it’s the grinding electronic dirge
August 30, 2019 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Listening to the GNNNGK of a floppy drive reading just makes my eye twitch. One too many errors on disk 6 of the Wing Commander II install...
posted by selfnoise at 12:23 PM on August 30, 2019 [8 favorites]

I love the sound of the Atari cartridges going into the slot - ca-chunk! Much more satisfying then the NES cartridges for some reason.
posted by Ashwagandha at 12:25 PM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

OMG my heart leapt with excitement at that Apple II disk drive like I was 5 years old again!
posted by Jpfed at 12:33 PM on August 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

The initial loud clacking you heard at the start of an Apple ][ disk boot was the magnetic read head trying to find track zero, or "home". The thing is, there was no sensor to tell the computer precisely where the read head was. Wozniak had designed the disk format so that the tracks themselves had their track number encoded in the data.

So now you had this issue of how to make sure the head was reliably at track zero on the outside edge. Woz's answer was to repeatedly slam the head against a metal backstop enough times that you were sure you were where you wanted to be. Thus the WHACKWHACKWHACK.

I remember messing around with that code one weekend and finding where the delay between motor whacks took place. Speeding it up made the head hit the backstop faster and faster until... you were making musical notes! I felt like a genius. Thanks, Steve!
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:34 PM on August 30, 2019 [8 favorites]

Came for the little vibrating thunk of turning the locking tab on the Commodore 64's 1541 disk drive, left bitterly disappointed and disenchanted.
posted by mittens at 12:37 PM on August 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

Back when we were all trading C64 games on floppy, some companies started doing tricky things during the loading process in an attempt to make games harder to copy. They could do this especially effectively on Commodore because the 1541/1571 floppy drives had their own MOS 6502 processors on board, just like the 6510 inside the C64 only with less addressable memory. Anyway it got to the point where you could tell whether a copy was good or not, and thus whether it would work, by the noise it made during the loading process. If that copy of Ghostbusters rattled the drive head *just so* during loading, it would finish loading, but if it sounded like *that* instead, it would freeze at the logo screen.

(This incidentally is one of the reasons 1541/71 drives often failed in the 80s, because they weren't really designed to be rattled around so much. The rattling noise was actually what happened when the stepper motor tried to push the drive head beyond the allowed track range. They'd eventually fall out of alignment and needed to be reset.)

(on preview -- yeah JoeZydeco has it, I guess the Apple tech was the same as Commodore's)
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 12:37 PM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

These noises convinced me, and still do to this day honestly if in a lesser (and less successful) way, that computers are just tamed gods or idols that do our bidding if the proper rituals are observed.

My family had a mid 90's non-Apple something or other that served me throughout school as a word processor (dot matrix printer noises anyone?), Doom/Wolfenstein/Battlechess/Paint/Red Baron-Dynamix playing, DOS prompt driven, screensaver with pencils/pipes/circles running monstrosity.

That thing, probably not helped by the fact that my parents were chain smokers and not tidy (though not hoarders (yet anyway)), had distinctive boot up sounds that I got to the point where, at the end of it's life, I swear I could tell when it was boot looped/crashing and know to just power it down and start over with a few whacks on the side (not unlike I had seen in old TV shows for TV cabinets or radios) that would make the "ca-chunk, ca-chunk, ca-chunk" that I now know is hard drive read head thrashing transfer into a smoother "whirrrrrrrrrrrr, chink" of successfully loading dos prompt.

Those days....
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:55 PM on August 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

The sound of a Speccy's loading screen loading using the default ROM routine is ridiculously distinctive in comparison to the sound of the more random program and data. Because of the odd way the screen was stored it was also fun to watch as it built up - all monochrome with parts inverse. Then there's that real warmth to the climatic sound of the colours/attributes wiping down the screen. Unmistakeable.

