UbuWeb: Link Here: Music From Mathematics
“Music From Mathematics” was an album of early electronic music, programmed by the boffins (very likely in authentic period white coats and glasses) at Bell Laboratories way back in the early 1960s, using the then-new IBM 7090 computer and an “electronic to sound transducer”. The music on the album, about half of which is included here, is a mixture of strange, other-worldly blips, rushing white noise, tootly reworkings of classical pieces and a marvellous period “singing computer” version of “A Bicycle Made For Two” (already featured on the 365 Days Project, #62, and so not included again). Full marks to Decca Records for releasing the record – remember that in 1962, these alien sounds would have been totally new, and suitably space-age in their sound.
It’s also interesting to think about the computer technology used to create the record, especially when viewed from forty years on. A little web research revealrs that the IBM 7090 series was the company’s first commercial solid-state (transistorised) computer, its predecessor the 700 series having been based around vacuum tube technology (imagine running a tube-based computer! fantastic!). The new system was of course a huge piece of machinery, requiring its own air-conditioned computer room and a team of technicians to operate it. It had a whole 32KB of core store memory, I/O would usually have been through punched cards or paper tape (no display screen, of course) and yes, it featured lots of suitably impressive flashing lights and whirring tape drives too – see the film “Dr Strangelove” and admire the same technology in action.”
– Phil Clark
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from the LP “Music From Mathematics” Brunswick (UK) 1962
SuperCollider is an environment and programming language for real time audio synthesis and algorithmic composition. It provides an interpreted object-oriented language which functions as a network client to a state of the art, realtime sound synthesis server.
The Ferranti Mark 1, also known as the Manchester Electronic Computer in its sales literature, and thus sometimes called the Manchester Ferranti, was the world’s first commercially available general-purpose electronic computer. Included in the Ferranti Mark 1’s instruction set was a hoot command, which enabled the machine to give auditory feedback to its operators. The sound generated could be altered in pitch, a feature which was exploited when the Mark 1 made the earliest known recording of computer music, playing a medley which included “God Save the King“, “Baa Baa Black Sheep“, and “In the Mood”. The recording was made by the BBC towards the end of 1951, and the programming was done by Christopher Strachey, a maths teacher at Harrow and a friend of Alan Turing. It was not however the first computer to have played music – CSIRAC, Australia’s first digital computer, achieved that with a rendition of Colonel Bogey.
The IBM 7090 was a second-generation transistorized version of the earlier IBM 709 vacuum tubemainframe computers and was designed for “large-scale scientific and technological applications”. The 7090 was the third member of the IBM 700/7000 series scientific computers. The first 7090 installation was in November 1959. In 1960, a typical system sold for $2,900,000 or could be rented for $63,500 a month.