Circuit-bending, the art of creating new instruments from old
ones by creatively 'damaging' them with what would normally be no-nos
(like short circuiting them), is spreading. Noah Fleischman of Roil Noise wrote in to talk about the resources that had been helpful to him getting started, a letter CDM published February 5.
Circuit bender Reed Ghazala
took issue with the way his teaching was described in Noah's letter. In
Reed's response, which we are publishing in its entirety (click read
more), he also argues that information should be free and chronicles his own
free teaching, while clarifying the cost of his 4-day apprenticeship
program. He's got a pioneering history in bending going back to the mid-60s
which he details here for those who don't know it (I didn't,
honestly!), including a near-death bending incident in a hurricane, and
for those of you who can't afford the apprenticeship, check out the
bottom for some great, free links to information to get started.
Figure 1: East Village artist Shalom holding auction Incantor at The Tank, April 2004).
Reed writes us:
"Woah! I'd like to correct an inaccuracy recently appearing in these pages (and thank you, Peter, for the opportunity).
"In Noah's letter to the editor a claim is made that my circuit-bending workshops cost "$1,000 to $3,000."
"Even my 4-day apprenticeship program doesn't get anywhere near $3,000,
let alone my workshops which, at least last spring at The Tank, cost
about $2,995 less than that!
"Anyone who attended my workshop last spring at The Tank (super-hip space on 42nd St.) knows what the workshop cost: $5.
"While I'm at times sponsored (MTV last spring covered my travel and
some missed bench work) I‘ve never, at any time, asked any venue to
charge for my talks or workshops (that's their decision, and there's
nothing wrong with supporting the venue). I've never received a cut of
the admission fee when fees have been charged. My focus is always upon
free teaching. I've taught bending for free for the last 38 years.
People who know my history know that's my credo. My thoughts always
lean more toward doing all I personally can to make cool things happen.
"In fact, at The Tank I became a resident artist for the full week of
the show and met one-on-one with many great benders, and helped many
beginning benders with their projects. It was truly wonderful (and be
sure to catch the bent line-up again this April). The thought of any of
these nice persons paying me for talking to them or showing them how to
bend for a few minutes was absolutely the furthest thing from my mind
(playing that hacked printer kept be pretty busy too 🙂
"I was in NYC because New York is very special to me (as people who
attended my talk saw: my childhood experiences in Greenwich Village). I
was not in New York to make money on workshops. I was more there to
give stuff away: ideas, advice, answers, um, lapel buttons. This is
what I enjoy!
"In this regard, during this week I made, on-site, a very special,
fully-finished Incantor as a token for Mike Rosenthal, The Tank's
director, to auction off in support of The Tank (which, by the way, is
about to be razed – please support The Tank's future and Mike's
exceptional programs). Building this gift in Mike's space, amidst all
the benders, was a blast. It felt just right. (Ed: The Tank's fate
is a very big deal — they can't prevent the destruction of their
space, but they will need a new home. They're a great space, and even
the New York Times recently observed their imminent danger as NYC art
spaces are all under increasing rent pressures! -PK)
"But no, I did not launch the art of bending to make money (inventors
keep their discoveries secret if their intent is to make money). I
launched it to teach what I thought was a really neat thing for people
to enjoy as I did, and to make radical instruments and sound art happen
everywhere. I wanted to push deep experimental art and
experimentalization (headspace and bench space) out of academia and
into the mainstream, where I feel the fertilizer is often richer. It
sure was for me.
"For readers who may not know, I stumbled, completely by accident, upon
circuit-bending way back in 1966-7 when a small battery-powered
amplifier shorted-out in my messy desk drawer. I was 15 years old and
thought the sounds were super-cool. Many instruments were built in the
privacy of my basement workshop, all based upon the creative short
foil body-contacts, brass nail patch bay, spinning speakers.
Re-construction (original was destroyed by an irate audience).
"In 1992 I was asked to consider writing about my process in EMI
magazine. It was that year that I coined the term "circuit-bending" to
enable open discussion of the art's emerging sensibilities (EMI, Vol
VIII #1, September 1992). Over seven years in EMI I wrote and
illustrated twenty articles about bending. All articles were donated; I
was not a paid author. It is these written-for-free writings that
introduced the art to the public.
"Soon thereafter I was encouraged to launch a website. Anti-theory.com
was the result, presenting the first circuit-bending gallery online
and, more important, the first how-to. It's still there today, always
free. From this site all the other bending sites grew. Anti-theory.com
was the seed that grew the bending revolution. I‘m very happy about
that, and I've tried really hard to empower people with the lessons and
thoughts that make bending understandable and important, and that set
bending far apart from the other electronic arts.
