Dave Tompkins says the best way to prepare for a vocoder reading in L.A. is by listening to Eazy E interview Roger Troutman on Ruthless Radio. Sage advice. Once upon a talkbox, 92.3, The Beat, offered Eric Wright his own program, a wonderful quagmire that forced him to wrestle with withholding “bitch” and “motherfucker” from his lexicon for at least three hours each week. There is a review of Dave’s How to Wreck a Nice Beach and a Q&A over at Pop & Hiss. The reading is tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Skylight Books. The book is highly recommended, but that’s implied.
Mix tracklist below the jump.
(:01) On the Beach—Neil Young
Twenty years ago, I “fell asleep” on Figure 8 Island wearing a Public Enemy hat. It had been given to me by Terminator X. When I woke in the morning, I was wearing a G N’ R hat. Two crossed pistols, a skull, and roses. Whatever maniac did this: Please return my PE hat. No questions asked.
(:12) EMS Vocoder Test (1976)
I was told this is an impression of Grover talking about the pyramids.
(:31) The Bells of St. Mary’s Condition—Bell Labs (1936)
“The true loves who come from the sea…”
The Bell Labs referred to their vocoder tests as conditions. All Bell Labs conditions here were acquired from the Werner Meyer-Eppler archives at the Institut Phonetik at Bonn, not Bell Labs. W.M.E. referred to the vocoder as a retro-transformer, thirty years before a Decepticon showed up in a Trouble Funk song.
(1:16) The Unvoiced Hiss Energy Condition—Bell Labs (1936)
Pass the conch like they used to say.
(1:32) Change the Beat—Beside & Fab Five Freddy (1982)
“If we were any fresher you’d have to slap us.”
—Fresh Market billboard, Greenville, S.C.
(1:40) Pak Man (intro)—Jonzun Crew (1983)
A song about one man’s desire to exterminate all Pac Man machines with the help of a device invented to rewire the chromatic spectrum of the universe using 17 million colors, the Suboptic Shadow World, and Sun Ra.
(1:53) Pack Jam—Jonzun Crew (1983)
Telefunken spies intercepted Allied vocoder transmissions and spat them back into the ether as jamming frequencies because they weren’t recognized as human speech. (One German transmitter was stationed on a beach in Holland.)
“We took a man and turned him into jam.”
(3:20) Space Is the Place—Jonzun Crew (1983)
“Make room! Make room!”
(6:03) Candy Girl—Author’s exclusive strep-a-pela version (August, 2005)
Because being sick in the summer can be fun.
(6:34) Scorpio—Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five (1983)
Asthma attacks, lawnmowers, duck tails and a Rick James stomach ache.
(8:36) F-4000—Fearless Four (1984)
The first vocoder song to cite pods and anchor men.
(9:34) The Ole Buzz Condition—Bell Labs (1936)
“The buzz is your cuz”
—Officer Hoppy, misheard, Sanford & Son
(9:40) Electro-Larynx in German—Werner Meyer-Eppler (1951)
“I hate goin’ to her spot because her daddy can’t say nothing unless he put that thing to his neck that make him sound like a robot.” Murs & 9th Wonder w/ Suga Free, “Let Me Talk” (Thanks, Noz)
(9:48) The Lord Loves You—Cleve Alleyne (Talk Box) (1983)
Too short to talk box with god.
(10:51) Radio People—Zapp (Talk Box) (1986)
Not exactly low-rider Zapp, and possibly jazzercise Zapp, but there’s something sad about this one.
Odometer Check: “Radio People” makes a top-down cameo in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, when Cameron Frye discovers that Sonic Youth’s drummer has been joyriding in his old man’s 1961 Ferrari 250GT. We zoom into Cameron’s citywide scream, on the tube of Roger Troutman. “I’m alone” could be “I’m in love.” Depends on what kind of day you’re having.
For all you Zapp nuts, I suggest B. Cause’s Playin Kinda Ruff mix.
(11:46) Nasty Rock—Garrett’s Crew (1983)
Only vocoder song from Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, and recorded in Chapel-Hill. At the Fuquay Flea Market, James Garrett had an artificial beach backdrop where he took photos. He also sold Apple Jacks from a gumball dispenser, and customized face clocks. That’s your face, or your friend’s face, in a clock, for only $10.
