Dave Tompkins' Vocoder Mix podcast – 'nuff said

We need more of this kind of thing…


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 [Tompkins’ How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop, The Machine Speaks]. 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.

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.

STREAM: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/How-To-Wreck-A-Nice-Mix.mp3%5D

DOWNLOAD: How To Wreck A Nice Mix” (mp3, 103mb)

Excessive track listing below.

(:01) On the Beach—Neil Young
Twenty years ago, I “fell asleep” on Figure 8 Island wearing a Public Enemy hat. It had been given to me by Terminator X. When I woke in the morning, I was wearing a G N’ R hat. Two crossed pistols, a skull, and roses. Whatever maniac did this: Please return my PE hat. No questions asked.

(:12) EMS Vocoder Test (1976)
I was told this is an impression of Grover talking about the pyramids.

(:31) The Bells of St. Mary’s Condition—Bell Labs (1936)
“The true loves who come from the sea…”

The Bell Labs referred to their vocoder tests as conditions. All Bell Labs conditions here were acquired from the Werner Meyer-Eppler archives at the Institut Phonetik at Bonn, not Bell Labs. W.M.E. referred to the vocoder as a retro-transformer, thirty years before a Decepticon showed up in a Trouble Funk song.

(1:16) The Unvoiced Hiss Energy Condition—Bell Labs (1936)
Pass the conch like they used to say.

(1:32) Change the Beat—Beside & Fab Five Freddy (1982)
“If we were any fresher you’d have to slap us.”
—Fresh Market billboard, Greenville, S.C.

(1:40) Pak Man (intro)—Jonzun Crew (1983)
A song about one man’s desire to exterminate all Pac Man machines with the help of a device invented to rewire the chromatic spectrum of the universe using 17 million colors, the Suboptic Shadow World, and Sun Ra.

Continue reading





NCAA Basketball Championship, Easter Monday, 1983.

NCSU Wolfpack guard Derek Whittenburg sits in a locker room in Albuquerque, listening to “Pack Jam,” a vocoder hit by the Jonzun Crew. He is two hours and one Jimmy V-hug away from launching a 30-foot air ball that would be rescued by a (surprised?) Lorenzo Charles and flushed home when the buzzer screamed red. Snip net.

One of my favorite postgame memories was that of Wolfpack center Cozell McQueen standing on the rim–or verge—while back in Raleigh, NC, kids lit their couches’ asses on fire.


This Monday, April 5th, just before anyone but (please, for the love of Zardoz, not ) Duke wins it all, I’ll be at Book Court, in Brooklyn, playing 15 seconds of “Pack Jam”, in honor of all the Wolfpack squads who have been sitting at home on this special night for the past 27 years.

It will also be the eve of the release of my book How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop—The Machine Speaks. I’ll be showing some photos of the Pentagon’s “Indestructible Speech Machine”(their words), playing space funk audio and swapping covert vocoder stories with David Kahn, leading cryptology historian and author of The Codebreakers, “the first comprehensive history of secret communication,” now in its undisputed zillionth printing. Kahn was also the first to openly publish an article about the vocoder’s deployment in World War II.

I hold Kahn responsible for tacking an extra three years onto my book-writing, after he suggested that I hunt down the German telefunkateer who intercepted Churchill phone calls out of the ether, while on a beach in Noorwijk. (Still working on that one.)

Joseph Patel (supervising producer at VBS) will keep things moving along. Joseph first hired me to work for 360hiphop in 2001. Most importantly, he allowed me to publish a photo of the undersea duck-knight from Mysterious Island on Russell Simmons’ web site.


Web site here: stopsmilingbooks.com


Hope to see you there!


Thanks to Kevin DeBernardi at Analog Lifestyle (http://analoglifestyle.com) for the dope flyer! And Rock Hudson and Seconds, for the “vocal chord resection.”

Sat Feb 6 NYC 5pm: "Something to That Effect"—Dave Tompkins lectures on the Vocoder—FREE


This just in from occasional Arthur contributor Dave Tompkins:

I’ll be doing a talk for my Vocoder book How To Wreck A Nice Beach at the Goethe Institute as part of the Unsound Festival. Goethe is located at 5 E. 3rd at Broadway in the Wyoming Building. It takes place at 5pm, this Saturday, February 6, (also known, in the blizzard immediate, as tomorrow). It’s free.

I will be showing images from the book and playing vocoder audio clips from the 1930s and The Future, including the years for which we were more or less present.

“Something To That Effect” will include an ad for Silly Willy Toothpaste, “Barnacle Bill,” German soccer chants rendered from stadium noise, the last house on Mars going bananas, Cold War drones, seashells powered by unvoiced hiss energy, a song called “You’re A Peachtree Freak On Peachtree Street,” my Verizon bill, talking castle winds, talking this, talking that, Phil Collins, and, if time allows, a guy with strep throat singing “Candy Girl.” Whatever it takes. Bring a snowman, win the Super Bowl.

How To Wreck A Nice Beach will be published by Stop Smiling/Melville House at the end of March.

Sneak a peek at Dave Tompkins' vocoder book

New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones has an excerpt from Arthur contributor Dave Tompkins’ long-awaited book about the vocoder up on his blog. Tompkins connects the dots between Cher, T-Pain, Holger Czukay, and the classic Cylons, sprinkling in ample quotes from Bell Technical Journal along the way. Go read “Unvoiced Hiss Energy” over at the New Yorker. And keep an eye out for Tompkins’ book, due out next spring on Stop Smiling Books/Melville House.

P.S. Tompkins’ infamous interview with Godzilla appeared back in Arthur #10, which is currently available in the Arthur Store.