Nirvana Like You’ve Never Heard Them Before

If you were an early 1990s youth, the chances are [Nirvana]’s Smells Like Teen Spirit is one of those pieces of music that transports you straight back to those times. As your writer it evokes a student radio studio and the shelves of its record library, and deafening badly-lit discos with poorly adjusted PA systems and unpleasantly sticky dance floors.

One of our finds this morning therefore comes as an evocative diversion, Smells Like Teen Spirit on [SileNT]’s Floppotron. The Floppotron is a music player composed of a huge array of floppy drives, hard drives, and a couple of flatbed scanners. The scanners are controlled by off-the-shelf Arduino boards and the hard drives have ATMega16s with H-bridge drivers.

This build is the most refined floppy drive organ we’ve seen yet. The floppies are divided into single-voice blocks of eight controlled by an ATMega16, with dynamic volume envelopes mad possible by the number of simultaneously running drives, so the sounds can fade in and out like “natural” musical instruments. The hard drives and scanners are run against their mechanical stops, providing percussion. All the boards are daisychained via SPI to an Arduino that acts as a PC interface, and the PC schedules the performance with a Python script.

He’s provided a couple of pieces as YouTube videos, the floppy motors work particularly well for [Nirvana]’s grunge, but perhaps a bit more mechanical for Hawaii Five-O. This last track will be more evocative than the first if you attended a particular university in the North of England where it was the end-of night record played as the lights came up in one of the discos that had a much better-adjusted PA because the technician knew what she was doing. For those of you with different childhoods, there’s also the Imperial March.

We’ve featured numerous floppy drive music players here over the years, though this is one of the nicer ones. A couple of highlights are a very nicely executed eight-drive unit and a start-to-finish build using an Arduino. Interestingly we’ve also seen some floppy drives being used as audio samplers, on a related note.

20 thoughts on “Nirvana Like You’ve Never Heard Them Before

  1. With multiple drives per note for volume, they should go from covered up and buried in stuff thru the loudest one having it’s cover off and mounted on light cardboard or wood. Much like loud and soft ranks of pipes in an organ, the reed rank is card in the stepper motor gear connected to the soundboard perhaps.

  2. The scripting to turn this into music is what’s impressive here. Maybe there’s a midi file up front that’s playing the actual notes, but taking those notes and calibrating all of the drives so the notes actually match up seems like it would be mighty difficult. I assume you would drive the motors at the same frequency that would correspond to the correct note, but still, that’s a lot of programming work!

      1. It’s not the 8bit micro. It’s that the vast majority of arduino users don’t know the architecture of the micro they are using. It’s just plug & play, copy & paste …nothing more. It’s made for dumb people, just like Windows and IPhones. Quantity increases, quality decreases.

        1. The vast majority of windows users don’t know the architecture of the computer they are using, either. Or macOS users, or *nix users. That does not diminish the works produced with the tools.
          We always have had low-quality things. Having more quantity, however, increases the chances of having awesome things built by people, who would not have attempted it if they had to build an ecosystem first. Shoulders of giants, etc.
          Sometimes the Arduino is “good enough” for the project on hand, and no further resources need to be used.

  3. Simply f**king brilliant. You get the seldom earned slow-clap (Think officer and a gentleman). I never forward videos, but this time I sent a link to the remaining friends of mine who actually owned pre-Wintel computers. Awesome. Thanks!

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