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Something To That Effect

Robot Redboard

By Dave Tompkins at 10:27am ET

You’re looking at one colorful wall from the room of Electro Barry Sheppard, a Nottingham folk hero. Actually Electro Barry is his “family friendly name.” He’d prefer that you call him Audiotron, his vocoder-given name. Barry collects vintage English security alarm boxes, arrows, natural history skulls and glowing traffic bollards. He also has an amazing scrapbook of clouds he photographed in the 1980s. A scrapbook for ’80s pylons, too. On the wall across from the alarm boxes is the world’s most extensive collection of hand-drawn vocoder cassettes. To the left is a a big-ass cardboard check presented to Barry by the town of Nottingham for walking around the city for 5.5 days for charity, taking a path he designed himself. Not pictured: a few of Electro Barry’s brother’s teeth, sold to Barry (by his brother) for 3 quid.

You’re also looking at a photograph of Barry in his Robot Redboad suit, inspired by Robert Redford’s light-studded cowboy in The Electric Horseman, who’d previously inspired Roger Troutman’s light suit when Roger performed “Computer Love” at the Charlotte Coliseum. Twice.

His skull collection:

(Photo by Lord Ivory of the P Bros)

When I met Audiotron, he was three bites into a two-story heart attack on white bread: six franks on the bottom, two beef patties on the top. This hot dog sandwich spent most of the evening sitting on his EMS-2000 vocoder.

The imagination, the science and mystery of Electro music made it magical. If I could live my youth again, I would live out the early to mid-’80s, just for this reason alone, and then happily fade away.

(There’s more on Electro Barry in the appendix of the paperback.)

Shout out to the grandma in The Pale King who covered her trailer in hubcaps to generate an electromagnetic force field to thwart various unsavory types in Peoria, Illinois.

The blog has been neglected of late, for the usual reasons and distractions: New projects, Miami, the coral revolution, extensive lasers to the guts, a cistern that holds the ashes of Bloody Watson, Volatile Organic Compounds and the Dynamic Headspace Method, a vocoder version of “Inch Worm” recorded for the California school system in 1985, okayokay, mid-90s bass tapes from Memphis, stone tapes, toast, Nigel Kneale, Hev Dog, a man who drinks torpedo fuel, bee clouds, a mongoose fluent in Russian. And so on, all the way half-dead into Fall, the true season of rebirth through decay and states of deciduousness.


  1. Dave – this is completely unrelated but Christopher Nolan must have read your book for his Bane character’s sound effects. Were you contacted about it? I’m just curious to hear your thoughts about it. Thanks

    Comment by Ben H — September 30, 2012 @ 1:12pm
  2. Hi there folks just to let you guys know that the robot costume took 24 hours to make and paint. the reason for it being called Robot Redboard was infact due to a 70s fancy dress party and I built this as i like the old school robot look. He is simply called Robot Redboard because of the fact that he is red and made of card.

    The name AUDIOTRON is because of my love of vocoders and my electro style beat boxing style.

    yours Audiotron. aks Electro Barry

    Comment by electro Barry Aka Audiotron — October 1, 2012 @ 7:45am
  3. We will wait 2 hear from u… =)

    Comment by DJ BackBone — October 2, 2012 @ 12:52pm
  4. Hi Dave,

    Sorry for this comment not applying specifically to this posting.

    I remember a TV show in the late 1950’s or early ’60’s in which a vocoder was featured. The show was “What’s My Line” or “I’ve Got A Secret”, or some such program, in which the mystery guest was revealed to be someone from Bell Labs who had invented the vocoder. It is an early memory which set me off on my ultimate career involving hearing and speech research. I have tried to find that episode, but can find no reference to it. It is not the episode on the Voder, which I have seen. It would mean a lot to me if I could find a reference to that. In your research on the vocoder, and Bell Labs, have you seen any such reference? I was hoping it was Homer Dudley I had seen. I hope I have remembered it correctly.

    Thank you

    Comment by Tom Creutz — May 20, 2013 @ 1:02pm

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