At a time where electronics are often replaced rather than repaired, a rogue group of hackers are soldering against the system. They are circuit benders, and they’re giving new life to old tech.
Circuit bending is a chance-based art form where hobbyists hack and “bend” low-fi electronics – effect pedals, kids’ toys, etc. – to create new instruments, synths, and other mashed-up wonders.
The movement began as a happy accident way back in the ’60s when a toy amp owned by musician Reed Ghazala short-circuited on a metal desk. The resulting sound was similar to a high-end synthesiser and sparked Ghazala to action. He started tinkering and circuit bending was born. Tom Waits, The Rolling Stones and Peter Gabriel have all used Ghazala-built instruments.
Now in its sixth year, the comp has bent synths into everything from space helmets to video game consoles. The fest’s Jim Debardi describes entries as “works of art in their own right” and he’s spot on: Check out a recent hack from Lia Harmon, an 11-year-old who’s mashed-up a vocal processor, an electronic oscillator and a violin to create a warped music machine that sounds vaguely like cats crying, harmoniously and melodically, in the most unexpected and awesome way.