Floppy drive organ plays toccata

YouTube user FunToTheHead has created a working organ that uses finely tuned wheezing floppy drives to play rather impressive renditions of music. It's not easy to sequence for four-note floppy-drive organs, but FunToTheHead has done a rather good job with Toccata and Fugue -- a solid choice for any mad-science organ! I love that he's got the blinkenlights synched with the music.

People have made floppy drives sing before, but this is my personal take on it.

Features two 3 1/2" drives and two 5 1/4" drives connected to a PIC18f14k50 microcontroller. It interfaces to any MIDI source via MIDI over USB. Straight MIDI would also be possible with an additional small circuit and some minor firmware changes. This initial version can respond to all 128 MIDI notes, and pitch bends +/- 2 semitones.

As it can produce only four simultaneous notes, and each drive has a different range and tonal characteristics, best results are obtained by arranging compositions by hand. However, it features two modes of operation: in one mode, MIDI channels 1 through 4 are played directly on floppy drives 1 through 4. In the other mode, all 16 MIDI channels are read, and notes are "intelligently" divvied out on a first-come, first-serve basis. "Note stealing" ensures that melody lines sound, but chords are often cut short. One or the other produces acceptable results for many unmodified MIDI files straight out of your favorite media player.

Phantom of the Floppera

So I built a musical instrument out of antiquated PC hardware... (Reddit)

(Thanks, Evan!)

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  1. I totally just had a nerdgasm. And my other half thinks I’m a loon for grinning crazily at my computer with my headphones on.

  2. The neat thing is … this is MIDI-controlled, not hard programmed. Get a new MIDI file, and place something else!

    Any suggestions for good tracks to run through the Floppy Drive Organ?

  3. Wife says: “That’s cool; you got to figure out something to do when you are not getting laid.”

    I think it’s awesome.

  4. I always get annoyed when people refer to pieces of classical music like this – as if there’s one piece of music called “Toccata and Fugue”. Classical music is usually identified as a musical form, in a particular key, by a particular composer – often with an opus number as composers sometimes even write more than one string quartet in G minor (say).

    You don’t need to go all out and call it the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, by Johann Sebastian Bach, but there are plenty of toccatas and fugues out there, so at least a composer credit would be, you know, nice. Heck, just Toccata and Fugue by JS Bach would by OK by me.

    (I realise this isn’t Cory’s error. But BoingBoing loves a good rant, doesn’t it?)

    Anyway, this is a pretty sweet rendition of JS Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for Organ, BWV 565.

    1. I was just about to make the same point as frogworth. “Toccata” is a type of musical piece, not the title of the piece. Referring to this piece of music as “Toccata” would be like referring to Strauss’s famous “Blue Danube Waltz” simply as “Waltz”. Like frogworth, I would have been content with something like “Bach’s Toccata in D-minor” or simply “Bach’s most famous Toccata” (he wrote more than one).

    2. Ever hear of the movie Hobo and Fugue? Sleeper film from the early 1970s. I think it’s a Hal Ashby film. It’s the lovely story of a “differently housed person” known simply as “Hobo” and his dog Fugue who occasionally dissociates from reality whenever his pal Hobo does nasty stuff to other people—stab, shiv, strangle—to help the two survive their alternative lifestyle.

      Seriously, hearing this is with MIDI is great! I vote for “Hocus Pocus” by Focus.

  5. I’m with frogworth. But I’ll add to the pedantry: this is only the Toccata from the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, by J. S. Bach – the video stops just before the Fugue would start.

  6. As unacademic as it may be, some nerds know this piece mainly as the music in Gyruss.

    Now going to MAME, bye!

    1. This reminds me a lot of old MOD music, right down to the 4-channel limit. There are a lot of great old chip tunes out there, but MIDI is more suited to controlling the drives.

  7. Very impressive. This should have been the theme music for the “Don’t copy that floppy” campaign.

  8. Ooh… that was… ooooh… I’m not worthy!!!! More!!!

    I want a whole symphony orchestra made out of old floppy drives! And old Winchesters dancing merrily around!

      1. A multitude of thanks Phikus, Captin Beefheart is just the right soundtrack for this evening.

        And I’ll second the request for Hocus Pocus by Focus…

        ..reminds me I need to grab the rest of my LP’s from my paren’t basement.

  9. I liked that very much indeed. The mad scientists of the 1930s horror flicks could afford full pipe organs in their underground lairs/castles: how good to know that modern mad scientists have a more economical and space-saving alternative.

    Attributed to J.S.Bach, but very possibly not by him. It’s not really in Bach’s style: if he didn’t write it, he may have transcribed it for organ, or it may be by a later composer.

  10. What, no fugue? ppptthhhh…
    Then again, I can only muster John Cage’s 4’33” on my computer drives, so I shouldn’t be so uppity.

  11. And now I’ve had “Hocus Pocus” going through my head all morning. Any advice for getting rid of earworms?

    1. ‘O Canada’ is my ear-palate-cleanser of choice — it’s not exactly a tune you can walk away humming.

    2. Listening to the actual piece might help — hearing it all the way to the end, then putting something else on.

      Conversely, if I want to hear something in my head all day, the best way is to listen to it and stop it before it reaches the end.

  12. Love the “solid” sound of inserting 2.5″. Makes me want to make something using solid state with a similar docking solution.

      1. Yea, sorry, got the size wrong.

        Still, there is something oddly satisfying about hearing that spring loaded ejector lock into place.

  13. Adding to the pedantry, the lights aren’t synced “on purpose” — they go on when the drive is doing something. This is a feature of the hardware, not the software. So it’s expected behavior without having to ask the lights to do it.

  14. Ima run down to the basement & crank out a video of my Amiga’s 1010 floppy playing El Condor Pasa, since it sounds like we’ve got the C=1541 covered.

  15. The hair stood up on the back of my neck at the end, just like it does when the piece is played on conventional instruments. Wow.

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