3 Things You Never Knew About IBM Creativity – Games, Art, and Music

smarter ideaIn IBM’s 2010 Global CEO study of over 1,500 corporate heads and public sector leaders across 60 nations and 33 industries, creativity was touted as being the most important leadership quality for success, outweighing even integrity and global thinking.

So how much creativity and innovation can the world’s 13th largest employer inspire?  Apparently, quite a lot, as the following list shows.  So here is today’s list of cool things you never knew about IBM creativity, focusing on Games, Art, and Music.

1. IBM and Serious Games

You may have heard of Zynga when it comes to games, but did you know that FastCompany listed IBM as one of the Top 10 Companies in Gaming due to our work in serious games?  IBM has been investing in serious games since 2000 and has made advances in performing key research, prototypes, and/or complete games in these five areas – technical training, leadership skill-building, marketing, talent on-boarding, and productivity building.  Watch the trailer below and learn more about IBM and Serious Games here.

2. IBM and Art

Image credit:  Hermitage Museum

Image credit: Hermitage Museum

Of course, there is a lot of very creative IBM advertising art to be found as the quick list below shows.  But there are a number of other ways that IBM has had a connection to art.  For example, in 1997, IBM built the online Hermitage Museum for Hermitage in Russia which was touted as the “World’s Best Online Museum” by National Geographic Traveler.   IBM was also a major collaborator on the Eternal Egypt project and website, with the goal of bringing to light more than 5000 years of Egyptian civilization to help preserve it for tourists, students and scholars.  More recently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York worked with IBM to install a wireless sensor network to help preserve the works of art in its world-renowned, encyclopedic collection.  Works of art are very sensitive to fluctuations in temperature, relative humidity, and other environmental conditions.  IBM’s sensor network is enabling the museum’s scientists to monitor and analyze the reaction of art objects to environmental changes that will help them to develop predictive models for art preservation more accurately.  Learn more about IBM and art here.

Other IBM Art Related

3. IBM and Music

IBM Orchestra in 1944 - courtesy of IBM Archives

IBM Orchestra in 1944 – courtesy of IBM Archives

IBM has a long history with music.  Did you know that there was even an official company song book, published in the 1930s, called Songs of the IBM?  It started in the earliest years of the company’s history with a 32 member employee band, which was followed by a variety of other employee musical groups — an orchestra, singing groups for men, for women, for men and women, even for children.  Soon, singing and instrumental performances spread to other IBM sites and groups, and many IBM meetings would start with employees singing various “fellowship songs”, such as “Ever Onward” (the IBM rally song).  However, IBM’s connection to music was just not limited to employee musical groups.  Much like IBM’s modern-day creativity often manifests itself in the form of leveraging technology to create something very cool like the world’s smallest movie made from atoms, there were early creative efforts to create music from mainframes as the stories below show.  Learn more about IBM and music here.



– By Julie Yamamoto, Program Manager, The Greater IBM Connection


The October 2013 theme for The Greater IBM Connection is ”creativity and innovation”, and The Greater IBM Connection will be sharing various tips, tools, and resources on this topic.

Christmas Carols on the IBM 704

To follow up on the post about the IBM 1401 musical suite by a Scandanavian composer, here’s an anecdote with a Holiday twist from retired IBMer John Van Gardner, an early pioneer in the kinds of computer music that inspired that suite! This excerpt is from file #17.


I had gotten interested in audio amplifiers when I built a high fidelity system in the navy.  During my school on the 704 as I learned how to program it I got an idea about how to use it as a square wave generator.  The 704 had four indicator lights on the console that could be turned on and off with program sense instructions.  They were used to give a visual indication of the progress of the program.  I keyed in a program using index instructions to turn sense light 1 on and off at different frequencies.  I connected the output of the sense light to the microphone input of the PA system.  The PA amplifier could not reproduce a square wave so the sound that came out sounded like a clean sign wave.


The IBM 704, introduced in 1954, was a large-scale computer designed for engineering and scientific calculations.

Some time later my daughter Joy received a toy xylophone with a songbook with simple one note songs like “Three Blind Mice” and some Christmas carols.  I took the book to work early one morning and connected the output of sense light 1 to the microphone input of the PA system.  I found the numbers to make the 704 play the musical scale.  Jack Bellinger came in later and heard it.  He showed it to Cal Jackson a Lockheed System Programmer and he modified the 704 assembly program to equate the scale note names to the numbers necessary to create that note.

A few weeks later in December 1957 we had a Christmas party in the programming area at Lockheed and Cal had made a tape that had all the Christmas carols from the little xylophone book on it.  It would play all the songs then rewind and start over….

I always wondered if I was the first person to play music with a digital computer.  I found the answer to that question when the internet came into being.  There were quit a few people that did it before me but at least I did it independently.


The December 2012 theme for The Greater IBM Connection is ‘corporate history’, and Paul Lasewicz, IBM Corporate Archivist, will be sharing with us some of the highlights from IBM’s history.

Paul Lasewicz, IBM Corporate Archivist

Paul Lasewicz, IBM Corporate Archivist