Photo (CC-BY) Kevin Wong.

Photo (CC-BY) Kevin Wong.

“I’m the operator with my pocket calculator.”

No — like, actually.

HoustonTracker 2 runs on the TI-82/83/83+/84+ Texas Instruments graphing pocket calculators – the kind you probably had to buy for your high school math class. And it doesn’t just make the calculator into a sequencer. All the sounds come straight out of the calculator itself, thanks to some gorgeous-sounding 1-bit noises. (Who needs those 15 or so extra bits, anyway? This is beautiful.)

What do I mean? Just watch:

But wait, there’s actually a complete feature set for this:

3 tone channels
1 non-interrupting drum channel
up to 128 note patterns
up to 64 drum/fx patterns
sequence length up to 255 pattern rows
16-bit frequency precision
8-bit speed precision, can be configured per step
various effects, including:
L/C/R stereo hard-panning for tone and drum channels
8bit duty cycle control
duty cycle sweep
2 user definable samples
up to 8 savestates
edit during playback

Yes, that’s right: someone’s hand-me-down, obsolete graphing calculator you can probably get for free is now more capable than a lot of new drum machines you’d buy for the task.


It’s free, open source software, with complete documentation. From Germany:

The original HoustonTracker has been out a couple of years, but version 2 is a complete rewrite and much more capable, out as of yesterday.

The app is free, but you can (and perhaps should) donate to creator/artist/coder Pater Maria aka irrlicht project.

What’s also lovely about this is, while I’m happy to write news items about the latest-and-greatest gear, projects like this save toxic electronics from an untimely death in landfills. There are more projects like this from the same developer.

And they said we’d never use Calculus again. Um, they were right – I’ve never used calculus again. But I might actually use the calculator now.

Obligatory xkcd TI calculator pricing reference. But if you opt for a “vintage” TI-82, it’s pretty darned cheap.