Alan Turing, the man widely hailed as the father of modern computing, was also a brilliant music innovator, according to a team of researchers from New Zealand. As part of a project conducted in 2016, the scientists managed to recover what is most likely the first electronic song ever recorded. Dating back to 1951, the computer-generated music was produced with the help of a giant contraption designed by the British mathematician and cryptanalyst.
As pointed out by the scientists, the device eventually paved the way for a variety of modern-day musical instruments, including synthesizer. Speaking about the man who is best known for decrypting the famous WWII Enigma code, Jack Copeland and Jason Long of Christchurch-based University of Canterbury (UC), said:
Alan Turing’s pioneering work in the late 1940s on transforming the computer into a musical instrument has been largely overlooked.
The music was generated by one of BBC’s outside-broadcast unit using the enormous machine built by Turing. The contraption, the scientists reveal, was housed in the Computing Machine Laboratory, located in Manchester in the northern part of England. In fact, the device was so big that it took up most of the building’s ground floor.
Opening with Britain’s national anthem “God Save the Queen”, the two-minute-long audio included portions of two other songs: “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller and “Baa Baa Black Sheep”. It was recorded onto a 12-inch (approx. 30.5 cm) acetate disc that sadly damaged, leaving the music distorted. The team added:
The frequencies in the recording were not accurate. The recording gave at best only a rough impression of how the computer sounded.
To reverse the damage, the scientists increased the audio speed, carefully removing all extraneous noise as well as the “troublesome wobble” that was previously affecting the quality of the track. The tunes, as one would except, have a distinct electronic note, almost resembling the sound of computerized bagpipes. During the number by Glenn Miller, the recording stops abruptly, followed by one of the presenters saying: “The machine’s obviously not in the mood”.
Believed to be the first computer-generated song, the different tunes in the track were actually pieced together by Christopher Strachey, a school teacher and well-known computer scientist. The researchers went on to say:
It was a beautiful moment when we first heard the true sound of Turing’s computer.