the universe. Photograph by John Bishop for Video magazine.)

This Thursday, May 20th, I’ll be in Boston with my road DJ/Boston expat Chairman Mao, as well as 7L and Hua Hsu, who’ll be recreating his Miami Bass “F-the Rookies” minimix live at the Good Life bar in downtown Boston. (Click here for details on Good Life. The event starts at 9:30pm.)

I have much to say about Boston, so this week will be called “Rondo Week.”

Along with deep space—and perhaps my apartment, which I currently share with two retired WW II bombs, a demagnetized chainsaw magnet* and a 1933 juicer**—Boston was a second home to the vocoder.

The first public demonstration of vocoder songs took place at Harvard’s Tercentenary Celebration in 1936. Here’s an exclusive peak at the Harvard set list:

“How Dry I Am”
“Good Night Ladies”
“Barnacle Bill”
“Bells of St. Mary’s”
“Swanee River”
“My Teacher’s Screwy”

Bill Sebastian’s Outer Visual Communicator (OVC) was built in a basement at MIT, where  Swedish speech acoustician Gunnar Fant invented a vowel synthesizer called the Orator Verbis Electris (OVE).

The OVC was conscripted in Michael Jonzun’s war against all Pac Man machines, in a vocoder song called “Pack Jam,” which was recorded in Boston under the alias “Pak Man.”  Jonzun said he wanted to turn a man into jam—and he did.

Gunnar Fant published an article called “Acoustic Theory of Speech Production with Calculations Based on X-Ray Studies of Russian Articulations.”

The OVC was built for Sun Ra.

The OVE was meant for you and me.

*The chainsaw magnet now keeps my long-necked succulent from escaping out the window

**The juicer is crank-operated and really easy to clean. The efficiency in which it depulps the unsuspecting Cali naval is genuinely frightening.

Radio People

By Dave Tompkins at 11:25am ET

Tune in your umbrellas!

How to Wreck a Nice Beach featured on NPR’s Morning Edition, today! Listen here.

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