Friday Video: Intel realizes 2001 musical CGI tour de force—“Pipe Dream”—with Atom-powered Industrial Controllers

Last week for Friday Videos, I posted several musical videos based on “musique concrete” performances by floppy drives and other hardware. Little did I know that I’d run into a live example at this week’s Design West (the conference formerly known as the Embedded Systems Conference). The Intel booth at the conference contained a Rube Goldberg orchestral implementation closely modeled on a groundbreaking CGI video called “Pipe Dream” that appeared in 2001 and played constantly for a few years at the local Fry’s Electronics.

In the original video, fanciful robotic implementations of conventional orchestral instruments are played flawlessly by firing balls that strike them at exactly the right place, at exactly the right time. Only CGI could really make something like that work—you’d think. Now, more than 10 years later, Intel has realized the mechanical orchestra using industrial controllers and Atom microprocessor systems.

Here’s the video I shot this week of the Intel contraption in action:

Here’s the original “Pipe Dream” video from Animusic for comparison so you can see for yourself how close Intel got to the original intent:

I think it’s pretty impressive.

What do you think?

There are a few notes here:

First, the “instruments” in the Intel implementation are actually MIDI controllers made of plastic. Each instrument consists of the plastic striking surface plus a small circuit board that contains a piezo sensor to sense the impact of a ball and an LED array that lights when the sensor senses a strike. Each strike triggers a note through an Atom processor running a MIDI music synthesizer.

Second, one of the presenters noted that there’s enough variation in the arrival times of the balls so that the music wouldn’t sound very good without help. So the MIDI synthesizer is slaved to a clock track that normalizes the arrival times of the balls and makes the whole thing work as a musical device.

Third, this demo first appeared last year at the Intel Developer Forum.

Fourth: More cow bell!!! (Thanks to Chris Jones for the memetic reference.)

Once more, science fiction becomes fact.

Finally, here’s an Intel-made video of the same setup with closeup views of the musical instruments.

About sleibson2

EDA360 Evangelist and Marketing Director at Cadence Design Systems (blog at
This entry was posted in EDA360, System Realization and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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