THE NIGHT-TIME MASTER BLASTER
Highlights from Issue 30: Hip-Hop Nuggets
T: A self-portrait clock from Garrett's Amusements
B: A signed Nasty Rock 12-inch
Still lifes by IAN ALLEN
Monday, April 09, 2007
“The shit erupted so much it scared me.”
— Scorpio on “Scorpio”
“My mom and I did aerobics to this song.”
— Sara Roy on “Scorpio”
That August of 1983, my front yard took to the air and put my best friend in the hospital. I was 14 and had just mowed the grass when Nate tore through on his purple Schwinn Mongoose. He cut a power slide at the front porch and kicked up a williwaw of unbagged yard hair. My older brother sneezed. I said, “What’s up?” Nate said, “I can’t breathe,” handed me a tape and barfed. We looked at Nate’s shoes — two fruit-stripe Chuck Taylors, spattered in wasabi green. I told my brother Nate had asthma. He squinted through the gnat panic and shook his head. Nate said, “Hospital.”
Nate always had two things in his pocket: inhaler and cassette. The inhaler hissed like bus brakes. The cassette was from a Les Norman shift at WPEG FM, located in Concord, North Carolina, near the off-season NASCAR stash. Les was known as the Night-Time Master Blaster and was fond of the Vocoder, a speech analyzer that broke your voice down into its constituent frequencies and reassembled it into what is called a “spectral description.”
In 1928, Bell Labs invented the Vocoder with the idea of reducing your overseas phone bill. This was a prescient move, considering all the loved ones who would soon be abroad, patriotically entrenched and in need of a homefront voice — even if that voice sounded like an InSinkErator clearing its throat with a wiggly butter-knife smile.
Didn't quite work out that way.
After the war, an unnatural lack of clarity on the Vocoder’s part prompted Bell Labs physicist Manfred Schroeder to say, “Funky, funky, funky contains one word type! Funky.” Les Norman, the Night-Time Master Blaster of WPEG, might’ve disagreed with such an asseveration. While funky was certainly permitted to be as such, it could also sound like everything on his playlist, if not just about everything Les Norman did.
And though Bell Labs' spectral description of speech was referring to filters and frequency bands, it also fit the evil caped synths of electro hip-hop in the early Eighties.
“Instant robotness!” said Kai Krause, Vocoder-tech at Sennheiser Electronic Corporation.
“Ballsy Balls-up!” said Vincent Calloway, Freakazoid of Midnight Star.
“We must destroy the humans,” said the Cylons, speaking through a Roland SVC-330, once available at Sam Ash to any joker who wanted to come in and stick their gizzard in a spacesuit.