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0x0b Push Button Bertha EP by Assorted Humans and Computers

Push Button Bertha EP

Push Button Bertha is a song created with computer assistance in 1956, by computer scientists Martin L. Klein and Douglas Bolitho, with lyrics by Jack Owens. You’ll find it mentioned in many a book on the history of electronic and computer music; see also here. The mixture of computer program and human intervention is irrestible to us at chordpunch, and we wanted to create a tribute, so four artists have come together to make their own cover versions inspired by the original sheet music.

Mastering for tracks 1-3 by Chris Ariza at flexatone

Direct download of EP as mp3s, or from SoundCloud player as next:

Track notes:

1) Sick Lincoln: Babe Hunts Truth Op

Human responds to algorithm; A triptych of covers. Melody and harmony often true to the original sheet music.

2) Alice: Neural Bertha Oscillator

Neural Bertha Oscillator plays the changes of the original Push Button Bertha track with a network of neural oscillators.
This neuron model produces an oscillatory output and entrains the frequency of its input. When connected in a network, nodes produce outputs of the same frequency but variable phase and contour. We can think of this as a bio-inspired species of generative counterpoint.
The track is a live recording of the network in action. The continuous output values of the nodes are harmonically constrained to the Push Button Bertha changes, variation in the voices are created by altering the network weights.

3) Silicone bake: Push Button Bertha

Silicone bake are two musicians from Sheffield trying to reconcile the voice+guitar with the live coding laptop, respectively Jake Harries and Alex McLean. They work with semi-improvised, experimental pop, often weaving found poetry of spam into the music, but this time covering Push Button Bertha, connecting with algorithmic pop from the past. Recorded in ICSRiM and the School of Music, University of Leeds.


Vocals/acoustic guitar – Jake Harries
Harmony vocals – Hope Bullard
Live coding – Alex McLean
Machinic sample (c) melack (CC-BY 3.0)

4) Sarah Angliss: Trace, Pasadena

Everything in this four and a half minute piece has been created from only three musical fragments: a rendition of Push Button Bertha, performed on a sampled carillon (a mechanical, automatic music machine) and two phrases from the lyrics, presented as spoken word. Only towards the end of the piece does the source material become fully apparent. Elsewhere, the sounds have been repitched, layered and sliced into random cuts, using the graphical sound programming language Max/MSP. Once I’d written a couple of Max/MSP patches and set up the parameters, I tried to be as hands-off as possible and leave the code to rework this 1950s machine music. I wanted to create divisions on the original theme that weren’t entirely filtered by my own human aesthetic (although I couldn’t resist selecting the most promising outcomes to create the final piece). Push Button Bertha is arguably a plain, saccharine melody but it was the start of something: the era of generating and manipulating musical sounds with code. I wanted to cut through the diatonic structure and evoke the underlying strangeness of this piece – a trace that whispers in every line of code we write today.

Copyright notice:

The copyright of this work is confused, and was problematic in 1956 too, due to the novel machine provenance (actually, the machine created part is the melody, since the chords and lyrics were humanly imposed after the fact). We think it is public domain (see Ames 1987), but please contact us if you are holding the publishing rights for this work; we couldn’t find an owner in many searches so far. We are releasing this EP for free download only in recognition of the strange past of this track.

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