Re: The cultural engineer

Subject: Re: The cultural engineer
From: Paul Doornbusch (
Date: Tue Feb 01 2005 - 20:58:28 EST

> > Actually, there were never any composers working
>> with CSIRAC - that
>> was one of the key points of the developments at
>> Bell Labs.
> My points viz semioticians/people with a knowledge
>of cultural theory compsing was not related directly
>to the scientists at Bell. The points did refer to
>contemporary composers with cultural/social
>understanding of what composition and rendition
>Although upon further reading Pearcey was a Brit so
>the post colonial angle may be a partially mooted.

Pearcey was a Brit, but he firmly embraced his "new
country" and tirelessly fought for greater independence
from England. Although I never met him, I know this
from several interviews with him that were videotaped
and from his friends and colleagues.


>CSIRAC was built and first played music in
>> Sydney in 1950
>> or 1951. That activity was further developed in
>> Melbourne after it
>> was moved there (on the back of a rather large
>> truck) in 1956.
> Ouch.. Well my students here in Sydney will be
>pleased to hear that.

It was at a CSIR (the precursor of CSIRO) radio physics
research lab on the U Syd campus...

> > Also, because for cultural and political reasons,
>> CSIRACs musical
>> activities were never "exported" or written up in
>> any journals or
>> exported to the northern hemisphere...
> Given the flow of information between countries that
>were to become Echelon at the end of WW2 which enabled
>computer technology to be developed between UK,
>Australia, USA etc. I imagine that most developments
>were noted by intelligence services and divulged at
>one end of the planet or another.
>There are also phenomena such as morphic resonance,
>the collective (un)conscious, and Bell's telephone.
>Science, like music does not operate externally to

CSIRAC had the highest Australian content of any computer
ever built, but the decision to close down the project
reflected the colonial belief in Australia concentrating
on primary industry research and leaving computing to
the USA and England. (errr, yup, I hung out with the
computer history people for a while) While part of the
intelligence community, it was decided that Australia
should import the computing technology and resources that
it needed. I see this as colonial control...

As a controversial anecdote, and it is hearsay, I have
heard that the music played by CSIRAC was used by the
team to try and gain support for the project so that it
would not be closed down, and that is why exposition of
the music was resisted. I find this quite believable.

>Your website reflects great work Paul, and you have
>every right to remain as the author and the authority.
>Yet once the work is written, performed or recorded it
>is not finished by any means as its interpretation,
>contextualisation (and recompostion) continues. Many
>American textbooks on EA start with IBM in the 50/60s,
>I wonder if this will change.. not likely..

Many thanks for your kind words Innes. The work will
inevitably be reinterpreted, you are right.

In the editorial of CMJ 28:1, Doug Keisler very
generously says that the computer music history books
will need to be re-written... Both the editorial and
my article are available for free download from the CMJ
site - again thanks to Doug for this. And please
forgive the small self promotion, but the book on this
should be out in a couple of months (met with the
publisher this morning), and Colby Leider's newish book
"Digital Audio Workstation" mentions CSIRAC... So it
is slowly filtering out... Hopefully the book will
give more for reinterpretation through a much fuller

Kind Regards,

>Innes Park

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