The Imitation Archive

A Sonic Archive of Computing Technology

Following a period of two months at The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, I recorded and archived over 100 sounds from the historic collection of computers within the museum. The Imitation Archive, was submitted to The British Library Sound and Vision Archive
to act as a permanent repository of the sounds of 70 years of computing history, starting as far back as the first ever programmable digital computer, Colossus.

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Composing the Archive

Using the archived materials, I have composed ten unique pieces of musical composition that reflect my experiences of late nights and long days enveloped in the sounds of computer history as well as the stories behind the objects.

The compositions reflect the ‘always on’ durational nature of many of the machines from their operational heyday, the clunking masses of early relay based machines are juxtaposed by the whirring monoliths of the 1980’s mainframe era and the high frequency whir of modern day server units. Devices that are closely associated with the Bletchley Park history of code-breaking flutter in and out to reflect the story and significance of the operations that were undertaken at the park during the second world war, which ultimately led to the rapid progression in computer technology.

The Imitation Archive is 34 minutes of computer glitch, crunch, hiss and whir that commemorates 70 years of computing, produced at the birthplace of computing, Bletchley Park.

Mechanical Computers

Format: HD Video Loop with Sound
Duration: 05 mins 43 secs

Among the digital and electronic devices in the museum lay a number of mechanical computers/calculators. The manual tools used by accountants the world over from the 1930’s to the 1970’s before digital computing technologies took over. These devices look incredible to me; as someone who has only ever known to use a digital calculator or my fingers to count. So many different methods of invention, all with the aim of achieving basic arithmetic with large numbers. I found the idea of grinding, punching and literally ‘crunching’ the numbers to be something to explore as I placed each item within the vast collection of The Imitation Archive.

The Sound of each device, woefully misused by a curious but incompetent user, incapable of understanding the logic behind these most logical of devices; unable to programme even the most basic arithmetical calculation, you can hear the sound of the modern ‘digital native’ attempt a simple addition but struggle to even wind the correct rotary dials.


Matt Parker
The National Museum of Computing
Bletchley Park Trust
Made under Creative Commons CC-BY-SA.


Waterhall Gallery 2016
Waterhall Gallery 2016
MAC Birmingham
MAC Birmingham 2016
Wolverhampton Art Gallery 2016
Wolverhampton Art Gallery

Project Trailer Video

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