Polish engineer Paweł Zadrożniak has greatly expanded his floppy disk drive organ grinder Flopotron in version 3.0. Instead of 64 3.5-inch floppy disk drives (FDD) in Flopotron 2.0, 512 drives in combination with 16 hard disks (HDD) and four flatbed scanners now sing well-known songs.
His “Computer Hardware Orchestra”, as Zadrozniak calls his Noise Machine, is in its own “studio” room. In an article on his blog, the inventor describes the system’s structure and basic function. Zadrożniak takes advantage of the fact that floppy disk drives, hard disks and flatbed scanners emit noise at different frequencies through moving parts such as stepper motors and HDD’s read/write heads, depending on how they are called. How is controlled. Depending on the frequency, such noise can be assigned to a musical note and – as Zadrosniak writes – “abuse”.
It doesn’t make any sense…
The hobbyist uses digital control information in MIDI format as the starting data for the songs. A computer sends event information via a USB-MIDI adapter to a gateway based on the nRF52 microcontroller. The gateway forms the bridge for the device controllers. The digital information is then converted in such a way that the motor and mechanics produce the desired speed and thus the desired sound – for example through efficient control and pulsation of the read/write heads on the hard disk. Depending on the speed of the stepping motors, different pitches are made which depend on the speed of the step.
For example, in order to fade a note and achieve a natural sound, Zadrożniak simulates a sound envelope in multiple active decks simultaneously playing the same note. Engineers say that playing it with a low drive makes the sound fade. It can also be used to achieve other sound effects.
In addition to 512 FDD and 16 HDD, Tinkerer also uses a flat bed scanner that can play high pitched sounds. The discarded HP scanner is used. The controller moves the scanner head at different speeds and in alternating directions to produce the desired sounds. The LEDs on the scanner head indicate which device is currently playing a piece of music. Detail improvements now result in better pitch and modulation effects compared to previous models of the flopotron. This makes it possible to produce “even more crazy sounds”.
…if it ain’t that swing
Zadrożniak also uses HDDs as a percussion instrument. In doing so, he allows the read/write head to proceed normally until the stop. Depending on the drive used, this results in a stale “click” or a brighter “click”. Sound-wise, Zadrożniak assigns a MIDI drum sound to each of the 16 HDDs used, which corresponds to the natural noise of the respective HDD and can thus mimic a hi-hat or snare.
FlopPotron 3.0 requires a lot of energy. The scanner and hard disk are still quite frugal, but the 512 floppy needs to supply enough power. If they all “play” at the same time then about 32 of them can take up to 16A. Typically, the load is only 20 to 30 percent, depending on what music is being played. A floppy disk drive combined in 16 stacks theoretically has 1.28 kW of power. Zadrożniak measured about 1.15 kW when he humming them at the same time.
Power is supplied through 16 5V/18A power packs with over-temperature and short-circuit protection. They are inexpensive, compact and operate quietly due to the lack of a fan – so they don’t affect the enjoyment of music.
Flopotron 3.0 is MIDI compatible. In theory, it can be controlled using any MIDI software. Accompaniment instruments such as drums, guitar or piano are assigned to different instruments. Scanners play lead tracks.
Zadrożniak then adapts the MIDI files for the floppotron by ear and rearranges a song so that it better matches the original. It may take three to four evenings, He says. FlopPotron 3.0 doesn’t represent the end of development yet. In the future he wants to add further “equipment”, such as dot matrix printers and the appearance should be upgraded with automatic lighting as well.
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