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iStock // ioResearch
iStock // ioResearch

Behold the Floppotron, a Computer Hardware Orchestra

iStock // ioResearch
iStock // ioResearch

Back in the era when floppy drives came with home computers, PCs made a lot of noise starting up. They made a kind of music as the motors in the floppy drives buzzed and clunked, the hard drive spun up and chattered, and various peripherals slowly ground their way through startup tests. Now one man has turned those tones into an orchestra.

Polish engineer Paweł Zadrożniak built the Floppotron, a synchronized array of obsolete computer hardware programmed to play tunes. The current Floppotron 2.0 build sports 64 floppy drives, 8 hard drives, and a pair of flatbed scanners—most of these items have had their covers removed, apparently for improved acoustic performance.

Zadrożniak harnessed the power of the stepper motors in the floppy drives and scanners. By driving those motors at specific speeds, he can force them to generate pitches that sound a lot like string instruments. The hard drives can be gently overloaded to force the read/write heads to whack against metal guard rails—voila, percussion!

Floppotron 2.0 uses the floppy drives in banks of eight, allowing for volume control—one floppy is quiet, eight playing together is loud, just like an orchestra. Given the eight banks of drives, as many as eight notes can be played simultaneously, each at its own volume. The scanners act more like solo instruments, with their larger motors allowing them to take the lead.

Zadrożniak wrote the Floppotron software during his university classes. It translates MIDI music files—which specify instruments and notation—into a series of discrete commands telling the hardware when to buzz, click, and remain silent. The net effect is of a robot orchestra.

The Floppotron is a little light on bass; in this last song, Zadrożniak manually simulates a kick drum via a clothes washer, a snare drum by whacking a microwave oven, and...well, there's more. Enjoy:

For more Floppotron goodness, check out this playlist.

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