Polish Software Engineer Makes Music from Recycled Components

Pawel Zadrozniak is a Polish electronics enthusiast with an unusual instrument.

Pawel Zadrozniak is a software engineer and hardcore electronics maker from Poland. In 2011 while tinkering he noticed that different components made different tones, and decided to put several machines together to play music. He says that ‘every device with an electric motor is able to generate a sound.’ The stepper motors from floppy drives perform read/write operations, and motors on scanners move the head back and forth across a document. But the driving speed of the motor dictates the sound, and higher frequencies create larger pitches. Later he found that the magnets and coils inside hard drives can speed up when voltage is supplied and create a noise similar to a drum beat.

Once the sounds were classified he began to cluster them together. Groups of eight floppy drives were locked together and controlled with an ATMega16 microcontroller, and each cluster acts as a separate note. The program was written in Python 2.7 and uses a combination of Arduino Uno / ATMega 328 controllers to move and drive the different parts of the system. Way back in 2011 Zadrozniak dubbed his creation ‘The Floppotron’ and his Imperial March video pulled in more than five million views. He came back in 2016 with another Star Wars themed video and has been recording one new song about every week.

I first learned of the Floppotron this week when the Halloween themed Thriller was released on Monday. All of his videos are fascinating as the different machines read, tap, or travel to generate the sounds, and the occasional glimpse of a screen in the background shows hundreds of lines of code scrolling by at high speeds. Some videos are heavily annotated showing the different machine clusters and revealing how they’re linked and controlled, others showcase the machines and the music. Projects like this, sprawling in terms of the hardware involved along with the programming, are amazing examples of what makers can do when struck with the inspiration. I spoke briefly with Pawel about his overall motivation, and he summed it up as “I’m a programming / electronics hobbyist, I do random stuff in my free time.” As a maker that might be all the inspiration we need some days.