How to Wreck a Nice Beach

More Crosstalk on the Vocoder
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Something To That Effect

Cold Get Keytarded

By Dave Tompkins at 4:46pm ET

Nothing like carrying Midnight Star’s Keytar to class with a hangover that could be attributed to talking some “Cold Wind Madness” with Mike Ross, the Delicious Vinyl genie, over whiskey the night before. They called it the “Moog Liberator.”

Yesterday, Vincent Calloway performed an a cappella version of “Freak-a-zoid” for Josh Kun’s class at USC. Students clapped along like happy drum machines.

I haven’t felt that BMOC since the time I gave Ice T and Afrika Islam a ride to the Holiday Inn after Body Count ripped up the Cat’s Cradle in Chapel-Hill. Though technically I never made it to campus the following day. Time off for reflection is important to the college experience.

One thing. During vocoder lectures I have to remember to stop asking students if they remember something they’ve never experienced. Re-run to Roger. But you were there.

Cue James Coughlin’s “Remember Remembering.”

I would’ve brought Egyptian Lover to class with me but he was busy playing “Planet Rock” backwards in Australia.

Pac Bell, Look Out

By Dave Tompkins at 6:14pm ET

(Egyptian Lover mural at La Rutan Barbershop, South Central L.A. Photo by Brian Cross)

In the 1930s, Bell Lab’s aspiring surfer and resident beekeeper, Homer Dudley, chanted the following through the vocoder:

“Heavenly tech! Heavenly tech! Compton! Compton!”

This was part of a Bell Labs demo “skit,” of which Professor Compton was a character. But we all know Homer Dudley was just foreshadowing the evolution of L.A. hip-hop, from vocoder freaks to G-funk, from DJ Unknown to Compton’s Most Wanted.

Keeping it real in 1939, the Los Angeles Times wrote that Dudley’s artificial speech device was “the Voice True”:

“Anything so wondrous, so stupendous, so complicated and so confusing must find a place in movie-making.”

Reading and slideshow today at Skylight Books on 1818 Vermont St in L.A. Details here.

My interview with the Los Angeles Times here.

Tomorrow, Vincent Calloway (Freakazoid of Midnight Star) and his vocoder will join me for a talk at Josh Kun’s class at USC.

RIP Ricky Bell Labs

Vocoder Compton chant courtesy of MIT Archives.

Thanks James, Tina, JC, Jeff Weiss, Pete, PB Wolf, B+, Sound of Young America, Vincent Calloway

Freak Out Bacon

By Dave Tompkins at 8:30am ET

The best way to prepare for a vocoder reading in L.A. is listening to Eazy E interview Roger Troutman on the Talk Box. This originally aired on Eazy’s Ruthless Radio show in 1994.

DJ Quik once told me a story about Roger playing the theme from 2001:A Space Odyssey (“Also Sprach Zarathustra”) on acoustic guitar, while having a quiet discussion about the Talk Box. Quik’s guitar player, named Bacon, apparently lost his mind.

“He freaked Bacon out,” said Quik.  “Freaked him right out.”

Roger, bacon.

Unfortunately, I have no photos of Bacon freaking out—or Eazy E interviewing Roger on the Talk Box. This old (1997) picture of me in Forry Ackerman’s basement in L.A. will have to do.  I was testing out HR Giger’s Alien Talk Box, which caused a low rider to explode from my stomach. The little guy near my left elbow was amused.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon mask (not facing the camera) appears to be wearing a toupee.

The shirt is by Organized Konfusion.

This has nothing to do with Roger, or Bacon, but I was just told that Sun Ra once attended a matinee showing of Invasion of the Body Snatchers in Boston. According to Alan Nahigan (who contributed a photograph of the Outer Visual Communicator to the book), Sun Ra said it was “very factual.”

In other exciting news, a pair of vocoders used in Vietnam is now on eBay.

Where’s the sniper?

Volume 10!

Tubby Run The Skies

By Dave Tompkins at 6:07pm ET

(Above: Space cowgirls play the Voder, a speech synthesizer invented by Bell Labs)

Homer Dudley’s “Reports From the Far More Distant Future” could have been too weird for public consumption, much less the Harvard vocoder demo in 1936. Amid Bell Labs’ bazookas and high-speed cameras that filmed vocal chords, there was Dudley’s “vocoder skit.”

Here, the vocoder plays the voices of St. Peter, a man named Mr. Puree, a beer PhD, and the president of “Cosmos Laboratories.” The lattermost was trying to harness cosmic rays while researching the hyperbolic function of the elasticity of the ether. (The vocoder’s words, not mine.)

Said St. Peter: “The problem of the late-coming gate crashers will be solved by decorating them with poison ivy and escorting them individually to specially assigned tables where only hash will be served.”

The dialogue is also prone to fits of rhyme:

When Tubby Rogers reached Elysium
And the “Voices of Science” rang through Paradise
Angels and seraphs ceased to busy ’em
They knew that Tubby could run the skies

One voice (simply credited as “vocoder”), states that each human is a transmitter who can tune in anywhere in the universe and “converse and chatter intergalactic.” As an example, they eavesdrop on a beer chant at MIT (“Drink it down! Drink it down!”) and speak of a rocket train that can take you straight to hell, where incidentally, a fundraiser is being held for the “Technology Club of Hades.”

This must’ve been the machine’s first encounter with the word intergalactic, not to mention: human emanations in bandwidth.

The vocoder then closes out with the following quatrain, which leads one, perhaps just me, to believe that Dudley’s invention had once attempted some booty raps.

I’ve been expurgated in Heaven
The Three Brass Balls is taboo
I can’t sing Pie or Women
So I got a new rhyme for you

Hopefully, the future will bring us a recording.

Homer Dudley’s future would include “ice-racing” in a Saab.

(Dialogue excerpts from Homer Dudley’s Vocoder Skit are courtesy of M.I.T. Archives.)

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