MATRIXSYNTH: A Different Kind of Computer Music

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Different Kind of Computer Music

via Peter Wendt:
"I just bought and listened to an interesting CD called IBM 1401, a user’s manual. It contains electroacoustic music by the Icelandic composer Johann Johannson, and is a tribute to an old IBM 1401 business computer that was one of the first computers to arrive in Iceland (in 1964), and which the composer’s father maintained.
The music is basically minimalist string music (think Philip Glass or Arvo Part) with subtle electronic sounds added. Some of these sounds are derived from recordings of the old computer; others are courtesy of a Hammond B3 running through some synth-effect pedals. An unknown IBM employee reads service instructions for the computer, and the computer “plays” a hymn. The last movement has some processed voices. Supposedly, Johannson’s father figured out that he could play tunes on the computer by programming the memory in a certain way and picking up RF from the computer via a radio.
The album is available as a CD from 4AD, or you can buy and download the tracks via a link at the album’s site.
Johansson co-founded an experimental electroacoustic/multimedia ensemble called Kitchen Motors, and has worked with electronic and rock musicians, such as Sigur Ros.
The site for the album is here
The composer’s site is here"
I added this to the Synth CDs section on the right.


  1. that's a beautiful album. it's been on my "cry myself to sleep" playlist for quite some time now.

  2. I found it very moving, both because of the music itself and the subject. You might call it "the soul of an old machine". The business that owned the particular computer even had a funeral/memorial for it when it was retired.

    I'm old enough to have seen discrete-transistor computer circuits and magnetic core memory, and I've worked with someone who invented and programmed DSP code for such old computers.



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