Modern Family

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Fred Willard & Vocoders with Dave Tompkins

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Fred Willard on his comedic beginnings, playing the clueless buffoon, and working with Christopher Guest

For over fifty years, Fred Willard played ignorant, self-absorbed buffoons that are impossible not to laugh at. He's a master improviser and comedian who started with his comedy duo, Greco and Willard, and moved on to work with the Second City and improv groups The Committee and the Ace Trucking Company. Today, he's probably best known and loved as one of Christopher Guest's troupe in films like Waiting For Guffman and Best In Show.

Willard tells us about drag-performances in his military school, the real life inspiration for his improvised comedy, and being the exact opposite of the happy-go-lucky optimists he plays on screen. (This segment originally aired in August 2013)

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Eleni Mandell on "Tom Traubert's Blues": The Song That Changed My Life

Singer-songwriter Eleni Mandell had one of those experiences as a kid that was a hallmark of experiencing music before the internet. She heard a song she liked, went out to the record store, and picked an album by the same artist. The problem? It sounded totally uncool, and not at all like the song she'd heard. It did, however, open her up to a whole new way of listening to music.
Eleni talks to us about the song that changed her life, Tom Waits' "Tom Traubert's Blues." Eleni grew up in Los Angeles loving both punk rockers X and folk rocker Bob Dylan, and her own music mixes airy vocals with 60s pop, country, and folk sounds. Her newest album is "Let's Fly a Kite" is available now.
(This segment originally aired in September 2012)

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Todd Martens recommends two perennial favorite albums by Material Issue and Wilco.

Beyond interesting conversations with people in culture, we like to tell you about interesting cultural stuff. There's so much stuff out there, you don't have time to listen to everything. That's why we've brought in Todd Martens, who writes about music for the LA Times, to tell you about two albums you can dive into without hesitation.

Martens recommends Material Issue's 1991 album, International Pop Overthrow, a combination of cynicism and ideals.

He also recommends the album Summerteeth by Wilco, an album which explores a different side of Wilco.

You can find Martens' writing in the L.A. Times or on their music blog, Pop and Hiss.

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The power of a robot voice: Dave Tompkins talks vocoders, talk boxes, and how they changed music

You may not know it, but when you talk on your cell phone, you're using technology that was first developed for the vocoder. Bell Labs invented the vocoder to make long distance calls cheaper. But it had another application in World War II, when we used it to encode Allied messages.

The vocoder was in large part an analog machine, but it was also one of the first digitizations of speech. It broke down speech into its constituent parts, its separate frequencies, to create the codes. The technology that was in that huge code-making vocoder in 1944, twenty or twenty five years later, became a musical instrument.

Dave Tompkins is the author of How to Wreck a Nice Beach -- which is the way you might hear the phrase “How To Recognize Speech” if it were rendered through a vocoder. The book describes how the vocoder was created to guard phones from codebreakers during World War II, and soon became a voice-altering tool for musicians. Tompkins talks about how the vocoder changed music, the technology behind it, and some examples of music using a vocoder.
(This segment originally aired on The Sound of Young America in October 2010)

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THE OUTSHOT: The Long Goodbye

Elliott Gould may not seem like the hard-boiled noir type, but in 1973, under the direction of Robert Altman, he had that perfect combination of intellect and self-satisfied cool. With Gould playing Raymond Chandler's most famous character, Philip Marlowe, The Long Goodbye explores the powerful narcissism that governed the streets of 1970s Los Angeles.
(This segment originally aired in July 2013)

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