Hear the Christmas Carols Made by Alan Turing’s Computer: Cutting-Edge Versions of “Jingle Bells” and “Good King Wenceslas” (1951)

Alan Turing (right) stands next to the Ferranti Mark I. Photo courtesy of the University of Manchester

This Christmas, as our computers fast learn to compose music by themselves, we might gain some perspective by casting our minds back to 66 Christmases ago, a time when a computer's rendition of anything resembling music at all had thousands and thousands listening in wonder. In December of 1951, the BBC's holiday broadcast, in most respects a naturally traditional affair, included the sound of the future: a couple of much-loved Christmas carols performed not by a choir, nor by human beings of any kind, but by an electronic machine the likes of which almost nobody had even laid eyes upon.

"Among its Christmas fare the BBC broadcast two melodies that, although instantly recognizable, sounded like nothing else on earth," write Jack Copeland and Jason Long at the British Library's Sound and Vision Blog. "They were Jingle Bells and Good King Wenceslas, played by the mammoth Ferranti Mark I computer that stood in Alan Turing's Computing Machine Laboratory" at the Victoria University of Manchester. Turing, whom we now recognize for a variety of achievements in computing, cryptography, and related fields (including cracking the German "Enigma code" during the Second World War), had joined the university in 1948.



That same year, with his former undergraduate colleague D. G. Champernowne, Turing began writing a purely theoretical computer chess program. No computer existed on which he could possibly try running it for the next few years until the Ferranti Mark 1 came along, and even that mammoth proved too slow. But it could, using a function designed to give auditory feedback to its operators, play music — of a kind, anyway. The computer company's "marketing supremo," according to Copeland and Long, called its brief Christmas concert "the most expensive and most elaborate method of playing a tune that has ever been devised."

Since no recording of the broadcast survives, what you hear here is a painstaking reconstruction made from tapes of the computer's even earlier renditions of "God Save the King," "Baa Baa Black Sheep," and "In the Mood." By manually chopping up the audio, write Copeland and Long, "we created a palette of notes of various pitches and durations. These could then be rearranged to form new melodies. It was musical Lego." But do "beware of occasional dud notes. Because the computer chugged along at a sedate 4 kilohertz or so, hitting the right frequency was not always possible." Even so, somewhere in there I hear the historical and technological seeds of the much more elaborate electronic Christmas to come, from Mannheim Steamroller to the Jingle Cats and well beyond.

via The British Library

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hear The Cinnamon Bear, the Classic Holiday Radio Series That Has Aired Between Thanksgiving and Christmas for 80 Years

Eighty years ago, just after Thanksgiving, children across America turned on their radios and heard a couple of voices very much like their own: those of Judy and Jimmy Barton, a sister and brother eagerly composing their wish lists to send off to Santa Claus. Judy asks for a velocipede, seemingly a hot item in 1937 but not even a recognizable word to most of the children who've listened to the broadcast in holiday seasons since. Despite the occasional such archaism, The Cinnamon Bear, the series in which Judy and Jimmy star, continues to enchant not just generation after generation of kids, but also those grown-ups among us who savor the opportunities this time of year affords to more fully appreciate timeless childhood pleasures.

The Cinnamon Bear follows the adventures of Judy and Jimmy as they search for the lost silver star that tops their Christmas tree. They first check the attic, there encountering the title animal: Paddy O'Cinnamon, an Irish-accented teddy bear with a tendency to greatly overestimate his own fearsomeness but an indefatigable spirit of service as well. He even helps the Barton children "de-grow" to miniature size in order to take the hunt to his home of Maybeland, a hidden fantasy realm inhabited by such eccentrics, harmless and otherwise, as the Crazy Quilt Dragon, the Roly-Poly Policeman, the Wintergreen Witch, Oliver Ostrich (prepared with a musical number about his love of scrambled alarm clocks and bacon), a flying hat, and even Santa Claus himself.

