Geekender Gallery: Top 10 Tech Tunes

For your weekend listening pleasure: ten songs about technology. Enjoy!
By Rupert Goodwins, Contributor on
1 of 10 Rupert Goodwins/ZDNET

Deltron 3030: Virus (from Deltron 3030)

A very fine rap track from a very fine concept album. The titular superhero overthrows megacorporations and oppressive government by, among other methods, unleashing computer viruses. Lyrics about erasing files and crashing hard disks set the tone, and the hordes of battle robots and deep space sci-fi battles are merely the sort of courtesy detail you wish would happen instead of your computer simply lurching to a halt. Damon Albarn guests, an experience which is said to have led to the formation of Gorillaz.

Best Listened To While: Plotting the collapse of civilisation — or at least the downfall of Outlook. 


2 of 10 Rupert Goodwins/ZDNET

Balanescu Quartet: Computer Love

There are far too many excellent technology love songs from Kraftwerk to choose from, so here's a rather different take on one of the classics. Computer Love has the simple wistful lyricism that Kraftwerk tied so effectively to throbbing machinery, a lyricism that the Balanescu Quartet emphasise with flowing strings and a sense of space.We can forgive it the ignominy of having its riff stolen - sorry, used with permission - by Coldplay.

Best Listened To While: Deleting old emails from your ex and signing up to a raunchy singles site.


3 of 10 Rupert Goodwins/ZDNET

The Tornados: Telstar

The birth-song of a whole new technology, celebrating space in the service of mankind. Recorded in Holloway by Joe Meek, who subsequently killed himself and his landlady in pre-emptive shame at Telstar becoming Margaret Thatcher's favourite pop record. Although staunchly pre-digital, Meek had an abiding fascination with making technology do things it was never intended to do, giving his music a timeless feel. Fun Fact: the British and the French vied for the privilege of receiving the first transatlantic signals from Telstar, but as the Brits configured their antennas in exactly the opposite way to the rest of the world, the French got the pics.  

Best Listened To While: Dusting your bakelite wireless and making 'beep beep' Sputnik noises under your breath. 


4 of 10 Rupert Goodwins/ZDNET

Cabaret Voltaire: Data Processing Instructions

Ah, the Cabs. The typical band everyone's heard of but nobody's heard. When you're bringing Dada, industrial, techno, dub and experimental electronics to the party, it's not surprising that you rarely bother the radio or the "I Remember The 80s" clip shows. This track is as typical as any — which is to say, not typical at all: a melange of grunty noise and electronic pain. But then, isn't that a very real part of the IT experience?

Best Listened To While: Confronting the Blue Screen Of Death. 


5 of 10 Rupert Goodwins/ZDNET

Wire: Dot Dash

Wire's paean to Morse code, the first digital communications medium and still an icon of technological progress. Wire themselves are named after one of the principal unsung foundations of IT — even wireless routers are crammed full of the stuff. Fittingly, Morse is a trinary, rather than a binary, code: Wire were never fond of the obvious.

Best Listened To While: Painstakingly writing a ransom note in twenty different fonts in Ventura Publisher on your ST.


6 of 10 Rupert Goodwins/ZDNET

Aphex Twin: INKEY$

You can't really say that Aphex Twin's music is 'about' anything, except raising a righteous racket to the gods of tortured technology. But a lot of his earlier tracks include explicit references to computers, with songs named after Spectrum BASIC keyboards and including samples of programs loading in from tape. Elsewhere in the Twins oeuvre you can find images encoded through Fourier transforms, heavily modified pornography and intense geek interest, making him a good candidate for the patron saint of technologically-informed music.

Best Listened To While: Debugging a twenty page hex listing you typed in from the back of Your Computer.


7 of 10 Rupert Goodwins/ZDNET

Steve Hillage: And Not Or

Ex-Gong guitarist Steve Hillage is the epitome of the tech-obsessed hippy — he even recorded under the name of System 7, the Macintosh OS of the time. This song is named after BASIC Boolean operators, and comes from an album — For To Next — named after BASIC keywords. It contains, as far as we're aware, no actual reference to technology beyond a hint that Hillage tried his hand at writing a game of noughts and crosses in AppleBASIC.

Best Listened To While: Attempting to get 3G access on your solar-powered laptop from a field in Cornwall.


8 of 10 Rupert Goodwins/ZDNET

Johan Johannsson: IBM1401 A User's Manual

A real oddity, but one of considerable charm. The composer's father was maintenance engineer on Iceland's first computer, an IBM 1401 mainframe, in the mid-1960s, and he learned how to make the computer make music. As part of the computer's decommissioning in 1971 a last recording was made, and that's at the heart of this modern orchestral composition. Check the website for many more stories about this unique music.

Best Listened To While: Helping develop the IBM 1401 emulator software.


9 of 10 Rupert Goodwins/ZDNET

Pixelh8: Math

Much loved at ZDNet UK Towers, the gentle bearded baron of eight-bit showcases his work from Bletchley Park. Not only does the work include samples of sounds from a variety of vintage hardware, the very structure of the piece includes calculations made on the selfsame kit. Elsewhere, Mr h8 is busy writing music composition software and exploring the boundaries of what you can do with a dead Spectrum and a glint in your eye. Our kind of guy.

Best Listened To While: Fitting a new PP3 to your Sinclair Enterprise calculator.


10 of 10 Rupert Goodwins/ZDNET

[The User]: Symphony for Dot Matrix Printers

There's always been a fine line between performance art and music — and in this case, it's precisely one pixel thick. With care, software and good timing, dot matrix printers can pulse their pins fast enough to make a wide variety of nearly musical noises, and they've got natural ribbon...er, rhythm. This is created by a Canadian artists' collective, and it shows.

Best Listened To While: Trying to calm down after finding out how much a new inkjet cartridge will cost.


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