First computer music recording restored

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Engineers have restored the first recording of computer-generated music from 1951.

The oldest recording of computer music was made in late 1951 by a BBC outside broadcast unit at the University of Manchester for the BBC Home Service program Children’s Hour. The rough two-minute recording is of the Ferranti Mark I computer playing “God Save the King”, “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, and the popular swing-band hit “In the Mood.” The recording was made on mobile recording equipment and etched into a 12-inch, single-sided acetate disc, as was normal for the time.

The restoration determined that the record, one of only two in existence, played the music at the wrong speed. To make it sound correct, “it had to be sped up, extraneous noise filtered out, and digitally pitch-corrected to remove wobbles.”

You should definitely listen to it. Quite fascinating, especially since it includes the candid commentary of the technicians as they tried to get the computer to play.



  • wayne

    along these same lines & I don’t mean to hijack this thread, ‘cuz it is cool. (BBC was into “hi-technology” as an early adopter.)

    Mid- 1990’s, a British researcher came upon a number of recorded-discs (“vinyl”) from the 1920’s, that contained early British BBC, 30-line, mechanically-scanned, television-signals.
    (These were originally recorded by John Logie Baird, inventor of mechanically-scanned TV. He had fairly well perfected his method of scanning live motion & worked briefly to invent a way to record the television signals for later playback. He just didn’t have the “bandwidth” available at the time.)

    -The engineer hoping to extract ‘TV’ off these discs, rebuilt a working model of the original mechanical-scanning camera apparatus, in order to understand exactly how it worked, measuring the timing, & otherwise determine what type of signal would have been recorded and how it would have been played it back through a mechanical-TV set.
    Then they extracted the signals off the original discs & with minimal processing were able to play-back, B&W, 30-line, mechanically-scanned television’s images. (He used computers, but he had to understand what was going on with the original equipment first.) Each disc only holds about 45 seconds of ‘video,’ but this was about 40 years before AMPEX invented “video-tape.”

    I’m not seeing it off-hand, but there is a 40 minute video that goes over all of this in pretty good detail, including the reconstruction of the equipment &samples of what they were able to recover.
    Mechanically-scanned, moving images, recorded onto 78 rpm ‘vinyl’ recording discs. >amazingly analog.
    These “mechanical” TV sets are quite scarce & rarer than any post WW-2 set. (Working parts have a Steampunk and/or Rube Goldberg feel to them; spinning wheels, pulley’s, etc.)
    And these “Phonovision” discs, are actively sought after by TV researchers.
    -Definitely not “digital hi-def,” but even at 30 lines you can make out images fairly well. They are small images, but recognizable.

  • Joe

    So there was a steam punk version of the I-pad!

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