E.g. first minute of this clip of Jetpac loading shows what I mean.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 1:22 PM on August 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

Oh dear. I swear one day I will read an article before commenting to save myself this shame.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 1:28 PM on August 30, 2019 [8 favorites]

Oh the sound of the Apple. So many good memories. I showed some 5 year olds last year what my first computer (a IIc) looked like and their little minds were blown. I intend to blow some little minds in the coming future when I take in a record player and record I found cleaning and play it. I gotta say, hearing Sesame Street Country (what? I was 5!) made my day.
posted by kathrynm at 1:48 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

... some companies started doing tricky things during the loading process in an attempt to make games harder to copy.
I had Sargon (II ? III ?) on the C-64. To prevent copying, the whole disk was longitudinally encrypted, and the key was on track 22 1/2, or some odd non-track.
That was fun trying to disassemble that one. May have been my only cracking.
posted by MtDewd at 3:10 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Amstrad CPC had some good noises. The block tape loader (aka about the first 15s of this): Harvey Headbanger Tape Loader and Loading Music. It took fully three minutes for this game to get to the loading screen, and then another four (but with nice music) for the tape to finally load. Sadly I can't seem to find any audio of the Amstrad's quiet and fast 3" (yep) disk drive.

Then there's the wonderful grink-gronk-growl of the Amiga A500 disk drive. It could produce some truly tortured noises, along with an annoying tick … tick … tick from drives with no floppies in them.

Then there was other hardware: Rodime hard drives (I just remember a really loud clunk), Quantum hard drives with their little thermal recalibration chuckle, damaged hard drive sounds you did not want to hear, dot matrix printer, pen plotter, daisy wheel

I'm very pleased to say that computing machines with distinctive sounds haven't gone away. 3D printers all have their distinctive stepper motor sounds: Printrbot was the first one I used. And yes, they calibrate XY home position just like the Apple disk drive by banging the print head off a limit switch.
posted by scruss at 4:28 PM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you lost a game of hangman in Prisoner 2 it tried to fake you out by grinding the Disk ]['s drive arm, making you think it was about to format (erase) the game disk. (This particular game series broke the fourth wall all the time, and its development is an interesting tale)

And speaking of horrible screeching cassette noises, you can install a ton of software over the interwebs just by plugging your headphone jack (assuming you still have one) into the Apple ][ cassette port, maxing the volume to 11, and playing a file from the Apple Disk Server. It'll load a short BASIC program from the cassette data stream, which will bootstrap a short machine language program, which will decompress a longer machine language program, which will then format a disk and copy data to it.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:08 PM on August 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

Feeling nostalgic for playing Infocom games on the Commodore 64 with the slow and noisy 1541 disk drive. You'd spend an hour trying everything you could think of and get nothing but one of the canned responses already in memory: "You can't see [a thing the game definitely just mentioned] here," or "Pushing the moss isn't helpful," or "I don't know the word 'weep'," or "Such language in a high class establishment like this!"

Until finally you typed a command and instead of seeing a response, you would hear the 1541 chug to life and slowly load in a new paragraph of text! The rumbling disk drive was the sound of victory!
posted by straight at 5:36 PM on August 30, 2019 [12 favorites]

The Apple IIGS 3.5" drive sounded so futuristic and warm, especially compared with the barbaric 5.25" drive. Getting a PC and hearing their clearly inferior drives drove home what 'apple-like' meant for me to this day.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:38 PM on August 30, 2019

Trying to remember what sounds our Texas Instruments 99/4A made but for the life of me I can't remember. Then again, I think most of their games and what not were on cassette tape (even if it did have a floppy disk drive, I think) so I'm not sure it had any cool "loading" sounds anyway.
posted by gtrwolf at 6:58 PM on August 30, 2019

Oh man, the 486 booting into Word Perfect 5.1 gives me flashbacks. My mom worked in a law office, so that was the only word processor she would buy, thus I had to learn its keyboard shortcuts to type my homework at home.

