Hard Drive After Life





Introduction: Hard Drive After Life

About: I like to tinker and experiment with electronics, robotics, programming, and photography. Along with my latest interest in Steampunk.

So your aging hard drive can't hold its data any longer and you replaced it with a new one. Instead of letting it die by the hands of the recycling undertaker, you force it into a new life as a musical noise maker. A dying hard drive makes all kinds of grunts and groans as it starts up. The sounds it makes can be musical and percussive.

This project uses a homemade PIC midi interface to allow sequencer software (Anvil Studio free) to turn on and off eight hard drives. Midi signals are serially transmitted by the sequencer software as sets of 3 bytes at 31,250 baud. A PIC 16F877 has been programmed to receive these bytes to turn on and off solid state relays. Each hard drive needs 5 volts and 12 volts to run. Two SSRs are used to turn on and off the hard drive. I tried leaving on just the 12 volts, then switch on 5v to start the drive up. This worked well for awhile until one smoked up. So I use two SSRs to switch on both 5 volts and 12 volts at the same time. A modified PC power supply is used to supply power.  A guitar tuner pickup and computer soundcard amplifies the sounds, making the point that something went horribly wrong with those drives.

Step 1: The Power Supply

You probably upgraded you computer in the past with a larger power supply and its just sitting in your garage getting dusty.  You can use that power supply (if its still working) to power this project. Start by locating the +5/+12 connectors that would normally connect to the hard drive.  Cut off the connectors and run the wires to a terminal block to make wiring easier. You can get some new connectors at a place like Fry's Electronics to wire up the drives. Black is common (the negative connection), red is +5 and yellow is +12. Below I added a second set of connectors (toward the left) so I can detach the power supply from the project. You will also need a minimum load through the power supply to get it to turn on.  I used a 30 ohm/20w and 50 ohm/20w power resistors across the 12 volt output and a 10 ohm/10w across the 5 volt output. A 12v and 6v auto tail light bulb will also work as a load

Step 2: "Bring Out Your Dead" (Monty Python) Hard Drives

Gather up all your old worn out hard drives and plug then into your power supply to see if they will spin. You can remove the covers and watch the platter spin and the head move back and forth. If the sound is pleasing, then its a keeper.  Ask your friends or someone at a recycling center if they have some to donate to your project.  It is, after all, a "green project" and good for the environment to re-purpose electronic goods. You can use floppy drives too.

Step 3: The Midi Interface

I built my own Midi interface to play the hard drives.  The circuit uses a PIC 16F877 to receive midi from a midi card inside a computer and turn on solid state switch modules. Both +5 and +12 volt power is applied  to the hard drives. I used the modules because I already had some in a nice rack from a previous project.  Transistors or relays could be used to do the same thing.  The main idea is to turn on and off the hard drives with midi. I wired the PIC 16F877 and the other components on a Radio Shack pref board.

Step 4: The Software

I like to use free software when ever I can.  I found two that will work well with the circuit. Drum Flow v1.70 is one and Anvil Studio is the other. Google the names and you should be able to find them with no problem.

Step 5: Firmware and Hex Files

I wrote the firmware for the pic using Pic Basic Pro.  I have the listing and hex file for download at my Blogger site.  You can freely use it.  If this kind of project is to complicated, you can buy a midi board to interface the hard drives.  I saw this one on the web from Highy Liquid.  I haven't tried it, but it looks good and is reasonable in cost.

Step 6: What Else Can a Midi Interface Do

I made a drum machine using relays to make the percussion. I call it Purcussus. You can view a webpage about it here. I also have a video at that site of Purcussus doing its thing.

Step 7: The Sounds

Clip on a guitar tuner pickup on the rack and plug into your computer microphone input jack .  This will pickup the sounds of the drives as they spin up. The sounds are simply amazing. Go to this link to hear a mp3 recording I made.

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    Amazing! I would love to try this. I have many hard drives I don't use anymore that have accumulated over the years. It may be possible for me to achieve this awesome music making machine, in time. I love the sounds the hard drives produce. Great work and very inspiring.

