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Janet Jackson's 1989 mega-hit 'Rhythm Nation' sonically smashes old hard drives

Natural resonant frequencies can jiggle data plates to the point of malfunction.
NETHERLANDS - 4th OCTOBER: American singer Janet Jackson performs live on stage at Ahoy in Rotterdam, Netherlands during her Rhythm Nation World tour on 4th October 1990. (Photo by Michel Linssen/Redferns)
Michel Linssen via Getty Images
Andrew Tarantola
Andrew Tarantola|@terrortola|August 18, 2022 5:14 PM

The "brown noise" is a legendary tone purportedly capable of causing people to lose control of their bowels when subjected to its gut-punching harmonic resonance. South Park did a whole thing on it. Turns out that the 5,400 RPM hard drives from a number of old Windows-era laptops possess a brown note of their own: Janet Jackson's 1989 mega-hit "Rhythm Nation."

According to Microsoft Software Engineer, Raymond Chen, who recounted the tale in a Microsoft Developers Blog post earlier this week, "a major computer manufacturer discovered" that playing the music video (above) would not only crash the hard drive of the laptop it was running on, but also any other similar model within earshot.

The Mitre Corporation was not amused by this newfound vulnerability, issuing it an entry in the CVE database. After a thorough investigation, the device manufacturer confirmed that the song contained one of the natural resonant frequencies of the hard drives playing the song essentially rattled the devices apart. Rather than recall untold numbers of decades-old drives, the manufacturer instead opted to develop a workaround by "adding a custom filter in the audio pipeline that detected and removed the offending frequencies during audio playback," according to Chen. 

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Janet Jackson's 1989 mega-hit 'Rhythm Nation' sonically smashes old hard drives