Texas Instruments’ humble graphing pocket calculator has seen its fair share of mods over the years, thanks in part to a curiously active development community of procrastinators desperate to stop calculating. But while running Demise and Portal’s physics engine on a calculator is impressive, the latest TI-based innovation may be the most entertaining yet.
German developer Irrlicht Project has released the HoustonTracker 2 sequencer and drum machine for the TI-82, 83, 83+, and 84+ calculators. That’s right, instead of cracking calculus, TI owners can finally bash beats in class, all in beautiful low-fi, 1-bit resolution. Best of all, the software is free, open source and comes with full documentation on how to use it.
HoustonTracker 2’s feature set is curiously impressive as well, and can even compete with some specialty devices (albeit with much lower resolution audio):
3 tone channels
1 non-interrupting drum channel
up to 128 note patterns
up to 64 drum/fx patterns
sequence length up to 255 pattern rows
16-bit frequency precision
8-bit speed precision, adjustable per step
L/C/R stereo hard-panning for tone and drum channels
8 bit duty cycle control
sweep duty cycle
2 user-definable examples
up to 8 save states
edit during playback
While HoustonTracker 2 isn’t technically the first drum machine for a TI calculator — that credit goes to the original HoustonTracker — it’s the first to feature such a practical set of music-making features. Indeed, the tune in the video above is delightfully retro, demonstrating that even the most humble of hardware can make beautiful music.
If that’s too melodic for you though, check out the floppy drive organ – an instrument made up of 49 old floppy drives and an Arduino that makes some, uhh, interesting sounds.