Best known as the father of computing, the World War II codebreaking genius Alan Turing also had a flare for music. Experts in New Zealand have restored what appears to be the first known recording of computer-generated music. Created on a gigantic computer contraption by Turing in 1951, it anticipated by decades the multi-media world of today.
This audio artifact
was the innovative ancestor of synthesizers and modern electronica music. The recording features at first a distinctly British and conservative tone in the form of “God Save the King.” This is followed by “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” and then by the peppy and distinctly American wartime hit by Glenn Miller: “In the Mood.”
Sixty-five years ago, Turing made the recording at the Computing Machine Laboratory in Manchester, northern England, by a BBC outside-broadcast unit. Researchers at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New England, said that Turing’s work to transform the computer into a generator of music has been largely overlooked until now.
The giant machine filled most of the ground floor of the laboratory in Manchester. It produced a 12-inch acetate disc on which the music was recorded. UC professor Jack Copeland and composer Jason Long examined the old disc and discovered that the sound on it was distorted, resembling a grating drone similar to electronic bagpipes. "The frequencies in the recording were not accurate. The recording gave at best only a rough impression of how the computer sounded," they said.
By adjusting the playing speed of the audio and compensating for the wobble in the recording, they ultimately heard the true sound of Turing’s computer after filtering out extraneous noise. "It was a beautiful moment when we first heard the true sound of Turing's computer," Copeland and Long said on the British Library website.
The two-minute recording features short snippets of the tunes, which halts in the middle of the Glenn Miller hit. One of the voices recorded on the record says, "The machine's obviously not in the mood.
Turing programmed the first musical notes into the computer but had little interest in creating identifiable tunes. That task fell to Christopher Strachey, a musician and school teacher who became a renowned computer scientist. Strachey remembered that Turing expressed his approval by merely saying “Good show.”
Turing was a computer scientist who was a central figure in breaking Enigma Code: which was used by National Socialist Germany in the war. Cracking the code was an enormous help to the Allied cause and was one of the most closely guarded secrets of the war. News about the codebreaking was not released until years after the war’s end. In 1952, he was charged for homosexual acts committed with a younger man. Offered the choice between a stint in prison or chemical castration, Turing chose the latter. He was administered doses of stilboestrol, which is also known as diethylstilbestrol or DES -- a synthetic oestrogen. He committed suicide in 1954 at the age of 41. However, he was officially pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013.