Circuit bending is the creative short-circuiting of low voltage, battery-powered electronic audio devices such as guitar effects, children’s toys and small synthesizers to create new musical instruments and sound generators.
Circuit bending is the creative short-circuiting of low voltage, battery-powered electronic audio devices such as guitar effects, children’s toys and small synthesizers to create new musical instruments and sound generators. Emphasizing spontaneity and randomness, the techniques of circuit bending have been commonly associated with noise music, though many more conventional contemporary musicians and musical groups have been known to experiment with “bent” instruments.
The experimental process
Circuit bending is a process that has been developed largely by individuals experimenting with second-hand electronics, often not associated with musical production. Aesthetic value, immediate usability and highly randomized results are often factors in the process of successfully bending electronics. Although the history of electronic music is often associated with unconventional sonic results, such innovators as Robert Moog, Lev Sergeivitch Theremin, etc. were electrical engineers and concerned with the consistency and sound design of their instruments. Circuit bending is typified by inconsistencies in the instruments built in an unscientific manner.
While many pre-fitted circuit bent machines are on offer for sale at auction sites such as ebay, this somewhat contravenes the intention of most practitioners. Machines bent to a repeated configuration are more analogous to the well known practice of mods, such as the Devilfish mod for the Roland TB-303.
Typically, circuit bending is a matter of dismantling a piece of consumer electronics, connecting via wire or alligator clips any 2 circuit locations and sending current from one part of the circuit into another. Sonic results are monitored through the device’s internal speaker or by connecting an amp to the speaker output. If an interesting effect is achieved, this connection would be marked for future reference or kept active with a wire and alligator clips. This is repeated in a trial and error basis. Overloading a component may produce desirable effects, and thus the reliability of continued use or reproduction of effects in another scenario is unlikely. As a general rule, areas around the power supply or big capacitors are avoided.
Innovators in circuit bending
Although similar methods were undoubtedly used by other musicians and engineers previously, this method of music creation is popularly held to be pioneered by Reed Ghazala in the 1960s.
Ghazala’s experience with circuit-bending began in 1966 when a toy transistor amplifier, by chance, shorted-out against a metal object in his desk drawer, resulting in a stream of unusual sounds. Ghazala has written of his discovery process in EMI magazine and recently for John Wiley & Sons, publishers of Ghazala’s Extreme Tech project book Circuit-Bending, Make Your Own Alien Instruments
Mark Vail’s book Vintage Synthesizers has a section in which Serge Tcherepnin, designer of the famous Serge modular synthesizers, discusses his early experiments in the 1950s with transistor radios, in which he found sensitive circuit points in those simple electronic devices and brought them out to “body contacts” on the plastic chassis. Prior to Mark’s and Reed’s experiments other pioneers also explored the body-contact idea, one of the earliest being Thaddeus Cahill (1897) whose Telharmonium, it is reported, was also touch-sensitive.
A list of well known toys and instruments used in circuit bending usually because of their low price and ‘bendability’
- Casio SK-1
- Speak & Spell
- Speak & Math
- Original Furby
Since 2004 this annual festival located in New York has invited the public to get involved in circuitbending, offering in-depth workshops and live performances by circuit bending musicians.
Artists who create and use circuit bent instruments are featured on a compilation CD entitled Noise and Toys Volume 1, which was officially released in 2006 on We Are Records. Many varied musical intentions are apparent in this collection, but there is an almost physical tie binding these compositions.[This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article: Circuit bending.]