The Silver Scale (1957) 0'20"
Some time in 1956 Max V. Mathews and John R. Pierce attended a concert at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, Dika Newlin, musicologist and pianist, played assorted pieces, including a waltz by Arthur Schnabel, the eminent expositor of Beethoven. Mathews and Pierce were in an irreverent mood. One or the other said, "The computer can do better than this."
Back in his laboratory, Mathews set out to use the computer to produce musical sounds. He wrote a compiler which would translate simple instructions into code that would make a computer generate a sequence of binary numbers representing successive amplitudes of a musical sound wave. He asked Newman Guttman, a linguist and acoustician, to compose a tune to be played on the computer. Thus, on or about May 17, 1957, The Silver Scale, the first piece of computer music, was heard at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey.
Pitch Variations (1957) 1'00"
The very first music synthesized with computers at Bell Labs was created as part of research into speech and hearing. Guttman's work involved exploring how pitch was perceived— and for the first time, the computer offered direct control over waveforms and tone generation to conduct his experiments. The discoveries and insights made by Guttman and his group have lead in part to what is known today as 'pulsar synthesis' along with technologies which allow pitch correcting for a singing voice.
Pitch Variations is the result of some of these early experiments, and about it J.R. Pierce writes:
This piece illustrates how the content of a composition may be derived from a particular psycho-acoustical phenomenon. An experiment, carried out by the computer, showed that certain waveforms consisting of trains of sharp pulses produced unusual pitch impressions which may not correspond simply to the frequency of the wafeform. At some frequencies, an impression of more than one pitch is produced. In this composition, these wafeforms are reproduced at frequencies designed to make the pitch uncertainties more prominent.
—ja and J.R. Pierce
has the distinction, in 1957, of being the first person to ever compose music to be synthesized by a computer. Bell Telephone Laboratories employed Guttman as a linguist and psychoacoustician for research into speech and speech technologies. So, it is perhaps with a bit of a wink and a nod from Bell Lab's executive director J.R. Pierce that Guttman became a pioneering composer.
Along with Pierce, Guttman is regarded as an important contributer to psychoacoustic research— particularly important is his early research and experimentation with cochlear models to explain the perciption of musical pitch.