Remember the famous floppy drives? They’re back… with multiplied force (yes, THAT „force”) and some friends!

I have bought some more drives in order to expand the previous project back in 2012, which spent four years in a carton box. Together with new floppy drives, some more hardware has arrived: hard disk and optical scanners. Now I have the whole computer hardware orchestra – 64 floppy drives, 8 hard disks and 2 scanners – The Floppotron.

How does it work? The principle is simple. Every device with an electric motor is able to generate a sound. Scanners and floppy drives use stepper motors to move the head with sensors which scans the image or performs read/write operations on a magnetic disk. The sound generated by a motor depends on driving speed. The higher the frequency, the greater the pitch. Hard disks use a magnet and a coil to tilt the head. When voltage is supplied for long enough, the head speeds up and hits the bound making the „drum hit” sound. The disk head coil can also be used as a speaker to play tones or even music, but… that would be too easy and too obvious.

Every column of 8 floppy drives is connected to one 8-channel controller built on ATMega16 microcontroller. One controller acts as one voice with envelope simulation – the higher the volume, the more drives are playing. This allows to make ADSR-like shape and simulate a musical instrument, like a piano (exponential decay) or string instrument (sine, „vibrato”). The boards which were made a few years ago, were designed as a stand-alone „players” with optional USB-to-UART bridge and was not intended to be chained. My goal was to re-use old stuff and get the job done as fast as possible, so I used the on-board ISP (which in fact is a SPI interface) connector to link 8 drivers in a SPI chain. Long SPI chain with unidirectional communication is not an example good and reliable design, but it did not require any hardware modification and took a minute to build a controller network, so let’s call it… good enough for this kind of project.

Scanner and disk head controllers share the same base with floppy controllers, but have a different „instrument interface”. For driving the coils, I used 2 push-pull outputs (H-bridge) built with discrete SMD MOSFETs. Scanner head controllers were built using of-the-shelf boards – an Arduino Uno (firmware also builds for ATMega328 using AVR-GCC / Atmel Studio; none of this Arduino crappy software and libraries was used) and L298 breakout to save time needed to draw and etch the boards. PC interface (another Arduino board) receives the data over UART (USB-UART), buffers the messages and keeps the timings while passing packets to „musical instruments” over SPI interface, so a Windows hiccup will not affect the playback. It can also be driven by anything else like Raspberry Pi, Android smartphone (with USB-UART or UART-over-Bluetooth adapter) or another microcontroller.

Host application was written in Python 2.7. I wrote it mostly on some boring lectures when I was still studying at the university, so it’s a one big mess, but… at least it does the job. It parses the simple language used for writing note sequences arranged in tracks tied to a specific controller / channel and merges those parallel tracks into one command list which is transferred over COM port. It can also partially generate „song script” from MIDI file which speeds up the „song porting” process.

Like the project? Here’s some another records.

146 Responses to “Return of the Floppies”

  1. [...] interpretieren: The Floppotron. Auch für Nirvana Fans gibt es etwas: Smells Like Nerd Spirit. Auf seinem Blog erklärt er die Funktionsweise seiner [...]

  2. [...] The Floppotron. Auch für Nirvana Fans gibt es etwas: Smells Like Nerd Spirit. Auf seinem Blog erklärt er die Funktionsweise seiner [...]

  3. CDR pisze:

    Do the „Forbiden Zone” theme by Boingo Ongo (Danny Elfman´s old band)!
    They even used it in the cartoon Dilbert.
    Awesome theme that sounds like they used a Theremin on it.
    Might sound cool on the Floppotron.


  4. Aaron pisze:

    Absolutely love this! Would you be willing to post a small amount of your code as to how you generate the tones? Or a schematic of your connections? I’m mostly interested in how you deal with continuous notes and changing the direction of the head. Maybe you went over this on a blog post I skipped over…. if so, could someone point me in the right direction?

    All the best, keep up the great work!


  5. alert('') pisze:


  6. Chris pisze:

    Hysteria by Muse please !

  7. Nicola pisze:

    That nice work !!!!!
    I would also like to do it myself
    I have enough information about floppy disk but nothing for the disk and scanners
    Can you help me ?
    thanks in advance

  8. required pisze:

    I bet you kan make your floppotron SPEAK
    maybe you already did??

  9. Jackson pisze:

    Do you have any source code or a way to download your ported songs? I would like to build one myself

  10. Flying Walrus pisze:

    You should totally make a Pumped Up Kicks video with it ;P

    (Is this a dead forum?)

  11. k0nsl pisze:

    This is just simply great. Bravo.

    Best wishes,

  12. Subscribe_to_Jeff Rabbit_on_Youtube pisze:

    You should add PC Fans and DVD Drives!

  13. Chlebak pisze:

    Witaj! Czy masz w planach zrobienia na tym muzyczki z… nie wiem wymyśl coś. Pozdrawiam, chleb krojony z lidla.

  14. Jan pisze:

    This is so cool pls make a tutorial how to build

  15. [...] get the full behind the scene information on how this was put together, check out Pawel Zadrożniak’s blog where he details out exactly how he’s done this and a number of other [...]

