back to article Bletchley's Colossus makes beautiful music

Bletchley Park's National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) has hooked up with "chip artist" Pixelh8, aka Matthew Applegate (pictured below), for a most unusual project - a musical composition in which the "instruments" are the museum's collection of vintage hardware. Matthew Applegate The work, entitled Obsolete?, features samples …


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  1. Chris Williams

    What, no ZX Spectrum...

    ... to provide arpeggio Manic Miner accompaniment?

  2. Anonymous Coward


    Next you'll be telling me some German composers have used calculators and a French Guy users lasers!

  3. Julian I-Do-Stuff


    Hasn't TNMOC also got an Elliot 903? I was told (maybe it was scribbled on a piece of parchment...) that there was a cool program that played The Flight of the Bumblebee on the speaker attached to the sign bit (or carry bit... well, some bit anyway).

    <- the rather heavily patched one

  4. blackworx
    Thumb Up

    Ah, halogen days

    10 BEEP 0.1, RND * 100

    20 GOTO 10

    (Leave Dixons)

  5. John Mayo

    Music to my ears???

    Hmmm, when I visited Collossus it was proudly wearing its "Year 2000 compliant" certificate, and it looked (and sounded) just like the Strowger exchange I used to work in. I was hoping the "Beautiful Music" would remind me of the constant chatter of register translators or the staccato rattle of the group selector rack, but alas not. Good effort all the same. Mine's the one with the Fred Goodwin Voodoo Doll in the pocket.

  6. Matt Bradley

    Radiohead remix on old hardware

    Always worth a listen. Including contributions from:

    Sinclair ZX Spectrum - Guitars (rhythm & lead)

    Epson LX-81 Dot Matrix Printer - Drums

    HP Scanjet 3c - Bass Guitar

    Hard Drive array - Act as a collection of bad speakers - Vocals & FX

  7. David Shepherd


    Seem to recall that the Data General Nova we had at school (back in the days of teletypes and fast 300baud VDUs!) had a program (on paper tape, of course) that when run would play a tune that could be picked up on an AM radio placed next to it

  8. Lionel Baden
    Thumb Up

    already been done for a radiohead competition

    great watch actually :)

  9. Tim Schomer

    I was wondering..

    If the BOFH hasn't already done this with a PDP Disk rack...

  10. Andrew Culpeck

    BBC bah humbug

    Typical you try to listen to a pice of music on the BBC and thing wont load but if you want a song on you tube no broblem.

  11. DR

    funded by the PRS

    that's be the performance rights society?

    which supposedly collect payments to support the rights of artists to make sure that they don't go cold and hungry when pubs are playing their music, or bands playing in pubs are playing covers of their music...

    I fail to see where in the PRS there is scope for funding new music.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    and who said music and computers don't mix

    Oh, that was the IFPI and RIAA and all those muppets....just ignore them.

  13. Keith Doyle
    Thumb Down

    Lame grandstanding gimmick...

    So lame that I was inclined to call it a twatdangle, but it's just not up to David Blaine's standards...

    Perhaps we could take Laurie Anderson and her tape-bow violin along with Pixelh8's and his performance of Obsolete? and hang them both upside-down in an ice rink. Now that, I'd pay to see...

  14. CTG


    Heh. Yeah, we used to do something similar with the ZX Spectrums (Spectra?) in John Menzies - send it into a loop displaying the "loading" screen. Used to drive the shop assistants mad, as they didn't have a clue how to stop it. Ah, those were the days.

  15. JB
    Thumb Up

    Re: Ah Halogen Days

    Don't you mean:

    10 PRINT "Fuck off!"

    20 GOTO 10

    RUN out of Dixons

    I remember back in the day seeing a couple of bad kids do that on a C64 in WHSmith, and laughing at the puny efforts of the clueless shop assistants trying to stop it. In the end they just switched off the Trinitron TV!

    I can't imagine kids trying to do that on some laptop in

  16. jake Silver badge

    @David Shepherd @Tim Schomer

    "Seem to recall that the Data General Nova we had at school (back in the days of teletypes and fast 300baud VDUs!) had a program (on paper tape, of course) that when run would play a tune that could be picked up on an AM radio placed next to it"

    I was at a meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club in 1977ish when someone (Steve Dumpier?) demonstrated that trick with an Altair 8080. It took him about 30 minutes of toggling switches to get it to play "Fool on the Hill" or "Bicycle Built for Two". Someone watching (Roger Melen? There were a lot of CROMEMCO folks there that day, if I remember correctly ...) commented that it was the most useful thing he'd ever seen an Altair do ... Kind of sad commentary on what we were doing with computers in Silly Con Valley back in the day ... Still, onwards & upwards!

    @Tim ... I dunno about the BOFH (I don't read that anymore ... it was boring and derivative of itself before it left Usenet), but I personally fired an engineer for purposely making a drive "walk" when I was at DEC ... Was NOT a good thing, tended to reduce hardware & media lifespans by quite a bit.

  17. kain preacher Silver badge

    @Matt Bradley

    What no C64

  18. jake Silver badge

    @me,myself,and_I 21:59

    I just got a phone call from a friend who was at the same meeting. He thinks I might be right on the names I mentioned ... He also pointed out that I typoed "8080" instead of "8800" ... The processor was an 8080, the box was called 8800.

    Regardless, it was the very definition of "flipping [switches] useless".

    From tiny acorns ... Hang on, that's not what I meant! :-)

    The same friend wonders why nobody has commented on the "music" of the machine room back in the day ... We knew from the sound of the card decks, the paper/mag tape, and the fan noise, the background of the blinkinlights, the printer chatter, and later the sound of the hard drives (and sometimes the overall smell) if all was well with the data center.

    Times change. Hardware & software still suck. Life goes on.

  19. Allan Hawdon

    Bletchley's Colossus

    Pah! Our washing machine has perfect Flamenco rhythm. It can even dance across the kitchen floor on full spin. Let's see Colossus do that.

  20. DZ-Jay

    Re: Ah, halogen days

    Halogen, haha!

    Did you mean "halcyon"? Though halogen gives the thought a bit of a creepy, Phillip K. Dick quality.

    Regardless, I wish I could be there, but alas, I live on the other side of the ocean.


  21. Adrian Esdaile

    Did anyone else notice...?

    That Pixelh8 appears to be dressed as a Jedi and bears a more than passing resemblance to Ewan McGregor?

    Thought not.

    Yeah, mine's the brown cape, ta.

  22. Horridbloke
    Paris Hilton

    So basically...

    ... an arts tosser has wasted somebody elses money doing something self-indulgent? Where's the news angle?

    (Paris obviously)

  23. Robin Baker


    You are right about the 803 being able to play 'music' via its built-in speaker. When I was at Bletchley Park in the 70s we used their 803 to play carols at Christmas - someone had produced a paper tape with a selection of tunes on it.

    Note: the 803 that is in the museum is not the 803 that was in 'D' Block, I still wonder what happened to that one.


  24. Anonymous Coward


    It all sounds like crap techno.

    It doesn't matter whether the sound samples are from Colossus, or the Eiffel Tower, or Paris Hilton - by the time they've been fed through the limited imagination and even-more limited talent that Pixel8 brings to the proceedings, it all just sounds like more by-the-yard crap techno.

    If dull bleep-merchants like him put 1/100th of the time they currently expend on self-publicity into actually learning a real instrument or two, they might produce something worth listening to.

    Mine's the one with the Keep Music Live sticker on the back and Richard Thompson's '1000 Years Of Popular Music' on the ipod ...

  25. BossHog

    Vote for Bletchley!

    Vote for Bletchley as the building of which Britain is most proud.

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