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Phantom of the Floppera
February 10, 2011 11:03 PM   Subscribe

Toccata and Fugue as played by floppy disc drives. SLYT

From the builder of the (d)iskette (O)rgan:
Features two 3 1/2" drives and two 5 1/4" drives connected to a PIC18f14k50 microcontroller. It interfaces to any MIDI source via MIDI over USB. Straight MIDI would also be possible with an additional small circuit and some minor firmware changes. This initial version can respond to all 128 MIDI notes, and pitch bends +/- 2 semitones.

As it can produce only four simultaneous notes, and each drive has a different range and tonal characteristics, best results are obtained by arranging compositions by hand. However, it features two modes of operation: in one mode, MIDI channels 1 through 4 are played directly on floppy drives 1 through 4. In the other mode, all 16 MIDI channels are read, and notes are "intelligently" divvied out on a first-come, first-serve basis. "Note stealing" ensures that melody lines sound, but chords are often cut short. One or the other produces acceptable results for many unmodified MIDI files straight out of your favorite media player.
posted by tim_in_oz (42 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
Approved.
posted by jscott at 12:25 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah. Good. Very good.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:28 AM on February 11, 2011


Not bad. Floppy organs are OK if you're just pissing around.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:36 AM on February 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


If real, is pretty fucking cool. Got to say, though, claims to the contrary notwithstanding, comes across as pretty faked, which would make this awfully pointless.
posted by dersins at 12:37 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay, now do a violin concerto with a dot matrix printer.

I love the way the lights come on when it plays those mighty D chords. The fugue seems to be missing but this is still awesome.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:42 AM on February 11, 2011


Got to say, though, claims to the contrary notwithstanding, comes across as pretty faked, which would make this awfully pointless.

Apparently you're not familiar with this process, which is actually relatively easy to do.

Floppy Drive. Scanner. Scanner. Floppy Drive. Tesla Coils. Dot Matrix Printers. Richard Stallman. Floppy Drive.
posted by jscott at 12:48 AM on February 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


N(erd)TV

(that is to say, awesome)
posted by dabitch at 1:03 AM on February 11, 2011


Abort, Retry, Fail?_
posted by Slithy_Tove at 1:19 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Apparently you're not familiar with this process, which is actually relatively easy to do.

You're right, I'm not familiar with it. Like I said, if it's a thing, it's pretty cool. And I'm sure if you saw it in person it would be super neat. However, each and every one of those videos you just linked would be so preposterously easy to fake from a film making standpoint (much easier, I'm sure, than making the real version) that if they're real-- and I'm certainly willing to take your word for it that they are-- that I'm honestly not sure what the point of making them is.
posted by dersins at 1:22 AM on February 11, 2011


> If real, is pretty fucking cool. Got to say, though, claims to the contrary notwithstanding, comes across as pretty faked, which would make this awfully pointless.

Pretty much anything with a controllable stepper motor can be programmed to make music like this with a bit of math. Although I think this is a particular fine example; I love those lights on the chords and the phantom mask. :) But I think the "trick" of it is a bit neater when the motors themselves are on display.
posted by adamt at 1:28 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


...each and every one of those videos you just linked would be so preposterously easy to fake from a film making standpoint (much easier, I'm sure, than making the real version) that if they're real-- and I'm certainly willing to take your word for it that they are-- that I'm honestly not sure what the point of making them is.

There are easier ways to enjoy piano music than learning to play the piano. Still, lots of people find pleasure in doing it themselves.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 1:32 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


dersins: why would you start with the assumption that it was fake? Maybe just ask if anyone else knows? The wealth of links forthcoming, showing you other people doing pretty much the same thing in slightly different ways, would have alleviated your skepticism without the grar.

Making hardware do stuff it's really not designed for is fun. It's been fun since the earliest days of computing. Faking it is much less fun.
posted by Malor at 1:57 AM on February 11, 2011


I'm going to fake eating a pie and then post a video of it on youtube.
posted by aubilenon at 2:46 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Next time I'll make an FPP out of foreskins, bicycle helmets, morning after pills, fat people and gun control. Nerdy floppy drive music is clearly too controversial.
posted by tim_in_oz at 2:49 AM on February 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


I totally forgot the real inspiring one: That beautifully done project where the creator used a bunch of old computer parts to play Radiohead.

