The Gart Pages

Circuit Bending


CIRCUIT BENDING ~ How To (for nerds only)

If you learn to solder and can drill a small hole to mount a switch in, you can circuit-bend. Everything else is a process of non-technical, routine experimentation in which various short-circuits are created in an attempt to alter the target device's audio behavior.

Audio toys not only are easy to circuit-bend, but also are capable of sonic eccentricities beyond belief. The newly-implemented line-output's voice, sharpened with EQ and expanded with reverb (standards in the electronic studio), when fed into an amp or recording console easily stands on its own.

Also important, audio toys are low-voltage devices. Do not try the process with any circuit operating on more than 6 volts. Trying to circuit-bend any device operating on the "house-current" of your wall outlet is OUT OF THE QUESTION!!! This holds true even in the instance of AC adapters. Circuit-bending is for BATTERY-POWERED CIRCUITS ONLY.

There is the rare chance in this try-at-your-own-risk art, that a component might overheat and burn out. Or even pop. In Reed's 30+ years of bending circuits such a pop has only happened once. An external power supply of too high a voltage was accidentally applied to the circuit. Half a transistor was tossed across the room. Eye protection should be worn.

More likely, the downside of this odd art is the possibility of destroying the target device through overheating an internal micro-component within an integrated circuit. This rarely occurs, but it does happen. However, circuit-benders find this occurence out-weighed not only by the unique instruments capable of being created, but also by the opportunity to buy audio toys, even complex sampling keyboards and human voice generators, for a few dollars each at second-hand shops. These outlets will supply the bender's workshop with a differing and endless supply of experimental musical instruments to discover.

Perfect targets for circuit-bending are audio games and toys that already produce interesting, good-sounding voices. Synthesized human and animal voices, as well as imaginary and musical sounds reside within many of these gadgets. As mentioned, musical keyboards, even sampling keyboards, turn up at these second-hand stores now and then.Keyboards often produce chance (aleatoric) music when circuit-bent. Reedcalls these circuit-bent instruments Aleatrons. (Casio SK-1 article here, Aleatron gallery here). These games/toys/keyboards can often be bought for a few dollars each.

Carrying a supply of batteries, 4 "AA"s, "C"s, and "D"s, will allow you to try the devices at the stores before buying.