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  • Writer's pictureMartyn

DATAdisk Vol. 1

I've always been interested in obsolete storage mediums (never say I'm not fun), and one of my favourite parts of releasing music is finding new ways to store it! As DATAStream I've previously released a range of cassettes and MiniDiscs, but for my latest physical format endeavour I've chosen a medium which is probably the least practical of them all, the 3.5inch Floppy Disk. Whilst the likely-hood of many people owning a working floppy disk drive seems low, the format is still widely available and you can pickup job-lots of used disks for very little on eBay. Likewise, an external USB floppy disk drive can be found for around £10 brand new, so there's no reason not to indulge your sentimental storage fantasies...

Each of my new 'DATAdisks' is handmade, using brand new Emtec high-density disks, with custom printed labels and card-stock sleeves which has been a really satisfying process overall. I started looking into the idea of creating the disks last summer, and it's taken over 6 months to research and develop the project to the point where I was comfortable to release it this month. The disks accompany my new branding for DATAStream which was an important factor in the creation of the release. They include two new MIDI versions of unreleased songs from the DATAStream archives, and some bonus content that fans of my music will probably be used to by now. You can see the finished product below, kindly photographed and edited by Lizzie Henshaw.

Aside from the joy of creating these disks, it was a really interesting process to work on the MIDI versions of the songs, and the content, where size was a key factor. Since each disk can only hold 1.5mb of data, I had to keep file sizes to a minimum where possible. Luckily, the MIDI standard song files are relatively small anyway, though I had to carry out some optimisation to make them as small as possible. Full length audio versions of the songs would just not be possible, but luckily I was never planning on including these anyway, although there is a sneaky bit of audio on there. MIDI File Format If you're not familiar with the MIDI file format, it's something that's still fairly commonplace, although somewhat overlooked perhaps in todays music production workflows. Essentially, each part of a song was broken down into a single, continuous MIDI sequence and assigned it's own MIDI channel number (from 1 - 16). For many of my MIDI versions I have bass as ch 1, keys as 2, strings as 6 etc, drums are usually ch 10 as outlined in the general MIDI specification (though this isn't a steadfast rule). Once each part of the song was assigned a channel, I'd then assign one of 128 general MIDI instruments to each sequence, which turned out to be a lot of trial and error! After that, note velocity, pan, pitch and modulation were adjusted as desired and the whole project was exported as a MIDI file. This combined each of the tracks into one file, separated by MIDI channel numbers and playable by anything that can read the .MID format (Windows Media Player is still the most easily accesible choice for PC users). You can also load the song into your DAW and assign your own instruments or remix the entire song (hint hint).

Of course, one of the 'wonders' of this format is that each system will play back the song with a slightly different selection of sounds, which I find quite exciting! I'm hoping some people will send me recordings of their system playing back the songs so we can share and compare, but you can hear the songs as originally intended as part of the digital release below...

I was really surprised and pleased to see the response that the disks recieved, and they sold out over the weekend quite quickly, thus restoring my faith in the floppy disk buying public of the world. If you're interested in Vol. 2, keep an eye out later in the year. Thanks for reading, Martyn


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