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  • Writer's pictureThom Holmes

Music About Computers

This episode is about music about computers, as opposed to computer music made by computers. Not only has the computer revolutionized how we compose music, but for a time we were equally fascinated by the effect of computers on our lives. So, while some of these tracks do employ digital means to create the sounds, the motivation for including them is that they comprise some view on computers, the use of computers, and even the peripherals used with computers.

The oldest track is from Raymond Scott when he did some commercial music for IBM, in this case the forerunner of word processors, the IBM Magnetic Tape Selectric Typewriter from about 1964. Many of these tracks consider the effect of computers and technology on human relationships and love. We have some reggae and some pop songs. I’ve included Ikue Mori’s fascinating exploration in drum machines around the subject of the Abacus, perhaps the world’s earliest computer. The featured work is the complete version of Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson’s IBM 1401 Computer Manual from 2006, before he gained wider fame as the composer of such soundtracks as Arrival and Sicario. We will then close with a tale of computer addiction from Kate Bush.

Episode 73

Music About Computers


1. Computer Magic (Danielle Johnson), “Data” from Danz (2018 Channel 9 Records). US. Written, Recorded, Arranged, Produced, Mixed, Mastered by, Danielle Johnson. 1:57

2. Angie, “The Computer Did” from The Computer Did (1984 Munich Records). Netherlands. Producer, A. Bredehoft, C. Wegener, K. Marvin; Technician, Wil Hesen; Written by C. Wegener. 3:15

3. Kraftwerk, “Computer Love” from Computer World (1981 EMI). Germany. Hardware, Matten & Wiechers Bonn, Peter Bollig, Mr. Lab & Friend Chip Berlin, Hermann Poertner, Gerd Rothe; Software, Guenter Froehling, Emil Schult, Pit Franke, Karl Klefisch, Computergraphics System Bernd Gericke Erlangen, Falk Kuebler, Martin Tewis, Carol Martin, Takeshi Shikura, Ian Flooks, Marvin Katz, Maxime Schmitt, Ralf Hutter, Karl Bartos, Wolfgang Flur, Florian Schneider. Kling Klang Studio: Joachim Dehmann, Guenter Spachtholz. 7:17

4. Little Computer People Project (Anthony Rother), “Little Computer People (Karl Bartos Remix)” from Little Computer People (Remixes) (1998 Psi49net). Germany. Produced, Performed by The Little Computer People Project (Anthony Rother); remixed by Karl Bartos. 5:31

5. Doris Norton, “Parallel Interface” from Personal Computer (Durium 1984). Italy. Arranged, composed, synthesizers by Doris Norton; keyboards, Antonio Bartoccetti. 4:27

6. The Microbes, “Computer” from Computer (1980 DJM Records). UK. Produced, Written by, C. Chiappe, J. Chegwin, O. Falquero. 2:32

7. Zapp & Roger Featuring Shirley Murdock and Charlie Wilson, “Computer Love” from The New Zapp IV U (1985 Warner Brothers). US. Produced, written by, Larry “Zap” Troutman, Roger Troutman; mixed by Roger Troutman. Backing Vocals Aaron Blackmon, Billy Beck, Bobby Glover, Charlie Wilson, Dale Degroat, Donna Sloss, Gregory Jackson, Jannetta Boyce, Ray Davis, Rhonda Stevens, Robert Jones, Roger Troutman, Shirley Murdock, Wanda Rash, Zapp Troutman; Bass Guitar, Aaron Blackmon, Roger Troutman, Zapp Troutman; Drums, Damian Black, Lester Troutman, Edited by Zapp Troutman; Horns, Carl Cowen, Jerome Derrickson, Michael Warren, Robert Jones; Keyboards, Bernie Worrell, Billy Beck, Dale Degroat, Greg Jackson, Roger Troutman, Zapp Troutman; Lead Guitar, Rhythm Guitar, Aaron Blackmon, Roger Troutman; Lead Vocals Greg Jackson; Mixed by Lester Troutman, Zapp Troutman; Percussion, Larry Troutman, Lester Troutman, Robert "Kuumba" Jones. 4:43

8. Raymond Scott, “IBM Probe” from Manhattan Research Inc. (2000 Basta). US. Music from 1963-64. Outtakes from the music and sound effects created for the promotion of the IBM MT/ST (Magnetic Tape/Selectric Typewriter), an early word processor. Remember those? 1:54

9. Ugliman, “Computer” from Computer (1985 10 Roosevelt Ave.). Jamaica. Producer, Harry J; Written by H. Johnson, R. Crawford. 4:00

10.Ikue Mori, “Abacus—Blue Parrot” from Garden (1996 Tzadik). US. Composer, performer, producer, drum Machines, effects, Ikue Mori. 10:57

11.Jóhann Jóhannsson, “IBM 1401 Computer Manual” (2006 4AD). UK/Iceland. The IBM 1401 was a mainframe computer introduced by IBM in 1959. Orchestra, The City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra; Orchestrated by Arnar Bjarnason, Jóhann Jóhannsson; Hammond B3 organ, Piano, Celesta, Bells, Jóhann Jóhannsson; IBM 1401 Data Processing System recorded by Elías Davídsson, Jóhann Gunnarsson, Örn Kaldalóns; Written, arranged, produced by Jóhann Jóhannsson. Jóhannsson’s father had worked as an engineer on this computer and recorded some musical snippets when the machine was retired in 1971 that were used by his son to make parts of this recording. “The orchestra was recorded at Barrandov Studios, Smecky Soundstage in Prague in September 2005. Additional recordings were made in Reykjavik, Skálholt, Florence, Madrid, Zurich, Piran and Rennes during the period 2003-2006. Mixed in Syrland, Reykjavik in February 2006. Tracks two and three feature the voice of "an unknown instructor from an IBM 1401 Data Processing System maintenance instruction tape found in my father’s attic. All electronic sounds were derived from the IBM 1401 Data Processing System and the Hammond B3 organ with Ring Modulator, Distortion and Filter pedals. The music and sounds of the IBM 1401 Data Processing System were recorded by Jóhann Gunnarsson, Örn Kaldalóns and Elías Davídsson in Reykjavik in 1971. The musical fragment played by the computer is from the hymn "Ísland Ögrum Skorid" by Sigvaldi Kaldalóns, used by kind permission. 42:25

The work is organized as follows:

Part 1 / IBM 1401 Processing Unit

Part 2 / IBM 1403 Printer

Part 3 / IBM 1402 Card Read-Punch

Part 4 / IBM 729 II Magnetic Tape Unit

Part 5 / The Sun's Gone Dim and The Sky's Turned Black

12. Kate Bush, “Deeper Understanding” from Director's Cut (2011 Fish People). UK. A different edit from the official album version. Bass, John Giblin; Computer, Albert McIntosh; Drums, Steve Gadd; Harmonica, Brendan Power; Written, produced, vocals, keyboards, Kate Bush; Performer (Beryl Van Heem), Hazel Pethig; Performer (Professor Need), Terry Jones; Performer (Toll), Remi Butler; Vocals, Trio Bulgarka; Vocals Featuring, Yanka Rupkhina. 4:53

Opening background music: Outputmessage (Bernard Farley), “Switch” from Oneiros (2004 Echelon Productions). Written, performed, and produced by Bernard Farley.

Opening and closing sequences voiced by Anne Benkovitz.

Additional opening, closing, and other incidental music by Thom Holmes.

For additional notes, please see my blog, Noise and Notations.

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Electronic and Experimental Music

Notes on the development and continuing history of electronic music, its creators, and the technology.

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