back to article Headbanger plays Star Trek theme on floppy drives

Storage is weird, wonderful and sometimes very odd. Did you know floppy disk drives can be used for something other than emergency boots of legacy kit or as cool antiques? It must have been a fairly uneventful day when floppy lovers discovered their drives can be used as "musical instruments" – to play the theme tune to …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    TNG theme was very good

  2. James O'Brien

    To boldly go....

    Where no floopy has gone before.

    1. Shaun 1

      Re: To boldly go....

      I've upvoted you solely because of your typo!

      1. James O'Brien
        Thumb Up

        Re: To boldly go....

        Yeah me posting comments before my usual 3 cups of strong black tea isn't the best time for me to think of something witty. Wish we had an edit function for the posts here.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This was first done in ...umm 1983??

    1. Bracknellexile

      Which is a neat trick given ST:TNG didn't première until 1987 :)

      1. Richard 31
        Paris Hilton


        Not at all, the theme song played was originally composed for the Star Trek: The Motion Picture, released 1979.

        1. Alan W. Rateliff, II
          Paris Hilton

          Re: Movie

          This pedant was thinking the same thing.

          Paris, uh, the next generation.

    2. Roger Gann

      You're not wrong about the date.

      That rival to the IBM PC, the Sirius/Victor 9000, had high-capacity (1.2MB!) Tandon floppy drives running off a custom controller the size of a motherboard. They were variable speed and yes it didn't take long for some clever clogs in Silicon Valley to knock up some Basic code that made them sing.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: You're not wrong about the date.

        I think we had an ACT Sirius 1 no later than 1982. Before anyone in N.I. saw an IBM PC

        And yes tune playing was an early feature.

        As was such things unavailable on IBM PC (in USA) as standard then as

        Non-glare matt black screen

        800 x 400 graphics

        GPIB bus

        Audio I/O

        Parallel port

        Serial port


        1.2M or 2.4M drives rather than 360K

        It was the first time you could easily damage a PC by programming. It was possible to program incorrect graphics timing and blow the monitor fuse :)

        1. Simon Harris

          Re: You're not wrong about the date.

          "It was the first time you could easily damage a PC by programming. It was possible to program incorrect graphics timing and blow the monitor fuse :)"

          I seem to remember IBM PC monitors could be burned out quite easily with a few incorrect settings in the 6845 video timing generator too (I managed it once on a Victor VPC2 PC clone - oops). However, Commodore PETs were first documented as having this 'feature' some years before

          Obligatory Wikipedia entry

          1. Jim in Hayward

            Re: You're not wrong about the date.

            Uh...Commodore Pets used tape drives. Floppy drives were not available until the Commodore 64.

            1. jeffdyer

              Re: You're not wrong about the date.

              rubbish. there was even a diskette drive for the vic20

            2. Simon Harris

              Re: You're not wrong about the date.

              Uh... if you'd been paying attention, you'd have realised that the 'feature' in that little digression was the ability to burn out the CRT drive electronics by messing with the video timing registers - nothing to do with floppy drives.

              While the original PET 2001 series systems did have an integral tape drive, there were plenty of floppy drive and a few hard drive options for PETs, linked via the IEE488 bus.

              1. Simon Harris

                Re: You're not wrong about the date.

                oops... an E fell off somewhere!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Not everyone here will have seen all of these videos, even if you've known about them for years.

      I suspect you just wanted someone to post the inevitable XKCD reference:

      "...I'm training them not to tell me..."

  4. Stewart Atkins

    The only problem with floppy drive music that i can see is the lack of volume control, with some of the more compex parts it's easy to lose the actual tune under the background rhythm, the doctor who theme in particular. It's still quite impressive what people do with these things though :-)

    1. sisk

      Actually I've read that you can control the volume by adjusting the number of tracks the head vibrates over. Supposedly the more tracks it jumps the quieter it is. I haven't tried it because I don't have either the musical skills to do anything decent or the floppy drives to do it on, but I see no reason to doubt it given the fact that it was a caption on the schematic for a controller board for making floppy drives take MIDI commands.

  5. Steve Crook

    Line printers

    Back in the mists of time, ICL engineers were circulating programs that could be run to get line printers to play tunes. With the added bonus that some of them also printed a related ASCII (EBCDIC?) picture.

    God, I'm so old....

    1. Crisp

      Re: Line printers

      IIRC, aren't those the same programs that used to sometimes either:

      a) shake the printer apart.

      b) produce enough noise to temporarily stun unfortunate lusers.

    2. Robert Heffernan
      Thumb Up

      Re: Line printers

      I heard about the old printer tunes.

      These days people are programming small CNC lasers to play music, while etching the logos from the games the music came from.

      Portal - Still Alive :

      Portal 2 - Want You Gone :

      I would really love the G-Code programs for these, I have access to a 6KW Bystronic BySpeed Pro at work and would love to see if the (DAMN QUICK) laser head could keep up with the music!

      1. chebucto

        Re: Line printers

        Check out Symphony for Dot Matrix Printer (1 & 2), if you can find it. You won't be disappointed.

      2. MJI Silver badge


        I have come across some of their kit!

  6. Jop

    Another Amiga first

    There was a Public Domain/freeware program back on the amiga 500 which let you play tunes using the inbuilt hard drive. Just played with the stepper motor in the drive.

    The guy in this article got a larger range of frequencies from his drives, but its still a 20+ year old trick!

    1. Alan W. Rateliff, II
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Another Amiga first

      As much as this Amigoid would like to claim an Amiga First, I had a program on the Commodore 64 which played "Daisy" on the 1541 well before the Amiga.

