Alan Turing invented computer music

Written by David Shapton

Similar to unearthing a time capsule, a recently re-discovered recording by Alan Turing reveals his pioneering efforts in the field of computer music.

Shutterstock / RedShark SoundAlan Turing Slate Statue graphic by Shutterstock.

Researchers in New Zealand have restored a 12" acetate disk containing a recording of music produced on a computer built by Alan Turing.

Created in 1951, the 'music' consists of several easily recognisable tunes, including the UK's national anthem, Ba, Baa, Black Sheep and, incongruously, Glen Miller's In The Mood.

The team removed some distortion and speed instability, to reveal a sound that some have described as "harsh; a bit like bagpipes."

To me, it doesn't sound like bagpipes at all. (Nothing is as bad as that). It's more like if you were to play an out-of-tune cello with a nail file.

All of which suggests that the computer was somehow generating a sawtooth wave. I find this quite surprising, because you would expect more of a square wave, since you would assume that it would be simpler to make a sound that only required a binary 'on/off', although who knows what a square wave would sound like after going through whatever would pass for a digital-to-analogue converter back then. For all we know, the computer might have been driving some kind of mechanical actuator.

What we do know is that you probably have more computing power in your central heating controller than Alan Turing had in his possession at the time.

Thanks to the Guardian for the tip off.

The Guardian's article is HERE and you can listen to the sound HERE.

Tags: Audio

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