To be fair, WP51's print quality on our dot matrix printer blew every Windows-based word processor away.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:01 PM on August 30, 2019

My first computer was a TRS-80 model 1. The dot matrix printer they sold for that thing made the devil's own noise, like the ripping of space/time. The floppy disk drive we eventually got would chunk through a dozen or so tracks per second on a seek, making a little audible thud at each track.

It was hard to tell when you had the volume adjusted properly to load a program from cassette, but we found you could use a portable AM radio to listen to the RF interference thrown off by the computer to tell when the loading was going properly. A steady whirring/purring sound meant those bits were pouring in.

I should probably have recorded these sounds for future's sake. I do have a few trs-80 cassettes laying around with commercial games or my own saved programs on them. Maybe I should digitize them and upload them somewhere.
posted by DarkForest at 7:05 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Apple IIGS 3.5" drive sounded so futuristic and warm

One certainly had time to appreciate the noises coming from that snoozer of a disk drive. The acceleration/deceleration as it does its pseudo CAV things sounds almost like a guinea pig.
posted by scruss at 7:34 PM on August 30, 2019

Bad command or file name.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 5:29 AM on August 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

When I go in for diabetes checkups, they have a machine that does hemoglobin A1C tests right there in the consultation room instead of having to send it to a lab. It's got all these satisfying mechanical whirs and clicks and such that sound somewhere between an old hard drive and an inkjet printer. One of these days I'm going to remember to bring my audio recorder and capture it.
posted by Foosnark at 9:57 AM on August 31, 2019

TRS-80 casset be like. ch-w-er-eeeeeeeeee... chk-wer-eeeeeeeeee.zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzeeeeeee... ... ...
cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.chkchkchkchkchka..... ....
posted by symbioid at 11:40 AM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

I can still remember the rhythm of my Tandy 1000 EX's 5.25" single sided, single density drive as it booted up MS-DOS 2.11. Later in life I'd find myself using it as a drum warmup. Sadly, couldn't find any good matches on YouTube.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:44 AM on August 31, 2019

There were a number of "diskette magazines" in the 80s, and one of the ones for C64 was called "Compute's Gazette". It was I guess the disk adjunct to Compute Magazine.

One April Fool issue named itself "Dispute's Gazelle" and had a number of in-jokes you wouldn't detect if you hadn't been reading earlier issues. But the one my brother and I recall most fondly was The Disk Eraser.

Now what that video misses out on (presumably because it's running in an emulator) was that it was a program specifically designed to make the 1541 or 1571 generate the most panic-inducing grinding and clicking noises. It really sounded like it was shredding the disk in there. And the program gave you no time to insert a different disk to erase, and you couldn't just pick up another copy of this by-mail-only diskette in shops. So you'd instinctively pound RUN/STOP trying to cancel the erasure and only then notice the "Do not press RUN/STOP" admonition at the top.

Something about the static and garbage in the video also misses out on the best moment. After it went completely on the fritz, you'd be dropped back into the Commodore BASIC screen. I believe there was one subtle typo to either make you panic or notice it was a joke. Anyway no input would work. And after 20 seconds it would scroll the text:
And only then would it launch you back into the magazine's menu again!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 11:59 AM on August 31, 2019 [5 favorites]

Does this mean one day we long for the load screen of Civilization?
posted by srboisvert at 1:31 PM on August 31, 2019

Anyone remember Invade-a-Load?
posted by entity447b at 2:01 PM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

My brother has just reminded me that the RUN/STOP behaviour actually popped you right back into the eraser, clunking sounds and all!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:44 PM on August 31, 2019


Someone recently remastered a C64 game with Invade-a-Load: Bionik Granny Returns. The fact you could write a fast loader tape routine for the C64 that would load a playable game while the main game loaded that was still faster than the built-in routines wasn't a great endorsement of C='s system.
posted by scruss at 7:58 AM on September 3, 2019

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