File Radio

Years  ago I discovered by accident (as many good things are) that you could open absolutely any file in Adobe Audition – audio file or not – and it would try its best to turn it into sound. I was blown away by the harsh digital grinds, swoops, tones and oddly structured noise bursts it produced and I suppose this processing sketch is an up-to-date version of that idea.

File Radio plays through all files on your computer, interpreting the data as audio. For each file it finds, it reads through it 4 bytes at a time and converts them into a float which is sent to the sound card. The result is a constant stream of pure, unadulterated glitch, i.e. bloody delicious.

The visuals are created by manipulating the pixel data (copying and multiplying blocks of colour information) of the screen. The visuals are only a few lines of code, but a surprising amount of complexity emerges from chunks of the image being copied and recopied thousands of times a frame. The effect is mesmorising, especially because the parameters for the visuals are taken from the data being currently read in, so they are in sync with the sound. I wanted to make it entirely deterministic, in that if you were to play the same folder twice the visuals would be identical, but that would mean having to hard sync the visuals with the audio, and I simply couldn’t be fucked. In its current form repeat runs of a folder will be pretty much the same, but I think its nice to have a bit of variation anyway.

Some sounds:

My system 32 folder

My Pictures folder

My FL projects folder

Some stills:

And the app itself (offline only sorry): File Radio

Usage:

  • Press space to bring up a folder selector then select a folder for File Radio to play from.
  • ‘space’  - skips the currently playing file, or does the same as ‘o’ if the directory has finished playing.
  •  ’o’ – opens a new directory.
  •  ’s’  - saves a screenshot. Images are saved to /images in the File Radio dir.
  • ‘r’  - starts and stops audio recording. Recordings are saved to /recordings in the File Radio dir. Recording automatically stops after 10 mins (you can restart it) because I couldn’t figure out how to record straight to disk and raw audio data is complete memory sponge. Also, expect a pause after a long recording as it saves to disk. NOTE: I noticed it crashed after saving once but I couldn’t seem to reproduce it (something in the audio library) so let me know if you have any issues. UPDATE: Apparently the record feature is a bit fucked on macs (and realistically I probably won’t get round to fixing it) so if you want to record some sounds use Sound Flower to route the audio straight into your audio programme.
Tips:
  • Compressed data (jpeg, avi, zip) is usually just noise as the data is pretty randomly distributed. Instead try bitmaps, wavs (generally they don’t sound as you might expect) and fonts for example.
  • If you select your drive root as the starting folder, File Radio will eventually play through all data on that disk. It could potentially play for days: 200GB = 200000000000 bytes = 50000000000 samples = 314.94 hours = 13.12 days, i.e. almost a fortnight, so if you’ve ever got 2 weeks to kill you know what not to do.
  • Experiment, and let me know if you find any good ‘playlists’.

27 Comments

  1. AliasMaurice

    crazy

  2. Spets

    Hey Rob, I downloaded file radio, and run it on my PC, it gave me this error:
    Could not create Java virtual machine.

    I tried opening it with different compatibility modes, it didn’t change a thing, I tried as an administrator but still got the same error.

    Should I re install Java? I am not into programming so any ideas?

    • rclouth

      hmmmmm. not sure what that is. i’ll do some investigation and let you know.

  3. 2:block

    Sorry if I am being super dense Rob, but where does the application save audio recordings to? Very cool stuff man.

    • 2:block

      lol nevermind. It took all of two seconds to figure out. Thanks again!

  4. mad

    Hey, when I tried to start ths I also got the error “Could not create Java virtual machine. ” I even tested it on both my laptop and desktop-pc, both running XP Pro SP3 (I know I’m old) but with the latest Java runtime installed.

    I was really looking forward to trying this neat looking application of yours, so I hope there’s a way to make it work!

    • rclouth

      hmmm seems like a few people are getting this. i think it might be a memory issue. ill look into this more and let you know.

      rob

  5. KevlarHare

    this is the most painfully addictive program I’ve ever had on my computer… playing through the ipod images cache in my pictures folder was pretty intense but I fear I’m never going to get back the past two hours >.<

    • rclouth

      whoops…sorry! did you get any juicy recordings out of it?

  6. fucking NUTS mate! love it!

    • rclouth

      cheers matey!

  7. WissenKunstler

    Beautiful program

  8. Anthony

    This is soooo awesome, been mesmerised with this app for hours now

  9. Barry Staes

    Try listening to the SVG folder of an icon pack.

  10. ben

    my wife mad our wedding album digitally and i have just watched/listened to this programs interpretation of our big day. its not quite how i remember it.

    • ctrlaltDIE!

      Haha, wow. That’s a genius idea.

      One of the files I listened to gave me the inspiration to make this: http://soundcloud.com/ctrlaltdie/massive
      so thank you for this really interesting program. It’s quite fascinating.

  11. Jack G

    This is really great Rob! I’ve messed around with importing raw data into Audacity with some good outcomes but this concept of generating a/v compositions automatically from a collection of data is awesome.

    I found .txt and .log files (in the plenty) created a lot of interesting textures and movement, so the best playlist so far, for me, is the ‘AppData’ directory…

    nice work

  12. metakosm

    so sick brother…I’m having trouble figuring out how to route my audio out of File Radio. I have soundflower but am wondering how I tell file radio to route to it….any help would be appreciated ]’ ‘[

    • Hrrrrrrrrrts

      are you on a mac? I have my main audio to route out to soundflower, and then have my DAW accept that as it’s input.

  13. Krrrk

    hey Rob, really nice to meet you !
    I tried something ;)
    http://soundcloud.com/krrrk/like-a-fist-fucking

  14. Hey there, love this program, have literally spenmt hours staring at it, sampled some sounds from it and used them on my new album infact. I was also planning to use some visual stills from it edited in photoshop for the artwork, obviously I would credit the program and you, would that be ok?

  15. Rob

    hahah, it’s sucked you in. Yeah of course man, use it for whatever you want. If you sample from the radio you don’t have to credit the person who made the radio…but you can if you want to of course. Glad it entertained you. Thanks,

    Rob

  16. Daniel Lacey

    This has officially replaced cubase on my computer.

  17. lorenzo

    thanks for this digital jewel. awesome.

  18. Matt Crane

    you da boss mate, cheers for file radio, inspirational approach, ideas and tunes

  19. Xochitl

    THIS IS GREEEEAT!!! :=) thanks for it ñ.ñ

  20. badloop

    I tried using this as a mask on top of a video: https://vimeo.com/97276976

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