The IMB 7094
Recently we hear of the death of Max Mathews, known to some as the father of computer music and forerunner of digital sound synthesis. It was in 1957 that he programmed an IMB 704, a room-sized machine, using his Music I program, to ‘perform’ music that in his own words had ‘timbres and notes were not inspiring’. It was not actually the first time digital music was generated by a computer, the Australian CSIRAC can lay claim to the piece of fame.
In 1961 Mathews arranged an accompaniment of the song Daisy at Bell Labs on a an IBM 7094. Arthur C Clark who caught wind of this suggested Stanley Kubrick use the song in 2001:A Space Odyssey and, as we know, its featured as a slowed down version suggesting the regression and faliure of the HAL 9000 computer.
The Altair 8800
In 1975 Steve Dompier, member of Homebrew Computer Club, made a very memorable hardware hack on his newly built Altair 8800 computer – a machine that came in kit form and had to be constructed by hand. While interrogating its 72 function set, he noticed interference frequencies coming from the radio he was listening to. He noticed that a process occurring at a particular memory address would generate a specific frequency – for example memory address 075 was equivalent to an F-sharp. After finding the other memory addresses corresponding to other notes, he had mapped the musical scale which lead him to writing a simple music generation program. At the next Homebrew Computer Club meeting he showed his discovery to other member of the club. Fittingly he choose to have his Altair perform a rendition of Daisy, as if in homage to Mathews piece on IBM 7094 and and Clarke’s HAL 9000. The same night Dompier instructed his Altair to generate ‘Fool on the Hill’ by the Beatles – you can view a video here.