The secret history of the vocoder

11 minutes

How the vocoder went from military tech to an instrument of the counterculture

The transhuman sounds of the vocoder are familiar to anyone who’s listened to chart-topping albums from the likes of Daft Punk 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.

Producer: Jay Caspian Kang, Nate Lavey

Video by The New Yorker

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