Composer orchestrates historic computers

More than 20 vintage computers at The National Museum of Computing are being used as an array of instruments by Matthew Applegate (a.k.a.Pixelh8) in readiness for the first performances of his new Electronica composition ‘Obsolete?’ at Bletchley Park on 20 and 21 March 2009.

More than 20 vintage computers at The National Museum of Computing are being used as an array of instruments by Matthew Applegate (a.k.a.Pixelh8) in readiness for the first performances of his new Electronica composition ‘Obsolete?’ at Bletchley Park on 20 and 21 March 2009.

Applegate, a classically trained musician, has recently featured on a BBC Radio 1 session 6 Music and has followers including Imogen Heap, Damon Albarn, and VV Brown.

Having listened, studied and assessed the sounds of scores of vintage computers in The National Museum of Computing collection, Matthew’s final ‘instrument’ selection includes: Colossus - the world’s first electronic programmable computer; the Elliott 803 - a 4kb memory workhorse from the 1960s; 1970s card punch machine; and a trio of games machines from the 1980s and 1990s.

"In composing the piece, I looked into the history of the machines and the amazing history of [Bletchley Park] - the wartime codebreaking centre where people worked in secret applying their amazing intellects to defeat Hitler,” Matthews says, “so the composition has a tremendous emotional depth as well as reflecting cryptography, mathematics and our technological heritage right up to the present day."

Along the way, Matthew has made unusual musical discoveries: "One morning, as I past Colossus, a huge machine that could only fit in the largest of trucks, it was making a different sound,” he recalls. “It usually has a set rhythm and a set sound, but that day it was running a different algorithm and some of the panels for the relays had been removed, and the sound was very different. I quickly set up my recording equipment and was delighted with the new sounds that I captured."

The full ensemble for ‘Obsolete?’ includes:

  • Elliot 803
  • Colossus MK2 rebuild
  • Dragon 32
  • BBC Micro
  • SORD M5
  • MSX-HX10
  • Atari 800XL
  • Amstrad CPC464
  • IBM 029 key punch
  • Brunsviga Adding Machine
  • Bulmers Adding Machine
  • Block & Anderson Adding Machine
  • Crete teleprinter
  • ICL Line Printer
  • PDP 11 and PDP 8
  • 380Z Research Machine
  • RM Nimbus Power
  • MAC 5500/275
  • DecTalk

‘Obsolete?’ is supported by The PRS Foundation. Tickets for the event to be held in the ballroom of the historic Bletchley Park Mansion can be bought obtained online (while availability lasts).

More information:
www.tnmoc.org

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