    That is cool! love the concept!

    You could make a real cool sampler with one of these. Or maybe just with hard drive sounds in general

    sounds like stockhausen or schaeffer

    Be super hyper mega careful with this... One speck of dust (and I mean just one) and when the drive spins up, the entire platter will literally explode with similar effects to a grenade, shrapnel wise. Just warning, we made one explode in our AIT class by doing this. ;P

    1 reply

    That depends on the drive. If you use a Hitachi/IBM Laptop drive that could happen because those are glass platters. This doesn't happen to non-glass ones.

    I want diagrams of that hard drive rack. add some clear plastic on it and it looks like a perfect raid enclosure to me. maybe mount some fans on it ad drill some ventilation holes.... sounds quite plausible

    Nice job! Reminds me of an Amiga demo that made music by manipulating the stepper motor on the R/W head of a floppy (or 20MB HDD if you were mad enough to run it on your A590!)

    1 reply

    The Osbourne portable (sewing machine style) used variable speed floppy drives, as the head moved toward the outside, the RPM was reduced to keep a constant linear speed for the data writing--there was a challenge to get someone to use this variable speed effect to play a tune on one or both of the drives, but I never heard of a result.

      this is a really good green project. i find the sound of HDD's to be ambient 

    I would never thought of using dead(ish) noisy harddrives as musical instruments, amazing idea!

    The only problem is where can I get my hands on the drives? They are so hard to get as people are worried about the data left on the drives... :(

    2 replies

    Data on hard drives would be a concern.  Although, If the drive is bad, it would be difficult to extract the data without a lot of effort. You should check with the local recyclers that deal in computer scrap.  There is one in Berkeley, ca that offers bulk erasing of hard drives with a massive ac magnet for a small charge. You could talk with local computer repair shops too. Just explain what you are going to do with them. There are other devices that make noise, like steppers motors, pager motors, solenoids and even christmas tree lights that have thermostat flashers. See this link.

    I did when to a few computer shops and asked for HDD's, no matter how much they want to give me the HHD's to help me with my projects, but they can't. Because they said they had already register HDD's to the recycling logbooks, once it is done, it cannot be undone and the computer stuff must be given to the recycling guys.

    Instead, they gave me an old broken PC lappy and a unwanted 250W PSU which is not registered! :D

    They also said it is illegal to give their damaged stuff away. The Health and Safety law really, really do my head in!!

    You have GOT to be joking!!!
    I can not believe the amount of dedication you have set to realize a wacko idea that came to your mind "I do not know how" :)
    But it's just so cool!

    Sadly for some reason I am incapable of opening/downloading the link for the recording. Is the address correct?

    3 replies

    If you are talking about the Percussus recording, it is a mp3 recording at: http://home.comcast.net/~botronics/relaybeat2.mp3   If you are having trouble with the video, turn off your ad blocker.

    Sometimes you get a crazy idea and you just have to run with it. Otherwise you will never know. Remember Faraday when he was showing his electromagnet to the public.  Someone asked "What good is it?"  His answer was, "What good is a newborn baby?"

    Oh no... :)
    I may have sent the message across in the wrong manner. Guess it's my way of showing my love :p

    I am totaly for your doing... and it is just so amazing to have come up to such a conclusion AND result!
    I mean making those hard drives "Sing for me Baby!" is way off the roof in being creative.

    I recall he had quoted something more like "Does a baby have any?" when asked "what use does this have?"... Though  I may have read a version lost in translation... yes have heard such a story.
    Sooo where's your baby gonna grow into?

    The singing hard drives was started last year at Robogames 09 during the Musical Artbot competition along with my electric wind harp. The wind harp tied for silver. This inspired the idea for Percussus, which is entered this year at Robogames. So I guess you can say Percussus is the baby.

    Can you upload a sample of some of your audio for us?

    This is an impressive Glitch instrument. Great job!