This story is over 5 years old.

Creativity Bytes: Guide to Circuit Bending

Read this and sound like an expert. Well, sort of.
December 1, 2010, 3:22pm

Here’s a quick reference guide that will seek to explain the trends, terms, and movements of the brave new media world of art and technology. So you can skim, digest, and be a pseudo-expert next time you’re cornered at a Speed Show exhibition in your local cybercafe. Because, hey, life is short and art long. This week: Circuit bending.

So, what is circuit bending?
The creation of audio insanity by altering the circuitry of electronic devices, put simply. If it has electrical circuits, then it can be bent. We’re talking anything from a Gameboy to a guitar pedal to a Furby, so don’t be afraid of raiding a young relative’s toy collection and going at it with a potentiometer and some crocodile clips. There are some rules to this branch of audio-chaos however: never bend anything plugged into the mains—that will result in death, or worse, your device will break. Battery powered only.


Where did it come from?
Its invention can be traced to either 1966 or 67 (come on, it was the sixties, things are a little foggy) when a man named Qubais Reed Ghazala was at home and, while shutting a desk drawer in which he’d accidentally left a 9-volt toy amplifier with the power turned on and the back missing, heard a sound like a miniature version of the expensive synthesisers of the day. Startled, he realised the sound had been produced by the toy amplifier’s electronics accidentally shorting out against something metallic. The idea came to him that if this was the sound made by accident from just an amplifier, imagine what could be produced by purposely shorting out sound-making electronics. Ergo, inventing circuit bending. No biggie.

This Week You're Really Digging…
The man called (or at least he should be) the Prodfather, Eric Archer, and his Devices. You’re also looking forward to his live shows in Austin in December, performing with partner in synth Erich Ragsdale as Bodytronix.

Nano Talk
You like to describe yourself as a circonaut exploring the perforated green worlds of manufactured circuitry, an experimental sonic maverick whose canvas is electrical networks, with Discordia as your muse, and killer tunes your aim. Hopefully, with any luck, you’ll be playing live at next year’s Bent Festival using a hacked Buzz Lightyear to produce a droning soundscape of infinity and beyond.


Describe Yourself As…
Jackson Pollock with a screwdriver.

Quote from a famous practitioner:
“Under the pressures of circuit-bending, nearly every electronic audio device that exists is an experimental musical instrument waiting to happen.” — Reed Ghazala

Circuit, bending, bent, synthesize, analog, digital, DIY, electronics.

Difficulty Level
Low voltage.

Age range
10 years +

Resistors are futile.

To recap: The schematic rhythms of the future will pulse with the electronic alien pitch of a circuit singing in the voice of the found.

Next week: Kinetic art.