AKA 2000

Peter Mechtler
The Ideal Music Computer – A Utopian Approximation

The AKA 2000 was designed and built at the Institute for Electro-Acoustics (ELAK) at the Vienna Academy of Music and Performing Arts between 1975 and 1987. Not least because of an ongoing shortage of funds, the Institute made attempts from 1975 on to develop a machine of its own. Originally intended as an analogue stereo mixer (but already using VCA technology1), it gradually became a project for a universal production platform for electronic music that integrated the latest technologies as it progressed. The letters AKA in the machine’s name are the abbreviation for “Akademie,” which had already made an appearance in 1963 in Ing. Gottwald’s Akaphon.

In contrast to the usual practice in equipment development and machine construction, where the functions can be defined at the start of the project, more and more questions arose about its functions as the AKA 2000 developed. The central issue was whether it was at all possible to build a universal music computer when the starting positions (different artistic approaches) were in part vague and could not be entirely expressed in formal terms. Are the programming possibilities sufficient to be able to cover such a broad field of different applications? At that time (the CD was only launched on the market in 1983), digital audio technology was still in its infancy, it lacked technical standards and many experimental studios were developing their own systems. This often led to very different machine concepts. At the time, the field was not yet dominated by commercial products. The need to carry out development work oneself meant that it was also possible to implement one’s own ideas.

It was these considerations that led to the plan for an array computer system for the generation and processing of sounds. The individual development stages always attempted to integrate the latest technologies such as fiber optics, the inclusion of an ECL signal processor, color graphics display etc. Seeing the latest technology as a form of art and not only as a means to an end, a technical “concept art” as it were, was what dominated the considerations during these years. However, the shortage of finances and personnel in the early 1980s meant that these very ambitious goals had to be abandoned and a more pragmatic approach adopted to produce a manageable and user-focused machine.

die realisierte Gerätekonfiguration - AKA 2000The illustration shows the machine configuration implemented at that time. A commercial computer board (Heurikon HK-68000, 16 bit) was used as the mainframe, while the transformer groups and the ADSP board (Analog Devices ADSP 1110) were developed by the Institute itself. The SEDIT program (by Gerhard Eckel), including among other things sampling functions (e. g. the playing of playlists from the modest 1 MB Audio RAM), gave access to the field of granular synthesis. The last development stage of the AKA 2000 in the mid-1980s comprised the production of a frame grabber for video signals. This allowed the use of individual frames (black and white) as a dataset for the additive synthesis of audio signals (like the UPIC system by Iannis Xenakis); Bernd Wender wrote the corresponding software.

Despite huge financial support from the Academy, work had finally to be terminated in 1987, and the AKA 2000 remained unfinished. All that remains are a few pieces produced on it, and an extensive set of documentation.


1 VCA (voltage-controlled amplifier). Analogue multipliers by Analog Devices were used in the trial stage.