How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop, The Machine Speaks

How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop, The Machine Speaks

by Dave Tompkins
     
 

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The history of the vocoder: how popular music hijacked the Pentagon's speech scrambling weapon

The vocoder, invented by Bell Labs in 1928, once guarded phones from eavesdroppers during World War II; by the Vietnam War, it was repurposed as a voice-altering tool for musicians, and is now the ubiquitous voice of popular music.

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Overview

The history of the vocoder: how popular music hijacked the Pentagon's speech scrambling weapon

The vocoder, invented by Bell Labs in 1928, once guarded phones from eavesdroppers during World War II; by the Vietnam War, it was repurposed as a voice-altering tool for musicians, and is now the ubiquitous voice of popular music.

In How to Wreck a Nice Beach—from a mis-hearing of the vocoder-rendered phrase “how to recognize speech”—music journalist Dave Tompkins traces the history of electronic voices from Nazi research labs to Stalin’s gulags, from the 1939 World’s Fair to Hiroshima, from artificial larynges to Auto-Tune.

We see the vocoder brush up against FDR, JFK, Stanley Kubrick, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Kraftwerk, the Cylons, Henry Kissinger, and Winston Churchill, who boomed, when vocoderized on V-E Day, “We must go off!” And now vocoder technology is a cell phone standard, allowing a digital replica of your voice to sound human.

From T-Mobile to T-Pain, How to Wreck a Nice Beach is a riveting saga of technology and culture, illuminating the work of some of music’s most provocative innovators.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Anyone who has ever spoken into an electric fan appreciates the magic of voice manipulation. Throughout history, altering one's voice has been used to deceive as well as entertain. Tompkins, a former columnist for The Wire, traces the strange history of the most famous robot-voice-making machine, the vocoder. Oscillating between political figures and popular musicians, Tompkins analyzes the various uses of the vocoder through its function and purpose. He excels at contextualization as he vividly describes voice manipulation as used during times of war and peace, from Stalin to New Edition. The figures in this story are as compelling as the machine itself. Although his writing style can be frenetic at times, Tompkins holds together the complete story of the vocoder while elaborating on the number of individuals responsible for its creation and popularity. VERDICT Seamlessly integrating many stories into a single narrative, Tompkins presents a masterly history of the vocoder. This fun and informational book will appeal to readers interested in the history of technology and the evolution of electronic music.—Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH
From the Publisher
"It’s unquestionably brilliant, not only one of the best music books of the year, but also one of the best music books ever written."
Los Angeles Times

"Dave Tompkins is seven steps ahead of science and several leagues outside of time."
—Sasha Frere-Jones, Pop Music Critic, The New Yorker

"The best hip hop writer ever born."
—Jeff Chang, author of Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation, winner of the American Book Award

"One of the most bugged, brilliant guys I know." 
—Oliver Wang, NPR music critic 
 
"No one knows more about the vocoder than Dave Tompkins, not even the dude who invented it. [A]n awesome book about the vocoder and its cultural impact… read it immediately." 
—The Fader

How to Wreck a Nice Beach is much more than a labor of love: It’s an intergalactic vision quest fueled by several thousand gallons of high-octane spiritual-intellectual lust. Outside of, say, William Vollmann, it’s hard to think of an author so ravished by his subject... A hallucinatory stew of Rimbaud, Tom Wolfe, Lester Bangs, and Bootsy Collins.”
New York

"This one has cult audience written all over it."
Booklist

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781612190938
Publisher:
Melville House Publishing
Publication date:
11/08/2011
Sold by:
Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
33 MB
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This product may take a few minutes to download.

Meet the Author

Dave Tompkins, a former columnist for The Wire, writes frequently on about hip-hop and popular music. His work has appeared in Vibe, The Village Voice, Wax Poetics, and The Believer. Nearly a decade in the making, this is his first book.


From the Hardcover edition.

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