THE HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHY
OF CIRCUIT BENDING
If we want to talk about Circuit Bending, we also have to speak about Reed Ghazala at first, who invented this form of art in the year 1966. There were many others, who used to experiment with audio electronics, but especially the term Circuit Bending was introduced by Reed, because it describes audio circuits as an "immediate canvas" and anyone can build something from an open circuit board, without the need of electronic theory. He has built countless instruments over the years and shares his knowledge in frequent workshops. Today, he is identified by the scene, as the „Father of Circuit Bending“, because he devoted his life to the development of this worldwide movement.
Mainly the whole story started with a young boy, and his wooden desk. One day, he placed an amplifier circuit in the drawer and closed it. Later he found himself surrounded by tiny random noises, and they seemed to come from his desk near the window. He realized, that the sounds came from the small circuit, which shorted out on a piece of metal on the bottom of his drawer. At this time, a synthesizer was nearly unaffordable. Eventually, his thoughts went in another direction and if this could happen by accident, why couldn't it happen again, by shorting some sound emitting devices, with the intention to recreate this effect. Others at this time, saw one single star, but in this moment, he watched a whole universe, unfolding, before his own eyes. The term Circuit Bending describes a journey to a new field of possibilities and focusses mainly on chance and creativity. Reed also calls it „Mind Bending“, because you'll think in another way and your focus will change forever, through the diversity of this chaotic diy method. A basic instrument is not boring, but in most cases, predictable, so it is like we would draw a line in the sand and take this predestinated path, to arrive at a certain point, which we already knew before. And here we are in the middle of nowhere, with a circuit bent device, like a modified compass, but this machine is seemingly useless for normal people, because it's chaotic needle is flipping out in random directions. You can choose every route, following every move of and it will guide you to your own personal surprise. Just go in imperfect circles, in a wiggly line and enjoy the sounds you've never heard before. Mistakes have hard consequences, also in our modern society and we all were taught to avoid them. Instead I have to mention, that one step in a seemingly wrong direction, started a worldwide art-movement and changed so many other lives forever. So we have to rethink our concept of mistakes, because they are the basic and necessary way to evolve real knowledge. Circuit Bending is for everyone and like I've mentioned before - you don't have to be an expert in electronics, or prior experience, to get started. Messing around with obsolete, battery powered machines from the trash and recycled parts from it or the whole unit, is one of the best things inside this meaning. I think so many gadgets were engineered for one specific purpose, but you are the ones who define the new rules, either by knowledge or a random search on the mainboard, which is the most essential part of this whole picture. So even the cheapest radio could be an instrument and if you don't have the money for parts, just use the ones from a device, found on the junkyard. And it could be a thing which has it's own oddity to it, but it is your own creation, for your own purpose. Many bent instruments behave like they have their own will and a new connection on the PCB is like a new path in a city and automatically, some people would like to explore the point, where it leads them to. In this case, the Electrons will move to a new destination and the machine has to deal with this unintended logical information. and the whole town will behave in a profound new way and develops another unknown dynamic. This shouldn't encourage you to drive through every one-way road, in the wrong direction. But this is nearly true if you are driving backwards. So feel free to give it a try, but I would like to encourage you, to read the safety rules first. There are also hidden gems for you, if you are new to this technical field.
BASIC PARTS TO START
- Soldering Iron with a Stand
- Wire Cutter ( Scissors )
- Sound Emitting Device
/// Reed Ghazala - Multi-Media Artist // Photographer // Circuit Bender
SAFETY RULES & TIPS
1. Never try to bend anything which plugs into the wall and I'll repeat it … NEVER!!!
I know what electrocution feels like and this is nothing you want, believe me! It could kill you and it will, if you don't know, what you are doing – and this happens faster than the blink of an eye - So we are talking about battery powered devices, only!
2. Don't forget to turn off your soldering iron and don't leave it alone. Always use a stand for it, because this will prevent you from further frustrations. if it falls from the desk or leaving you, with a hole, burned into the plastic housing of your device, you want to modify or the parts, which are neccessary to finish it.
3. Always, use your soldering iron in a good ventilated setup. And don't buy cheap solder, because this isn't fun and sometimes the final result will hang on one single solderblob. Fine rosin core should be OK or Stannol – lead free solder 1 mm - with inserted flux /// ( lead free don't means lead free in many cases ) - this will last for years and you don't have to care about soldering problems and acid again!
4. Take care of what you are doing, take your time and don't hurry up, because you'll tend to make more mistakes, if you are in a rush! Take notes, of what you are doing and a picture of your freshly opened device, especially the PCB from both sides. Sometimes cables tend to break, if you'll flip over the board. So you are able, to trace every cable back to the point where it belongs. A coloured marker is very handy, if you found a bend, mark it on the board and also on your sketch, from it. Just print out the photo which you've taken, from the PCB and mark the connections, which you want to make.
5. Cheap electrical devices, are better for beginners and don't take the keyboards of your Mum or your Dad. Think about it first, before you unscrew a machine. Don't put your screws on the desk! Use a cigar box or a Zipbag to keep track of it. Screws are like tiny little goblins and they like to trick you in every way you couldn't imagine. Before they tend to run away or roll to a point which you can't reach ( still a part of their plan ), this is the better solution. I've lost so many screws over time and sometimes I didn't find them again. ( yeah, loose screws … funny )
6. Don't use a screwdriver or a bare wire to probe out your connections, this could lead to unwanted short circuits, which could fry your instrument in a second. I'll post a diy guide for a hacking probe later, which couldn't guarantee 100% success, but it is far better, than a crocodile cable and it is easy to build from household materials. If you probe around on an instrument and hear a buzz or a crackling, from your speakers, by touching two points on the board, this is no good sign. Sparkles are also a bad sign, which should be avoided!
HELPFUL LINKS TO GET STARTED
The Book by Reed Ghazala
The Original Hacking Manual