      Paris... dammit, I just don't have anything for this one.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Another Amiga first

        Paris: Because she could get my floppy to hum a tune?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    look up Arc Attack

    Screw floppy discs, Arc Attack is musical Tesla coils! Surely those would give a more satisfying nerdgasm?!

  8. Plonkybear

    The standard by which all others are tested

    1. John H Woods Silver badge

      Re: The standard by which all others are tested

      My favourite is Phantom of the Floppera:

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    sounds like someone is in dire need of a girlfriend

    That's taking geekdom a bit too far

    1. LaeMing
      Thumb Down

      Re: sounds like someone is in dire need of a girlfriend

      Your cliche is older than 8" floppy drives.

    2. sisk

      Re: sounds like someone is in dire need of a girlfriend

      "That's taking geekdom a bit too far"

      Nonsense sir. There's no such thing as taking geekdome too far.

  10. Sir Runcible Spoon


    I've just wandered back to El Reg after reading some stuff on the Onion, and I thought I was still on their site (not just the premise, but the wording of the article).

    Copyright theft of style? Just kiddin' :P

  11. Joseph Haig

    Dr Who

    This is not a million miles away from what the people creating the original Dr Who theme tune were doing.

  12. Rob 5


    There used to be a program for the ZX81, iirc, that would let you play "music" using the hum generated by your TV set.

    1. gaz 7
      Thumb Up

      Re: ZX81

      Fantastic that someone else remembers the dodgy "music" you could play using an off-tune TV and different black and white patterns on a ZX81.

      ahh, those were the days....

  13. Alan Dougherty
    Thumb Up

    That link for the imperial march was just weak.. try this one

  14. PTR
    IT Angle

    Big Ideas: Don't get any - Radiohead cover by James Houston

    Nothing ever came close to the ZX Spectrum Radiohead track, as it was actually controlled by a program written on the spectrum.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    C64 already did it.

    And the reason I mention this is because you didn't need several drives next to each other, you only needed 1. And it could actually play certain melodies as well (of course no one ever tried STTNG because that didn't exist at that time, however we did have the original star trek theme).

    Of course I have no idea how much damage this could do to the drive, but I do know that after having played the melodies a few times my 1541 drive still works today, now easily 20 years after the facts.

  16. ACx

    A more expensive version:

  17. Darryl
    Thumb Up

    Still got to say, his version of "What is Love" from A Night at the Roxbury is my favourite.

    (Not that it's my favourite song in the world, but he's done a great job on it)

  18. Geoff May

    I wonder what he could do with paper tape drives?

    Illegally ripped music.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I wonder what he could do with paper tape drives?

      Theme tune for "Inspector Morse" ?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Commodore 1541 and before that the Pet 4040

    IEEE488 bus was a wiz for making electro-mechanical music. Plotters / Golf Ball Printers / Floppies.

  20. David Kelly 2

    Shugart Associates Interface

    I'd be more impressed if the standard Shugart Associates interface was used. Appears the step motors are directly connected to an off-camera controller.

  21. Keith Oborn

    Paper tape drives

    Yep, they work too - the magnetic clutch type. Maximum frequency is a bit limited, and it absolutely knackers the tape. That was a long time ago--.

  22. a1exh

    All the based on the work of Sammy1Am

    The guy who wrote the software this video uses (which is open source) has his own channel :

  23. GCNCL

    floppy music

    Yawn. Old guys remember minicomputer days when you punched a paper tape and that played music on the paper tape reader when read back.

  24. vincent himpe

    cant beat the pdp1

    using 4 ouput pins out would play 4 voice music. computer history museum has it.

    and that's an all transistor ( no chips here ) machine ...

    1. Chika

      Re: cant beat the pdp1

      Possibly... although I do see rather a lot of references to the PDP-8 on the net. According to, they did this by producing EM waves within the system that could then be picked up using an AM radio.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    oh my,


  26. GCNCL

    Even older than paper tape

    Programs were written the would modulate the RF leakage from minicomputers and you could play it through a radio. One of the reasons for the US government Tempest spec to shield computers.

  27. Spanners Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Musical Paper Tape

    In the 70's I was in the ATC and I remember at a summer camp meeting my very first computer - probably 73 or 74. The RAF was showing off to us kids but it must have left a good impression for me to work in IT later.

    I remember they played various "proper" military band tunes and also some music that appealed to our age range. Cant remember what but I think I liked Deep Purple in that era so it was probably something like that.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    These things are all over the place

    For example, Beethoven on a Scanner

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Try a Tesla Coil on a Hat!

  30. Mad Chaz

    It sounds like the TNG there in the old genesis game, lol

  31. jake Silver badge

    When I was at DEC ...

    ... one of the guys taught the disk drives on a PDP-10 to play music on the SA-10 attached IBM Winchester. Then he learned to make the washing machine sized disk drive "walk" across the floor ... I had to fire him when he did it in front of Ken Olsen, who was visiting our lab. Was very hard on the hardware ...

  32. Shonko Kid

    String or Percussion?

    Which section of an orchestra would you place floppy drives? The sound is a lot like a string instrument, but it's more percussive in the way it is generated surely?

  33. Richard Scratcher


    ...but the floppies on the old Power Macs had a much sweeter tone and a more mellow bass. They were the Stradivarius of floppy drives.

  34. HFoster

    LULZ, free to good home!

    MrSolidSnake745 does brilliant renditions of the Super Mario theme and This Is Halloween, and even Skrillex. I don't like Skrillex, so I consider his rendition a vast improvement.

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