Bletchley Park to stage retro computer orchestra

Written by Ben Hardwidge

March 6, 2009 | 10:52

Tags: #amstrad #bletchley #colossus #computer #events #park #vintage-hardware

Companies: #atari #bletchley-park #cpc

The shrill bleeps from 80s home computers and the hammering clicks of ancient calculating machines are noises that many people would prefer to forget, but not chip-tune musician Matthew Applegate. He plans on assembling a virtual orchestra of 20 retired relics of computing at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park.

The choice of venue will even allow Applegate to feature the famous Colossus Mark 2 computer in the event, which was used for code-breaking in World War II and was recently reconstructed at Bletchley Park in 2007.

This has delighted Applegate, who explained how a visit to the centre revealed the machine’s rhythmic talent. "One morning, as I passed Colossus, a huge machine that could only fit in the largest of trucks, it was making a different sound," said Applegate. "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."

A wide selection of computing fossils be used in Applegate’s final musical presentation, which is called “Obsolete?” This includes the Elliot 803 (a 1960s machine with 4KB of memory), the aforementioned Colossus Mark 2, a Bunsviga adding machine (pictured) and a punch card machine. As well as this, there are also some machines that will look nostalgically familiar to kids who grew up with the home computer generation, including a BBC Micro, an Atari 800XL, a Dragon 32 and an Amstrad CPC464. The full list includes these blasts from the past:

Elliot 803
Colossus Mark 2 Rebuild
Dragon 32
BBC Micro
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
380Z Research Machine
RM Nimbus Power
MAC 5500/275

Matthew Applegate is a classically trained musician who commonly goes under the pseudonym of Pixelh8, and he's previously made a name for himself by reprogramming ZX Spectrums, GameBoys and Commodore 64s to make electronic music. This has earned him performance slots on Radio 1, as well as an opening slot on Imogen Heap’s 2006 tour.

The “Obsolete?” composition will be performed in the Bletchley Park ballroom on 20 and 21 March, and you can get tickets for £15 from here if you’re interested.

Would you be interested in hearing what sort of music could be made with a retro computing ensemble? Let us know your thoughts in the forums.
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