DAVE TOMPKINS’ new book is titled How to Wreck a Nice Beach, but it has nothing to do with the BP oil spill, or any coast at all. Instead, the phrase he chose for his book title is how the words “how to recognize speech” sounded coming out of an early version of the vocoder. The vocoder was invented by Bell Labs in 1928 to prevent eavesdropping via telephone by scrambling vocal sounds. And its influence is responsible for all the AutoTune vocals dominating popular music today. Along the way, the humble vocoder has had a large, if scrambled, speaking role in major historical events.