The Sound of Computers

Ben Johnson and Aparna Alluri Mar 4, 2015
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The Sound of Computers

Ben Johnson and Aparna Alluri Mar 4, 2015
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Have you ever wondered what computers sounded like before they evolved into the sleek, silent processors we know and use. Well, now you can find out.

Matt Parker, a UK-based sound artist, is the man behind the Imitation Archive – it’s a collection of sounds from the early days of computing. The archive will be in the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park, England. Parker is also working on turning some of these sounds into musical compositions.

What was surprising, he said, was the rich variety of sounds he encountered. “Certainly the assumption would be that they all sound the same,” said Parker.  

“Very early electromechanical computers running on relay switches make a very different sort of sound to the sounds you get from high processing smaller devices,” he explained, before playing sounds from one particular device, known as the WITCH. It sounded, he said, like “various pieces of metal grinding.”

Parker described the device as “basically, a very advanced calculator.”

He also said the WITCH was the most musical of all the technology he’s recorded: “It’s very interesting, very rhythmic.”

His goal is to explore the separation between the quiet devices that we keep beside us or tucked away in our pockets and bags, and the place where all the information they process is ending up. “I want to try and find a way using sound to remind people of that,” said Parker.   

 

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