But Paddy O'Cinnamon and the kids don't meet jolly old Saint Nick until the proper time: Christmas day, on which the original broadcast of The Cinnamon Bear concluded. The first fifteen-minute episode aired on November 26, 1937, with the story continuing six days a week until the big holiday. Produced in Hollywood by radio syndicator Transco and written, songs and all, by the husband-wife team of Glanville and Elizabeth Heisch, it initially found local sponsorship across the country from department stores, some of whom paid for many years of repeat broadcasts and even put up Cinnamon Bear-themed displays and events along with their Santa Clauses. (The now long-defunct Lipman's of Portland, Oregon got into it in a big way, establishing the show as something of a tradition in the city, where Cinnamon Bear Christmas river cruises run to this day.)

With Christmas over, the children of 1937 had no choice but to wait almost an entire year before they could hear The Cinnamon Bear again. Growing up myself about half a century later, I had the show as a box set of cassette tapes to which I binged-listened on a few different holiday seasons. But now, with seemingly the entire golden age of radio freely available on the internet, kids and anyone else besides can listen however and whenever they like. You'll find all 26 episodes of The Cinnamon Bear on the Internet Archive, as a Youtube playlist, and even as a podcast on iTunes. (You can stream them all above.) This year, on the 80th anniversary of the original broadcast, why not "air" it for you and yours as those first listeners heard it, once an evening except Saturdays, until December 25th? Though each episode may be in doubt as to whether Judy and Jimmy will ever recover the silver star, it's no spoiler to say that, with the assistance of Paddy O'Cinnamon, they d0 find their way to a memorable Christmas indeed.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hunter S. Thompson Chillingly Predicts the Future, Telling Studs Terkel About the Coming Revenge of the Economically & Technologically “Obsolete” (1967)

Image  via Wikimedia Commons

Half a century ago, Hunter S. Thompson got his big journalistic break with a book called Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. In it he provided a curious and fearful public with a look into the inner workings of one of the most outwardly menacing social movements of the day, based on knowledge gained not by merely observing the Hell's Angels but by getting on a hog and spending a year as a quasi-member himself. This gave him opportunity both to develop what would become his style of "gonzo journalism" in the long form and to catch an early glimpse of bigger trouble ahead in America.

"To see the Hell’s Angels as caretakers of the old 'individualist' tradition 'that made this country great' is only a painless way to get around seeing them for what they really are," Thompson writes in that book, calling them "the first wave of a future that nothing in our history has prepared us to cope with. The Angels are prototypes. Their lack of education has not only rendered them completely useless in a highly technical economy, but it has also given them the leisure to cultivate a powerful resentment... and to translate it into a destructive cult which the mass media insists on portraying as a sort of isolated oddity" destined for extinction.



Studs Terkel, after reading that passage out loud in a 1967 interview with Thompson (stream it online here), calls it "the key" to the entire book. "Here we have technology, we have the computer, we have labor-saving devices," he says to Thompson, but we also "have the need for more and more college education for almost any kind of job, and we have this tremendous mass of young who find themselves obsolete." But Thompson replies that the real consequences have only started to manifest: "The people who are being left out and put behind won't be obvious for years. Christ only knows what'll happen in, say, 1985 — a million Hell's Angels. They won't be wearing the colors; they'll be people who are just looking for vengeance because they've been left behind."

The Angels, wrote Susan McWilliams in a much-circulated Nation piece late last year, "were clunky and outclassed and scorned, just like the Harley-Davidsons they chose to drive." And "just as there was no rational way to defend Harleys against foreign-made choppers, the Angels saw no rational grounds on which to defend their own skills or loyalties against the emerging new world order of the late 20th century." The result? An "ethic of total retaliation. The Angels, rather than gracefully accepting their place as losers in an increasingly technical, intellectual, global, inclusive, progressive American society, stuck up their fingers at the whole enterprise. If you can’t win, you can at least scare the bejeesus out of the guy wearing the medal."

Six years later, Terkel invited Thompson back into his studio for another interview (click here to listen) that followed straight on from the first. Ostensibly there to talk about Thompson's book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 (which followed his best-known work, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), the two, having cracked open a beer, get into what the Studs Terkel Radio Archive blog describes as "the sense of surrealism in 'real' life," which becomes "a very serious conversation about the direction in which our country was heading. After Thompson recounted his experience of talking to Richard Nixon about football" — the only subject permitted — "Studs responds, 'Isn’t this what we’re faced with now? … That fantasy and fact become one.'"

