Earliest Recorded Computer Music Restored

You want old skool electronic music? How about 1951?

Researchers at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand have just restored what is probably the oldest piece of recorded, computer-generated music. Recorded in 1951, the rendition of “God Save The King”, “Baa-Baa Black Sheep” and “In The Mood” was produced by a computer built by none other Alan Turing and other researchers at the Computing Machine Research Laboratory in Manchester.

These phat beats were captured by the BBC for broadcast on an acetate disk that the researchers found in an archive. They sampled and restored the recording, fixing the rather poor quality recording to reproduce the squawky tones that the computer played. You can hear the restored recording after the break.

It halts apparently unexpectedly in the middle of a stanza, sounds essentially horrible, and goes out of tune on the higher notes. But you gotta learn to crawl before you can walk, and these are the equivalent of the grainy 8mm films of baby’s first steps. And as such, the record is remarkable.

Via ABC News

20 thoughts on “Earliest Recorded Computer Music Restored

  1. This is one of the coolest things I’ve heard in a long time. Listen to the joy in their voices over something so common today…yet I get a singing greeting card with orders of magnitude more computing power and chuck it in the garbage after a few minutes. Computing “time capsules” like this area always so intriguing and revealing.

    1. My mother described a presumably similar experience in the early 1970’s. A tech came by at Christmas time and entertained the office with Christmas tunes on their IBM installation. Chrysler used this system to record a customer’s automobile purchase data. By running a program, he could cause radio interference that was picked up on an AM radio placed nearby (nearly everything electronic gives off some kind of signal). You’ll recall that programs in those days were caused by stacking and reading a series of stiff rectangular cards, 80 characters to each card. They were called ‘IBM punchcards’ and included the instructions, “do not bend, fold, spindle or mutilate.”

    1. “As turning was working for the Americans, …” Where do you get that? At the time he was at Manchester University!

      As [vitomakes] said “Don’t watch the Imitation Game..”, and I say “Don’t believe what Hollywood tells you!”

      BTW One of my Maths teachers back in the late 1960’s had been a pupil of Strachey, and had contacts at the successor to Turing’s computer lab. I go to run my first Fortran routines on one of their mainframes in 1968! It generated natural Logs, and generated a page of data in about 20 minutes.

  2. Only after listening to the record were my fears released that they hadn’t auto tuned everything. Knowing the clock cycle they got the absolute pitch right but left the simple integer math for scale pitch intact.
    The world’s first music player crash! Not in the mood. Haha.

  3. The computer wasn’t built by Turing. It was largely designed by Williams, Kilburn, Tootill and others of the electrotechnics department. Turing contributed the random number generator and sideways adder but the vast majority was not his design. The bulk of the design was done before he even moved to Manchester uni. The Ferranti Mark 1 used for this (iirc) which was based on the Manchester Mark 1 built in-house by the electrotechnics department and developed slightly with Ferranti’s knowledge of production electronics. Turing’s main contributions was software. If you read the notebook of Tootil from the time this machine was being built (It’s in the secure section of Man Uni’s library), he was a pretty poor programmer with the people working on the machine itself often sending his software back with corrections.

        1. Yah, and less the influence, more the reason, because it was well publicised at the time, it was the archetypal computers first nursery rhyme, so when Hal regressing to a “childlike” state, it was a well known “meme” to symbolise it.

    1. No not really, but who knows, they could have used any old junk lying around and something like that might have fit the bill. Probably more like one of those classic old elliptical paper cones or something.

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