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"The Secret History of the Vocoder"

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Object of Interest: The Vocoder

By Nate Lavey and Jay Kang

The vocoder—part military technology, part musical instrumenthas had quite a history.

In our new Object of Interest video, we explore the vocoder in settings ranging from -

the Second World War to Kraftwerk parties -

featuring interviews with Laurie Anderson, Cozmo D, Dave Tompkins, and Frank Gentges.



On Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/128279928

Original webpage: http://video.newyorker.com/watch/object-of-interest-the-vocoder



The military tangent:

Uploaded on Sep 16, 2011

During WWII, AT&T engineers design and build a top secret voice encryption system that secures transatlantic telephone conversations between the highest-level Allied commanders, including Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. The system, dubbed SIGSALY, is an evolution of the work done on the one-time pad cipher during WWI. The system, which is kept secret for decades, is the first voice encryption system.

WWII images and video courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration and Archive.org.







The musical tangent:

Uploaded on Sep 14, 2010

"O Superman (For Massenet)" is a 1981 song by experimental performance artist and musician Laurie Anderson.

Part of the larger work United States, "O Superman," a half-sung, half-spoken, almost minimalist piece unexpectedly rose to #2 on the UK Singles Charts in 1981.

Prior to the success of this song, Anderson was little known outside the art world."





FWIW:   You Tube playlist index's:


2.)  Sennheiser Vocoder

3.)  Moog Vocoder



Google Search:  Sennheiser Vocoder      Moog Vocoder


Other interesting reads?:


The Start of the Digital Revolution: SIGSALY Secure: Digital Voice Communications in World War II.

By J. V. Boone and R. R. Peterson. (NSA web page)



Intercepted conversations - Bell Labs A-3 Speech scrambler and German codebreakers






And, on a slightly different tangent:





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Vocoders are a part of almost every digital cellphone now. (Essentially, when you call someone, they're listening to a robot imitating your voice.)

Which is why you can totally confuse a cellphone by having it hear two people talking at once, at equal volume. While a human would probably be able to sort out the conversations, the cell's vocoder doesn't know whose vowels to track.

You can moderately confuse a cellphone by calling from a space with a loud, near reverb... like some building entryways. In this case, previous vowels can pollute newer ones.

Which is also why I refuse to call client cell lines when it's time to play them voice vs music placement. If they don't have a conventional (not VOIP) landline, they have to find one.

Interesting experiment, if you have a friend with a very melismatic speaking style: compare their words' internal pitch variations when you call their cell from a landline, vs when you call their landline from a landline.


You can also use a vocoder with a stadium-crowd carrier and slow modulation voice, to make it sound (almost) like the whole crowd is chanting something. Add a couple of overdubs to help sell the sound...

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20 hours ago, Jim Feeley said:

Anyone here read Dave Tompkins' book, How To Wreck a Nice Beach? I remember seeing it in local bookstores a few years ago. Audacious topic for a general-interest book. 


It's 350 pages... is it worth the read?



I read it--after the early years stuff it was kind of a slog and very full of itself and its own cleverness.  Kindle maybe?

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  • 1 month later...
Published on Feb 2, 2015

The bright green, circular building of Mutato Muzika in Los Angeles is easy to spot when cruising down Sunset Boulevard.

But most people might not realize it contains the creative hub of Mark Mothersbaugh -

a founding member of DEVO turned award-winning Hollywood composer.

Famous for his use of the synthesizer, Mothersbaugh has accumulated a vast collection over the years.

We had the chance to check out a small selection of Mothersbaugh synths  -

and spent some time talking about the future of music with the prolific artist.


Link:   YT - 'Most Popular Mark Mothersbaugh videos' playlist index  (YT auto-generated)


See also?:



In 1980, Roger Linn revolutionized the world of electronic musical instruments with the release of the world's first drum machine to use digital samples, the LM-1 Drum Computer.[4] The LM-1 was the first drum machine to use samples of a real drum kit, though Roger Linn cannot recall exactly which session drummer played the sounds that he used.[4] To further add to the mystery, an entry in the online museum of the Roger Linn Design company credits L.A. session drummer Art Wood with most of the samples.[5] Examples of the LM-1 in use can be found on recordings by PrinceGary Numan, and Michael Jackson.[1]





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