What's a reporter to do in such an environment? Terkel seems to see in Thompson the perfect kind of "subjective" journalist, one "who can make literal what is psychic in our lives," for a time that has lost its own objectivity. "Has there ever been any such thing as objective journalism?" he asks. "It's probably the highest kind of journalism, if you can do it." Thompson replies. "Nobody I know has ever done it, and I don't have time to learn it." But the distinctive suite of journalistic skills he did possess primed him to perceive certain realities — and perceive them with a distinctive vividness — that have only become more real in the decades since. What, for instance, did he learn from covering the 1972 presidential campaign? "Power corrupts… but it’s also a fantastic high."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Sci-Fi Radio: Hear Radio Dramas of Sci-Fi Stories by Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. LeGuin & More (1989)

Image by Mr.Hasgaha, via Flickr Commons

If you dig through our archives, you can find no shortage of finely-produced radio dramatizations of your favorite science fiction stories. During the 1950s, NBC's Dimension X adapted stories by the likes of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and even Kurt Vonnegut. Later in the '50s, X Minus One continued that tradition, dramatizing stories by Robert A. Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Poul Anderson and others. By the 1970s, Mind Webs got into the act and produced 188 adaptations--classics by Ursula K. LeGuin, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke. And the BBC did up Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.

Those productions will keep you busy for a good while. But if you're wondering what the 1980s delivered, then tune into Sci-Fi Radio, a series of 26 half-hour shows which aired on NPR Playhouse, starting in 1989. Some of the adapted stories include: "Sales Pitch" and "Imposter" by Philip K. Dick, "Diary of the Rose" and "Field of Vision" by Ursula K. LeGuin, "Wall of Darkness" by Arthur C. Clarke, and "Frost and Fire" by Ray Bradbury.

You can stream all episodes below, or over at Archive.orgSci-Fi Radio will be added to our collection, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free. Hope you enjoy.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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American Archive of Public Broadcasting Lets You Stream 7,000 Hours of Historic Public TV & Radio Programs

An archive worth knowing about: The Library of Congress and Boston's WGBH have joined forces to create The American Archive of Public Broadcasting and "preserve for posterity the most significant public television and radio programs of the past 60 years." Right now, they're overseeing the digitization of approximately 40,000 hours of programs. And already you can start streaming "more than 7,000 historic public radio and television programs."

The collection includes local news and public affairs programs, and "programs dealing with education, environmental issues, music, art, literature, dance, poetry, religion, and even filmmaking." You can browse the complete collection here. Or search the archive here. For more on the archive, read this About page.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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30 Hours of Doctor Who Audio Dramas Now Free to Stream Online

"Yes, this should provide adequate sustenance for the Doctor Who marathon," once said The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy while pushing a wheelbarrow full of fast-food tacos down the street. As the embodiment of fandom for all things fantasy and sci-fi, he would certainly know that Doctor Who, no longer an obscure BBC television show but an ever-expanding fictional universe with a global fan base, constitutes the ideal material for binge-watching, which he could now do at his convenience on a service like Britbox. But it isn't just watching: now, on Spotify (whose free software you can download here if you don't have it already), you can binge-listen to thirty straight hours of Doctor Who audio dramas as well.

"An icon of modern British culture and the longest-running science-fiction TV show in history, Doctor Who has never been more popular than it is today," wrote Christopher Bahn in the AV Club's 2010 primer on the series, which had relaunched five years earlier after initially running from 1963 to 1989. "No matter who’s playing the lead, the basic premise has been essentially the same since the show’s debut: A mysterious, eccentric alien known only as The Doctor (not 'Doctor Who,' in spite of the title) travels through time and space having adventures and fighting evil. He’s usually accompanied by one or two humans picked up along the way. They journey with him in a time machine called a TARDIS, which looks like a blue phone booth."



