Technology: What is circuit bending?

There’s a recent phenomena spreading across the internet, though circles of hackers, gear nerds and musicians. All it takes to gain entrance is a little know-how and maybe a Speak & Spell.

Circuit bending is a practice where old, low-voltage toys and electronics are cracked open and rewired to make new sounds. The end result is often a noise box that can produce strange, electronic tones that you just can’t get anywhere else.

Really, anything with circuitry can be bent and the process is not all that difficult. With a cheap soldering iron and a little reading on how electronics work, virtually anyone can circuit bend.

Circuit bent instruments tend to be at home in experimental music (artists like Beck and Venetian Snares have featured samples from a circuit-bent Speak & Spell). But even if you don’t intend on using your instrument in a musical context, there is a certain perverse joy in wiring up your old Casio to make sounds reminiscent of broken radios.

Some benders add external controls to the devices they hack that allow them to control the way current flows through the instrument, to affect the sound in possibly more bizarre ways. Effects like makeshift distortion or rough stutters can be achieved by a little ingenuity and a soldering iron.

Circuit bending is about exploring hidden potential that lies in old, discarded electronics. Even if it’s just a way to make a little noise with some junk you found in a thrift store, circuit bending is a strange and unusually rewarding hobby that just might be worth your time.

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