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CMS / Cool Japan Colloquium – Dave Thompkins on Vocoder

YOU ARE INVITED to a talk and discussion with Dave Tompkins, author of a new book that explores the intersections of music, technology, militarism and the magic of the unreal voice.  

This event is part of the Comparative Media Studies colloquium series, and is co-sponsored by MIT Cool Japan and the MIT Writing Program.  There will be a light dinner / reception afterwards.  The event is free and open to the public.   

How to Wreck a Nice Beach:  

Hearing Things with the Vocoder, From WWII to Hip-Hop

Dave Tompkins

May 10, 2012 (Thursday) 5-7pm

Room E14-633, MIT Map


Colloquium | 05.10.12 | 5:00 PM | E14-633

How To Wreck A Nice Speech: Hearing Things With The Vocoder, From World War II To Hip-Hop

Dave Tompkins

Invented by Bell Labs in 1928 to reduce bandwidth over the Trans Atantic Cable, the vocoder would end up guarding phone conversations from eavesdroppers during World War II. By the Vietnam War, the “spectral decomposer” had been re-freaked as a robotic voice for musicians. How To Wreck A Nice Beach is about hearing things, from a misunderstood technology which in itself often spoke under conditions of anonymity. This is a terminal beach-slap of the history of electronic voices: from Nazi research labs to Stalin gulags, from World’s Fairs to Hiroshima, from Churchill and JKF to Kubrick and Kinski, The O.C. and Rammellzee, artificial larynges and Auto-Tune. Vocoder compression technology is now a cell phone standard–we communicate via flawed digital replicas of ourselves every day. Imperfect to be real, we revel in signal corruption.

Dave Tompkins’ first book, How To Wreck A Nice Beach: The Vocoder From World War II To Hip-Hop, is now out in paperback. Amazon named it “top pick” for Entertainment book of the year in 2010. He has presented on the vocoder in Germany, Netherlands (Jan Van Eyck), New York (Eyebeam Institute), London, Poland (Unsound Festival), and at the NSA Cryptologic Symposium held at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. Tompkins has written for Grantland, Oxford American, The Believer and The Wire. Tompkins is currently researching Sustained Decay bass sub-frequencies in Florida. Born in North Carolina, he now lives in Brooklyn.

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