1970, the IBM 1403 printer plays a tune


Long before the orchestrations of [The User] and their symphony for needle printers, there was someone who, in 1970, could extract melodies from a noisy printer. It was the IBM 1403 printer (made in 1964), from which some engineers were able to obtain ‘covers’ of famous tunes by studying which characters to feed to the machine to obtain a certain note and how many times to print them to have a note of a certain length. Each note was contained in a punched card. Ron Mak is the owner of the freely downloadable recordings, which he donated to the Computer History Museum, which is ready to insert them in its ‘online exhibit‘. These ‘sessions’ were held in the Richmond (California) Unified School District computer room, putting a microphone next to the printer. The ‘Blue Danube’ waltz, particularly, has a yearning sound, as if coming from a faraway and mechanical time, but the other melodies, such as ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head’, ‘In Excelsius Deo’, ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ and ‘Born Free’ are just as surprising.