The accordion is perhaps the nerdiest instrument on the planet, until someone finds a way to make a digeridoo work with a Guitar Hero controller. But for now, the crown definitely goes to Swedish musician and electronic engineer Linus Åkesson. He has been combining his passions for vintage music and electronics for years, but his latest project is definitely his masterpiece. The “Commodordion” is a working accordion made up of two Commodore 64 computers.
The instrument’s hardware is two authentic 1980s C64s, connected with a bellows (the foldable thing in the middle) made up of dozens of floppy disks taped together. It is fully functional like a standard accordion, with the right hand playing the melody on the computer keyboard and the left hand playing the chords through the Commodore 64’s sound processor, output via a standard audio cable. The result is an 8-bit chiptune symphony, first spotted by Ars Technica.
The bellows of a standard accordion deliver sound through steel reeds, and the rate at which the player compresses or expands the instrument controls volume. Åkesson’s invention digitally emulates this action: a microphone measures the air being expelled from the bellows and adjusts the volume of the sound emitted to match. The entire contraption is powered by a custom-soldered internal battery (for both computers), which runs Åkesson-written software loaded into every vintage PC.
But what’s the point of playing games on two computers if you’re only going to replicate regular music? In addition to playing the Commodion in the conventional way, Åkesson can program custom beats and loops into the left half of the machine, making it function like a rhythm box or MIDI keyboard.
Not content with simply showcasing his musicianship, ingenuity, programming, and hardware tweaking skills, Åkesson put together his demo as a love letter to Scott Joplin and the 1973 Academy Award winner The sting. It’s worth watching the entire video to see his work designing and assembling the machine, programming and, of course, playback. You can find more technical details about the build on the Åkesson website.