Future Tense

Feeling Nostalgic? Floppy Disk Drives Can Play Classic Jams.

Let’s go on a quick journey together. Take a deep, calming breath. It’s 1996. You’re looking fly and drinking Surge. You’re playing solitaire on a Gateway 2000 PC, but you know you need to get some stuff done. You try to get a floppy disk out of the drive so you can put a different one in, but it’s stuck. You can hear the eject mechanism whirring and grinding. You hear it, right?

Now researcher James Willis has turned that gravelly whine into music. But instead of using one or a couple of floppy drives to do it, he programmed a whole 16-drive orchestra spotted by Gizmodo.


Willis, who is an electrical engineering student at Cardiff University and has been doing field work at National Instruments in the United Kingdom, used the floppy drives plus Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI, and a miRIO controller for synchronizing everything. And even though it’s an old-school rig, he can still control it wirelessly with an iPad. “The myRIO effectively plays the drives like musical instruments, by stepping the disk drive’s integrated motors at specific frequencies,” Willis wrote.

For the demo above, the floppy drive orchestra plays “Eye of the Tiger,” “The Imperial March” from Star Wars, the Super Mario Bros. theme, “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk, and “The Final Countdown.” Not a bad set for a DJ made of gears.