Matt Parker, Mechanical Calculators (from The Imitation Archive), HD Video with Sound, 05 mins 43 secs, 2015
In early 2015 Matt Parker was artist in residence at The National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park. The museum host the UK’s largest collection of fully functioning historical, vintage computers and artefacts. Among the digital and electronic devices within the museum archives are a large number of pre-digital, mechanical computers / calculators / comptometers. They are manual tools used by accountants the world over from the 1930s to the 1970s, before digital computing technologies took over. The comptometer is a functional tool yet it is utterly obsolete and abstract as a device for someone like Parker, who has only ever known to use a digital calculator, his fingers – and occasionally his brain – to count. Comptometers have varied design schemas, reflecting so many different methods of invention, all with the aim of achieving basic arithmetic with large numbers.
Parker found the idea of grinding, punching and literally ‘crunching’ the numbers to be something to explore, as he placed each item within the vast collection of The Imitation Archive (a collection of over a hundred sound recordings of computer technologies produced during the residency) as a media archaeological exploration into the sounds and functions of pre-digital computing. He explores the sound of each device, woefully misused by a curious but incompetent user, incapable of understanding the logic behind these most logical of devices and unable to programme even the most basic arithmetical calculation. The video depicts the objects with a vintage glow whilst the sound of a ‘digital native’ attempts to perform the same, mathematically basic addition task but struggles to even understand how to wind the correct rotary dials or push the correct buttons.
Matt Parker is an audiovisual composer and sound artist working with and producing archives that amplify hidden connections between every-day technology and the environment. His work is influenced by principles of acoustic ecology, preservation, immersion and saturation. He is a PhD candidate at the London College of Communication within the Creative Research into Sound Art Practice Centre (AHRC funded). He has a Master’s in Music Technology from Birmingham Conservatoire, is the winner of the Deutsche Bank Creative Prize in Music 2014 and was shortlisted for the Aesthetica International Art Prize 2015.