Heavy Metal

Machine Music: This 3D Printer Plays the Imperial March from Star Wars

machine music
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What is machine music? When the stepper motors in a 3D printer move, they produce a tone related to their speed. Listen and be amazed!

The primary purpose for a 3D printer is, uh, 3D printing. That much is understood. But did you know you could also use it to play music?

A fair number of machine music enthusiasts have done exactly that, and while the results may not give Taylor Swift any sleepless nights, they still sound impressive.

Listen, for example, to this cover version of the Imperial March from ‘Star Wars’. YouTuber Zero Innovations produced this video by programming the 3D printer stepper motors. He’s also provided a follow-up tutorial on how it was done, so you can try it for yourself on your own 3D printer.

Machine Music Explained

So what’s the principle behind machine music, exactly?

The technical explanation is that when the stepper motors in a 3D printer are told to move, they’ll emit a tone that’s relative to the speed of the motor. You’ll definitely have experienced these sounds when running a standard print job on an FDM (fused deposition modelling) 3D printer. Based on this, a 3D printer can be instructed with gCode (the numerical control programming language used for 3D printing) to play any tune.

We’re know what you’re thinking. Can you make a 3D printer produce a 3D model AND play a song at the same time? Alas, it’s not currently possible, but no doubt there’s a mad genius in a basement somewhere, working overtime to solve this exact problem. Cranking out a 3D model of a Storm Trooper whilst playing the Imperial March would be the very definition of “badass”.

In the meantime, you can sit back and enjoy more machine music videos on YouTube. Here’s the original NES version of the Super Mario Theme played on an Ultimaker 3D printer, by Barnacules Nerdgasm:

And for video games of a more recent vintage, a rendition of the “Want You Gone” song from Portal 2. This was made by Entertaining Engineers, and comes complete with subtitled lyrics so you can sing along: