In Kubrick's movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey (IMDb), the computer HAL is heard to sing the song "Daisy Bell" (aka "A Bicycle Built for Two") as David Bowman is disconnecting HALs higher memory functions.

I just happened to run across a real recording of a real IBM computer singing the same song in the video The Incredible Machine (1968) at about 09:27.

I would like to know which came first; which inspired the other. Did Kubrick know of the work at IBM and use it in the film, or did he think of it first and IBM, playing catch-up, teach their computer to sing the same song?

For comparison, here is the bit in the film:


2 Answers 2


Actually it was Arthur C. Clarke who knew of the work and was inspired by it

Who can forget HAL being reduced to drivel while singing composer Harry Dacre’s 1892 classic standard “Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)”? Clarke got the idea for the scene from a 1962 visit to Bell Labs; where, as Benson explains, he’d heard voice-synthesizer experiments with an IBM 7094 mainframe computer. One of the researchers had coaxed the computer to sing the 1892 marriage proposal—the first song ever sung by a computer.

The original computer singing "Daisy Belle" was actually done by Bell Labs in 1961

Clarke would see the demonstration later because he was good friends with John Pierce of Bell Labs, whom he was working on nascent satellite technology with

Das: While Clarke came up with the idea of the communications satellite, it was John Pierce of Bell Labs who was instrumental in developing the first communications satellites, Echo I and Telstar, in the 1950s. Clarke had interacted with Pierce during that period. I asked him about his collaboration with John Pierce when the first communications satellite was built.

Clarke: We were good friends; we wrote a number of papers of together.

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    I've enjoyed the whole article, time to look for a copy of the book now Thanks!
    – uhoh
    Apr 16, 2019 at 13:00
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    Also, HAL moved one letter up the alphabet becomes IBM. Apr 16, 2019 at 13:08
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    I know - but are they telling the truth? It seems like a huge coincidence. Apr 16, 2019 at 13:53
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    @KlausÆ.Mogensen it seems that that hasn't been asked or answered here yet, why not post it as a new question? That might be more productive than litigating it here.
    – uhoh
    Apr 16, 2019 at 14:06
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    @KlausÆ.Mogensen They are "enhancing the truth". The IBM logo features in the film, in particular on the Orion craft. From the book "Typeset in the Future": "The close-up (of the Orion panel) features an IBM logo, but the long shot does not. This is because IBM's logo was originally going to be on the movie's main computer ... as the movie's script developed, and it became clear that HAL 9000 would mlafunction in epic style, it was decided to place the IBM brand in the earlier craft ..." IBM logo is also on Bowman's space suit. And then there is the "IBM 7000" ... "HAL 9000" is of the series. Apr 16, 2019 at 20:54

According to Steven Levy, in Hackers, it was 1957 ...

Well before they had a chance to recover . . . the Altair started to play again. No one (except Dompier) was prepared for this reprise, a rendition of Daisy, which some of them knew was the first song ever played on a computer, in Bell Labs in 1957; that momentous event in computer history was being matched right before their ears. It was an encore so unexpected that it seemed to come from the machine’s genetic connection to its Hulking Giant ancestors (a notion apparently implicit in Kubrick’s 2001 when the HAL computer, being dismantled, regressed to a childlike ren- dition of that very song).

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    The wording there is a bit vague, but are you sure they meant a computer was singing the words in 1957? "Played" can easily mean it was an instrumental version, which isn't nearly as hard to accomplish.
    – Mr Lister
    Apr 16, 2019 at 18:31
  • It's a long time since I read Hackers but I'm pretty sure that what Dompier did on the Altair was go around programming loops of different lengths to get different frequencies of buzzes on the machine. <pause> I've just consulted the book and the events I describe above occurred on 5th March 1975 (the homebrew computer club). I had completely forgotten that he was echoing something that had been done before, in 1957 according to Levy. I know nothing about the 1957 event but I expect the computer played the song in the sense that it can be played on a keyboard or any other musical instrument. Apr 17, 2019 at 9:54
  • Did the early computers play music by generating waveforms, or by operating control signals for other electronics? A 1930s vocoder would allow a human operator to produce speech by manipulating levers, and controlling that via computer in real-time would seem easier than generating waveforms.
    – supercat
    Apr 17, 2019 at 17:55
  • What I wrote was rubbish. To quote ... "the radio started making ZIPPPP! ZIIIP! ZIIIIIIIPPPP! noises. It was apparently reacting to the radio frequency interference caused by the switching of bits from location to location inside the Altair. Dompier brought is guitar over and figured out that one of the noises the computer made (at memory address 075) was equivalent to an F-sharp on the guitar. So he hacked away at programming until he figured the memory locations of other notes. After eight hours or so, he had charted the musical scale and written a program for writing music." Apr 17, 2019 at 18:45
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    Back in the 1960's, there were music programs that not only played sounds on computer speakers, but also line printers, and even using vacuum column tape drives for base notes. For computers without speakers, by toggling bits in registers at some rate, there was enough signal generated for an AM radio to pick up the sound. Another device used to generate sound was an optical paper tape reader's brake, which could be turned on and off quickly enough to get it to generate notes with a folded piece of paper under it. I did this back in 1973 on an HP 2100 based system.
    – rcgldr
    Apr 17, 2019 at 23:01

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