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The First Demonstration of Computer Music (August 7 – August 9, 1951)


During August 7 to 9, 1951 Geoff Hill, a computer programmer with perfect pitch, programmed the University of Melbourne CSIR Mk1, the first stored-program computer in Australia, to play a melody, and ran the program at the inaugural Conference of Automatic Computing Machines in Sydney. This was the first demonstration of computer music.

An interview with Trevor Pearcy, one the designers of CSIRAC:

"The CSIR Mk1 operated in Sydney Australia from about November 1949 to June 1955. Geoff Hill was the main programmer at that time and he used the machine to play musical melodies. These melodies, mostly from popular songs, were; 'Colonel Bogey', 'Bonnie Banks', 'Girl with Flaxen Hair' and so on.

"The CSIR Mk1 was dismantled in mid 1955 and moved to The University of Melbourne, where it was renamed CSIRAC. Professor of Mathematics, Thomas Cherry, later Sir Thomas Cherry FRS, had a great interest in programming and music and he created music with CSIRAC. In Melbourne the practice of how CSIRAC was programmed for music was altered and refined somewhat. The program tapes for a couple of test scales still exist, along with the popular melodies 'So early in the Morning' and 'In Cellar Cool', which was a popular drinking song - it appears that the pursuit of computer music and social drinking have been intimately linked since the earliest years. There was also other music on the tape. In about 1957 Cherry wrote a music performance program that would allow a computer user who understood simple standard music notation to enter it easily into CSIRAC for performance, without negotiating all of the timing problems such as was normally required. The music itself may now seem very crude unless it is understood in the context of its creation. It was created by engineers who were not knowledgeable of the latest in musical composition practice and at a time when there was little thought of digital sound. The idea of using a computer, the world's most flexible machine, to create music was a leap of imagination at the time. It is a pity that composers were not invited to use CSIRAC, as they were with the Bell Labs developments, to discover how it could have solved several compositional problems."