Friday, May 15, 2015

Spring Break

Just letting y'all know that up to the first week of June, things will be a bit slower here on Ancient Wonderworld, as I'll be travelling the vast realms of the European North. There will most likely be no regular updates during that time. Nevertheless, I've got a little special lined up, which will run from May 25th to 31st. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

[album] FM Radio Underground by Jredd and Groovemaster303

These guys never get tired, do they? Pleased to announce yet another hi-quality, ultra-groovy SEGA Genesis/Megadrive album by Jredd and Groovemaster303. Check it out!

World of Spectrum Forums Back

After a prolonged downtime, the World of Spectrum forums are up and running again. As far as I understand, the whole thing is currently still in test mode and the layout is not final yet. But nevertheless I'm more than happy that my favourite online community has returned!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Rekengeluiden van PASCAL - The Oldest Dutch Computer Music Recording

(c) Philips 1962
On my quest of documenting the beginnings of computer music history, I've come across another gem from the early days. Here's the story behind this amazing time capsule in audio form, whose significance has been largely overlooked so far.

We are writing the year 1960. After a somewhat sluggish start the computer revolution is getting into full swing in the Netherlands. At the Natuurkundig Laboratorium in Eindhoven, Philips just completed their second computer, the Philips Akelig Snelle Calculator (Philips Frighteningly Fast Calculator), or short PASCAL.

The head of the NatLab at the time, a certain W. Nijenhuis, had the idea of installing a small amplifier and loudspeaker on the PASCAL, which would pick up radio frequency interference generated by the machine. Unsurprisingly, the usual course of events unfolds: While actually intended for diagnostic purposes, people quickly discovered that they could abuse the speaker to make simple music. But Mr Nijenhuis, rather than scolding his staff for the waste of precious calculation time, actually decides to record those rekengeluiden (computing noises) on a 45 rpm vinyl.

Thus, "Rekengeluiden van PASCAL" was born. Side A of the record contains recordings of the computer during regular operation, including some of the mechanical noises the machine would make. Likewise, the first track on the B-side is a recording of a prime number calculation. Listening to these recordings may already give us an idea of how the whole radio frequency interference music business came about: These algorithms don't just produce random bleeps and bops, they actually sound quite beautiful themselves, and are remniscent of some modern day bytebeat compositions.

Track number two on the B-side is a nice rendition of a Mozart minuet. But Nijenhuis doesn't stop there. The last track on the B-side, "Stochastische melodie", takes things one step further - it's not just performed by the computer, but the machine also composed it.

The record was distributed as bonus material with Philips' in-house magazine, the "Technisch Tijdschrift" in Spring 1962. Chances of finding a copy nowadays are probably close to zilch, but fortunately a kind soul has uploaded an mp3 version. So, I hope you'll all enjoy this one-of-a-kind piece of computer history!

Sources: 
discogs entry for "Rekengeluiden van PASCAL"
Alberts, Gerard: Een halve eeuw computers in Nederland. In: de Nieuwe Wiskrant, issue 22-3. Univ. of Utrecht, March 2003. Online at http://www.fi.uu.nl/wiskrant/artikelen/223/223maart_alberts.pdf

10 Years Battle of the Bits

The most epic battle in the chipmusic world has been raging on for 10 consecutive years now. Happy Birthday, battleofthebits.org!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

[album] Untitled Game Boy EP by Jellica

Very, very pleased to announce this new EP by another of my absolute favourite artists, Jellica. These are some of the most beautiful and unique chiptune works I've ever come across. And as Jellica hasn't released anything in quite a while, I'm extremely happy to see this.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

[album] Sunday Groove by Vince Kaichan

New jazzy grooves from Vince Kaichan (ex VCMG). Horray, super smooth!


Monday, May 4, 2015

CSIRAC Was Not The First: Rewriting Computer Music History Once Again

For many years it was believed that the first experiments in computer music were done by Max Mathews at Bell Labs in 1957. In the early 2000s however, a research team concerned with the history of the CSIRAC mainframe at the University of Sidney, Australia found documents confirming a musical performance by that machine on August 7th-9th, 1951. Also, in 2008 the BBC unveiled a hidden gem from their archives: A computer music recording from autumn of 1951, done by Christopher Strachey on the Ferranti Mark I at the University of Manchester just a few weeks after the Sidney performance.

In fact, Geoff Hill's 1951 experiments have held the status of the first computer music in history ever since. However, according to my most recent research, it's time to change the record once again.

The UNIVAC I control panel, designed in part by Betty Holberton

In May 1990, the Charles Babbage Institute, the Smithsonian Institution, and
the Unisys Corporation brought together many of the pioneers and masterminds behind the UNIVAC I computer for a commemoratory Univac Conference. During the main panel, the attention suddenly turns to the little lpudspeaker that was installed on the machine for diagnostic purposes. Louis D. Wilson recalls:

When we were testing BINAC out, we were working two shifts and we worked all night long, and we had a radio going. After a while we noticed that you could recognize the pattern of what was happening at the moment by listening to the static on the radio. So I installed a detector in the console and an amplifier and a speaker so that you could deliberately listen to these things.
At this point, Frances E. "Betty" Holberton starts to wonder:
Does anybody know who actually wrote the first generator for the UNIVAC or for any computer that played music? [...] Herb Finney?
Morgan W. Huff responds:
Herb Finney, Air Force. Office of the Air Comptroller.
Hmm, interesting, but that doesn't really help us, since nobody puts a date on it. What does help us however is the conversation between Wilson and Holberton that now follows:
WILSON: Well, if you remember it, the dedication party, when we got the first machine running, John Mauchly programmed...

HOLBERTON: No, I programmed that.


WILSON: Oh, did you do that?


HOLBERTON: I certainly did. It was supposed to have been a surprise, and we did it at 2 o'clock in the morning. There were some engineers working on the BINAC and they heard it. It was actually an interpretive routine. It only had eight notes and it played "For he's a jolly good fellow," or something like that. But it was supposed to have been a surprise and it wasn't.
That "dedication party" Wilson mentions can indeed be dated. It's the dedication event of the completion of the first successful UNIVAC I installation for the US Census Bureau, which took place on June 14th, 1951.

Frances E. "Betty" Holberton


In fact computer music history might go back as far as the early days of the BINAC computer, but unfortunately we may never know. Betty Holberton is not around to tell her story anymore, she passed away in 2001; and I have yet to find more information about Louis Wilson or the mysterious Herb Finney. So, for the time being, the date of June 14th, 1951, may stand as the first ever public demonstration of computer music.

All quotes in this article are taken from the transcript of the 1990 Univac Conference at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, pages 72-73. The transcript as well as the original audio recordings can be found here.

Friday, May 1, 2015

[album] PSG Series 3 by Tomy

Pulling all his tricks, Sega wizard Tomy has released a fresh batch of Master System (SN76489) tunes. Again, over 90 minutes of high quality, vgm-inspired material. Grab the free download before the bandcamp counter runs out!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

[album] Teh Art of Party Trolling by Jankenpopp

Lowtoy Netlabel has released a new crazy album by Jankenpopp, one of the masterminds behind Windows93. Made on, err, le Game Boy.

Here's what you're getting yourself into if you're gonna click on download:


And now, download and party hard!