This format "allowed the show to literally go anywhere in the universe and sometimes outside it, with virtually limitless storytelling possibilities." At its best, "Doctor Who relied on solid, imaginative scripts to create smart science-fiction thrillers with a humanistic, anti-authoritarian heart. Consistently popular through the 1960s and 1970s, the show began to falter in the following decade as tight budgets and questionable artistic choices took their toll." After its cancellation in 1989, Doctor Who "lived on through the ’90s, as science-fiction shows often do, in the wilderness genres of semi-official novels and radio plays."

The best known of these Doctor Who radio plays, which you can hear on this playlist, come produced by a company called Big Finish. Having acquired a license from the BBC in 1999 (and recently renewed it into 2025), they've put out a range of audio dramas, both one-offs and series of various lengths, using not just the characters but many of the actual actors from the television show, including six of those who have taken on the iconic Doctor role onscreen. Owing to the fact that Doctor Who officially has no canon and thus no need for continuity, rigorous or otherwise, they can get even more imaginative than their source material, going so far as to explore counterfactual storylines such as one where the Doctor never leaves his home planet in the first place.

Below you'll find a complete list, assembled by a fan on Reddit, of the series and episodes of Big Finish's Doctor Who audio dramas now available on Spotify and are now housed to our collection of Free Audio Books. The material comes to thirty hours in total, but the question of when to listen to it falls second to a more important consideration: what sort of sustenance will best ensure that you can keep up with all of the Doctor's audio adventures?

Main Range:

  1. The Sirens of Time
  2. Phantasmagoria
  3. Whispers of Terror
  4. The Land of the Dead
  5. The Fearmonger
  6. The Marian Conspiracy
  7. The Genocide Machine
  8. Red Dawn
  9. The Spectre of Lanyon Moor
  10. Winter for the Adept
  11. The Apocalypse Element
  12. The Fires of Vulcan
  13. The Shadow of the Scourge
  14. The Holy Terror
  15. The Mutant Phase
  16. Storm Warning
  17. Sword of Orion
  18. The Stones of Venice
  19. Minuet in Hell
  20. Loups-Garoux
  21. Dust Breeding
  22. Bloodtide
  23. Project: Twilight
  24. The Eye of the Scorpion
  25. Colditz
  26. Primeval
  27. The One Doctor
  28. Invaders from Mars
  29. The Chimes of Midnight
  30. Seasons of Fear
  31. Embrace the Darkness
  32. The Time of the Daleks
  33. Neverland
  34. Spare Parts
  35. ...ish
  36. The Rapture
  37. The Sandman
  38. The Church and the Crown
  39. Bang-Bang-a-Boom!
  40. Jubilee
  41. Nekromanteia
  42. The Dark Flame
  43. Doctor Who and the Pirates
  44. Creatures of Beauty
  45. Project: Lazarus
  46. Flip-Flop
  47. Omega
  48. Davros
  49. Master
  50. Zagreus

Special Releases:

UNIT: Dominion

The Davros Mission

Fourth Doctor Adventures:

1.01 Destination: Nerva

1.02 The Renaissance Man

1.03 The Wrath of the Iceni

1.04 Energy of the Daleks

1.05 Trail of the White Worm

1.06 The Oseidon Adventure

Eighth Doctor Adventures:

1.1 Blood of the Daleks, Part 1

1.2 Blood of the Daleks, Part 2

1.3 Horror of Glam Rock

1.4 Immortal Beloved

1.5 Phobos

1.6 No More Lies

1.7 Human Resources, Part 1

1.8 Human Resources, Part 2

The Lost Stories:

1.01 The Nightmare Fair

1.02 Mission to Magnus

1.03 Leviathan

1.04 The Hollows of Time

1.05 Paradise 5

1.06 Point of Entry

1.07 The Song of Megaptera

1.08 The Macros

Box 1. The Fourth Doctor Box Set

The Companion Chronicles:

2.1 Mother Russia

2.2 Helicon Prime

2.3 Old Soldiers

2.4 The Catalyst

Destiny of the Doctor:

  1. Hunters of Earth
  2. Shadow of Death
  3. Vengeance of the Stones
  4. Babblesphere
  5. Smoke and Mirrors
  6. Trouble in Paradise
  7. Shockwave
  8. Enemy Aliens
  9. Night of the Whisper
  10. Death's Deal
  11. The Time Machine

Short Trips:

