We Are The Robots
September 18, 2014 5:52 AM   Subscribe

The Vocoder, a short New Yorker video (11:30) about the military origins of the vocoder. The vocoder—the musical instrument that gave Kraftwerk its robotic sound—began as an early telecommunications device and a top-secret military encoding machine.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe (14 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Someone wrote a book about this contraption a few years ago

How To Wreck A Nice Beach
posted by thelonius at 5:57 AM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

the musical instrument that gave Kraftwerk its robotic sound

Not to take anything away from Kraftwerk, but let's not forget a guy who latched onto the vocoder before they did, and did some pretty out there stuff with it: Bruce Haack. Definitely unique. Some Haack vocoder in this track.

You could journey further into his wacky world with these 1968 tracks Motorcycle Ride + Nothing To Do (1968). Very, um… yeah, unique.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:10 AM on September 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh man, "Jam On It" was my, er, jam when I was roller-skating my weekends away in the early 80's.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:33 AM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Plus, creating a vocoder is a great mid-level exercise in learning signal processing: just a few band-pass filters, find some signal envelopes, multiply together and sum and Boom, there you are.

thelonius, have you read "How To Wreck A Nice Beach"? It looked interesting but I never picked it up.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:09 AM on September 18, 2014

FYI the author of How to wreck a nice beach was the "Vocoder history expert" in the video linked. I took a look through the wiki article to see exactly how it became commercially available - I was kind of surprised the video didn't talk at all about this transition from military secret to commercially synthesizers.
posted by ianhattwick at 9:34 AM on September 18, 2014

benito.strauss, I have not. I had forgotten about it, the post reminded me.
posted by thelonius at 11:54 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I cannot recommend How To Wreck a Nice Beach enough, a total vortex of awesomeness. IIRC it features commissioned portraits of Michael Jonzun and Claude Shannon.
posted by activitystory at 12:32 PM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Adding it to my Birthday List.

--- opens bday_list.txt ---

Whattaya know, it's already there. Right next to "MP3: The Meaning of a Format", by Jonathan Sterne. So many books.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:33 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you want to go beyond the timeline in this video, check out The Voder, which is where Homer Dudley's research started. I can't imagine how much training that bored-looking woman endured to be that comfortable with making the demonstration sounds.

Then you can go forward in time to remember the Vocoder's stepbrother in LPC-speech processing, the Texas Instruments Speak 'n' Spell, which used the first consumer-grade LPC speech synthesis microchip.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:54 PM on September 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, and if you're as confused as I was by the title of the book we're discussing, "How to wreck a nice beach" is a phrase that's difficult to distinguish from "How to recognized speech". I think it has bounced around in speech recognition circles for quite a while.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:14 PM on September 18, 2014

Thanks flapjax.
Never heard of Bruce Haack before.
He is a character.
More Haack > Mean Old Devil
posted by dougzilla at 4:31 PM on September 18, 2014

I gave my marked-up copy of How to Wreck a Nice Beach to a person I was dating at the time, and never got it back. I don't miss that dingus but boy do I miss that book.
posted by like_a_friend at 5:13 PM on September 18, 2014

Every time vocoding comes up, i end up thinking of one of the funkiest songs ever made, Operator.
posted by emptythought at 6:27 PM on September 18, 2014

awesome when you run a microkorg vocoder through guitar pedals. awesome.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:57 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

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