What’s circuit bending? Glad you asked:

West Coast vs. East Coast vs. Third Coast: now it’s on, circuit bending fans. If you’re in California or Minnesota and were cranky that New York got the awesome Bent Festival and you didn’t, it’s your turn this week. Thursday through Saturday, Bent is moving out to Los Angeles, then on to Minneapolis for the 19-21 before returning here to NYC. And for the whole world to enjoy, hardware inventor Gijs Gieskes’ latest creation, involving a hacked, sequenced Sega MegaDrive. Details on both after the jump.

If you are in L.A. this week:

Bent Los Angeles Schedule
Bent LA press release

Prefer your circuits to be kept all proper and not, um, bent? In addition to the CD hacking, alternative misbehaving interfaces, an “exquisite corpse” exercise with circuits, and circuit bending artists, there are workshops for “straight” circuits, too. Think basics of electricity and chips.

After that, it’s Minneapolis for the Third Coast:

Bent MN

MN’s Bent features workshops on parallel ports and “Analogue Drum Machine Hacks and Mods.”

Then Bent comes back to New York, where we’ll be comparatively cynical and unfriendly, and make harder-edged music. Okay, not really. But we’d better throw down to keep up with our Californian and Midwestern brethren.

Info on the New York show, local guides, and circuit bending in general as an introduction — with plenty of info if you’re in neither New York nor Minnesota nor California:

Bent Festival Site

Speaking of the world beyond America, our friend Gijs Gieskes sends his latest mad-scientist creation, a Sega Megadrive with a Sequencer. Direct control over gaming via a homebrewed, circuit-bent interface:


Technically Create Digital Motion fodder, but let’s enjoy the hacked Afterburner anyway.

Gijs could be his own category here on CDM; see our past stories, with workshops and sequenced Game Boys and Casio keyboards.

  • East Coast Vs West Coast? How about No Coast.

    I would like to point out that this year Midwest is also having its Bent Festival in Minneapolis MN next week, April 19th – April 21st…Then its onto NYC.

  • Wow, sorry! I completely missed that there were three festivals; and of course I think I had seen that some time ago. (Mike from the Tank mentioned only L.A. when he wrote me, probably because it's sooner.)

  • Excuse me if this comes off of a hostile rant, but I just need to vent.

    Is it just me or is the pretentiousness in the circuit bending scene out of control? I guess it started with Ghazala and his fancy-pants way of describing every thing he does. "We are building a new instrumentarium?" Seriously?

    I mean it's fun and all but it seldom produces results that sound like anything outside of the realm of previously circuit bent material. How many times can we hear the same speak and spell make the same gibberish sound and say "cool! that's so original?" How many times can we hear Random samples from a rom bank played at a fixed rate and say "cool! what a fresh sound." I guess this bent festival will show that off.

  • First, a disclaimer: circuit bending is not really my medium. So, I see this from the perspective of an outsider, but someone who is interested in how we look at instruments and construct interfaces and sounds.

    But in Ghazala's defense, he told me in an interview that he found some of the sounds of bending personally unappealing; he desired a broader range of sounds and more "compositional intent." Now, people could easily disagree about what that is, based on taste. But it does mean that even bending's most passionate adherents also agree that sonic creation, and not just the novelty of the thing, matters.

    What encourages me about the way the Bent Festival is evolving is that it's encompassing a wide range of techniques. So that says, whatever the results may be, there's at least the potential for people to experiment with whatever they imagine.

    We can all disagree about what's fresh. But I'm all for anyone encouraging experimentation.

  • As a very, very, very novice "circuit bender" I tend to agree that there's a certain pomposity in "the scene" – and by "the scene" I mean "the You Tube videos of the scene". Big glasses'd hippy/indie crap. Yes. O!Boy!Aren't!We!Retro! Yes.

    But I, personally, like bent instruments as a part of a larger sound. By themselves they're sorta boring. Running through Cubase with glitch / camel space / camel phat / etc. with some other instruments thrown in is much more fun for me. Ultimately my favorite part is the randomness that saves me the pain of having to play with massive/absynth/blah to get new silly sounds. An hour and some wire et voila! Newish sound junk.

    There's also something satisfying about saving junk from Savers and turning it into something more fun than it was originally. The exploration of the circuits themselves is also fun. I've never bent anything that I've heard of being bent before. Rehashing the Speak and Spell hacks holds no appeal to me. I'm sure the Musini Jr. Thing I just finished has been toyed with in some capacity, but I can't fathom following someone else's instructions on How To Bend Toy X. Seems to rather strip it of most of the enjoyment I get from the project.

    So yeah. It's a fun hobby that, like anything, is filled with irritating people who think it is the end-all-be-all of existence. But isn't that the case with everything? Guys with more guitars than sense? The synth-heads? Same fanboys, different shit.

  • poopoo

    Gotta agree with The Mysterious H. These guys are wankers. They claim to understand the electronics but shorting out random points in a circuit doesn't really amount understanding. Have a look at the stuff the guys in the sdiy community create to hear what people who really understand electronics can create.

  • As usual the level headed people come in and say the correct answers. I totally agree with peter, and MC saeki, that experimentation is good and saving old useless electronic gadgets is fine and dandy. I'm just sick of the amount of hype people attach to it, but I guess I'm a general hype-o-phobe. Maybe that's also why I'm bad at promoting my music.

    Poopoo, I'm not saying that all benders are wankers or anything, and understanding the circuit isn't what bending is all about. I'm just sick of this self importance people attach to doing something that isn't really all that cool or fresh. I've bent plenty of things before, it's fun, but I in no way see myself as creating anything extraordinary. The types of sounds you get out of bending are easily achieved on any decent modular synth. So get off these high horses and stop staring into the camera and saying crap like:

    "This interface extends players and instruments into each other, creating, in essence, new life forms. An emerging tribe of bio-electronic Audio Sapiens."

    when instead you can just say:

    "Hey you can get interesting sounds by jumping points in circuits in an unguided fashion, you don't have to know about electricity, just be willing to experiment!"

  • Circuit bending hits a chord with people in different ways. Some people, for the life of them, cannot grasp why people do it. Others are the opposite and take it to seriously and go all pretentious about it.

    While the sounds from the usual bent toy are getting tired out, I do see it as an original art in some forms. With that, its hard to say the word 'art' without it sounding pretentious. But what I mean is that there is still plenty of territory to be explored in terms of what we bend and how we use it in a composition.

    Its fun, thats all there is to it. Its about mangling this silicon to do something, though perhaps not original in every sense, surprising.