Who Was First to Play Music on a Computer? It Was the Australians

Here’s a great story on how music came to computers from The Conversation:

We don’t think twice about playing music via a computer – we have them in our pockets, and in our homes and offices, with music on tap. But playing music on a computer was once an almost unthinkable leap of the imagination and the most devilishly difficult programming challenge.

The world’s fourth digital computer was designed and built in Australia by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR, the precursor of the CSIRO). It started life as a dream in 1947, ran its first test program in 1949 and played music in 1950 or 1951.

Initially known as the CSIR Mark 1 – later renamed CSIRAC (the CSIR Automatic Computer) – it was built at the CSIR’s radiophysics division in Sydney.

CSIRAC was a very primitive computer by today’s standards. It was very slow (1,000 cycles per second); it did not have very much memory (about 2KB of RAM and 3KB of disk memory); it filled a room and; it had no display like a modern computer.

Most output from CSIRAC was via punched paper tape that was later converted to text on another machine. The only familiar output device was a speaker (called the hooter), and it was used to track the progress of a program.

Programmers would place a sound at the end of their program so they knew it had ended (this was known as a blurt), or they would program progress-indicator blurts into a program.

Despite being primitive, CSIRAC performed groundbreaking work, including running the calculations to find the centre of our galaxy in 1953, and for the engineering of our first skyscraper building.

Cool, no? Read on.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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