Volume 1

Volume 2

The Stageplays:

  1. The Ultimate Adventure
  2. Seven Keys to Doomsday
  3. The Curse of the Daleks

Bernice Summerfield:

Box 2. Road Trip

Box 3. Legion

Box 4. New Frontiers

Box 5. Missing Persons

Graceless:

Series 1

Series 2

Series 3

Dalek Empire:

  1. Invasion of the Daleks
  2. The Human Factor
  3. "Death to the Daleks!"
  4. Project Infinity
  5. Dalek War: Chapter One
  6. Dalek War: Chapter Two
  7. Dalek War: Chapter Three
  8. Dalek War: Chapter Four

Jago & Litefoot:

Series 1

Series 2

Series 3

Series 4

Series 5

Counter-Measures:

Series 1

Series 2

Iris Wildthyme:

2.1 The Sound of Fear

2.2 The Land of Wonder

2.3 The Two Irises

2.4 The Panda Invasion

2.5 The Claws of Santa

Series 3

Series 4

UNIT:

  1. Time Heals
  2. Snake Head
  3. The Longest Night
  4. The Wasting

I, Davros:

  1. Innocence
  2. Purity
  3. Corruption
  4. Guilt

Cyberman:

1.1 Scorpius

1.2 Fear

1.3 Conversion

1.4 Telos

2.0 Cyberman 2

Charlotte Pollard:

Series 1

 

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch 450 NPR Tiny Desk Concerts: Intimate Performances from The Pixies, Adele, Wilco, Yo-Yo Ma & Many More

In times past, happening upon just the right radio station, record store, or tape trading community were some of the few serendipitous ways of discovering new music. And in those days, one faithful curator of innovative new sounds, BBC DJ John Peel, never disappointed. Because of a law limiting the amount of recorded music radio could play, his name became synonymous with the hundreds of intimate performances punk, new wave, reggae, and other bands recorded live in his studio. While the “Peel Sessions” will forever live in legend (stream some here), the man himself passed away in 2004, and the musical landscape he helped create has changed irrevocably.

And yet, Peel’s animating spirit lives on, most especially in NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, live in-studio performances recorded “at the desk of All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen.” Since 2008, Boilen has invited established and up-and-coming artists alike to his desk, capturing loose, unguarded, stripped-down, performances that sound like they’re happening in your living room.



Guitarists unplug, drummers trade their sticks for brushes, and we not only get to listen to old and new favorites; we get to watch them---like the Pixies at the top—up close as well. This performance, from 2014, garnered “the largest crowd we’d ever assembled for a Tiny Desk Concert,” writes Boilen, and featured newest member Paz Lenchantin trading her bass for violin.

Where the Pixies usually fill arenas with their eerily-quiet-to-deafeningly-loud songs, the group further up, Dirty Dozen Band, can easily fill public squares, football fields, and parade routes without stacks of overdriven amps. Hearing them explode in Boilen’s office with their rambunctious funk is a real treat, as is the larger-than-life voice of Adele, above, scaled down to college coffeehouse levels of closeness.

Though Tiny Desk Concerts often showcase pop, hip-hop, folk, country, and indie stars—like Wilco, below—and even classical stars like Yo-Yo Ma, above, it just as often introduces us to musicians we’ve never heard, or seen, before, and gives us the chance to get to know them without the usual trappings of marketing and boilerplate PR, or loud, crowded clubs with bad acoustics and no visibility.

The current homepage features a handful of incredibly talented musicians you’re unlikely to run across in most major venues. At least for now. Had he lived to see Tiny Desk Concerts, and its preservation of a radio curatorial tradition, John Peel, I think, would have been proud. See more performances from The National, Susan Vega, Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens, Steve Earle, and many, many more---450 concerts in all---at NPR Music on Youtube.

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Stream 15 Hours of the John Peel Sessions: 255 Tracks by Syd Barrett, David Bowie, Siouxsie and the Banshees & Other Artists

Hear a 9-Hour Tribute to John Peel: A Collection of His Best “Peel Sessions”

Peter Frampton Plays a Tiny Desk Concert for NPR, Featuring Acoustic Versions of His Classic Songs

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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