Floppy Drive Music By Emmy Winning Composer

Bear McCreary's floppy music for Revolt

We’ve featured a lot of awesome music made using floppy drives before, but this is the first time we’ve seen it used as the main instrument in a movie score, and by Emmy winning composer [Bear McCreary]. The movie, in this case is alien invasion film, Revolt, but you’ve surely heard Bear’s amazing work in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series, The Walking Dead, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (my favorite of his), or the one for which he won an Emmy, Da Vinci’s Demons wherein the main theme sounds the same backwards as forwards, to name just a few. So when someone of [Bear]’s abilities makes use of floppy drives, we listen.

[Bear] works with a team, and what they learned was that it’s a clicking sound which the drives make that we hear. It’s just so fast that it doesn’t come across as clicks. The speed at which the clicks are made determines the pitch. And so to control the sound, they control the floppy drives’ speed. They also found that older floppy drives had more of the type of sound they were looking for than newer ones, as if floppy drives weren’t getting hard to find as is. In the end, their floppy orchestra came out to around twelve drives. And the result is awesome, so be sure to check it out in the video below.

As for floppy drive music we’ve covered before, check out the Floppotron which can play [Nirvana]’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, this TI-83+ calculator hacked to play a floppy drive, and the RumbleRail, eight floppy drives each controlled by its own ATMega 16 microcontroller. That last makes us wonder if the next step should be a ten-floppy drive keyboard instrument, you know, one for each finger and thumb.

And since hearing is believing, we just have to include [Bear]’s Da Vinci’s Demons theme song played forward and then backward.


25 thoughts on “Floppy Drive Music By Emmy Winning Composer

  1. It’s time someone developed a standard method of allowing watchers to turn music off. I have yet to see any video that is improved by music apart from maybe music videos where the video is made for the sound track. We have been getting background music on documentaries for a good few years now but we are even getting background music on news programmes now, wtf is that about.

    1. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” Chapter 12.

      Zaphod waved a hand and the channel switched again. More gunk music, but this time it was a background to a news announcement. The news was always heavily edited to fit the rhythms of the music.

    2. Like I need to hear “Sandstorm” yet again while watching a video about linear regulators lol. I hear ya. I just leave mine on mute and go for CC. The other half of your complaint comes from the fact that everyone these days is a Fruityloops mega producer and there is a ton of cheapo background music to choose from for cheap or free for the big studios. pumpaudio ;)

  2. Nice background music, but I watched this movie already 2-4 times during the last ten years… Something with blue light and machines taking over and soldiers against advanced aliens… I also remember this farmers house.

  3. When I noticed the name revolt, I instantly thought of the movie “Cars” (from Disney).
    How wrong could I be… or perhaps the new movie has chosen a silly name and should have done more research… bwahhhh whatever.
    Revolt is a great name for a car battery or for a battery charger, which I thought was funny when I saw the movie Cars.
    But I could be wrong as my memory isn’t what it used to be.

  4. Why floppies? Are floppy drives somehow special or just a source of what could be any-old motor?

    I thought it was pretty cool when I first saw a Youtube video where someone had made music from floppy drives. No doubt the first person to do this did so because they had lots of old floppy drives in their junkbox. But… do we need to keep thinning out the dwindling supply of floppy drives for music projects? If the sound they make was special I might say yes but it’s not. I’ve done the same thing using a dirt-cheap DC motor! (same in concept only, I am not a skilled composer like Bear McCreary) I just fed a pin from an arduino into the enable pin of an h-bridge which I mounted in an old, cheap toy RC car. Then I played a tune using the arduino tone() command. It sounded just like floppy drive music!!!

    So… what’s the point in using increasingly rare floppy drives? Why not let the retro-computer people use them as replacement parts instead?

    1. It’s a good way to get a small stepper motor, with a built-in controller board. Bonus, it comes in an easily-mountable standardized enclosure.

      And I don’t think floppy drives are rare. The old-style ones that you and I remember are up on Amazon for under $10, so either they’re still making new ones, or they have an immense stockpile of these things. Plus, there are combo devices that include USB ports and SD card readers, and the USB floppy drives for laptops, that appear to be new manufacture.

      You’d have a point if they were hacking open NES consoles to hotwire the sound chip, but the supply of floppy drives appears sound.

    1. Nowadays people are making all sorts of contraptions just to use drives, their sound is horrible, the range is limitted and in most cases I can hardly understand the tune the intend to play. So like others in the comments, I don’t get it, where is this craze coming from?

      As mentioned above, people have been making music with drives for decades ago. But mostly because it was fun to make a drive do things they were not intended to and then afterwards, use them as drives again like nothing ever happened.
      It was a gimmick, a gack, a joke, just for fun. On the 1541 disk drive on a C64 there was a demo that played a silly song… but all my friends sad… don’t play it for too long or your heads will be out of alignment. I tried it anyway, nothing ever broke, so perhaps I was lucky or I didn’t play it long enough? Anyway, repeating the same joke over and over again doesn’t make it funny anymore. Like a silly joke with the 2 clowns and one pie, once you’ve seen it… now if you do the same yoke with 20 clowns, will it become funny again… nope, most likely not.

      Is it the technical challenge then… well not really, if you can play one drive you can play 20 with the same ease.

      I guess we’re ready for something new, how about real instruments, use a diskdrive the hit the wires of a guitar, play music in a special way, make it sound nice but then when you look closely… surprise… there is a (set of) diskdrives doing all the work. Would be nice if the track was stored on disk as well.

      Well… I guess I have something to do now…

      1. Floppy drives are a unique instrument with its own capabilities, limitations and a certain “sound signature” that’s imprinted on what they play/perform as a byproduct of their nature (metal of the casing, audio characteristics of internals, vibration of the surfaces).

        They make it easier to reproduce certain kinds of sounds than using software synthesis or other instruments. And some people, like me, happen to enjoy these byproducts. Especially if multiple floppy drives are used to form an “orchestra”.

        It’s kind of similar to the characteristics of the SID chip – half-digital, half-analog, and quite flexible in what it can do if you treat it as its own thing rather than as “yet another generic sound chip”. To the extent that some people consider it an instrument of its own, alongside trumpets, or piano, etc.

        If you still think floppies are unoriginal, I recommend checking out videos of the Floppotron on YouTube. You may be pleasantly surprised at some of what you get to hear. Not all music works great on floppy drives, but the pieces that adapt well to that medium sound amazing.

  5. Can a floppy drive store the commands for the motors? Like, the next note is stored on the section of disk where the head stops when its playing so one could Make floppy drive music that is read off of the floppy disks in the drives?

    1. This is what i thought about too for some time. I would say with enough work, yes. BUT it depends on the number of notes per time. You would have to read one track, wiggle the motor and then the next one. In practice that would probably make for some bad music as the rotation of the disc is pretty slow and compared to that the move speed of the head to make a sound is pretty high. With some smart programming it might be possible to allow for slightly wrong frequencies and stitch the data from two tracks together while moving the head.
      But if one drive stores the music and other drives play it and the notes are not too short so it keeps up with the datarate it should work fine.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.