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Something To That Effect

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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