"You can read all about it here, the down-side as well as the up, in my recent writing for the Leonardo Music Journal:
"But there's been confusion. Since the launching of my website,
numerous people have grabbed and re-packaged my free online how-to,
using my terms and ideas openly to sell instructional Cds full of
"original" information (many unfortunate misconceptions have resulted
from these attempts to make a quick buck). Worse, persons re-selling my
free information routinely misrepresent themselves to try to gain favor
(they say they're older than they really are, more experienced, etc.)
and as a result the real bending lessons that should be learned are not
learned as well as they could be. The experience, thought and expertise
aren't really there.
"My point: avoid this mess. There are much better ways to get your
information. All the info needed to learn to bend is free. Mine is not
the only site with free bending instructions. It's easier today than
ever to learn to bend. No one's CD, DVD, workshop, or apprenticeship
(most likely what Noah was referring to – my apprenticeship program) is
needed to learn to bend. Just a good, free, how-to, and that's the
"Anyway, what I suspect Noah's referring to is my multi-day
apprenticeship program, which doesn't even approach $3,000 in cost (and
which most students afford as a learning vacation; it's fun). This
program grew out of my own attendance of somewhat similar programs, and
is based on the result.
"One was in Wisconsin, a multi-day class centering upon the meticulous
repair of fine antique china. Another I traveled to England for: a
multi-day program on English literature whose schedule had us visiting
Stratford-upon-Avon, the Hathaway cottage and related Shakespearian
destinations (including a performance at Stratford-upon-Avon's
theater-in-the-round, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre). Wonderful
"Though silver'd I am, no, the Bard I am not. Still, I wanted to
provide such a multi-faceted program for benders since this nearly
40-year-old art, also, has many key places and themes, as well as many
patrons whose keen interest in bending's specific bench work and cloudy
past make the program a must.
"I've been asked for such a program ever since I began to write for
EMI. And since I won't be able to offer such a special introduction to
bending forever, I'm giving it a try now. Students not only leave the
course as great benders, they have fun and leave as friends. They are
my guests, after all.
Figure 3: Inside the apprenticeship workshop.
"My apprenticeship program ($1,400) is a four-day event whose sessions
cover just about everything (and yes, students do fly in from overseas
to take the course, just as I traveled to England). There are actually
four programs to choose from (link below). Included are field trips,
outdoor discussions, bending sessions and way more. Organic food is
served. My text and music library is opened. Maybe even a mushroom hunt
in the springtime if we can. It's a blast. And all students leave with
a fully-finished instrument valued at just under the enrollment fee.
"If two students double-up (my limit) the fee drops $300 per student,
and each, again, leave the course with a fully-finished instrument,
this time valued at more than the cost of the course (all appraisals by
Solway, Nam Jun Paik's rep, on value or under value). Much more
important, the course prepares new benders for a highly-successful
future in bending. Plus, the diploma students leave with is the most
highly-regarded credential in the field. You can read about the program
"In trying to decide upon a price for the course I looked to multi-day
apprenticeships offered online (although I could find no one-on-one,
multi-day programs offered by persons such as myself). In the end I
priced my course according to common apprenticeships I found on
programs such as rock-climbing, welding, antique repair, and other less
"But I understand the difficulty in shelling-out big bucks for an
educational program. To answer this need to "get it all" for as little
as possible, I've just finished a book based upon my circuit-bending
apprenticeship course. Published by Wiley (Extreme Tech Series) and of
the highest standards, it contains a bunch of bending projects
(complete instructions, easy-to-read schematics), as well as all the
little "secrets" (specialized techniques) particular to good bending.
The first appendix alone (the dozen best generic bends) is worth the
price of the book in just two pages.
"In 450 pages you're gonna get not only all the electro-tech you'll
need (as well as complete finishing techniques), but you'll read how
the bender fits into history, you'll receive a crash course in
experimental art and gain tons of specialized insight into designing
the most radical sound circuitry today.
"Plus you'll read about how I was almost killed in a hurricane while
playing bent instruments, what Sir Richard Paget was doing with a dead
guy's tongue and larynx, how I was caught with my hand up the butt of a
toy rabbit, and other such literary gems…
"I'm not here to sell the book. I stick with what I said and have
always said: the free how-to is all you need (link below). But if
you're the kind of person who wants to go deeper, this book will be the
best alternative to my apprenticeship program and will eclipse any
"Anyway, bending is a very cool art, and I'm always happy to set these
issues straight. My thanks to Peter and Noah for their help in bringing
these items forward.
"Do support The Tank. Very important place. I miss New York!"
Figure 4: Ghazala in the anti-theory workshop.
Electronic Musician Magazine article by Ghazala, Jan, 2003
Inside the Anti-Theory Workshop:
(many more resources in anti-theory.com's links)
Ed: Thanks for the links, Reed! -PK