This PC orchestra, constructed from 512 floppy disk drives, is wondrous to listen to and behold

This PC orchestra, built from 512 floppy disk drives, is wondrous to hear and behold


Once I was a child rising up in rural Yorkshire, one of many common points of interest at native festivals was an enormous steam-powered organ: a baroque monstrosity of pipes, horns, and whistles that will parp out classical tunes to the delight of onlookers. I don’t know if steam organs are nonetheless a factor, but when they’ve been retired then I’ve the proper alternative: the Floppotron — a mammoth “PC {hardware} orchestra” that performs music utilizing solely electrical motors.

Like a fairground organ, the Floppotron is unwieldy, large, musically unsubtle, and an entire pleasure to behold. It’s the work of Polish engineer Paweł Zadrożniak, who’s been constructing numerous iterations of the instrument since 2011. The primary Floppotron consisted of only a pair of floppy drives taking part in The Imperial March from Star Wars, however its most up-to-date incarnation — Floppotron 3.0 — incorporates a full orchestra of PC peripherals: 512 floppy disk drives, 16 arduous drives, and 4 flatbed scanners. It’s immense.

The idea behind the Floppotron is solely that electrical motors make noise. Tune precisely how briskly and arduous you run the motor (its frequency) and you’ll produce particular notes. Mix sufficient of these notes and, voila, you might have music.

The schematic for Floppotron 3.0
Picture: Paweł Zadrożniak

As Zadrożniak explains in a detailed weblog publish on the Floppotron 3.0, the system has now change into extremely complicated. The floppy disk drive wall is organized into columns, every of which handles a single be aware at a time, with the variety of drives engaged various the sound envelope (how loud or comfortable it’s; how a lot vibrato it has, and so forth). These floppy disk drives deal with the low tones, whereas the scanner part makes use of the scanners’ bigger motors to offer the upper pitches. A bunch of arduous disk drives rounds issues out because the percussion part, with bangs and clicks enunciated by drive heads transferring throughout disk platters.

The Floppotron is a murals, actually, and I can solely hope Zadrożniak continues together with his work and perhaps evokes some imitators, too. Who is aware of, in 50 years’ time, perhaps one in all Floppotron’s heirs can be entertaining babies at a good the best way steam organs fascinated me.


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