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You may think computer-generated music was a new thing, but you’d be wrong – this has been around for 60-years.
The University of Manchester this week released scratchy recordings of Baa Baa Black Sheep and a partial version of In The Mood – both thought to be the oldest known recordings of computer-generated tunes.
These recordings were made available to celebrate the 60th anniversary of ‘Baby’, an early computer and the forerunner of today’s machines. The tunes were created on a Ferranti Mk 1 computer, which was a commercial version of the first Baby.
The previous oldest known recordings were made on an IBM mainframe computer at Bell Labs in the US in 1957. But the first ever computer music came from a machine CSIRAC, Australia’s first digital computer, which offered a rendition of Colonel Bogey.
Baby’s music application was written by a friend of computing legend Alan Turing called Christopher Strachey, a maths master at Harrow. The music was recorded by a BBC broadcast unit in 1951.
“It was the start of the computer age,” one of the Baby builders, Geoff Tootill, told the BBC this week. “Although we didn’t know it was going to be epoch-making or earth-shattering other than for weather forecasting and other scientific disciplines.”
As part of the celebration, the University of Manchester’s School of Computer Science recently ran a competition for more experienced programmers, to program The Baby. Contestants were invited to write a program which will run on a Java simulator of the Baby, using its original low-level machine instruction code.