The computer recording of Alan Turing’s digital piece has finally been restored after 65 years. The piece starts with a mixture of Baa Baa Black Sheep, The National Anthem and Glen Miller’s ‘In the Mood’.
Jason Long and Jack Copeland (Professor of University of Canterbury in Christchurch) have successfully restored the recording to what it intended to sound like in 1951 and it has shown to be a true landmark of the first digital recording.
The computer that Turing used was the Ferranti Mark 1. Although it is said that this may not be the first computer to play music as there was supposedly one in Australia named the CSIRAC which played the Colonel Bogey some months before; yet the Ferranti Mark 1 was the first computer to have a digital recording surface from this.
Turing attended The University of Manchester and later on a friend of Turing’s named Christopher Strachey wrote the instruction manual for the Ferranti Mark 1 as Deputy Director of Manchester University’s Computing Machine Laboratory.
The Mark 1 had the ability to produce a ‘Hoot’ noise which Turing’s idea was the produce a short sequence of musical notes when a job on the computer was finished; moving further from this Strachey decided this could produce full musical melodies rather than a small sequence of notes. Being a skilled pianist Strachey felt passionate about this and extremely excited.
Copeland and Long realised after analysing the recording that the piece was playing at the wrong speed. They were then able to calculate precisely how much the notes needed to be sped up in order to sound exactly like the Ferranti Mark 1 as they knew the notes the Computer was actually capable of playing.
“It was a beautiful moment when we first heard the true sound of Turing’s computer,”
It is fascinating how much recording and musical technology has progressed since 1950s due to digital technology and the revelations people like Turing and Strachey have made. Digital pianos today are a wonderful example of how far the technology has come since the first recording of Turing’s. We are now able to get our hands on digital piano brands such as Yamaha, Chase, Kawai, Korg and Casio and these electric pianos even offer their own recording device in the instrument which can now connect to a USB device.
Restoring recordings such as Turing’s is a wonderful thing to do as it shows society today how far we have come in the technology world; even having the equipment to restore these old recordings is extremely exciting as we can now discover lost songs and recordings that no one has ever even heard about!