JF Ptak Science Books Post 1382 [Part of our series in The History of Holes.]
Kepler saw music in his study of planetary motions; Newton saw it too in relation to optics and the foundation of color--I wonder if the early people working with punched cards and tape saw a similarity between horizontal versions of their work and musical scales as well? Did Jacquard or Hollerith see something through their holes to points beyond? Well, I doubt the later, though there is no doubt that there are true relationships between music and the work of Kepler1 and Newton. Perhaps one could make a score by arranging the punched holes of computer tape or a series of Jacquard loom cards, though they have less a relationship to what we identify as music than transcribing hundreds of resting pigeons as notes on a five-line utility pole.
The idea of automatic control comes way before M. Jacquard (1752-1734) and the punched cards that he used to control his loom (which began about 1805), though I must say that Jacquard's man-in-the-machine design does have a great, far-reaching elegance to it. Even in his own field here were predecessors: Jacques de Vaucanson, for example, and Basile Bouchon (1725) and M.F Falcon (1728). But it was with Jacquard that the idea of the punched card for design control took hold, and just seven years after the loom was introduced there were more the 10,000 Jacquard machines in operation in France alone.
Alfred Barlow2 wrote a splendid history of weaving in 1878, and in that books later pages--and I suspect much overcome with the recent developments in the electrical field (not the least of which were the newly invented light bulb and telephone)--Mr. Barlow waxes considerably on the application of electricity to the Jacquard process:
He writes, "It is scarcely to be wondered at that men acquainted with the application of electricity to telegraphy and other purposes should have believed it equally serviceable in some of the operations of weaving. As it might be expected, the Jacquard apparatus seemed to offer and excellent opportunity for the needles [reading the holes ion the loom punch cards] to be worked, not by the direct pressure of a card, but by the connecxion of a series of electro-magnerts. By this means it was believed that paper may be substituted fir the cards, and the magnets might operate upon the needles through the perforations in the paper, or by passing a current of electricity through the medium of a metallic conducting surface on a sheet of paper or cloth representing the design to be woven, and thereby acting without the use or need of perforations." (Pages 424-5) It was certainly a capital idea. Barlow may have been referencing the work of Alexander Bain and his punched-tape telegraph of 1841, though he does not mention him specifically. Barlow does mention several inventors from the 1850's who managed to make improvements with electricity in Jacquard-style machines, though none with the great effectiveness which he described here. The real, great advancement in computation waited for quite some time, even beyond the great innovations of Hermann Hollerith (who began his tabulating successes in the 1880's, coming into international recognition with his work on the 1890 U.S. Census. But Barlow's imagination here is quite full, and just a little beyond his time.
[This work by Barlow is available for purchase here.]
1. Kepler used the ratios between the velocities of the planets at their closet and furthest distances from the sun to construct musical intervals, which do work. What an enormously encompassing feeling this must have been to set the motions of the celestial spheres into polyphonic tones that fit right inside the octave! Newton's seven colors could be set side-by-side with seven notes of the octave, color in music, giving them the notes A, B, C, D, E, F and G.
2. The excellent Mr. P.J. Mode first brought this reference to my attention 15 years ago. The work: Barlow,m Alfred: The History and Principles of Weaving by Hand and by Power. London; Sampson & Low, 1878, xii, 443, iv pp, illustrated throughout with text illustrations.