I Am Voder

Voder (an acronym for "Voice Operating DEmonstratoR) made its premiere at the 1939 World's Fair, just like Elektro. But unlike Elektro, which used a built-in record player with a pre-recorded voice of a guy imitating a robot, Voder synthesized the human voice with an array of vacuum tubes, operated by a hu-man via an extremely complex interface:

There's one oscillator (which could be raised and lowered in pitch to change between male and female voices) and a hissing sound from a gas discharge tube used to simulate human breath. These were the only two actual audio sources; the rest was filter controls for ten vowels and four consonants, a volume accent button, and a footpedal pitch-bender. Allegedly, it took about a year for an operator to get the hang of it, making voder more musical instrument than robot.

Voder and Elektro totally should've hooked up at the fair.

Wendy Carlos does some email Q&A about the Voder and the Vocoder here.

Barely related, but very cool: a collection of toy robot commercials through the years.


The Cameraman's Revenge

by Ladislas Starevich, 1912. This film is silent. Since I already got it sitting in my divshare account, here's some Coil to go along with it:

From wikipedia:
Starewicz had interests in a number of different areas; by 1910 he was director of a museum of natural history in Kaunas. There he made four short live-action documentaries for the museum. For the fifth film, Starewicz wished to record the battle of two stag beetles, but was stymied by the fact that the nocturnal creatures inevitably went to sleep whenever the stage lighting was turned on. Starewicz decided to re-create the fight through stop-motion animation: he removed the legs and mandibles from two beetle carcasses, then re-attached them with wax, creating articulated puppets. The result was the short film Lucanus Cervus (1910), apparently the first animated puppet film with a plot and the natal hour of Polish and Russian animation.

In 1911, Starewicz moved to Moscow and began work with the film company of Aleksandr Khanzhonkov. There he made two dozen films, most of them puppet animations using dead animals. The best-known film of this period, perhaps of his entire career, was Mest' kinematograficheskogo operatora (The Cameraman's Revenge), a cynical work about infidelity and jealousy among the insects.

For more Starewicz, revisit The Devil's Ball(1932), a staple from the 80's cable show Night Flight. It's a segment of a longer film, The Mascot, one of the most accomplished animated films in history.


Music Under Ice

Every January for the last several years I've tortured friends and family with an emailed list of my favorite and least-favorite movies of the year. I won't be doing that this season, because I neither liked nor disliked most of the films I did end up seeing, which were few (is there anything worthwhile to say, good or bad, about a conventional music-video fantasy like Slumdog Millionaire? But I digress...)

My favorite film of 2008 might have been Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World, a documentary about life in Antarctica which is alternately beautiful and hilarious. Anyway, if you saw the film, you know that he visits the PALAOA research station, where they use hydrophones submerged far under the glaciers to record sounds of animal life. Their website has a live audio feed which you can listen to as a mp3 stream in real time. From the site:

This transmission is not optimized for easy listening, but for scientific research. It is highly compressed, so sound quality is far from perfect. Additionally, animal voices may be very faint. Amplifier settings are a compromise between picking up distant animals and not overdriving the system by nearby calving icebergs. So you might need to pump up the volume - but beware of sudden extremely loud events.

A constant hiss pervading the signal is partly due to electronic noise as we push the hydrophone amplifiers to their limits, but also the natural ocean background noise made audible here through the use of ultra sensitive hydrophones. Additional broad band noise caused by wind, waves and currents adds to it on occasion. There a three sources of click-like interference: switching relays, electrostatic discharges caused by snow drift, and sferics produced by thunderstorms tens of thousands of kilometers away.

You may not hear much on the first try. I've just had it on for the last couple hours, and all I heard was the aforementioned clicking noises and the occasional loud splash, presumably caused by icebergs succumbing to global warming. There's also the chance that the microphones won't be turned on when you visit the site. In such cases, listen to THIS, a 19-minute recording some guy made directly off the website, when lots of whales were swimming and singing under the ice. It's lovely and magical. Make lots of return visits to the audio feed, and you might get so lucky. Think of it as a whale-watching tour, but with your ears. For free.

Suit up and dive in HERE.