Possible Descriptions of the Turbo-Encabulator: The Language-Specificity of a Discipline and the Creation of a Fictive-Object.

Posted: February 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

The Turboencabulator or turbo-encabulator (and its later incarnation, the retroencabulator or retro-encabulator) is a wholly Pseudo-machine and its technical description (in fact being fictional means it it “composed” entirely of its surrealistically inclined description) which is the matter of humor amongst engineers, the scientific community and the like. The humor is founded on the obscurity of technical vocabularies within disciplines and its intersections with meaningful and reproducible actions and apparatuses. In other words the fun is meant to come from the technobabble of the diagram and its description.

The first “description” of the turboencabulator would seem to have been created by  Arthur D. Little (who signed the “technical description” as Arthur Dehon Little , and who has a building named after him on MIT*s campus for his founding work for industrial engineering) and was published along with “proper” technical and engineering descriptions (you had to see the joke) in 1942. The first reference to the turbo-encabulator seems to be appeared in an article by New York lawyer Bernard Salwen published in Time Magazine on April 15, 1946. Salwen position was as a reviewer of technical manuals for the general public (yes there was a “manual” reviewer! Oh, for those days, and to wonder what Salwen would make of an IKEA furniture manual.) and naturally he gravitated to the humorous jargon and pseudo-classic description of a turboencabulator.

General Electric Turboencabulator 1962

The year 1962  saw the creation of a turboencabulator data sheet by engineers at General Electric’s Instrument Department and, quoting from a large number of the preceding sources for the Turboencabulator, the new hybrid description was slyly inserted into the General Electric Handbook. The data sheet and description of the Turboencabulator was formatted to fit seamlessly into the 1962 G.E. Handbook and the mischievous engineers added small details which were particular to their department to give the description added weight as a possible object of manufacture (the Graphic was composed of parts available to the manufacturing base).

General Electric Turboencabulator, first "descrptive" page 1962

(click images to enlarge, and read)

This first “video” description of the Turboencabulator (see above) was by director Dave Rondot who created the film directly after filming a GMC truck project. The script was so convoluted and made such little sense –– even for a battle-hardened pro like The Reader, the well known Bud Taggart, noted that the convoluted and senseless script was virtually impossible to memorize for a one-take delivery, but the problem was ingeniously solved by the creation of a prompting and playback apparatus which had an earplug delivery to the actor guiding him through the verbal labyrinth of technical jargon.  The device, called the Ear and which Bud Taggart originated, is still in use today.

Along the lines of the G.E. spoof the video also uses actual parts to help “visualization” of the creation and technical direction of the encabulator.  Many attempts have been made since this first video was shot to replicate the deadpan humor and technical babble of the original but as the description notes: The early attempts to construct a sufficiently robust spiral decommutator failed largely because of a lack of appreciation of the large quasi-piestic stresses in the gremlin studs; the latter were specially designed to hold the roffit bars to the spamshaft. When, however, it was discovered that wending could be prevented by a simple addition to the living sockets, almost perfect running was secured.

From director Dave Rondot’s text for the Video:  The narrator and writer is Bud Haggert. He was the top voice-over talent on technical films. He wrote the script because he rarely understood the technical copy he was asked to read and felt he shouldn’t be alone. We had just finished a production for GMC Trucks and Bud asked since this was the perfect setting could we film his Turbo Encabulator script. He was using an audio prompter referred to as “the ear”. He was actually the pioneer of the ear. He was to deliver a live speech without a prompter. After struggling in his hotel room trying to commit to memory he went to plan B. He recorded it to a large Wollensak reel to reel recorder and placed it in the bottom of the podium. With a wired earplug he used it for the speech and the “ear” was invented. Today every on-camera spokesperson uses a variation of Bud’s innovation. Dave Rondot (me) was the director and John Choate was the DP on this production. The first laugh at the end is mine. My hat’s off to Bud a true talent.


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