Hear the ‘oldest’ computer music recording

Manchester Uni's Ferranti Mark 1: they didn't make a laptop version.
Manchester Uni's Ferranti Mark 1: they didn't make a laptop version.

The Computer Conservation Society and the University of Manchester have released what's thought to be the earliest recording of a computer being used to make music. It dates from 1951, and was captured by a BBC outside broadcast team.

This recording easily pre-dates the previous oldest-captured computer music performance, which was by an IBM mainframe computer at Bell Labs in the USA in 1957.

The music was generated at the University of Manchester by a Ferranti Mark 1 computer - a commercial version of the Baby Machine, which many consider to be the forerunner of all modern computers. It's been released to help mark the Baby's 60th anniversary (the machine made its debut in 1948).

You can hear the recording now on the BBC website: it features renditions of God Save The Queen, Baa Baa Black Sheep and In The Mood. The pitching isn't always great, but given that this music was generated almost 57 years ago, it's undeniably impressive.

This might not be the end of the story, though, as computer historians believe that another computer - the Australian CSIRAC - actually made music a few weeks before the Ferranti Mark 1. As yet, no one has discovered a recording, but there could be one out there…

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.