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How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop, The Machine Speaks Paperback – November 8, 2011
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When first looking at this book, the initial question on most readers’ minds might be: What the heck is a vocoder? Simply put, the vocoder (invented in the late 1920s) took human speech and broke it up into its constituent frequencies, thus allowing that voice to be transmitted electronically, and reassembled and synthesized at the other end, reproducing the words, if not the sound, of the original speech. The vocoder was developed as a means of encrypting speech, of protecting transmissions from prying ears. But, over time, it found other uses, in movies, television, and music (if you want to imagine what it sounds like, recall the Cylons from the original Battlestar Galactica). Eventually, what began its life as a tool for cryptology became a pop-culture icon. Tompkins tells the vocoder’s story with great relish, as though he can’t believe how mind-blowingly cool the device is, and it’s impossible to read the book without being caught up in his enthusiasm. This one has cult audience written all over it. --David Pitt --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"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."
“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.”
"This one has cult audience written all over it."
From the Hardcover edition.
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It features a detailed history of the military interest and use of the Vocoder as a way of transmitting coded information during the Second World War. These information is both great and fascinating to read, as are the discussions regarding variant technologies of the Vocoder sounds, such as the Talk-Box.
Where the book is weak is in certain sections of the authors' discussion of music. There isn't enough discussion of the early embrace and use of the Vocoder by experimental electronic musicians. Instead the author spends slightly too much time indirectly promoting and defending musically weak entertainers in the 1980's that have occasionally used the Vocoder. These entertainers are far from being truly prolific musicians who understand the Vocoder as a true musical instrument. They are merely just people who were in the right place at the right time to become part of a scene, and who are largely just wanna-be's trying to make a name for themselves. This doesn't qualify them worthy of serious discussion in a book about the Vocoder and it's history. The fact that some aspiring rap or pop stars used it only occasionally (and only as a gimmick), is completely irrelevant especially when more important prolific musicians are reduced to sections of paragraphs or omitted entirely. But at least true innovators like Roger Zapp Troutman are given due credit.
In sum, this book is a good source for information on the Vocoder. But a better book still needs to be done where the irrelevant social scenes surrounding musically weak 'hangers on' don't cause more important relevant information to be minimized or omitted.
Oh yeah, and who knew Roger didn't use a vocoder, egads!