Making Music

Music on CSIRAC was initially created as a programming exercise, rather than an act of composition.

In common with several other first generation computers, the CSIR Mk1 had a built-in loudspeaker. The 'hooter,' as it was known, was an output device used by programmers to signal that a particular stage had been reached in the program. It was commonly used for warnings, often to signify the end of the program, and sometimes as a debugging aid.

The sound production technique used to create music was crude but effective. Pulses of data sent to the ‘hooter’ would make clicks, but considerable effort was necessary on the part of the programmer to get a predictable sound out of it, and multiple pulses were required to achieve a musical result. As there was no storage available, the computer had to produce this music in real-time.

In 1957 at the University of Melbourne, Professor Thomas Cherry wrote a music performance program that enabled a user who understood simple standard music notation to enter it easily into CSIRAC for performance. This avoided all of the complicated timing problems normally required to create a tune.

The musical pieces played by the CSIR Mk1 are not as musically inspiring as they might have been, had composers been involved. From today’s perspective, the music is most interesting as both the first application of computers to music and of the early programming practices used to create music.

MusicSound files
Colonel Bogey113k (mp3)
In Cellar Cool (with simulated CSIRAC operation)476k (mp3)
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