Computer World: Why Cybernetic Serendipity Music is the most important and neglected compilation in electronic music





Cybernetic Serendipity_feature cover

With our short film on the landmark record kicking off Machine Music Week at The Vinyl Factory on Monday, we now hear from Peter Zinovieff, Russell Haswell, Yuri Pattison and the ICA’s Juliette Desorgues in more detail to find out why this crucial record has remained in the shadows for so long.

Whisper the words ‘Cybernetic Serendipity Music’ to the right person and you’ll have them eating out of the palm of your hands. Long the preserve of niche electronic music fans, this humble 10-track compilation changed the world while no-one was looking, the first record of its kind to include music both composed and performed by a computer. Nothing more than a curiosity perhaps, if the man behind the track was not Peter Zinovieff, an inventor and composer who, at the helm of EMS developed the synthesizers that defined popular and electronic music for the next three decades.

A cult record for this alone, Cybernetic Serendipity Music has one more trump up its sleeve. Alongside exhibitors to the exhibition (among them the unfortunately named Wilhelm Fucks), Cybernetic Serendipity Music is one of the very few moments where John Cage and Iannis Xenakis ever appeared on record together, and for that its mythical status is assured.

Compiled to accompany the ground-breaking exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity at the ICA in London in 1968, only a handful of copies of this unique slab of wax were ever pressed, distributed in small quantities and available all but exclusively from the ICA at that exhibition. As knowledge of the record has grown with the aid of the internet, copies of the original have begun changing hands for close to £150, with good quality copies ever scarcer.

To mark their new archival exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity: A Documentation that looks back at the impact of the show itself, we’ve got together with the ICA to reissue the record on vinyl for the very first time, faithfully reproducing the original down to the finest detail.

And to put this release in the context it deserves, we spoke to Peter Zinovieff, Russell Haswell, Yuri Pattison and Juliette Desorgues of the ICA for a short film which you can watch below before reading longer extracts from the interviews with all four contributors on the following pages.

More from Machine Music Week:

Watch our short film on the first ever computer music compilation Cybernetic Serendipity Music

Listen to a Conrad Shawcross podcast on music and machines for his dancing robot installation The Ada Project

It’s a woman’s world: Ada’s top 10 techno records

The pioneering women of electronic music – An interactive timeline

Listen to the sound of the internet

The synth that made the music: 10 artists whose sound was defined by the EMS VCS3