Inspired By Babbage
Written by David Conrad   
Saturday, 29 June 2019

An iconic fragment of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, constructed by his son Henry, goes on display in July during the Manchester International Festival alongside an interactive art experience inspired by Babbage.


Charles Babbage 1791- 1871

Almost 150 years after his death Charles Babbage continues to exert his influence and not only in the sphere of computing.   

The art experience, Atmospheric Memory, commissioned for the 2019 Manchester International Festival has been created by Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and comprises an array of ‘Atmospheric Machines’ which mine the air for turbulence caused by speech, then transform it into trails of vapor, ripples on water and epic 360-degree projections. The installation is being housed in a custom-built chamber and the presentation, which lasts 60 minutes, starts at 10-minute intervals. Booking is essential and many slots are already sold out.

Atmosheric Manchester

So what is the link between Atmospheric Memory, which:

scours the sky for the voices of our past

and the Analytical Engine?

To quote the Manchester International Festival's website, it was:

inspired by Charles Babbage’s 180-year-old proposal that the air is a ‘vast library’ holding every word ever spoken, Atmospheric Memory asks: was Babbage right? Can we rewind the air to recreate long-lost voices? And if so, whose would we want to hear? 

Visitors will also be able to view part a Babbage Analytical Engine, described as:

a rare object in the prehistory of computing from the Science Museum Group’s collection.

As was typical of Babbage, he didn't build the Analytical Engine, however in 1910 his son, Henry P Babbage built a large hand-operated calculator plus printer based on the CPU of the analytical engine to prove that it could work - and it did. A section of this beautifully crafted machine will be displayed in the museum's 1830 Warehouse from 6 - 21 July. 

Analytical Engine Manchester

As previously reported there are currently plans to build the Analytical Engine from the original plans that Babbage created. The project called Plan 28, from the name given to the original documentation which was left  in a mahogany case that Babbage had had constructed especially for the purpose, was initiated in 2010 by author, journalist and computer scientist John Graham-Cumming who, having been inspired by the successful construction of Babbage's Difference Engine, now on permanent display in the London Science Museum, hopes to have a complete and functional Analytical Engine on public display by the 2030s.  


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Last Updated ( Saturday, 29 June 2019 )