Scientists Restore First-Ever Music Made by a Computer

The idea of a computer device generating music is so common today that we don’t even think of it. But back in the late 40s and early 50s, getting a computer to play back some music was the stuff of science fiction. Engineers thought they could do it, but in the pre-transistor era with its ancient programming languages, this was a daunting task.

Enter Alan Turing, the brilliant (but ultimately doomed) British computer genius who led the team to the breaking of the Nazi’s Enigma code machine (as told in the movie The Imitation Game), also had an interest in creating what amounted to the earliest electronica in history.

Using a machine that took up most of the ground floor of the Computing Machine Laboratory in Manchester, Turing and his people managed to get it to play back “God Save the Queen,” “Baa Baa Black Sheep” and the Glenn Miller big band tune, “In the Mood.” The year was 1951.

Turing wasn’t interested in much more than getting the computer to play simple musical tones. It fell to a Christopher Strachey, a schoolteacher, to order these bleeps and bloops into tunes.

Recordings of this music were known to exist, but the 12-inch acetate disc on which they were stored wasn’t very good. The audio was distorted almost beyond use. But using modern forensic methods for recovering audio recordings, some New Zealand scientists have managed to reconstruct what those computer tunes sounded like back in ’51.

Click here to hear what these recordings sounded like.

By the way, Turing was later hounded to his suicide by government agents who didn’t trust him because he was gay. Legend says that Turing killed himself by biting into an apple laced with poison. And now you know why the Apple logo has a bite taken out of it.

(Via Tom and CTV News)

 

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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