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IBM 1401 A User’s Manual

January 6th, 2011 · Posted by Skuds in Music · No Comments · Music

The other day an album title on Spotify caught my eye amongst the 2010 releases: And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees by somebody called Johann Johannsson, another of those crazy Icelanders.  I had a little listen and it wasn’t really my kind of thing, or maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind for very slow ambient music, but I am so glad I did because it led me to look up the chap’s biography which is priceless.The highlights are:

  • A project called the Apparat Organ Quartet, which is four people playing vintage instruments that have been thrown away and refurbished. Plus a drummer.
  • One album scored for string quartet, percussion, keyboards, and electronics and another scored for brass, organ, keyboards and electronics.
  • An album called IBM 1401 A User’s Manual inspired by the IBM 1401 which was apparently the first computer brought to Iceland in 1964.  It featured recordings of the computer in operation that his father made on a reel-to-reel alongside a 60-piece orchestra and electronics.
  • A concept album inspired by Henry Ford’s failed rubber plant in Brazil.

It all reads like a fantastic invented character in a modern day Flann O’Brien novel and just goes to show that sometimes real life is rich enough that you don’t need to make anything up.

The IBM album has this tracklist:

  • Part 1/IBM 1401 Processing Unit
  • Part 2/IBM 1403 Printer
  • Part 3/IBM 1402 Card Read-Punch
  • Part 4/IBM 729 II Magnetic Tape Unit
  • Part 5/The Sun’s Gone Dim And The Sky’s Turned Black

Not sure whether the last track represents the IBM 1401 experience or what, but the album title becomes clearer on track 2 which is basically somebody reading out bits of the manual over music and is a track to inspire absolute nerdgasm as it talks about properly latching the pins of the coils in the bakelite and making sure the wormshaft has no end-play.

I used to do a bit of work on mainframes, but nothing as mechanical as this machine sounds.

Very relaxing, but perhaps a bit avant garde and conceptual for me.  Having said that, if he ever follws it up with an orchestral piece about running CAFS on an ICL 2900-series I’ll be sure to have a listen.


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