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Essay:Circuit Bending

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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 write 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.) - Rev. Syung Myung Me

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