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IBM 7090 Music Clip

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i still have 3-4 (360 reference) green cards (GX20-1703) as well as two 360-67 "blue" cards (229-3174) One "blue" card, I borrowed it from "M" at the science center (it still has his...

Philip Nasadowski

Brings back memories. I still have my vinyl copy of "Music From Mathematics", Decca DL9103 (mono 33 1-3) that I got as a Xmas present in the late 60's from Dr. Richard V. Andree, an effervescent enthusiast for computers at the University of Oklahoma in the 1960's - and the reason I ended up in Computer Science.

The record itself is devoid of any publication dates, but from the bio's of the people involved at Bell Labs, it must have been recorded in the time frame 1961 - 1964. Strictly speaking the IBM 7090 neither "played" nor "sang". The music was not created in real time but was written in digital form to a magnetic tape that was then later fed into a Bell labs hardware creation that read the tape and did the digital to analog conversion. This was one of the early experimentations with digital music, and the "low res" version you refer to was probably the full, but somewhat limited, resolution of the original. The particular piece referred to - the only one with the computer "singing" - was a rendition of "Bicycle Built for Two".

An excerpt from the cover notes: "Music From Mathematics", Decca DL9103 "The course of human development has always been marked by man's striving for new techniques and tools in pursuance of a better life. This is most dramatically manifested in the fields of science and technology. But this dissatisfaction with available materials and methods and the corresponding search for new ones is also evident in the arts, and artists have continually sought to improve the tools of their trade. Today's modern orchestral instruments, for example, hardly resemble their medieval ancestors. On this recording, we illustrate another advancement in the realm of tools available to the music-maker: the computer and the digital-to-sound transducer. This new "instrument" combination is not merely a gadget or a complicated bit of machinery capable of producing new sounds. It opens the door to the exploration and discovery of many new and unique sounds. However, its musical usefulness and validity go far beyond this. With the development of this equipment carried out at the Bell Telephone Laboratories, the composer will have the benefits of a notational system so precise that future generations will know exactly how the composer intended his music to sound. He will have at his command an "instrument" which is itself directly involved in the creative process. In the words of three of the composers whose works are heard on this recording:"

"Man's music has always been acoustically limited by the instruments on which he plays. These are mechanisms which have physical restrictions. We have made sound and music directly from numbers, surmounting conventional limitations of instruments. Thus, the musical universe is now circumscribed only by man's perceptions and creativity."

"The process of composing music on and for the computer and transducer is highly complex; we shall attempt here only a brief and simplified description so that the listener may better understand what he is hearing. At the very heart of this type of composition rests this fundamental premise: "Any sound can be described mathematically by a sequence of numbers." Our composer thus begins by determining what numbers specify the particular sounds in which he is interested. These numbers are then punched on IBM cards; the cards are fed into the computer and the digits recorded in the memory of the machine. The computer is thus able to generate limitless sounds, depending on the instructions given it by the composer. The latter, instead of writing the score in notes, programs his music by punching a second set of IBM cards, which when fed into the computer cause it to register on tape certain sounds from its vast storehouse. The composer may give the computer detailed instructions for every "note," or he may allow it varying degrees of freedom by asking it to select "notes" at random from a host of possibilities. The tape which emerges from the computer contains music in the form of magnetic impressions. To convert these impressions to actual sounds, the tape is run on a digital-to-sound transducer, which translates the digital indications to sounds, amplifies these sounds, and gives us the finished musical product."

"As can be gleaned from the above description, the human element plays a large role in computer music, as in any art medium. The sounds and sound-producing methods are new; the composer's role is essentially that which it has always been. History tells us that whenever a new concept emerges, it is labeled revolutionary by either its proponents or the public at large. The new techniques and tools of computer music are not meant to replace the more traditional means of composition and performance. Rather, they are designed to enhance and enlarge the range of possibilities available to the searching imagination of musicians. Science has provided the composer with new means to serve the same ends - artistic excellence and communication." ... "3. BICYCLE BUILT FOR TWO (arranged by M. V. Mathews) The computer can also be programmed to speak and sing, as is illustrated by the last verse of this familiar ditty. The patterns of human speech are analyzed in the same manner as the instrumental sounds. The computer is then programmed to speak the desired words. On this band the computer not only was programmed to sing but also to simulate a Honky Tonky type of piano accompaniment that was popular during the era when this song was a hit."


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