Photo of young Trevor Pearcy and the CSIR MK1 Computer

Did you know the first computer to play music was at Sydney?

4 March 2019
The world's first computer to ever play music was built at the University of Sydney by computing pioneer Dr Trevor Pearcey and his team.

Today, we have devices in our pockets with millions of songs at our fingertips. But music playing from a single computer was once a big leap for computing globally.

Trevor Pearcey led the team that built Australia’s first electronic computer at the University of Sydney. Pearcey’s project CSIR Mark 1 (later named CSIRAC, the CSIR Automatic Computer) was an early powerhouse for CSIRO.

Photo of Trevor Pearcey operating the CSIR MK1 Computer in 1951. Photo courtesy of CSIRO archives.

Trevor Pearcey operating the CSIR MK1 Computer in 1951. Photo courtesy of CSIRO archives.

Running its first program in 1949, CSIRAC was a thousand times faster than any other device in the country. It transformed tasks such as weather forecasting and banking but is most notably known for being the first computer to ever play music.

CSIRAC had a speaker which played sounds called a ‘blurt’ to indicate the progress of a program. Between 1950 and 1951, the machine made its mark in computing history when programmer Geoff Hill was the first to successfully create a steady tone from the speakers to make music.

A supercomputer

CSIRAC revolutionised everything from weather forecasting to banking, and playing the first ever computer music.

Believed to be the oldest surviving computer, the seven-tonne machine was relocated to Melbourne in 1955 where it continued to play music and perform work until it was decommissioned on 24 November 1964.

Photo of Dr Trevor Pearcey in 1984

 Dr Trevor Pearcey in 1984

Scientist and creator of CSIRAC, Dr Trevor Pearcey played a critical role in early computing in Australia. He was also a visionary and may have anticipated the existence of the internet.

In February 1948, Dr Pearcey wrote: “It is not inconceivable that an automatic encyclopaedic service operated through the national teleprinter or telephone system will one day exist.”

On Tuesday 5 March, the University of Sydney is celebrating the life of Trevor Pearcey at a public event on what would have been his 100th birthday.

“Trevor Pearcey was a pioneer of computing. He did the initial work designing and building the early computers in Australia,” said Professor Benjamin Eggleton, Director of the University of Sydney Nano Institute (Sydney Nano), who will be speaking at the event.

The program will feature Australia's leading minds, including University of Sydney experts, exploring three of Dr Pearcey's prime areas of interest: computing, astronomy and radio physics, and nanoscience.


Fast Facts: CSIRAC


First electronic computer in Australia


Needed enough electricity to power a suburban street


Weighed 7000kg


Had 2000 bytes of memory


Only surviving first-gen computer

Vanessa Saines

Senior Content Producer

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