(12:53) All You Have Is Your Teeth—Sistrunk II (Monk edit)
Beat: Human League “Path of Least Resistance”
Voice: Fantasy Three “Biter’s Dub”
Trill: The Buggers “Bugger’s Groove”
Something to keep me occupied during that really hard summer of 2005.
(15:04) El Salvador—Cybotron (1983)
“I was always struck by the immense empty beauty of the vistas in the jungle in juxtaposition to the Cobra helicopter gunships flying over and shooting. The contrast is schizophrenic. The birds, the crickets chirping…punctuated by rat-tatattat.”
—Cybotron’s Rik Davis, on his experiences in Quang Tri, Vietnam, 1968
(17:29) Bat Impersonates Helicopter
(17:38) Crickets Being Crickets
(17:46) Clear—Cybotron (from Jeff Mills, “The Wizard,” WJLB, Detroit, 1986)
“When you go to those places where those people were stars and where black music was rooted in those clubs, there’s nothing there. It’s an empty lot. When I go to see where the Temptations played, where Marvin Gaye and the Four Tops were playing, and where the music was seeded, there’s nothing there. Desolation. That’s ‘Clear.’”
—Rik Davis on Detroit
(19:30) Al-Naafiysh (The Soul), with dwarf winding clock—Hashim (from Jeff Mills, WJLB)
Hashim means “destroyer of all evil.” That is not our scratching but I will take responsibility for the Cosmic Car crash. Both Wizards are from my tape collection, not the Internet. It came from a Japanese kid from Detroit named DJ Flesh KK. I first heard the Wizard tapes when my high school hosted the Special Olympics.
(20:00) Soccer stadium chanting in German—Sennheiser demo, 1977
According to my cousin, the stadium is demanding another goal. The crowd noise is the carrier wave. If Steve Death is listening, I should tell you about the time my wack third grade soccer team won its only game of the season. I celebrated by getting busted stealing—and eating—powdered donuts in a Harris-Teeter.
(20:26) Castle wind roaring in German—Sennheiser demo, 1977
Had this one on my outgoing (friendly?) voicemail. Lost calls.
(20:45) Cold Wind Madness (Instrumental)—Ice T, Rich Cason, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (1983)
“Voices originate in the wind, don’t they?”
—Felix Visser, inventor of the Syntovox vocoder
When I gave Ice-T a ride to the Holiday Inn after a Body Count show in Chapel-Hill, I most certainly forgot to thank him for calling this thing Cold Wind Madness.
(21:20) Bad Times (Instrumental)—Capt Rapp, Rich Cason, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Los Angeles (1983)
Purchased during family trip to New York, Christmas ’83, and played at the wrong speed for the following two years.
(21:39) Breakmixer—Victor & the Glove, Los Angeles (1983)
Radioactivity Rapp—Rich Cason (R.I.P.)
Not the same “Radioactivity” from Cincinnati.
Magic Mike Theme—Magic Mike (produced by Rich Cason)
Not the same Magic Mike from Orlando.
(24:44) Dredio—Mac Mall, Mac Dre, E-40, Bay Area (2005)
From the album Da US Open. Word is borg.
(27:17) Armenia City in the Sky—The Who (Sonovox) (1968)
I was once told of a band from Buffalo called Robot With Werewolf Hands. They would perform onstage with a keg that wore furry ears, antennae, and werewolf hands. By the end of the show, the keg was empty and the werewolf hands were flipping off the cops. Pure speculation here.
(27:32) Sparky’s Magic Baton (Sonovox) 1941
The Sonovox was invented in 1939 by Gilbert Wright, while shaving his Adam’s Apple. In the 1940’s, while the vocoder was at war, Wright’s grooming ulpulator would bestow the gift of speech to vacuum cleaners, pigs, wine, and car horns. The Sonovox made Bozo the Clown’s best friend famous. It also freaked out Frampton and ELO, as well as the Bowery Boys, the Good Humor Man, and Joan Crawford’s eyebrows in Possessed. See also Letter To Three Wives.
(28:48) Hans Leip—Sennheiser demonstration, 1977
“Outside the barracks/ Before the main gate/ There stood a lantern/ And it stands there still.”
(29:09) This Day—Peter Baumann (1979)
“Dedicated to romance” but really feeling the distance.
(30:55) One of Our Drones Is Missing—Werner Meyer-Eppler, “A Musical Night,” WDR, West German radio (1951)
“What you are about to hear would rather belong to the realm of the unreal than sober science.”
