Copy of the Music Score, "Mr. Babbage is Coming to Dinner"! (AM.2018.1)

Catalogue Record



Barry Guy


Copy of the Music Score, "Mr. Babbage is Coming to Dinner"!

Made in





Photocopy of a graphic score for chamber orchestra with hand colouring.

‘Mr Babbage is coming to dinner!’ It was a coup for any gathering in mid-19th-century England to secure the presence of mathematician Charles Babbage. Composer Barry Guy composed the work with pencil and ink on the staves created by himself. The graphic score was inspired by engineering drawings prepared by Charles Godfrey Jarvis, and Babbage’s texts concerning the production of his Calculating Engine. Babbage’s engines were the first automatic computing engines, some of which were programmable using punched cards, an idea borrowed from the Jacquard loom used for weaving complex patterns in textiles.

The movement of the percussionist during the piece echoes the relay of packets of information in Babbage's engine. Through the visual score and precisely choreographed musical movements, the composer calls on spontaneity and improvisation from the musicians.

Mr. Babbage is Coming to Dinner was performed at the evening drinks reception of the Crafts Council Make:Shift 2016 by Manchester Camerate.


length:  83cm
width:  59cm

Object number



  • Copy of the Music Score, "Mr. Babbage is Coming to Dinner"!, Barry Guy, 2014. Crafts Council Collection: AM.2018.1. © Barry Guy. Photo: Stokes Photo Ltd.

Maker's statement

The spell of Charles Babbage descended upon me during a visit to the Science Museum London (under the kind guidance of the curator Tim Boon). In particular his work on the Calculating Engines caught my attention. A technical drawing with the title ‘The general plan of Mr. Babbage’s Great Calculating Engine’ initiated the pathway to my composition.

The score consist of one large graphic page inspired by engineering drawings, prepared by Charles Godfrey Jarvis and Babbage’s own texts concerning the production of the machines.

To quote from a letter to his friend Adolphe Quételet, a Belgian statistician, ‘I have a draftsman…at work…to finish a complete set of mechanical drawings of the new engine and a variety of Mechanical Notation to explain its operation…’.

Mechanical Notation as explained by Doron Swade (a leading authority on the life and work of Charles Babbage): ‘It is a descriptive system that precisely records the way parts are intended to interact. One form of the Notation consists of timing diagrams which show how different motions are phased and harmonised. Another form resembles what we would now liken to logical flow diagrams.’

The concept of ‘flow diagram’ fits in perfectly with my own methodology and I decided to create a graphic score…partially coloured, where precise musical movements would be choreographed alongside flexible scenarios that will engage the musicians in creative responses and spontaneous decisions according to visual stimuli.

To realise an end result in the spirit of a calculating engine, players move material through the human labyrinth with the percussionist playing a particularly athletic role.

© Barry Guy, 2015