The origins of circuit bending

ET wasn’t the first circuit bender. The term, used to refer to ‘the creative customization of the circuits within electronic devices… to create new musical or visual instruments and sound generators’, has been around since 1992 and was coined by a chap called Reed Ghazala, a musician, composer and technologist who accidentally discovered the sonic possibilities of a shorting circuit in around 1966. Vice has a short documentary profile of Ghazala, part of its Soundbuilders series. The burbling, bleeping, esoteric audio craziness of the genre is epitomised in Ghazala’s massive discography (The Dreams that Insects Dream, Sound Theater (Cassette) 1985, Requiem for a Radio, Sound Theater (Cassette) 1985, The Sound Theater Radio Special Sound Theater (Cassette) 1985, Suite for a Radio and Turntable: Outdoor Operations, Sound Theater (Cassette) 1985, Posters in the Underground, Sound Theater and Sound of Pig (Cassette) 1986, etc. etc. etc.). ‘If Jackson Pollock were to design electronics he’d be a ciruit bender – I mean, the wires fall upon the circuit like the paint upon Pollock’s canvas, you could say – what happens, happens, and if I like it I stick with it.’


One of Ghazala’s first instruments was the ‘Incantor‘, a highly modified Speak & Spell that the artist developed in 1978, as soon as TI had introduced them. The sheer variety, style and uniqueness of the Incantor bring to mind the countless customised guitars created by Sonic Youth, each with its own timbre and application. Ghazala maintains his own website, Anti-Theory, with sound, links and images aplenty, but those who want to hear more examples of circuit bending there are a host of sites out there, such as GetLoFi, with a handy guide to bending the cute Casio SK-1 – the world’s cheapest sampler, Gieskes, a Dutch site with a fantastic Vimeo portal of odd electronics and sonic experiments, Daedsound (‘disagreeable audio experience designs’), who modify all sorts of stock products from overdrives to wah pedals, (from where the above image comes from), and Casper Electronics (‘the friendly ghost in the machine’) who do a bunch of Speak & Spell modifications / related, Donald Sherman orders a pizza using a talking computer, Dec 4, 1974 / Tumblr Noise, a brilliant source of the offbeat, drone, noise, and more.

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