On DJs and the history of computer music

While flying back from South Africa the other day (more on my SA trip another day), I got to sit next to a professional DJ.  My knowledge of house and trance music would fill the back of a postage stamp in a big font, but we had an interesting chat about Emerson Lake and Palmer,


as well as Yello, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk and role of computers in modern music.  Marc plays in some of the world’s top clubs, such as 1015  (on Folsom)  the Redwood room in San Francisco, and Tresor in Berlin    I was expecting him to have lots of specialized equipment and software, but his set up is remarkably simple and cheap.

2 x macbook pros.

i-pod for planning sets.

pioneer HDJ headphones.


Apparently the really cool bit on these headphones is the swivel bit.

Total Control mixer, cost less than 600 dollars.



Beatport is an excellent source of trance and other electronic music.

On the software side, he uses traktor. more details here. and Ableton.live

It was fascinating to talk about how the music business works with someone making a good living out of it. We talked about copyright, sampling, remixing, how you read the crowd, the importance of preparation, and life as a DJ after 15 years…

And then over on the BBC website this morning I read about the Ferranti Mark 1 computer and the birth of computer music.


A scratchy recording of Baa Baa Black Sheep and a truncated version of In the Mood are thought to be the oldest known recordings of computer generated music.

The songs were captured by the BBC in the Autumn of 1951 during a visit to the University of Manchester.

The recording has been unveiled as part of the 60th Anniversary of “Baby”, the forerunner of all modern computers.

The tunes were played on a Ferranti Mark 1 computer, a commercial version of the Baby Machine.

You can listen to the recording here.

Things have come a long way since then.



7 thoughts on “On DJs and the history of computer music”

  1. It really is amazing even in the 10 years since I started to really follow the dance music scene guys went from carrying 50-75 lbs of vinyl for a show to carrying a bag with two laptops in it. It’s a rarity now to even see a guy use a turntable. Computers and advanced CD decks like the CDJ-1000s have total obsolesced a good set of turntables.

  2. yep – everything digital. the mac replaced the record as the object of cool. cds always sucked. macs on the other hand – ooh how sexy. ableton is an an amazing piece of software. all that said digital mixing does lose something characterful in translation. mixing is an art and a science after all…

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