How to Wreck a Nice Beach, a book by Dave Tompkins

How to Wreck a Nice Beach, a book by Dave Tompkins

  • October 12, 2010

IN THE STORE
DAVE TOMPKINS - HOW TO WRECK A NICE BEACH
Book, 334p., published by Stopsmiling Books.

Coinciding with our album of vocoder tracks by Bruce Haack, Farad: The Electric Voice, is hip-hop writer Dave Tompkins with the great book How to Wreck a Nice Beach, a history of the vocoder and how the pentagon's speech scrambling weapon transformed into the robot voice of pop music.  

Invented by Bell Labs in 1928, the vocoder once guarded phones from codebreakers during World War II; by the Vietnam War, it had been repurposed as a voice-altering tool for musicians and soon became the ubiquitous voice of popular music. 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 the morning before 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.

How to Wreck a Nice Beach (the title taken from a mis-hearing of the vocoder rendered phrase “how to recognize speech” ) is a story of technology and culture, illuminating the work of some of music’s most provocative innovators.