Interview With Dave Tompkins About His New Book - How To Wreck A Nice Beach: The Vocoder From World War II to Hip-Hop, the Machine Speaks

Posted by Billyjam, April 13, 2010 04:50pm | Post a Comment

"Ever since the first bored kid threw his voice into an electric fan, toked on a birthday balloon, or thanked his mother in a pronounced burp voice mutation has provided an infinite source of kicks," writes author Dave Tompkins in his just published new book How To Wreck A Nice Beach: The Vocoder From World War II to Hip-Hop, the Machine Speaks (Melville House/Stop Smiling). The recommended hardcover Dave Tompkins How To Wreck A Nice Beachbook is an exhaustive in-depth study of the history of the vocoder (and other voice mutating and vocal altering technology) that the author, who has been obsessed with the sounds and effects emitted by vocoders ever since he first heard "Scorpio" by Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five and "The Raven" by the Alan Parson's Project, spent a full decade researching and writing.

The result is a unprecedented historical study of the vocoder that should appeal equally to music fans, tech heads and also history students. Currently on the road promoting the book, Tompkins will be doing a lecture and slide show and playing music tonight in San Francisco at SOM Bar at 2925 16th Street along with hometown DJs B-Cause, Centipede, and Freddy Anzures. His set is at 10pm and on Thursday he will be at the HotWax party at 222 Hyde St. in San Francisco. Earlier today I caught up with the author to ask him about his book and the obsession that led him to write it.

Amoeblog: What inspired you to write this book?

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Tricked Out and Fully Treated: Rocktober is over but the Halloween high remains...

Posted by Kells, November 6, 2009 01:31am | Post a Comment

When I was in fifth grade staying up late enough to catch Dave Letterman's Top Ten was a personal goal of mine every weeknight (on Saturday nights it was staying up late enough to make it through Saturday Night Live in its entirety, but I always conked out right about the time Dennis Miller wrapped up his Weekend Update). I like to think that I became a lover of lists and listing things because of that after-hours fixation of mine, but who cares? The fact is that I do love a list and this year's Halloween happenings were so fabulously choice that I've got to work it out herein, Late Night Top Ten style:

10: Students of San Francisco State University protesting budget cuts on Monday by turning the quad into a graveyard for courses felled by a lack of state education funds. The many headstones featured names of "dead" classes and mourners honored them dutifully in Dios de los Muertos style with candles, flowers and gorgeous little treats. A very clever and seasonally satisfying display of discontent!

9: Rammstein's timely release of their new album Liebe Ist Für Alle Da. Now, I count myself as an accidental Rammstein fan (and there's a good lengthy yarn I could spin about the who, what and why-fors about it), but a fan I am nonetheless ---especially as their machismo-soaked yet obviously Depeche Mode influenced electro-opera-industrial rock always seems to find a place on my annual Halloween mixtape! Not to mention that these German rockers consistently crank out quality music videos that remind us that there once was a time when the medium was viewed as an elevated art-form. Their video for the 1995 single Du Riechst So Gut is perhaps their most romantic (despite the fact that the imagery delves into bestiality, transvestitism and baroque dance routines) and very Halloween appropriate (despite the fact that nearly all their videos could be specified as "Halloween appropriate"). Oh Rammstein, why must thy art be so misunderstood? Maybe it's a European thing...

8: Realizing my costume. I'm one of those crafty types who loves to construct a guise from scratch every year and half the fun is coming up with a good idea to roll with. Initially I thought I'd dress up as a Tiki this Halloween, but that eventually morphed into a Hawaiian Tiki cocktail, or a Mai Tai. I would have liked to think I could pass my tiki-mug-with-skewered-fruit-and-purple-paper-parasol ensemble as a Zombie cocktail just to put a little pun in the mix, but I'm just glad that most people "got" what I was. 

7: All those pumpkin-flavored seasonal treats --- yes, please! Three stand-outs this year were the Pumpkin Spice Latte from Peet's Coffee (more spicey and less sugary than the competitors offerings), Hershey's Pumpkin Kisses (which I thought would be gross, but they're more yummy than they should be) and Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pancake mix, which has enjoyed top billing at every Sunday breakfast in my household since discovery. Enjoy them while you still can.

