Of course, there’s Xenakis’ UPIC system, and Yasunao Tone’s work on the translation of images and ideograms into audio (you can find an example of his interesting in the translation of image into something else here, although this seems less connected to rendering Kanji). But these are not the first, though. That honor belongs to the ANS synthesizer, an optomechanical synthesizer / sound machine designed in the 1930s and built by Russian space scientists in the 1950s. There’s only one of `em in the world: this is it. There are a rather limited number of recordings of the instrument. The major one comes from Artemiy Artemeyev’s label Electroshock. You can find a review and some ANS info here. Stanislaw Kreitchi, one of the composers associated with the instrument, authored this article about composing for the instrument. He’s also got another recording of work out on Electroshock, Ansiana.
But what reminded me to mention this to you is the appearance of yet another ANS project, this time by Coil (augmented by Thighpaulsandra and Ivan Pavlov/CoH). If you’re expecting either the more visceral stuff that Coil’s been producing of late or the kind of rigor or the machine in the hands of the compsers like Denisov or Schnittke or Gubaidulina (whose works appear on the Electroshock compilation), you’ll probably be disappointed. This is really more the kind of work that (at sufficiently low playback levels) we’d think of as lowercase stuff–four hours worth of minimal, high-frequency drone. From the Coil catalog, I’d say that, say, “Time Machine” comes closest. And it’s pricey, too. Overall, if you’re not a Coil completist, I’d opt for the Electroshock compilation (that’s Volume IV of their electroacoustic music series). As of this writing Eurock seems to still have some.