Alan Turing, Muse to Musicians

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Alan Turing has has turned up in many unexpected places in the course of my research and writing for this page, but perhaps nowhere as unexpected as FAWM.

What the heck is FAWM?

Well, it’s an acronym for February Album Writing Month, a NaNoWriMo-style event in which participants attempt to write 14 songs in the 28 days of February (or 14 1/2 songs during leap years).

And what on earth does Alan Turing have to do with a weird, intense, songwriting event?

Alan Turing renders "Molly Malone" on the violin [artist's impression]

Alan Turing renders “Molly Malone” on the violin [artist’s impression].

Back in 2004, a guy named Burr Settles launched the first FAWM. As part of the event he participated in a “tribute challenge” in which songwriters had to pen a tune as an ode to someone famous. Settles chose Alan Turing.

Since then, other songs have turned up in FAWM that are about, or at least mention, Turing.  Like this one entitled Meles Meles or this one called I Heart Alan Turing.

Apparently Settles’ original Turing tune didn’t quite rise to the lofty goal set for it and “Alan Turing” thereafter took on a specific slang meaning within the FAWM community. There’s even an entry for it in the FAWM glossary:

alan turing (n.) song for which you think your vision might be greater than your songwriting ability.

But the Turing tunes don’t stop with FAWM.  Youtube currently sports two songs for Turing, one titled Song for Alan Turing and one titled A Song for Alan Turing, both embedded below.

Finally, the Molly Malone reference in the caption to the illustration (not to mention the illustration itself) comes from an announcement that experimental electronic duo Matmos were giving away downloads of that song back in March of this year. The song is featured on their EP entitled — what else? — For Alan Turing.  The announcement reads:

Many people are aware that 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, “The Man Who Cracked The Enigma Code”, much of whose work remained secret until after his untimely death in 1952. Less well known is that his Mother was Irish, and his favorite song was Molly Malone, which, so the story goes, he insisted on rendering on the violin to the police who came to arrest him on charges of gross indecency, before agreeing to make his statement to them.

The recording by Matmos of Clodagh Simonds (Fovea Hex / Mellow Candle) singing Molly Malone, was first featured on their FOR ALAN TURING ep, part of a work commissioned in 2006 by The Mathematical Sciences Research Institute at Berkely CA on the opening of their new Mathematics Hall. It will be available as a free download for three days only, March 16, 17, and 18, from the Fovea Hex Bandcamp page . Matmos anticipate that the full FOR ALAN TURING ep will be digitally re-released to coincide with Turing’s 100th anniversary in June 2012

That song, too, is embedded at the bottom of the page.

Of course this is not the first we’ve heard of Alan Turing finding musical expression.  Last November in a post called The Turing Elves Put On Radiohead Masks we encountered a song called No Deciding by a mysterious band called the Klein 3 Group, which apparently appeared on their “hit” album OK Computer Science (an album I’ve yet to find anywhere).

And who can forget Epic Rap Battles of Advanced Mathematics, Alan Turing vs. Kurt Gödel? A classic entry in both the music and comedy catgegories.

Still, I would never have guessed that the Turing Elves would have been so busy in the musical corner of the arts.

Molly Malone from For Alan Turing

A Song for Alan Turing

Song for Alan Turing

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1 Response to Alan Turing, Muse to Musicians

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