6: The achievement of this fabulous Wayang-esque Jack 'o Lantern. Biggest of big ups to the pumpkin-carving master who created this exquisite piece --- can you even imagine how frustratingly painstaking it must have been to create? It paid off in pure breathtaking Halloween-ness. Eat your craft-biting heart out, Martha!

5: All ten and a half minutes of Tommy heavenly6's "Lollipop Candy Bad Girl" video. You know, I could stop right here and flip-flop into an auxiliary list of the things that I love about pro-alter-ego Jpop artist Tomoko Kawase, but I'll can it for now and say that A: I love that she, or at least one of her alter-egos, adores Sweet Valley High (what self-respecting bookish bitch doesn't have a Sweet Valley High loving alter-ego?) and B: I love that her absolutely absurd Halloween-flavored music video suggests that the way to make Halloween cake is to drop several jack o' lanterns and whole bottles of Jose Cuervo into your oversized witches' cauldron: duh!

4: Gugug's rendition of "Bela Lugosi's Dead." So there are these guys, more specifically two guys and sometimes their friends, in Scotland who call themselves Gugug and play experimental-ish music live on YouTube (and on one of YouTube's most subscribed channels, just so ya know). Besides being super-talented, ukulele playing, melodica-wielding over-achievers, they provide free tutorials and tips for uke enthusiasts to take total artistic control of their medium and whip up genius-grade covers of all manner of beloved tunes with such regularity that if what they do makes you happy, like it does for me, checking in with Gugug can be deemed therapeutic. And this year's "Halloween Special" from Gugug effing hit the spot, seasonally:

3: Trick-Or-Treating on Belvedere Street. There is, in a sleepy residential corner of San Francisco, a quiet avenue that becomes for one night a year a mash-up of every over-produced and unlikely trick-or-treating scenario ever imagined for and depicted on celluloid. The residents of Belvedere Street in Cole Valley are so completely committed to creating the ultimate Halloween wonderland experience en masse that it makes me wonder if they have to make absolutely sure that any potential new-comers to the area are fully capable of "bringing it" before they are permitted to move in. It's pleasantly clear by the gathered crowd that many folks count on this little nook for their annual family-funtime Hallow's Eve fix. It seems one is never too old to trick-or-treat on Belvedere Street and surely one may never tire of listening to children strategize various methods of trick-or-treating while padding about gazing in awe at costumed kids of all ages, not to mention house after over-dressed "haunted" house lining the blocked off corridor. In short: it rules!

2: Amoeba San Francisco's annual costume contest! The one thing above all that I treasure about Halloween is the scope and depth of the looks that come out and play for the day each year. Of course, dressing up at work isn't always about functionality, which always provides some titillating, old-fashioned juxtaposition in an otherwise visually over-stimulating environment. My favorites were Garth (from Wayne's World --- party on, Garth!), Robert Smith, Alice Cooper, the Blue Jay, "Hey!" Kool-Aid himself and one usually chatty employee who took his Chaplin costume so seriously that he said next to nothing all day. Now that was scary indeed!

1: Bob Saggeth live at Amnesia! In terms of the holiday-time continuum, whatever stays the high becomes the most fondly remembered nostalgia nugget in my world. This Halloween I had to pour a little out for my friends (Amoeba mainstay and man of many talents Josh Pollack and Amoeba alum and "best drummer in SF" Warren Heugel) and friends of friends who, no doubt, practiced extensively to bring their heavy hitting, one-off Black Sabbath cover band to Amnesia Bar, thus slaying all in attendance with back to back sets of face-melting stoner jams a-plenty. All my favorites were performed deftly, fog machine a-fogging and all, and I went home Halloween night --- on one of the strangest bus rides of my life --- with an ear to ear goofy grin on my face and ears that rang from Saturday night 'til Tuesday noon. "Allllllllllllright now!" --- thanks Bob Saggeth for properly punctuating one of the best seasonal reasons to peel your ass off the couch and see what all the fuss is about! Happy Halloween, everyone!