Sunday, 15 February 2009

First Computer Music

1999 marked the 50th aniversary of CSIRAC- The world's fourth computer and Australia's first. You can see it today in the Museum of Victoria and read about it from CSIRO which was it first home and University of Melbourne it's second.

People involved with CSIRAC knew my father, Geoffrey Hill well, as he was the enthusiasic programmer. He got his BSc from Sydney University in 1947 and worked continously with CSIRAC from 1949 to 1964 at Sydney and Melbourne.

His parents were a critical influence in both his interest in Mathematics and Music. His father Richard Hill had invented (1921) a counting block system that was a precursor to Cuisinaire Rods. Richard published work on Educational Physcology and worked at the NSW Department of Education. He left to commericalize "Hill's Constructive Counters" that were manufactured by his brother. During the depression he returned to teaching, but his prior work was not acknowledged so he took a post as Principal in Armidale in country NSW. He had coached his children, and so when on the first day at Kindergarten my father drew a map of Australia, could read and count he was moved to Grade 2. This flowed through to him recieving his BSc. at 17 and writing computer music at 20. The "Hill's Constructive Counters" are two colour, white and red, presumably because this is preferable to confusing colours. It was fortunate that this also lent itself to exploration of binary or digital maths at home in the thirties.

Mildred Hill was a music teacher, and would often use her son Geoffrey's gift of perfect pitch to tune her piano and other instruments. Geoffrey was told off for listening to music on the clothes line. Skeptical, Mildred gave her son the benifit of the doubt, and was indeed surprised to find he had build a crystal radio set. This relationship continued when late at night in what is now the basement of Sydney University Marsden building, Geoffrey was coding Green Sleeves and mucked up the mathematics of sharp notes. He played the music down the phone to his mother in Strathfield. Mildred corrected the note, but was convinced that her son was playing the note on paper and comb.

Another critcal influence was St Josheph's college in Hunter's Hill. The Hill's had spent the early war years in Armidale, and then moved back to Sydney. Richard had visited the Principal and the exclusive Catholic school offered Geoffrey and his older bother Brian schooling in their last years of secondary education. Here Geoffrey, developed his reading of Philosophy and Catholic Theology. This social dimension lead to Geoffrey investigating whether computer would be able to be conscious (the question before having a soul). Geoffrey's interest in Peace and University politics lead him to study Esperanto. The interest in communication lead Geoffrey's Master's work on "INTERPROGAM" to allow people to communicate with the Computer in plain English. The paper tape on the spine of the "INTERPROGAM" manual on display in the Museum of Victoria has what could well be the first "Computer Joke". It says "This is Waffle". No section on St. Josheph's college's influence leave out the highly revered brother (author's note: I will find out his name). Besides getting class taking out the top ten positions in the State, his insights into thinking before rushing to pen and paper, flowed to Geoffrey's "can do" strategies as the Programmer at Melbourne University, that then flowed into the Australia's first computer science lectures. Now days it would be considered good, systems analysis and progam design.

The day they threw out the designs for the next generation computer.
How's the Mercury Surf? Is it any good for computing today.
Computer Games in 1963.
If you want it solved come to Geoffrey's Goon party.
Spag bowl at 3am in Lygon St because the triodes work best at night.
Forget "Ring a ring a rosie" this is how you invert Matricies.