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.

35 Lesser-Known Inventions of Famous Inventors

Mental Floss via YouTube
Mental Floss via YouTube

You know Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. But did you also know that the Edinburgh-born innovator is the person we have to thank for the metal detector? He devised the contraption not as a way to look for loose change and other left-behind items on the beach, but in an attempt to help save the life of President James Garfield. (Spoiler alert: Garfield died anyway.)

In this week's all-new edition of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is sharing the details of 35 key—but lesser-known—inventions devised by some of the world's greatest inventors.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here.

Watch Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953 Coronation

On May 12, 1937, Princess Elizabeth—then just 11 years old—looked on as her father, King George VI, was crowned at Westminster Abbey. Little did she know that just 16 years later, she would be in the exact same place and at the center of the very same ceremony.

June 2 marks the anniversary of the Queen’s official coronation—an event that made royal history in a number of ways, most notably because it was the first to be televised around the world (in the UK alone, more than 27 million people tuned in). Thanks to the power of the internet, watching Netflix’s The Crown isn’t the closest you can get to witnessing the event.

While the coronation marked Elizabeth’s formal investiture as Queen, the former princess had officially ascended to the throne more than a year earlier, upon the death of her father on February 6, 1952. The official ceremony itself was delayed not only because of the time it takes to arrange such a detailed event, but because holding the ceremony during a period of mourning for the family would have been deemed inappropriate. Though Elizabeth’s grandmother, Queen Mary, passed away less than three months before Elizabeth’s coronation, she stipulated in her will that the ceremony move forward as planned.

You can watch the coronation play out in several parts in the videos below:

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