The Imitation Archive release
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The sounds of 70 years of computing archived and remixed into music
The Imitation Archive, a musical composition using the world’s earliest computers as instruments, has been created by award-winning sound artist and composer Matt Parker at The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) on Bletchley Park. The entire work will be premiered on radio this month and an audio archive of 123 recordings taken from 43 machines now forms part of the British Library Sound and Vision Archive.
The work includes HD recordings of the rebuild of Colossus, the world’s first electronic computer, the Harwell Dekatron (WITCH), the oldest original working digital computer, 1970’s mainframes, desktops from the 1980s, and even calculators from pre-computing times. The archive, the first of its kind, represents the phenomenal progress of computing over the past 70 years and is lodged in the British Library as well as TNMOC.
Parker has now remixed these recordings to produce an extraordinary musical composition, giving centre stage to many of the famous machines through a series of movements that reveal the UK’s rich history in computing.
Feature track now available:
Matt Parker explained: “Working on The Imitation Archive has been an opportunity for me to consider the impact of computing on culture and society, and how it has changed so dramatically in a relatively short period of time. My work has previously focussed on the sounds associated with the contemporary moment and cloud computing, but the sounds of early computing turned out to be wide ranging and unique in ways I could never have imagined.
“The Imitation Archive is an electroacoustic soundscape influenced by R Murray Schafer’s ideas about acoustic ecology and the need for us to listen to our environments. It’s a contemporary approach to composition that works, ironically, with heritage source recordings. The piece focuses on working machines designed to run 24/7 performing repetitive cycles, so I decided to make the composition seamless; a never ending cycle of computing. I’m thrilled that it is to be played in its entirety on the radio.”
Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds at The British Library, said: “The Imitation Archive is a remarkable collection of recordings which encapsulate, through the medium of sound, some of the most significant technological achievements in the history of modern computing. The compositional element of the archive also demonstrates the versatility of sound and will surely encourage others to experiment with field recordings in a musical context.”
Tim Reynolds, Chairman of TNMOC, said: “Matt Parker’s work is intriguing. His take on Colossus, which he has entitled Flowers in honour of Tommy Flowers the designer of the world’s first electronic computer, is mesmeric. This highly creative interpretation of what the Museum represents is something we very much encourage. We’ve had some fun playing with the archive already, asking the public if they recognise the sounds of some early PCs. To my astonishment some can!”
The archive has been produced with the support of Arts Council England’s Grants for the Arts Scheme and will be made available to visitors at the museum as well as through The British Library Sound and Vision Archive ensuring the global dissemination and conservation of the hugely significant heritage working machines at the Museum.
The Imitation Archive musical composition can be heard on Soundproof presented by the Creative Audio Unit on ABC Australia on 10 July 2015. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/soundproof/
The musical composition will also be released online and announced on www.tnmoc.org in the near future
The individual machine recordings are now available online: The Imitation Archive – individual machines -- in The British Library Archive Collection C1679 http://cadensa.bl.uk/
The Imitation Archive – musical composition I was very much drawn into the historical narratives of machines at Bletchley. It was fascinating to discover how some of the fundamental frequencies of the machines harmonised with themselves. Some of the machines such as WITCH, Bombe and Colossus have very distinctive mechanical rhythms. Their repetitive rhythms would occasionally break from the cycle and create a surprise extra half-beat or micro-beat. I hope I have given a sense of what it might be like to work with these machines day in day out, in different environments, as well as draw on their relationships with the space in the museum as it is today.
Mechanical Calculators – an audio-visual composition: https://vimeo.com/128459907 “The manual tools used by accountants the world over from the 1930s to the 1970s before digital computing technologies took over. These devices look incredible to me; as someone who has only ever used a digital calculator or my fingers to count. So many different methods of invention, all with the aim of achieving basic arithmetic with large numbers. I found the idea of grinding, punching and literally 'crunching' the numbers to be something to explore as I placed each item within the vast collection of The Imitation Archive.”
Notes To Editors
About Matt Parker
Matt Parker is a sound artist and composer based in Birmingham, UK. He was awarded the Deutsche Bank Creative Prize in Music in 2014 for his project The People’s Cloud, an investigation into the ecology of the internet. He has recently produced audio pieces that have been heard at The Science Museum London, The V&A, the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, The Melbourne Fringe Festival, and has performed his music all over the world.
For more information on The People’s Cloud, visit www.thepeoplescloud.org
For more information on Matt Parker, visit www.earthkeptwarm.com
To find out more information about the British Library Sound Archive, visit http://sounds.bl.uk/
To find out more about Grants for the Arts, an Arts Council England programme, visit http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/
Follow Matt Parker on Twitter @earthkeptwarm
The National Museum of Computing
The National Museum of Computing, located on Bletchley Park, is an independent charity housing the world's largest collection of functional historic computers, including the rebuilt Colossus, the world’s first electronic computer, and the WITCH, the world's oldest working digital computer. The Museum enables visitors to follow the development of computing from the ultra-secret pioneering efforts of the 1940s through the large systems and mainframes of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and the rise of personal computing in the 1980s and beyond.
A pledge by an individual benefactor of £1 million if matched funding is found means that every pound or dollar donated to the Museum will count double. Previous funders of the Museum have included Bletchley Park Capital Partners, Bloomberg, CreateOnline, Ceravision, InsightSoftware.com, Ocado Technology, FUZE, 4Links, Google UK, IBM, NPL, HP Labs, and BCS.
The whole Museum is currently open to the public from 12 noon on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, spring and summer Bank Holidays and during school holidays. The Colossus and Tunny galleries are open daily. Public and Private Guided tours are available and bookable online - see the website or the iPhone app for details. Educational and corporate group visits are available by prior arrangement.
For more information, see www.tnmoc.org and follow @tnmoc on Twitter and The National Museum of Computing on Facebook and Google+. A TNMOC iPhone App is also now available from the iPhone App Store.
Stephen Fleming for The National Museum of Computing