Computer Music


Computer Music is a mechatronic ensemble of floppy disk drives (FDD), hard disk drives (HDD), stepper motors, and Compact Disk Read Only Memory (CD-ROM) drives which are controlled by a MacBook Pro through four Arduino microcontrollers. The pitched FDDs and CDROMs are amplified using single-coil guitar pickups. The HDD spindles continuously spin creating a source of white noise which is interspersed with the pitched FDDs and CD-ROMs. The stepper motors raise and lower the covers to the HDDs, revealing the spinning disk while also filtering the noise created by the HDDs. The Computer Music ensemble performs music which is composed in Ableton Live. During the installation Ableton Live, running on a MacBook Pro hidden from sight, sends MIDI messages through an internal IAC bus where a Python script decodes the notes. The Python program determines what drives and motors need to be activated and coordinates four Arduinos which are responsible for directly controlling the drives. Although the MIDI messages originated from a composition written in Ableton Live, the Python script does not care where the messages originate from as long as they pass through its designated IAC bus. This flexible configuration allows the Computer Music Ensemble to be controlled from any program, or programming language, capable of outputting MIDI messages in real time.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  How Many Amplification Primary Use Secondary Use Musical Content
CD-ROMs 4 None Pitched stepper motors Disk treys About 2 octaves
HDDs 4 None Filtered noise Percussive trey drop Noise
FDDs 8 Yes Pitched stepper motors None Between 2-3 octaves
Each of the twelve pitch producing instruments play the same motif, but with each instrument pausing for a slightly different duration before repeating the theme. These variations are minuscule, fractions of a millisecond, but throughout the eight-hour rendition the CD-ROMs and FDDs fall out of sync before gradually realigning at the performance finale. The intent is not for gallery goers to stay for the entire composition or that they necessarily fully understand the scope of the performance. As the composition is approximately eight hours long, it is presented as an installation allowing guests to come and go as they please listening to as little or much of the piece as they desire. This passive presentations style strives to be undemanding on the audience. The composition, as written, can only be performed with mechatronic instruments due to both the length of the piece and the subtle complexity of the rhythmic phasing that the composition is structured around.