The 99% Invisible podcast:
In 1939, an astonishing new machine debuted at the New York World’s Fair. It was called the “Voder,” short for “Voice Operating Demonstrator.” It looked sort of like a futuristic church organ.
An operator — known as a “Voderette” — sat at the Voder’s curved wooden console with a giant speaker towering behind her. She faced an expectant audience, placed her hands on a keyboard in front of her, and then played something the world had never really heard before.
A synthesized voice.
The voder didn’t store recorded words and phrases. It synthesized sounds – phonemes – and the operator created words by operating the controls in realtime.
The voder begat the vocoder, which became a key component in an unbelievably complicated multiton device used by the Allies to encrypt voice communications during World War II.
Vocoders – or their descendants – continue to be used today in cell phones, and pop music.