Music made with Alan Turing’s massive computer restored after more than 50 years

alan turing christmas carols
Antoine Taveneaux / Creative Commons
Alan Turing is celebrated for many things — as the father of computer science, legendary code breaker, and mind behind the Turing test. But few people view him as a musical pioneer. At least until now. A 65-year-old recording of music made by one of Turing’s huge computers has recently been restored by a team of researchers from University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The original 12-inch disc bore signs of its age when Jack Copeland first listened to it in a compact audio booth in the British Library’s Sound Archive. It’s music was distorted and off-key. Within its ridges was an audio artifact of melodies created for a BBC broadcast using Turing’s huge, primitive computer in 1951.

“Suddenly it exists again — the exact notes played by that distant ancestor of our mainframes, laptops, phones and tablets”

“When my collaborator Jason Long and I performed a frequency analysis of the recording we found that it was not accurate,” Copeland tells Digital Trends. “Naturally we wanted to uncover the long-lost original sound.”

Copeland and Long, who works as a composer, first specified the frequencies that the computer could create. Turing’s brainchild exists only in spirit — the physical machine was dismantled years ago. So, to determine the frequencies, the researchers turned to the programming manual that Turing wrote to accompany his innovative machine.

“Through our frequency analysis of the recording we discovered that a number of the frequencies in the recording were ones that the computer could not possibly have played,” Copeland says. “This told us that the recording had been slowed down, with the result that the frequencies had been changed — probably as a result of the BBC’s portable disc cutter running at the wrong speed.

To correct the error, Copeland and Long created a computer program that could analyze the recording and pinpoint its original speed. “Once we had this figure, we sped the recording up and out came the original sound of the computer,” Copeland says.

The three songs featured on the recording include “God Save the King,” “Baa, Baa Black Sheep,” and Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.” These may seem like apt and ironic selections for a genius like Turing — who was betrayed by his own country just a few years after he cracked the Nazi’s Enigma machine and helped turn the tide of World War II — but Turing himself only programmed the sounds. The musical compositions were actually made by future computer scientist Christopher Strachey.

“It was exciting,” Copeland says of the discovery, “a bit like seeing something beautiful and important emerging from the earth during an archaeological dig.”

This is the earliest known recording of computer-generated music, according to the researchers, and the first time that anyone has heard a sound that’s loyal to the original recording in more than 50 years. “Suddenly it exists again,” Copeland says, “the exact notes played by that distant ancestor of our mainframes, laptops, phones, and tablets.”

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: heat-powered watches, phone cases with reflexes

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Home Theater

Sony’s 360 Reality Audio is the epic sound revolution you didn’t know you needed

After Sony’s utterly bizarre press conference, I almost missed what was perhaps the most impactful sonic experience at the show. Luckily, I went back to Sony’s booth on the last day of the show, only to have my mind blown.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to 'Roma'

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.

IBM’s Q System One is the rock star quantum computing needs

Quantum computing is intriguing. It's also confusing, distant, and unfathomable, which means people often skip right by the topic. IBM's Q System One may not be a scientific breakthrough, but it finally gives everyone a reason to stop and…

Bolster your HD music catalog with the best high-res audio sites

Music connoisseurs relish HD audio, but scouring the web for all the best streaming and downloading sites can be a pain. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Check out our list, and let the high-resolution good times roll.
Home Theater

Rock out, dance, or just nod along with the best Bluetooth speakers

The market is saturated with wireless audio solutions fit for any and all circumstances. Check out our picks for the best Bluetooth speakers available, whether you'll be listening in the kitchen or on a mountaintop.

A wealth of rich tunes: Cash in with the best songs about money

There may not be as many songs about money as there are songs about love, but it's a close second. If you're looking for a skrilla-inspired playlist, check out our picks for the best songs about money.
Home Theater

The best MP3 players of 2018 cram tons of music into a small package

Want to go for a run, but your phone is weighing you down? Don't sweat it. Can't fit your whole music library on your smartphone? No worries. Check out our list of the best MP3 players, and find one that works for you.
Home Theater

Future Apple AirPods may use pressure sensors to tune sounds to your ears

Apple plans to release new AirPods much the same as it does new iPhones, and a wireless charging case, water resistance, and better Siri integration are among the improvements we can expect in future models.

How much is Spotify Premium, and how can you get it at a discount?

Having access to millions of songs comes at a price -- albeit, a pretty small one. Before you figure out how much is Spotify Premium going to cost you, you will want to see if you qualify for a discounted (or even free) subscription.
Home Theater

5 gorgeous turntables that spin stacks of wax in style for less than $500

Vinyl records are awesome, but they're also finicky. To get the best out of your stacks of wax, it's best to play them on a quality turntable. Here are the best turntables to be had for under $500.

Music junkie? Here are the 24 best music apps for consuming and creating tunes

We rummaged through the iOS and Android app stores to find the finest mobile music-creation and music-consumption apps in existence. No matter if you're on Android or iOS, here are the best music apps.
Home Theater

Mobile masters: Tidal’s better-than-CD MQA tracks come to Android

Audiophile-grade music tracks and streaming music services don't come together very often, and when they do, it's not always easy to find a device that plays them. That's no longer the case as Tidal's MQA tracks now work on Android.
Home Theater

Mobile audio gets an upgrade thanks to new Sonarworks apps

Sonarworks is used by audio engineers around the world to get more accurate sound from their headphones. Today, the company launched Android and iOS apps for the same ability on mobile devices.