Computer Noise Jam 25/04/2013 – Take 5 of 6

The performance consisted of an Asus Eee PC 2G Surf running Debian Squeeze plus a Maplin Telephone Pick-Up Coil plugged into a Behringer Eurorack UB502 Mixer. The Eee PC was turned on and the following commands were entered via the command line:

cat /lib/modules/2.6.32-5-686/* > /dev/dsp
./howse/self "/bin/ps" "-ef" > /dev/dsp


The Book of Job/You Suffer

This piece consists of a plain text file, containing all 42 chapters of the King James Version of The Book of Job, imported as raw data into a sound editor at a rate of 80150 Hz in order to produce an audio file precisely 1.316 seconds long.

The Book of Job, commonly referred to simply as Job, is one of the books of the Old Testament. It relates the story of Job, his trials at the hands of Satan, his discussions with friends on the origins and nature of his suffering, his challenge to God and finally a response from God. An oft-asked question in the book of Job is “Why do the righteous suffer?”

You Suffer is a song by the British grindcore band Napalm Death, who are credited with defining the grindcore genre through their blend of hardcore punk and metal musical structures, aggressive playing, fast tempos and deep, guttural vocals. The song has earned a place in The Guinness Book of Records as the shortest recorded song ever. It is precisely 1.316 seconds long and consists entirely of the lyrics “You suffer, but why?”

81 Performances – 28/02/2013

Documentation of my opening set from 81 Performances at 81 Gallery, 81 Curtain Road, Shoreditch, London.

Set list:
1. 12500Hz.pd
2. cat test.txt | sox -t raw -r 2000 -b 8 -u coreaudio vol 0.8 into play-eee-throughs-v7.pd
3. sob.pd
4. Nearly There [disquiet0004-mfischer cat-sox-pd remix]
5. Angel’s Serenade by the Columbia Orchestra into play-eee-throughs-v7.pd
6. cat test.txt | sox -t raw -r 2000 -b 8 -u coreaudio vol 0.8 into play-eee-throughs-v7.pd
7. Angel’s Serenade [disquiet0006-cylinder]

“A night of sound art, improv and general noise at 81 Gallery. Featuring performances from Stephen Stamper, Dan Linn and Marianna Sangita, Justin Dolby, Kevin Chan, Paul Freeman, Francis Patrick Brady and Sam Conran.”




Download Pure Data patch here: play-eee-throughs-v7.pd

Jóhann Jóhannsson “IBM 1401, A User’s Guide” (2006)

From Jóhann Jóhannsson’s “IBM 1401, A User’s Guide” website:

In 1964, a computer – the IBM 1401 Data Processing System – arrived in Iceland, one of the very first computers to be imported into the country. The 1401 has been called the “Model T” of the computer industry – the first affordable, mass produced digital business computer . The chief maintenance engineer for this machine was Jóhann Gunnarsson, my father. A keen musician, he learned of an obscure method of making music on this computer – a purpose for which this business machine was not at all designed. The method was simple. The computer’s memory emitted strong electromagnetic waves and by programming the memory in a certain way and by placing a radio receiver next to it, melodies could be coaxed out – captured by the receiver as a delicate, melancholy sine-wave tone.

When the IBM 1401 was taken out of service in 1971, it wasn’t simply thrown away like an old refrigerator, but was given a little farewell ceremony, almost a funeral, when its melodies were played for one last time. This “performance” was documented on tape along with recordings of the sound of the machine in operation.

When my father told me about this in the year 2001, I felt that, besides being a nice, touching story, it reflected many things that I was interested in. Man-machine interaction, old, discarded technology, the nostalgia for old computers, human and artificial intelligence, technological progress and human evolution, the “spirit” and the machine. I started to write music using those themes, basing it on those 30 year old recordings of the IBM 1401 computer.

The story of Iceland´s first computer and its music and how it reflected the emotional attachment of the engineers and programmers to this computer was tremendously interesting to me. The IBM computer was humanized by giving it a very human quality, the ability to “sing”. The anthropomorphism was complete when the machine reached obsolescence. Instead of simply discarding it, the engineers gave it a funeral of sorts. They held a ceremony to commemorate its “life”, work and songs. Burying the dead is one of the things that distinguish humans from animals. Funeral rites are only granted to something which was once alive. I got a strong impression that the engineers came to regard this computer as a living being (if only unconsciously) because they gave it certain very human qualities.

The 30 year old recordings of the IBM 1401 Data Processing System are certainly the first example of digitally produced music in Iceland and one of the first examples of electronic music in the country.

The cold, mechanical sounds of the computer melodies and noises are juxtaposed with the warmth and expressiveness of a large string orchestra, this contrast echoing the work’s theme of man versus machine.

Echoing throughout the piece is a four note theme, a fragment of the old Icelandic hymn “Ísland ögrum skorid” by Sigvaldi Kaldalóns, which is taken from the old recording of the IBM computer. The short melody is looped, providing a cantus firmus to which string melodies are added in counterpoint. The printer and computer noises join in to create a thick web of sound which builds and develops slowly.