(31:24) Crazy Nights (Instrumental)—Nightless, Italy (1982)
Good-bye sober science, hello crazy nights. Actually, this is pretty quiet for a song called “Crazy Nights.” This night was so crazy they can’t even talk about it.
(33:28) Spooks (Instrumental)—Tom Tom Club (1981)
(35:02) ELO swoosh
By and by…
(35:09) Telekon (no verses)—Gary Numan (1980)
No vocoder here, but Bambaataa said that Gary Numan himself was a vocoder, which works for me. Telekon was purchased on same snowy day in sixth grade as Travelogue, and a pretty bad Ultravox album called Rage in Eden.
(38:08) EMS Vocoder Talking Slurpee, 1975
You’re lucky. I could have gone with “Dreams of Animals” or that EMS test where they had the vocoder reading the stock market report.
(38:31) Radio Stars—Kraftwerk (1976)
Oh, you guys!
(39:00) Uranium—Kraftwerk (1976)
Florian uses the Votrax, a text-to-speech voice prosthetic developed by the Federal Screw Works of Troy, Michigan.
Florian also tracked down “the little old man” who recorded the birds for The Birds.
(40:53) Das Booty Bass—Jacksonville, Florida (1990)
Bass swallows U-boat. Sub-freq freakout.
(43:35) Man Made—Jam Pony Express/Man Parrish, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
We did not do anything to this one! Jam Pony should have been deployed for Operation Wandering Soul in Vietnam.
Bonus Beach: Apparently a fired DJ from Lauderdale once locked himself in the booth and played Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Square Dance Rap” for ten hours straight.
(45:08) The Silly Willy Toothpaste Hour Condition—Bell Labs, (1936)
I was told that Luther Campbell once offered $50 a tooth for anyone caught selling Jam Pony cassettes of people (Jam Pony, for instance) screaming all over his shit.
(45:38) Get Dis Money (Instrumental)—Slum Village (1999)
D’Angelo’s band—with Questlove and Poyser—killed this live. Produced by Dilla, “Get Dis Money” samples the Herbie Hancock vocoder track “Come…Running To Me.”
A more fitting vocoder song here might be “Unemployment” by Velocity.
(46:30) Back Drop (Instrumental)—P Batters, Charlotte, North Carolina (2002, I think)
Speaking of artificial beach-drops, prom pictures and expired driver’s licenses… The 704 area code leads me to believe this could be from Salisbury, Concord, Charlotte, Pineville, Gastonia (home to Sleepy Floyd), Albemarle or Waxhaw.
(47:53) Mr. Groove—One Way (1984)
The vocoder had connections in the rust belt. Also highly recommended by One Way: “Didn’t You Know It.”
(49:35) You’re a Peachtree Freak On Peachtree Street (Part III)—Geno Jordan (1982)
Another plug tune for the Peachoid water tower/Booty Planet off 85 South in Gaffney, South Carolina. Even though Geno Jordan is from Atlanta. But you have to pass through Gaffney to get to ATL. Whatever.
(51:19) Meet the Man—Dayton (1984)
We took out the verses because we are godless communists. Dayton’s vocoder guy Shawn Sandridge once spoke of a mysterious man who sang through a garden hose.
(52:59) Sound of Music—Dayton (1983)
Happy like pulling a hologram Vida Blue card from a box of Frosted Flakes on a Saturday morning before watching Westworld.
(54:23) The “My teacher’s screwy daddy!” Condition—Bell Labs (1936)
Never mind the flip talk young lady.
(55:00) Nothing—Doug E. Fresh (1986)
I once dreamt that a fireplace chanted the “Nothing” vocoder to me in a cabin in Brevard, NC (where, when awake at age 8, I played my first game of Telephone.) There were antler chandeliers. The fireplace was a dragon’s mouth. Such nostrils! Every nothing was punctuated with a belch of blue smoke. I explained the dream in a letter to a Bavarian mental institution, where doctors played vocoder recordings of talking water drops for patients while they slept. Never mailed it.
(56:12) Nothing Ever Changes—Cosmic Touch (1983)
This is the Voice of the Vocoder Book Companion. Stop fucking around.
(56:28) 69 Cancer Sign (Instrumental)—Very Cheri (1983)
I got this one from Makoto who still has my satin green Skyyywalker Records jacket with the cloud foot stitching. The part of the book where Churchill’s spy puts his foot through a cloud was inspired by “Thro the D” and the Skyyywalker Records logo.
