29 June 2005

Circuit Bending

Man, this just gets into all of my obsessions and whatnot; it's electronics, noise, strange musical instruments, home-engineering, science, toys, buttons and dials.

Circuit Bending is something I've always wanted to try; it sounds so fun. A friend of mine got one of these (the one by Toshi Asai, first one, second row) for his birthday last month, and I got to play with it. I actually got to show people how it worked, even though I'd never used one before; I guess it's just my inborn love of that sorta thing that lets me figure that kind of stuff out quickly.

I haven't tried my own hand at it yet, though; I only have one Speak & Spell, and I've got kind of a sentimental attachment to the thing. I got it when I was maybe 5, and I adored the thing; mainly because it made noise; I didn't need the help reading or spelling, really, but, hey, anything that made noise, I was all over. I loved that it was this device that could talk; they had Speak & Maths, too, but I wasn't as into those; they couldn't do words. So, I hesitate to mangle mine (even though they typically have a "non-bent" setting, too, I'd just be so afraid of ruining my Beloved Childhood Noisemaker forever), but perhaps if I find another similar electronic toy, I'll go to it.

The first Circuit Bent thing I'd heard about was someone who built "guitars" out of Speak & Spells for their noise band. And, of course, as soon as I'd read that, I wanted to do it. At the time, I was even willing to go at my own childhood friend, but at the time I didn't know where it was and thought it'd been given away, so I just filed it in the back of my mind. (Luckily, I found it later.)

Circuit-Bending has been relatively wide spread, the originator of the term has his own website on it, and there are communities for it, and there's a yearly festival.

The thing that made me want to do a post about this, though is that there's an upcoming documentary on circuit bending, with loads of interviews, including one with Mark Mothersbaugh (which is understandable, since his brother (and original DEVO drummer) Jim built/invented their drum machine (and later went to work at Roland doing R&D and tech support for bands). To raise money to finish the documentary, it looks like they're selling a best-of of last year's Bent festival. I haven't seen that DVD, so I don't know how it is, but it looks pretty interesting, and, well, this stuff is pretty neat, and you can get some really cool sounds out. And, well, I'm a huge fan of cool sounds.

And, hey, while we're on the topic of Speak & Spells, the "English I've Got Berzerk" mix of Shonen Knife's "It's A New Find" (from that Japan-Only EP) is really cleverly built out of the start-up sound from a Speak & Spell; by the end of the song, the melody has just been replaced by that sound looped with a drum track over it. It's a little obscure, but could presumably be found if someone is resourceful enough.)


Blogger CatsFive said...

I LOVE the idea of modifying things like gadgets and stuff and making them better or different (often, even more different or TOO free, far BEYOND what the manufacturer's intended. Read: Warez on Sony's PSP).

Take the company Archos, for instance, who makes great hardware but with super-sucky UI's. People download new firmware made by someone else into the device and presto, it's got a new brain. Some companies have even embraced this trend and offer publicity or small rewards for consumer suggestions. Archos got so excited about what happened with their products that they have even released an official SDK to help developers understand the standards and programming parameters necessary to "hack" (white hack) the devices.

Anyway... Circuit Bending is cool. I've been sitting here thinking... what's this? Why? And the more I read, the more I realise, you can make some cool music with these. I wonder if the manufacturers know this and take hints. I listened to some of the MP3's and these are as raw as lumber... what do we get? A house? Doghouse? Deck? Definitely salivation material for an artist like Beck or some DJ somewhere.

I'm not sure this is really in the same class as this... but how about a CD sleeve that uses conductive ink to let you remix the songs on the CD? We're getting to be pretty wacky with the hacking.

11:20 AM, June 30, 2005  
Blogger Lee H. said...

I've read about the Archos situation, as well, and I think it's great that the company actually supports it.

On a much smaller scale, I like Creative's MP3 players but despise the software they give you to manage your music on them, so I found this program that can communicate with any of Creative's "Nomad" line of MP3 players, and it's GREAT. I know I would not have bought my 60GB player if this 3rd-party software hadn't been available.

That's not quite the same as circuit-bending, but it's probably as close as my non-technical self will ever get. :D

12:11 PM, June 30, 2005  
Blogger Rev. Syung Myung Me said...

MAN, that CD Case thing is awesome. (And I like the idea of a USB-capable CD Case just on principle.)

It's cool when companies realize that that kind of thing is what creates devotion to their product, and isn't some big Scary Evil Thing that a lot of places seem to think it is.

Circuit Bending stuff is really cool, but from my limited experience, it seems a more improvisational instrument; I think with enough practice, though, you could probably do pretty well. Though, then again, it depends on what you're bending -- a Speak & Spell doesn't have a lot of states that you can get it in and most of the sounds are sort of all the same, so you don't have a range. If you were to circuit-bend a toy keyboard, you'd probably have both more control and a wider range of stuff. Still though, I just love that kind of stuff. A while ago I was going to try to build a theremin, but I couldn't get any of the parts I needed, even though I had all the Radio Shack numbers. They don't seem to sell electronic guts in their stores anymore, which is really too bad/lame.

1:46 PM, June 30, 2005  

Post a Comment

<< Home