Subscribe Now!

The secret musician in your office

A couple weeks ago I was told “This is a humor site, try not to get too nerdy.” Well, I guess Anita is going to kill me for this post (or at least start moderating me).

Strange but true – your HP deskjet scanner can play music. Nope, scanners don’t come with speakers, but they can be programmed to scan in such a way that it sounds like music. We’re not talking concert hall quality, but music nonetheless – check it out:

(if you can’t see the video, click here)

For those of you on the nerdy side (like me), you can download the source code and learn how to create your own scanner music here.

If there’s enough interest, I’ll even write a program that you can download and play songs on your scanner, and post a video of songs that I create. Yes, I’m serious. Any requests?

21 Responses to “The secret musician in your office”

  1. on 14 Jan 2007 at 12:41 am Anthony

    That absolutely rocks (well at least it classics anyway) :)…

    I have an HP scanner, but its one of those all in one things and doubt could perform in that manner…

    Journey Through Divorce

  2. on 14 Jan 2007 at 1:23 am Cameron

    That was awesome! Just the right mix of nerdiness and humor, in my opinion. Honestly, who would have thought a scanner could do that; on top of that, I find it pretty funny that someone took the time to make a scanner do that.

  3. on 14 Jan 2007 at 10:31 am Grimm

    (Holds out lighter)

    I want Free Bird!

  4. on 14 Jan 2007 at 2:59 pm Jake

    Yeah! That does rock! Tell us how!

  5. on 15 Jan 2007 at 5:02 am Matt Kohai

    Wow, I’ve seen that before, but it still takes me back…

    In ye olden days of computing, when I was learning to use a TRS-80 Model I, we used to have to program that thing ourselves to make it do anything useful, using Basic language programming. It had a “whopping” 16 kilobytes of memory (I think my wind-up watch has more these days), and it used a cassette drive – not like a Travan or something, but a good-ol’ fashioned desktop “dictaphone” type recorder hooked up with patch cords and loaded with a high-bias audio tape as the storage medium. Floppy drives were still primitive and very expensive, while hard drives were someone’s pipe dream.

    There was one program I found in a hobbyist magazine that swore it would make the computer play music. I had a hard time believing it, since this thing barely did more than the odd bleep or bloop. But I gave it a try – I manually typed in the code, despite the fact that the instructions appeared to be complete nonsense and didn’t follow any logical rhyme or reason. Then I got to the last line of the instructions – rather than actually running the program, you were supposed to save it to the tape, rewind it, disconnect the patch cords to the computer, then play the tape. I scratched my head and did as I was asked.


    Some egghead out there had WAAAAAY more time on his hands that should be allowed by law. He’d actually figured out which instructions to enter into the computer to generate a particular pitch on the tape when saved, and wrote an off-speed but passable version of “Flight of the Bumblebee”! The name of his program suddenly made sense – “Frightful Flight”…

  6. on 15 Jan 2007 at 1:31 pm joseph

    Metallica – Master of Puppets please?

  7. on 16 Jan 2007 at 2:46 pm biltmore

    Reminds me of this band, “Man … or Astro-man?” Where the took an old dot-matrix printer, and made a song with it … and built the printer into a robot and toured with it. When they played the song live, they’d dance around the robot while it played the track, really funny stuff.

  8. on 16 Jan 2007 at 3:06 pm Sir Lex Luthor

    I’m with Grimm:

    I want Free Bird!

    That’s cool!

  9. on 17 Jan 2007 at 3:21 am ilgattopunx


  10. on 22 Jan 2007 at 4:36 am Brains

    Woooowwww Nerdy or not that is so funny !!!

  11. on 30 Jan 2007 at 8:31 pm Tetra

    I love it and want to set up my scanners at work to do it. Please make that program available.

  12. on 18 Feb 2007 at 1:34 am David

    Is there a way to do this with any scanner? … I’m just nerdy enough to try this?

  13. on 05 Mar 2007 at 12:41 am ynothere

    Nerdz are totally radzo!

  14. on 05 Mar 2007 at 11:47 am Chiron

    Matt Kohai’s comments reminded me of something similar, but not musical. In the olden days, disk drives were about the size of washing machines. When the seek head moved, it caused the whole device to vibrate. Properly timed seeks could cause the drive to actually move across the floor. So of course, they had races, trying to see who could time the seeks just right to make their disk drive walk the fastest…

    Who knew these computers would be so versatile…

  15. on 05 Mar 2007 at 3:51 pm Mike

    If you do, in fact, write a program to play music on a printer, then I will write you down in my book of “People Who Keep the World a Place Worth Living In”.

  16. on 05 Mar 2007 at 3:56 pm Anita Bath

    Hey Mike – Ben actually had to give up. Turns out it only works with a 4-series scanner or earlier (at least 10 years old). Since neither of our workplaces had such a scanner, he didn’t really have a great way to test his program 😉

  17. on 05 Mar 2007 at 5:27 pm Alec

    You follow in a noble tradition. I’ll go back even further than the TRS80, to 1970, when I was programming a beast called an Elliot 903. Built with discrete transistors, it had a mammoth 8k or 18-bit core store (yes, the original magnetic cores). The only IO on this machine were reader, punch, and 10cps teletype – and a speaker wired to some sensitive point in the CPU: the MSB of the B-register, IIRC. It was normally used to tell when your program was running: while the program ran, it warbled gently, and when your program stopped (which it could only do by doing a one-instruction loop), it put out pure tone. So, of course, someone worked out how to tune it. And it became customary amongst the more pompous programmers to play the National Anthem at the end of the day. Interrupted by staccato blips, because with no backing store the “tune” was read off tape a note at a time, giving a noticeable cling for each new note.

  18. on 05 Mar 2007 at 9:06 pm Mormacil

    The program to play songs? You happen to make it? 😛

  19. on 05 Mar 2007 at 11:58 pm Toolfox

    Programming stepper-motor feedrates…boy, that takes me back!

    Back in the mid ’80s to early ’90s, I worked for a small defense-electronics contractor, running their automation/robotics manufacturing department.

    One day I was tinkering with the NC (numeric-control) programming of a three-axis fluid-dispensing machine, struggling to get a decent deposit of some lines of really thick epoxy. The air pressure took a few seconds to come up, so I was adjusting the initial feedrates to match the epoxy’s varying volume.

    I started hearing musical pitches from the motors.

    Being a former concert pianist, I naturally created a short program that played “Happy Birthday,” complete with a primitive rhythmic accompanyment from the air valve.

    A few days later, my boss heard about it. Within a week, practically ALL of upper management — from the president on down — paid my department a visit to hear and see with their own eyes and ears that the rumors were true.

    Three weeks later, I received an “official” request from the board of directors: Customer representitives from the contract I was working on at the time were scheduled to make a progress inspection visit.

    On the day of the visit, I treated the USAF officers to a rendition of the Air Force Anthem (“Off we go into the wild blue yonder”).

    A few years later, I was asked to create another “appropriate” tune for a review inspection on a different contract.

    This time, I had created a very jazzy arrangement of “Anchors Aweigh.”

    Ah, yes…those were the days! It’s always fun to do something with equipment that it was never intended to do! I’m glad to see that such a creative spirit has not died in the 21st Century!

  20. on 06 Mar 2007 at 6:19 pm charlie

    Yes! A program to do this would be awesome!

  21. on 25 Mar 2007 at 4:05 pm Dean

    So, how can I get a copy of the program? I have the right hardware! Someone, please……where can I get a copy of that?

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply