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Archive by May, 2010

The Vocoder: From Speech-Scrambling To Robot Rock

Note: The following is an interview about a book that’s coming out on the history of the vocoder.  Quite interesting.  My only observation is that the interviewer casually links early Hip Hop with pop culture and this is missed by the interviewee. Historians know that early Hip Hop was also an avant-garde movement, though with different preocupations of previous groups who may have deliberately linked themselves with the nineteenth century concept. Still worth the listen/reading.

Orignally aired/published: May 13, 2010

If you’ve listened to pop music in the past 40 years, you’ve probably heard more than a few songs with a robotic sound. That’s thanks to the vocoder, a device invented by Bell Labs, the research division of AT&T. Though the vocoder has found its way into music, the machine was never intended for that function. Rather, it was developed to decrease the cost of long-distance calls and has taken on numerous other uses since.

Music journalist Dave Tompkins has written a book about the vocoder and its unlikely history. It’s called How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder From World War II to Hip-Hop.

Tompkins says the machine played a significant role in World War II. After the U.S. government discovered that Winston Churchill’s conversations with Franklin D. Roosevelt were being intercepted and deciphered by the Germans, it decided to invest in speech-encoding technology. So the National Defense Research Committee commissioned Bell Labs in 1942 to develop a machine — and Bell Labs delivered.

The vocoder wasn’t without its flaws. Intelligibility of speech sometimes proved a problem, but Tompkins says pitch control was a bigger concern.

“They didn’t mind world leaders sounding like robots, just as long as they didn’t sound like chipmunks,” he says. “Eisenhower did not want to sound like a chipmunk.”

Read or listen to the complete interview at NPR

What Happened to the Remix?

I ran into this brief interview with Just Blaze, who explains his theory on how music samples can  be tracked on radio play to evaluate popularity of a song.

Shrine to the Funky Drummer

Shrine to the Funky Drummer from Joshua Pablo Rosenstock on Vimeo.

Recently received a link from Joshua Pablo Rosenstock about his video, Shrine to the Funky Drummer.  The video presents Rosenstock as a subject who is greatly influenced by James Brown’s “Funky Drummer.”  We quickly learn that his interest is a jumping point to understand how the song’s basic drum beat has become part of Hip Hop consciousness.

While the video, in my opinion could be edited (the intro is too long, and some footage does not match the sound), it does provide some historical context as to the art of sampling and its place in Hip Hop Culture.  It starts with Rosenstock listening to a scratched 45, and then playing the beat on a drum set.  The next set of scenes are about DJ’s manipulating The Funky Drummer’s break beat, complemented with random interviews with record diggers and turntablists. The video then goes back to Rosenstock who no longer plays a drum set, but a set of samples from a drum machine.

Shrine to the Funky Drummer reminds me a bit about Nate Harrison’s  Amen Brother Break.  Though very different in approach, both videos can be complementary references for understanding the history of Remix.  I understand that Shrine to the Funky Drummer’s current version is a rough cut, so I look forward to the final production.

REBLOG: Elektra Digest, by Rhiannon Vogl

Image source: Elektra Festival

Text source: Vague Terrain

Last week, I headed to Montréal for the 11th incarnation of the Elektra International Digital Arts Festival in Montréal. The five day event attracted artists and industry professionals from as far away as Dakar, Seoul, Istanbul and Shanghai, as well as various countries across Europe and North America, to the cosmopolitan Québeqois city, which is quickly, as many of us already knew, establishing a name for itself as THE creative hotbed for electronic arts. There was much to take in each day, and while it can’t all be discussed here, this post represents a compendium of the most interesting, evocative and stimulating experiences from my time there.

The Conferences

For those presenting at the International Marketplace for Digital Arts, the future, in the (wink) words of Chip Douglas, is very much now. The “professional rendez-vous” as it was dubbed by Elektra’s organizers, was a two-day blitz of presentations, debates and dialogues, given by over 30 international artists, producers, agents, broadcasters, curators, institutional directors and event organizers. While the format of the conference itself could be described as both a massive speed dating session and networking boot camp, leaving not quite enough space for attendees to fully digest all that was being offered, the conceptual framework of the event – arranged as a space to foster collaborations and to develop new, cross-border distribution networks, was clearly taken advantage of by all observers and presenters alike.

Read the entire entry at Vague Terrain

Walking On Eggshells: Borrowing Culture in the Remix Age

A documentary consisting of brief interviews with not just musicians, but visual artists, writers, VJs and lawyers.  The intro is creative.

on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jt0ASo_6Sdg&
feature=channel

[Re]Cuts, A Video Remix After Burroughs

A VIDEO PROJECT BY EDUARDO NAVAS

[Re]Cuts was specifically developed in January of 2010 for an exhibition at IMT Gallery in London.  The video is inspired by Burroughs’s experimentation with tape recordings. The exhibit takes place from May 28 through July 18 2010. I thank Mark Jackson for the invitation and the opportunity to exhibit my work.

excerpt from the actual project webpage:

[Re]Cuts is a remix of image, sound, and text inspired by William Burroughs’s aesthetics of tape recording. The video is also influenced by his cut-up method as defined for writing in “The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin.” The video does not follow the strict cup-up rules professed by Burroughs, but rather considers his aesthetics as a point of reference to develop a non-sensical narrative.

Read more information and view video

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