Laser cutter motors play Super Mario theme

Jed from HackLab wrote code that tunes the motors on a laser cutter so that it plays music -- here it is playing the Super Mario theme. This is slightly too perfect, leading me to wonder if it's not just some video of a laser cutter with a flanged-out version of the theme cut into the soundtrack. But hell, I want to believe.

lazzor music! (via Geekologie)


  1. A 1960s era computer, the Control Data 3600, could have a speaker attached to a particular register so that the operator could monitor system operation. If it got hung, the tone became repetitive. Since this was a batch machine, experienced operators could recognize common programs.
    I was told that someone wrote a program to play “The Stars and Strips Forever”, using the speaker for the melody, and various I/O devices for percussion.

  2. @5, no, listen again, it’s bi-tonal. The fact that he has two motors and he has two tones makes me think this is legit.

  3. Don’t they hack old printers to do this ? This is not some amazing feat to fake, it’s been done.

  4. well, there’s a couple wrong notes in there, so probably it’s legit.

    i’ve always thought this sort of thing would be way more badass in person, although i like the videos well enough. that one version of radiohead’s “nude” played by a cluster of various lo-fi electronic devices, for instance, would be killer.

    my fantasy is that one day, unexpectedly, someone hacks all network-attached copiers everywhere to play motor-music in this sort of style. beethoven’s ninth, maybe? ride of the valkyries? there’s some good ominous possiblities there.

  5. If they can make a F1 car sing ‘god saves the queen’ (do a search on you tube) then you can make a laser cutter sing this tune :)

  6. #6 – the portal song is (hopefully) better known as “Still Alive”, written by ubergeek mostly donation-driven musician Johnathon Coulton.

    And that video as so much cooler than the mario one.

  7. Rex @ 10:

    “I can’t see how you can get changing tones with stepper motors.”

    Um, work with stepper motors much? By driving them at different speeds, or course. The stepper motor don’t really produce analog mixed waveforms like a Thorens turntable playing (or rather trying to play) “Waitress in a Donut Stop”* but rather square/rectangular waves, but their frequency is controllable.

    *: The first track on one of the sides of Maria Muldaur’s LP Waitress in a Donut Shop was notorious for causing tonearms to skip across the platter.

  8. It’s real. Chances are your very own desktop scanner has an easter egg somewhere that will make it play a tune. Look in the folder for something called “jukebox” or some such.

  9. I was involved in the project to rebuild this machine, I’ve heard it play in real life, and I can assure you that it’s real.

    There are two motors at work, the one that drives the “Y” axis, and the one that drives the table up and down for focusing. The motor for the “X” axis is not in use because it is just too quiet.

    This was an awesome project overall. You can find real details on what we did here:

  10. Not only is this possible, it’s not even very difficult. If you don’t believe, you don’t know anything about stepper motors.

    Honestly, people have been doing music with printing platforms since the 60s (drum printers, though that was a lot cruder sounding).

  11. Very well done. I suppose he had complete access to the hardware and could code very tight pwm routines to drive the motors.

    BTW, this was done on other platforms too. Here’s what we had in the old days. Ladies and gentlemen, the Amiga drive plays El Condor Pasa!

  12. It may be possible to encode speech, but the hack here is really that the motors are moving at different feed rates, which have been calculated to be musically related. Making more complex waveforms would be a lot more difficult because it would be necessary to convert only the important parts of the speech or other recording into G code commands to move motors. It’s definitely no so direct as “step at this speed for this long to create a pitch”.

    The advantage is that both motors could be used together to create complex sounds. Anyone want to write a text to g-code speech converter? :)

  13. This is very likely real. We have a simple robot at work with 6 motors. One of the “old ones” (Unix developers) programmed the robot to randomly end tests with “Mission Impossible”, “The Peter Gunn Theme” or a song that he wrote himself.

    Sadly, a few younger team members don’t notice these songs for songs. I will send this his way and have him add it to the mix. Cheers.

  14. The fact that there is harmony, and that the table itself doesn’t seem to be moving (The second motor beinf referenced in these comments) Makes me think it may be faked, multiple passes for the contrapuntal lines.merged in audio editing, on top of the video for the main melody line.

  15. Servo/stepper motor buzz is real and can be used to make music. The machine has enough radiating material to amplify it.

    The skeptics while being able to hear, just never paid attention to old dot matrix printers much when they have done different feed speeds on moving the print heads. There’s the impact from the pins and then there is a lower level noise from the servo motors moving the head. That’s what’s being used by driving them at different rates.

    Newer laser printers don’t vary the speed so you hear just motor noise. Ink jet printers have been optomised to deaden the sound.

    Kind of like how most people who try to use cameras don’t really see what they are trying to take photos of. Which is what separates snapshot takers from photographers.

  16. I’m a new member to the Toronto Hacklab, where the laser engraver lives, and someone that Cory considers to be a trusted source. What if I shot my own corroborating video?

  17. Just about anything with its own CPU, RAM and controls a motor or two can do this.

    I’ve a little program for the Commodore 64 and 1541 disk drive that makes the drive play “Bicycle Built for Two”, simply by messing with the RW arm servo.

    “1541 Music Machine” if I recall correctly.

  18. #18, actually the music was converted to standard g-code, and run on the device using emc2. (

    The device is in regular use as a laser engraver. One of the hacklab toronto members just decided to have some fun with some custom g-code.

    Also you can see that the bed has moved between the beginning and the end of the video. It is on a very fine screw and takes many many revolutions of the stepper to make it move a significant amount. This allows very fine focusing!

  19. If you’ve ever listened to a flatbed scanner, or really anything powered by stepper motors, this is exactly what it would sound like if the speed were programmatically controlled. I have no trouble believing this to be true.

  20. There is actually a practical application for this kind of stuff. As technology advances, RC model cars and planes have become more sophisticated; the electronic control systems are now “programmable” in many cases, but cost and convention prevent sophisticated user interfaces from being included. Musical tones or complete songs are sometimes played thru the vehicle’s motor as confirmation of the user’s programming selections.


  21. to @31 – no, it was the stepper motors making the noise. sorry if the blog post on wasn’t very clear.

    i’m pretty sad to see that despite all the hacklabbers who have commented in this thread and contacted Cory directly to verify that this isn’t fake, there’s still any doubt about this. Jed did some great work to get this going, and it really is this awesome in person.

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