A new project by British sound artist Matt Parker uses an archive of historic computers as instruments. Using computers on display at the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park, U.K., Parker has created a full-length album of ambient electronic music titled The Imitation Archive.
The National Museum of Computing is devoted to the history of modern computers and their uses, with physical examples dating all the way back to 1939. While the computers in the museum remain largely functional, they are not in use while the museum is open to visitors. Bletchley Park is best known as the historic location of the Government Code and Cypher School, where the Enigma cypher of WWII was broken.
Parker’s album is a ghostly homage to the sounds of computing, something surprisingly far removed from the gentle hum of the desktops and laptops that most people have in their homes today. The opening song WITCH is an eerie, ambient track that creates a building tension – equal parts movie score and haunted house sound-effect. The track relies in part on the clicking, shuffling and creaking noises made by the 1951 Harwell Dekatron WITCH computer, the world’s oldest functioning digital computer. The computer was restored by a team of volunteers between 2009 and 2012 and was rebooted on November 20th, 2012, in front of two of its original designers.
Each of the 10 tracks on the album are constructed from combinations of the 126 separate recordings that Parker made during one night spent running the computers in the museum. The name of the album is a reference to the recent film The Imitation Game, about computing pioneer and codebreaker Alan Turing.
The Imitation Archive is available for download by donation on Bandcamp.com, and more of Parker’s sound works can be found on his Bandcamp page or on his personal website.