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  17. [...] Zadrozniak a une ventilation complète sur son blog . [...]

  18. [...] construction or the Python that handles the software side of the equation, Zadrozniak has a thorough breakdown on his blog. [...]

  19. Luukas pisze:

    Do the shooting stars

  20. 138269 pisze:

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  21. Bill pisze:

    I have my floppies and NEMA steppers singing away and would like to add percussion. What pins are used on the hd’s to trigger them?

  22. Jacob pisze:

    Take on me by aha?

  23. Teodoro pisze:

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  24. Thhunder pisze:

    what is about to have the song: Metallica – Nothing Else Matters ?
    would be very very nice…
    you did a very good job and i like this project much!
    could you describe more details how you build it and as well how much time you needed to get that nice sounds out of the Hardware pls :)

    greets from germany

  25. Arkadiusz pisze:

    Jak to zrobiłeś? Czy jest jakaś szansa byś zrobił tutorial na ten temat?

  26. [...] You can read more about how it works on Zadrożniak’s website. [...]

  27. [...] We’ve covered the Floppotron before, beginning with Zadrożniak’s cover of the “Imperial March” from Star Wars and later with the theme from Pokémon Go. The actual machine looks much the same as it did earlier this year, but Zadrożniak at least helped it get into the festive spirit with a string of lights and a Christmas hat. You can read more about how it works on Zadrożniak’s website. [...]

  28. [...] festive spirit with a string of lights and a Christmas hat. You can read more about how it works on Zadrożniak's website. SHARE Facebook Twitter tweet !function(d,s,id){var [...]

  29. ronny pisze:

    great work, love the way you built percussive instruments out of the harddrives. the scanner’s doing an amazing job as well, i like how that one’s responding to pitchwheel-data.

  30. [...] drive. New hotness: una suite di Star Wars suonata con 64 floppy drive, 8 hard disk e 2 scanner. I dettagli dell’opera realizzata da Paweł Zadrożniak sono qui. FacebookTwitterGoogleLinkedInAltroRedditE-mailStampaTumblrPinterestPocketMi piace:Mi piace [...]

  31. [...] Informationen könnt ihr auf seiner Seite einsehen, wo er diese Thematik glücklicherweise in Englisch [...]

  32. McGuire Irvine pisze:

    Xmas album would sell like floppy disks used to in 1995.

  33. [...] more check out Paweł Zadrożniak on youtube. You can also check out this post to see how its done Rate this:Share this post with your friends just click and share belowShare on [...]

  34. Jack Kassai pisze:

    Hey man!

    First of all, this contraption of yours amazes me. It could be called a uh, eletronically-controlled analog instrument? Which isn’t something I’ve heard of before.

    A suggestion: what if you arranged the scanners, drivers and floppy rows spatially like an orchestra and recorded it all stereo? Easiest way would be to use a pair of identical mics in either AB or XY position, or if you wanna get fancier, use a technique known as Mid-Sides recording. I’m studying those as a music production/engineer student now, and I think the Floppotron would sound amazing recorded like that. Cheers, and congrats on your creation!

  35. Hi! I’m writing on behalf of our audio collective in Washington DC, The DC Listening Lounge. We put together an interactive audio installation each year and would be psyched if you wanted to attend (and/or submit any proposals for work to be included?).
    Please be in touch.
    Jocelyn (on behalf of the DCLL)

  36. klaus pisze:

    where i do i get one from for sale

  37. [...] We’ve previously shown you Zadrozniak’s wonderful contraption when he used it to play the Star Wars and Game of Thrones theme songs. It consists of 64 floppy drives and eight 8-channel controllers with envelope stimulation. He manipulates the pitch by controlling the speed and voltage of each drive. The hobbyist goes into a little more detail on his site: [...]

  38. [...] Scallon : Harp metal Sérénade à John Williams : La répétition La rencontre Le Floppotron : Imperial march Pokémon Theme Billie Jean au GRIDI Chopstick piano Sampling mécanique par [...]

  39. Sam Cork pisze:

    Would arduino uno’s work as the controllers?

    Could you provide the sourse code?

    Could you also maybe create a schematic for each section and for how it is all connected?

  40. Charles pisze:

    You Should do final boss theme from sonic 2

  41. Ronald pisze:

    Startrek of course!! Boldly go where no Floppy Drive has gone before!

  42. [...] Podcasts You are here: Home / Retro Gaming Culture / Pokemon Theme By A Computer Hardware OrchestraPokemon Theme By A Computer Hardware Orchestra September 9, 2016 By Ms. ausretrogamer Paweł Zadrożniak, a.k.a. Silent, is the inventor of the amazing ‘Floppotron’ – a computer hardware orchestra of 64 floppy drives, 8 hard disks and 2 scanners. Follow the link to see how he made it. [...]

  43. hlpc pisze:

    It´s great!

  44. Bernd Bollmann pisze:

    It’s great. Try to get a sponsor on a computer or game fair and show it. I think it is easily possible. Good luck.

  45. [...] Zadrozniak explica en su blog personal como este proyecto es en realidad una evolución de uno mucho más antiguo de [...]

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