There's lots of magical things out there in the world, which sometimes astound on several levels, even beyond the quality of the performance. I still don't entirely understand how musical Tesla Coils work, even though I've seen them in person and almost all the Tesla Coil people do some manner of this trick in performances.
posted by jscott at 2:54 AM on February 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


> That beautifully done project where the creator used a bunch of old computer parts to play Radiohead.

Oooh... the singing bank of hard drives is unearthly. I love it.
posted by adamt at 3:02 AM on February 11, 2011


adamt : Oooh... the singing bank of hard drives is unearthly. I love it.

Trivia of the day - Although you want extremely precise positioning of the heads over the platters, stepper motors can't move them even close to fast enough to give decent seek times. So as a design compromise, modern HDDs actually use a voice coil to move the actuator, and "find" the right spot by overshooting it and then correcting.

Upshot of this, you don't even need a uC to get something like radio-quality sound out of a HDD. Just connect the coil to any ol' speaker port on an audio source (like a CD player) and call it good (optionally tweaking the impedance to keep the coil/your amp from cooking).
posted by pla at 3:25 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


That beautifully done project where the creator used a bunch of old computer parts to play Radiohead

That was utterly fabulous. Thanks
posted by the noob at 3:45 AM on February 11, 2011


jscott: Richard Stallman
ROFL. That's uncanny.
posted by Popular Ethics at 4:08 AM on February 11, 2011


Is there anything that Bach doesn't sound great on?
posted by primer_dimer at 4:30 AM on February 11, 2011


Is there anything that Bach doesn't sound great on?

Really crappy speakers?

Heroin?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:05 AM on February 11, 2011


I totally forgot the real inspiring one: That beautifully done project where the creator used a bunch of old computer parts to play Radiohead.

Thanks jscott. That was the most beautifully hypnotic and wonderful thing I've seen in months.
posted by Ahab at 5:25 AM on February 11, 2011


Reminds me of my 512K Fat Mac.
posted by tommasz at 5:48 AM on February 11, 2011


I'm nowhere near as great as you guys at finding cool computer music videos, but here.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:18 AM on February 11, 2011


What I said was that it seems pretty cool but comes across to me as potentially fake.

I don't really have a horse in this race, but I just wanted to point out that probably what triggered the... "exchange" was you calling the whole endeavor pointless. That's the kind of thing that can get people het up a lot more than calling something fake.
posted by kmz at 6:33 AM on February 11, 2011


Have there been many commercial software releases that were intentionally designed to play music when accessing their own code on a floppy?
posted by Nelson at 6:37 AM on February 11, 2011


Have there been many commercial software releases that were intentionally designed to play music when accessing their own code on a floppy?

I had the same question - surely some game out there included this feature, unless the action was likely to damage the disk platter - but you could just not actuate the reader portion during the musical segment, right?
posted by odinsdream at 6:49 AM on February 11, 2011


[Stupid derail removed. Instead of leaving the comment where you talk about how the comment is going to get removed because you know it's a shitty comment you shouldn't make in the first place, don't make the shitty comment in the first place. Thank you.]
posted by cortex at 6:54 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


That is epic, and now I am eyeing our CNC router wondering how I can get it to do the same thing.
posted by MrBobaFett at 8:23 AM on February 11, 2011


Fantastic idea. Depending on hardware and controller limitations one could probably build up a larger instrument where a larger number of floppy drives are 'ranked' by size and tonal characteristic, much as the pipes on an organ (4', 8, 16'), with the larger pipe footage being a generally lower sound. In this case, 3.5", 4.25", and 8" ranks, either played by separate keyboard/pedal controllers or blended like a Hammond organ (though the latter is primarily the blending of multiple sine waves, whereas these drives are overtone-rich).

Given each drive is variable-pitch, you'd probably need eight per rank to avoid polyphony limitations. The bass from an 8" drive might be killer.
posted by DrSawtooth at 8:32 AM on February 11, 2011


Delightful. Also jscott's link, and I don't even know that song.

It's amazing that he can get decent low notes out of a disk drive. I wonder if the bulky housing of that old-skool desktop has something to do with it? A resonating cavity needs to be bigger as the notes get lower.
posted by Quietgal at 8:35 AM on February 11, 2011


Next step: Get these things to dance in an organized form...
posted by Namlit at 9:09 AM on February 11, 2011


Is there anything that Bach doesn't sound great on?

Really crappy speakers?

Heroin?


Nonsense. Everything sounds good on heroin.

