By skot deeming
A number of years ago when I was in film school, one of my classmates made a brilliant short film about an artist who made strange sounds by taking children’s musical electronics (little keyboards and speak-and-spells), cracking open their plastic cases, pushing their buttons, AND licking his fingers then touching the circuits boards as he played with them. Strange noises not intended came out of tiny speakers to create wonderful new soundscapes. You see, his wet fingers would bridge the circuits to create new paths for the power to run through, thus altering the behaviour of whatever device he chose to modify in this way. This was years ago, long before I heard about others doing similar work. There’s a huge subculture around this practice now; called CIRCUIT BENDING.
All kinds of people from all walks of life practice the art of modifying second hand electronics to create strange and wonderful new effects by making devices behave in unpredicatble ways. And the best part about circuit bending is that you don’t have to be an expert in electronics to get started. As the artist in the film showed me, simply grab a screwdriver, remove the outer shell of whatever device you want to play with, lick your fingers, push some buttons and drag your moist digits across the circuit. And voila, you’re circuit bending!
Once you’ve played around with such random practices you may want to create more deliberate and permanent modifications to your “bentstrument,” you can learn more about electronics and actually solder buttons and knobs to your circuit boards so you can control the manipulation of the sounds your new toy is emitting. If all this sounds like I’m speaking Greek to you, but you’re interested in such things, there are some resources you can read to get started. One of the thing things I did to teach myself the basics of circuitry was buy one of those electronics kits for kids. Or you could head over to the Make magazine website. In their store there are a variety of kits and books on hand to help any neophyte get into the world of electronics hacks. Or head over to Absurdity.biz, where Derek Sajbel has created tons of videos to introduce you to the world of bending. He also has a back catalogue of DVDs documenting the Bent Festival, an Annual Fest in NYC dedicated entirely to the art of circuit bending; workshops, displays and demos and even people performing on their bent gear. He even produced a documentary about the practice of circuit bending.
Circuit bending is a wonderful example of that spirit of play and experimentation that exists in all walks of DIY life. It’s a practice that demystifies what lies beneath the surface of our every day interactions, it urges us to go deeper, and to investigate the inner workings of our devices, and ultimately urges us to crack through the shell of our consumer culture to make our devices our own. I’ll be adding some posts to the BP blog in the future about hacking and bending, so stay tuned to brokenpencil.com for more!