‘What’s more human than wanting to be something else?’
The transhuman sounds of the vocoder are familiar to anyone who’s listened to chart-topping albums from the likes of Daft Punk, Coldplay, The Beastie Boys and Kanye West. But before the speech synthesis technology reached a wide public, it had already lived three full lives: first, as an experimental technology created to cut the cost of transcontinental phone calls, then as an encrypted communication system of the US military during the Second World War and Vietnam, and then as a re-purposed instrument used by influential counterculture musicians such as Laurie Anderson, Afrika Bambaataa and Kraftwerk.
With interviews from military, communication and music experts, The Secret History of the Vocoder traces the technology through the course of the 20th century, from its birth at Bell Labs in 1928, to its transformation into an instrument with a distinctive sound that exists in the grey area between human and machine.
For more on digital art and the tools we use to create it, read Tom Uglow’s essay ‘The Arts Electric’ Via
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