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HOW TO WRECK A NICE BEACH
The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop
THE MACHINE SPEAKS
Dave Tompkins

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Detail

Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Melville House; Edition 1 (April 6, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1933633883
ISBN-13: 978-1933633886
Physical Trim: 7.3 x 1 x 9 inches

HOW TO WRECK A NICE BEACH
The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop
THE MACHINE SPEAKS
Dave Tompkins

bdbs commerce | beta


Description

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

This is the story of how a military device became the robot voice of hip-hop and pop music. Though the vocoder, invented by Bell Labs in 1928, was designed to guard phones from eavesdroppers, it expanded beyond its original purpose and has since become widely used as a voice-altering tool for musicians. It has served both the Pentagon and the roller rink, a double agent of pop and espionage.

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 Manhattan nightclubs to the Muppets.

The result is an amazing chronicle of postwar music and culture, filled with unexpected and surprising encounters. We see the vocoder brush up against FDR, Solzhenitsyn, Stanley Kubrick, Stevie Wonder, JFK, Eisenhower, Neil Young, Kanye West, the Cylons, Walt Disney, Henry Kissinger, and Winston Churchill, who boomed, when vocoderized on V-E Day, "We must go off!" And now the device is a cell phone standard, allowing 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.


About the Author

Dave Tompkins, a former columnist for The Wire, writes frequently on 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.


Reviews

"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 ... [Tompkin's] biggest and most perilous adventure in How to Wreck a Nice Beach is the plunge deep into the throbbing radioactive heart of his own prose - a hallucinatory stew of Rimbaud, Tom Wolfe, Lester Bangs, and Bootsy Collins."
- New York Magazine

"We should be thankful that Tompkins sacrificed a decade to this unique and beautifully wrought book, in tribute to the brief cultural moment when a tool of militarism, secrets and destruction found itself transformed by music-makers into a zap-gun of heroic space-age liberation."
- Mojo

"While the language of hip-hop has long seeped into the words of its critics, Tompkins goes further than simple slang-signifying. His work echoes the rhythm and structure of the genre's more adventurous practitioners, spiraling down parentheses at an ultramagnetic speed of thought and mirroring the interconnected wordplay of De La Soul."
- Andrew Noz, Washington City Paper

"A fascinating and entertaining debut."
- Bookforum

"Tompkins loves making disparate connections, and throughout his history of the voice-distorting machine, he slyly links seemingly unrelated people, places and moments in history like he's unscrambling his own personal Da Vinci Code."
- The Fader

"With verve and humor, Dave Tompkins tells the remarkable story of the vocoder and its secret WWII offspring, which protected the very words of Roosevelt and Churchill as they flashed across the Atlantic. Nobody has ever related this before, and to have a technological tale related this well is a great gift to science and to history."
- David Kahn, author of The Codebreakers and Hitler's Spies

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