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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Here’s a stunning orchestral arrangement played by HDDs, floppy drives, and scanners

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PC music has come to mean a lot nowadays, from the soundtracks of some of the greatest games (Doom, for example) to the record label celebrated for its high-energy hyperpop sound (see: PC Music). But what about music made with only PC parts? Show some love to Paweł Zadrożniak, who’s recently unveiled the third generation of their orchestra of scanners, floppy disks, and hard drives.

Nicknamed The Floppotron 3.0, this collection of ageing PC parts makes the sweetest sounds in the right hands. Check out the video above for Zadrożniak’s rendition of Entrance of the Gladiators, a song that seems entirely fitting when played by such a rabble of old-school apparatus.

There are 512 floppy disk drives, 4 scanners, and 16 hard drives in the orchestra, hooked up to a mainframe of PSUs that draws an average of 300W from the wall, but can peak at a whipping 1,200W. Ouch. Yet a small price to pay for making such sweet, sweet music.

If you look to the back of the floppy disk wall, it’s really rather impressive how it’s all setup. That’s surely a small fortune’s worth of cables.

Of course, the Floppotron 3.0 took a long while to build. If you’re wondering how it all works, Zadrożniak offers an extensive explanation over on their blog, which goes into detail about a handful of projects all the way back to 2011.

“Every mechanical device with electric motor or any other moving parts makes noise as a side effect. Sometimes that noise can be controlled. and turned into music—which usually involves some level of abuse. All of the devices present in the ‘orchestra’ contain either stepper motors or moving heads (in case of hard drives), which are driven by custom electronic circuits—controllers. Those controllers are connected in a network and can be commanded from the computer to make a specific device (e.g. scanner #2) emit a specific sound (e.g. constant 440Hz tone which corresponds to A4 note in music) at a specific point in time.”

That’s just the simplified intro, and as Zadrożniak notes “it gets complicated in a larger scale.”

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It makes for a good read, though. There’s a lot of technical computing knowledge blended with musical understanding to get this whole system working together in harmony.

There’s a good chance you’ve seen Zadrożniak’s stuff before. This isn’t their first foray into making music with PC hardware. Way back in 2011, following the summer holidays, they programmed a floppy disk drive to play Mozart. Then they programmed two drives to play the Imperial March from Star Wars. 

Now that’s a video I remember from when I was a teenager, and you might too as it has over 6 million views today.

There are also renditions of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Doom, Bohemian Rhapsody, and many more on older Floppotron setups over on Zadrożniak’s YouTube page.

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