“69 Cancer Sign” was released on Zakia.
(58:31) We Are Frank Chickens (Monk’s Tan Tan Tanuki Bonus)—Frank Chickens (1985)
They’re chanting about the Tan Tan Tanuki, an ancient raccoon-like shapeshifter from Japanese mythology, often remembered for having giant nuts.
Rap Attack author David Toop was involved with this project.
Bonus Beach: My mother had a Tanuki on her front porch, a potter sheriff that stashed used popsicle depressors and secret keys in its beargut. The bees and ants were thrilled. (I once discovered a cryptic note from my brother—the same one who named his band Get Them Guts Outta My Yard—taped to the door: The key to your dreams lies in bearshit.) I have a picture of the TTT—back when I thought it was a bear—from a reading my mom and I did at Other Music a few years ago. The vocoder has always been the caretaker.
Need a moment here.
(1:00:21) Beats & Rhymes (Dub Bonus)/Raga Bahairav—UTFO/ Charanjit Singh (1984, 1982)
Before these gymrats penned N*Sync’s career, I would catch Full Force every time they came through Charlotte. (We also got stood up by Debbie Deb at Spinnaker’s in Panama City but that’s another story.) The Bombay raga vocoder was recorded in 1982 by Bollywood soundtrack legend Charanjit Singh, but born from a Hindu burial ground. (Check out the recent anthology Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat.)
(1:02:44) Feel the Force (Instrumental)—G-Force (1983)
In the event you need to hear another electro song you’ve never heard of an hour into this thing, rather than something like, say, “Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass.”
(1:04:54) Passage To Nasal Condition
(Bell Labs vs. Rammellzee vs. K-Rob)
Good news. Rammellzee got his copy of the book and said he no longer wants to throw me off his rooftop.
Thank you Freddy Anzures for the splice.
(1:05:06) The Barnacle Bill Condition—Bell Labs (1936)
“It’s only me from over the sea…”
(1:05:21) “August 4th, 2026″—Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury (prod. by Malcolm Clarke for BBC Radiophonic Workshop, 1977)
(1:06:10) Mister Blue Sky—ELO (1977)
Cheer up! It’s not the end of the world.
(1:06:29) “August 4th, 2026”—Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury, (prod. by Malcolm Clarke, for BBC Radiophonic Workshop, 1977)
This is the part where the last house on Mars freaks out. Includes: “Daisy,” Alfred Tennyson, garage door opener, and a screaming barometer on fire.
(1:07:41) It’s Your Rock (dub petards)—Fantasy Three (1983)
Shit. I forgot New Order.
(1:08:06) Biter’s Dub, aka The Vacuum On the Tarmac—Fantasy Three, We Did Something To This (1983)
I’ll pretty much believe anything, but was Werner Herzog serious when he wrote that tonsillectomies were performed with a vacuum cleaner?
Bonus Beach: “Biter’s Dub” was produced by Pumpkin. So was “It’s Your Rock,” though it may be hard to tell since we cut the song before the beat dropped because we ran out of space because someone, possibly me, had to cram that Gary Numan thing in here. (Way to interrupt a hip-hop classic. Way to not love hip-hop. Way to piss off the ghost of Pumpkin. Man, you’ve changed!) Anyway, on p. 277 of the book (this is the Voice Of The Book Companion speaking) there’s a related photo of a headless orange mummy borrowed from my cosmic grandma, Pee-Wee Crutchfield.
(1:09:33) O Superman (Live at Brooklyn Academy of Music)—Laurie Anderson (1984)
(1:10:26) Beat Box (wrong speed via Trans-Lux “Street Noise”)—Art of Noise (1983)
(1:10:44) Dreams Of Leaving—Human League (1980)
Phil Oakey told me this song was inspired by Solzhenitsyn, during an interview conducted by phone in my mom’s kitchen the same day I spoke with Sir Mix-A-Lot about Godzilla and “Posse on Broadway.” I listened to “Dreams Of Leaving” whenever I thought the book was finished, which was often.
(1:13:24) The Final Condition: “Love’s Old Sweet Song (Just A Song At Twilight)”—Bell Labs (1936)
(1:14:24) “We’re tired of it!”—Bo Tompkins, Answering Machine, Spring 2005
That’s Bo in the photo at the top of this post, taken at Pawley’s Island a few years before I showed up.
(1:14:35) On the Beach—Neil Young outroder