Listen To The First Ever Computer-Generated Music Recorded Using Alan Turing’s Machine

Ahmed Bilal
Posted Sep 27, 2016
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Alan Turing has done a lot of things for the world of computer science and is widely regarded as the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. If you have watched The Imitation Game then you’re probably already familiar with some of his work and if you haven’t then you’re missing out on a great movie. Apart from making the Enigma machine, Turing built a machine that was able to record music. Recently researchers were able to restore a recording of computer generated music; this is the earliest known recording available and is more than 65 years old.

History sounds exciting doesn’t it?

Three melodies were played and recorded on Turing’s gigantic computer in Manchester, England in 1951. The melodies were, “God Save the King”, “Baa Baa Black Sheep” and the Glenn Miller hit “In The Mood”. The music was originally recorded for a BBC broadcast by a British schoolteacher and pianist, Christopher Strachey. You can listen to him playing the national anthem into Turing’s machine.

This isn’t something ordinary we are listening to and we have to thank a couple of Kiwi researchers for this. The team of researchers from New Zealand actually managed to dig up the session and managed to play it somehow.

“Today all that remains of the recording session is a 12-inch single-sided acetate disc, cut by the BBC’s technician while the computer played,” says Jack Copeland from the University of Canterbury, who is director of the online Turing Archive for the History of Computing.

“The computer itself was scrapped long ago, so the archived recording is our only window on that historic soundscape.”

Using the help of composer Jason Long from University of Canterbury, Copeland dug up the recording session and he soon realized that it had lost its original touch.

“What a disappointment it was … to discover that the frequencies in the recording were not accurate: the recording gave at best only a rough impression of how the computer sounded,” says Copeland.

“There was a deviation in the speed of the recording, probably as a result of the turntable in BBC’s portable disc cutter rotating too fast.”

This is the most accurate restoration of the recording

Copeland and Long used a few audio enhancing techniques such as filtering out the noise and used a pitch correcting software to produce something which they call ‘the most accurate restoration of the recording ever’.

“It was a beautiful moment when we first heard the true sound of Turing’s computer,” the pair writes in a blog post.

You’re witnessing a magnificent part of our history. We have come a long way from where we started off but we still have a lot more to go. We would call this recording of the first ever computer generated music a very “Good show” in the words of Turing himself.  Let us know your thoughts about this in the comments below.

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