Also, this is sweet.
posted by apis mellifera at 10:31 AM on February 11, 2011


You're only as obsolete as you feel!
posted by Sallysings at 10:55 AM on February 11, 2011


Sorry, Phantom of the Floppera is now the official name of the Spiderman musical.
posted by ericbop at 12:29 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Have there been many commercial software releases that were intentionally designed to play music when accessing their own code on a floppy?

When I was little I used to have this game Skyfox for my Apple //c and I SWEAR the floppy played a little rhythmic tune while it was loading. Perhaps it was just a coincidence but I like to think the developers did some magic with placing data on that floppy JUST..SO... to get it do that.

I seem to recall some other EA games back in the olden days doing similar stuff but can't remember any specifics...
posted by capnsue at 12:40 PM on February 11, 2011


Man, the part I like best is how well these drives handle fast legato playing, connected and flowing from one note to the next. We've seen lots of scanner / hard drive / tesla hacks where the guy programs a series of pitches by hand, and they fire off mechanically in sequence. That's still awesome, but I love it when someone puts nuance into it like this (presumably using a live-recorded MIDI source), and shows off how dynamic the machinery can really be, turns it into a genuine instrument.

For a while, I've wanted to figure out some way to hack the door chimes on subways (the old tone-generator type, not the new ones which just play a digital recording of a bell) to play a 4-6 voice polyphonic tune, depending on the number of cars. Debut performance, obviously, would be "Take the A Train".
posted by jake at 2:33 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


comes across as pretty faked

There's actually a really long tradition of this kind of thing. In addition to mechanical actuators, early hackers noticed that computers would cause interference on the radio that sounded different depending on what code was running, and wrote programs whose sole purpose was to play a song via RFI.
posted by hattifattener at 3:10 PM on February 11, 2011


Jumping in on the “Radiohead link was awesome” bandwagon. That made my day.
posted by spitefulcrow at 8:51 PM on February 11, 2011


Ok, I saw this earlier this week and thought it was awesome. My husband loves weird music played on strange devices, so I thought he would love it. However, he claims to be "unimpressed." Same goes for the Tesla coil video linked above that I just showed him.

He says he feels these are just cheating because the notes are being modified through an oscillator. Is that what is happening, and if so, how is this still impressive?

FYI, I also liked this version of Bohemian Rhapsody.
posted by threeturtles at 10:04 AM on February 12, 2011


I'm not clear what he might mean by "modified by an oscillator." The recording is made with a simple microphone and it is produced exactly as heard in the video; it's not the case that someone sampled a stepper motor once and then plays back that clip faster or slower to make notes. The stepper motor itself is being commanded to step at varying rates to produce each note. For example to sound C4 middle C, you want it to make approximately 261.6 steps per second, or equivalently from the microprocessor's standpoint, you command it to step once, wait 3.82ms, command it to step again, and repeat. You make different notes by varying the amount of time between steps, for example to sound G3, you'd want 5.10ms between each step and to sound E4 you'd wait 3.03ms.

The range of notes that you can get out of a stepper motor is therefore determined at the high end by the fastest that you can step it, which is in turn determined by the moment of inertia of the rotor (and whatever load is attached), and the strength of the magnetic field that can be developed in the field coils, which is itself a function of the gauge of wire and number of turns in conjunction with how much current and voltage the drive electronics can handle. Some googling suggests that floppy steppers might do 200 steps per second, so either you'd be limited to G3 and lower, or else you do a little creative modification to increase that such as removing mass from the rotor or using a higher voltage on the coils than the nominal value, though this risks overheating them.

The way the Tesla coil organs work, I believe, is similar. You get a loud pop each time an arc ionizes air, so you just modulate the driving circuitry which turns it on and off and makes the pops happen with regularity in the same way as above. If you look on youtube for 'singing arc' or 'plasma speaker' you'll see many, many examples of this general idea.
posted by Rhomboid at 10:50 AM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


From a technical perspective this and the singing Tesla coils are a bit different. As I understand it, the Tesla coils are in effect acting like a very strange speaker; you could play arbitrary audio through them. So, that's nifty IMHO, but I can see why threeturtles' husband would be unimpressed, since the coil isn't really an instrument, just a speaker with an unusual sound.

The floppies are actually acting as instruments, though. He's feeding them with MIDI and the system is figuring out in realtime how to drive the motors to produce those notes, just like a more conventional synthesizer would. You could hook it to a keyboard. You couldn't hook it to a tape player.
posted by hattifattener at 1:57 PM on February 12, 2011


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