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QuickCheck: Can this Janet Jackson hit crash laptops?

While there was a time when Janet Jackson’s hit song “Rhythm Nation” would have broken the Internet with its choreography and beat, it is now said to be “breaking” certain older laptops. Is this true? In a post on The Old New Thing, the developer blog on Microsoft’s website, principal engineer Raymond Chen elaborated that a computer manufacturer discovered playing the song on a laptop would not only crash it, but any other laptop that was nearby as well. It turns out that there was something in the recording of this song that matched the natural resonant frequency of the specific 5400-rpm hard drives that the laptops use.

But what exactly in the song caused the laptops to crash? YouTuber Adam Neely breaks it down in parts. The YouTuber explained that this mostly likely dated back to a phenomenon in the 19th century, when orchestras found that by tuning keys slightly higher, the same pieces of music would sound more brilliant and intense. Orchestras then began tuning their keys higher and higher leading to a phenomenon called “pitch inflation”.

In the 1970s, recording engineers started taking master recordings of songs and using the “varispeed” function, they sped up the recordings by a certain percentage to achieve a similar effect. Neely said the master recording of Rhythm Nation was most likely sped up to achieve a certain vibrance in pitch and tempo. When this was done, the frequency of the low E – the song’s original key – just happened to match the natural resonant frequency of certain laptop hard drives.

But don’t fret. Manufacturers who made this 5400-rpm drive are said to have fixed the problem years ago by adding a custom filter in the audio pipeline to remove these frequencies from songs like Rhythm Nation that can mess up the older hard drives. However, Chen does note he is worried that “in the many years since the workaround was added, nobody remembers why (the filter is) there. Hopefully, their laptops are not still carrying this audio filter to protect against damage to a model of hard drive they are no longer using.” We’ll do well to remember to never underestimate the physical power of a sick beat.

About Yashoo Mashi

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