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Movies-n-Sounds of Antique Computers

This page presents movies and sounds of Antique Computers

for movies and sounds related to the IBM 1401, click here

Organized into

Musical Sounds from stored program computers

- Disclaimer - In the mid-1970s, I [Ed Thelen] spent many hours on our first family computer, a Commodore PET, trying out recipes for making melodies. (I think there was an article in Scientific American about others having done it.)
- Result, a much greater appreciation of human composers and a great distaste for computer generated "music". (Maybe like computer chess, things will get better)
A table of contents for "Musical Sounds" - little attempt at chronological sequence of anything
- Ferranti Mark 1
- Univac
- Cyclone
- SAGE AN/FSQ-7 Computer Music, In Four Part Harmony

Ferranti Mark 1
from Cass Devlin via LaFarr Stuart, June 2008
The first computer recorded playing "music" might be from a 1951 Ferranti Mark 1 - which the BBC says was a commercial version of the (Manchester) "Baby", see/listen-to this link -
This clip quotes "The previous oldest known recordings were made on an IBM mainframe computer at Bell Labs in the US in 1957, he said. "

from Len Shustek
In case you haven't seen it, here is more evidence for awarding the "first computer music" medal to Univac from David Grier's column in last December's [2006] Computer magazine. I'm quite confused about models and dates, though, because he talks about "December 1958" and the staff in Univac's North Dallas office using a Univac 1103. But the Univac I was delivered in 1951, and the 1103 in 1953. I don't think Univac existed as a company until 1950. I've copied David in case he wants to comment.
-- Len
and from Grant Saviers
At 08:47 PM 1/25/2007, Grant Saviers wrote: I suspect the UNIVAC I wins the "first" medal for playing music generated from a computer bus. I haven't heard others tell this story, so I thought I would add it to the folklore.

The UNIVAC I at Case played music. The system as designed I believe had a speaker on one of the serial memory busses. This was convenient for operators to hear a stop, stall or hang. I believe the music program wasn't written at Case. Digibarn's site claims that UNIVAC freely distributed a music playing program and they have the program on their want list.

One of the songs was "Bicycle Built for Two" and was usually the most popular for demos.

Now leap forward to Kubrick's 2001 film. As HAL was being decommissioned by unplugging its memories, you might remember that one of the last things it did was play the refrain from Daisy Bell ("Bicycle Built for Two"). Maybe this is a coincidence, but I always liked to believe it was a reference to the earliest computer playback of music. Wikipedia credits a visit by Kubrick to Bell Labs and an IBM 704 speech demonstration of Daisy Bell as the HAL going to sleep inspiration,

see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daisy_Bell. Apparently this was circa 1962 and long after the UNIVAC I was playing music. Since the U-I has good claim on "first commercial computer" the first is likely "playback of music on a commercial computer", since all "firsts" need many qualifiers. The CBI transcript of the Unisys-CBI-Smithsonian 1990 UNIVAC conference has a claim by Francis Holberton that he, not Mauchly wrote a music program for the dedication party (likely early 1951) of the first working UNIVAC I (see http://www.cbi.umn.edu/oh/pdf.phtml?id=49 pages 72/73). Also, it is claimed that a tape of the program was given to CBI.

I suspect that Al's [Kossow] "universal" 1/2" magnetic tape reader could be set up to read UNIVAC I tapes as they were readable on later generations of UNISERVOS (the Case 1107 UNISERVO IIA's could read them). This would be a very interesting software recovery project!



LaFarr Stuart says he programmed the CYCLONE computer at Iowa State to "make music", and "I think I was the first to play computer music on a radio network, NBC, back in 1961."

Other Sounds
The following items are courtesy of
     "Haus zur Geschichte der IBM Datenverarbeitung" (HzG) 
        "House of the History of IBM Data Processing" 
        located in Sindelfingen, Germany  

How electrical noise gets to our ears
The "music" can be coupled
      - from an electronic device
      - to the amplifier/speaker (for our ears)
by at least two methods:

  1. A wire connected from a logic element (such as the sign bit of the accumulator, or a status bit or ... )
    to an amplifier/speaker
    This used a wire from the sign bit of the accumulator to an amplifier/speaker system.

  2. "Air gap", regarded by non-music/noise lovers as Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) or other disparaging names
          to an AM (or FM ??) radio.
    (In the good old days of magnetic core memories, (such as the IBM 1401) the 1/2 amp sharp edges of the core drive currents gave increased power to the "RFI")
People writing of the "musical" computer and the results frequently seem unaware of the differences above and/or assumed their audience don't care. Lets call this coupling method "unknown".

An early example of computer "music" (note that I stayed safe and didn't say "first" ;-)) is
      - the Manchester Baby -
linked from
The coupling method seems "unknown".

It is good to remember that

  • pure rectangular waves give an infinite series of odd harmonics - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square_wave
  • pure triangular waves give an infinite series of even harmonics https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_wave
  • spikes, such as engine ignition (and maybe corona discharge) yield a mixture.

Given the high frequencies of the fundamentals
      ( even the IBM 1401 has a memory cycle rate of about 87 kiloHertz )
there appear to be methods of modulating that "carrier frequency" at a rate that humans can hear.

Many "noise" sources have their fundamental frequency well above human hearing

  • say 40 to 19,000 for young humans, who usually can hear this
          " horizontal synchronizing components appear at 15,750 cycles per second rate"
  • and old humans have their high frequency roll off at much lower frequencies

Video Clips
Computer History Archives Project, Vintage Educational Films, Early Computers
On Wimp
The Atanosoff-Berry Computer, of Iowa State College ( now University )
  • - Demo of Reconstructed Machine
  • The following items are courtesy of
       "Haus zur Geschichte der IBM Datenverarbeitung" (HzG) 
            "House of the History of IBM Data Processing" 
            located in Sindelfingen, Germany  
    On YouTube
    Uploaded Dec 2012 by Lee Courtney for docent training in an older home for Computer History Museum - about year 2002 -
    I've posted some older Computer History Museum docent training videos from when the museum was located at Moffett Field before moving into the current building in Mountain View.

    On YouTube

    Movies of various restoration efforts

    And from Bill Selmeier, Movies of various restoration efforts

    If you have comments or suggestions, Send e-mail to Ed Thelen

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    Started April 10, 2006
    Updated May 17, 2016
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