Circuit bending

Circuit bending

Ask a question about 'Circuit bending'
Start a new discussion about 'Circuit bending'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum

Circuit bending is the creative customization of the circuits within electronic devices such as low voltage
Voltage, otherwise known as electrical potential difference or electric tension is the difference in electric potential between two points — or the difference in electric potential energy per unit charge between two points...

, battery-powered guitar effects, children's toy
A toy is any object that can be used for play. Toys are associated commonly with children and pets. Playing with toys is often thought to be an enjoyable means of training the young for life in human society. Different materials are used to make toys enjoyable and cuddly to both young and old...

s and small digital synthesizer
A synthesizer is an electronic instrument capable of producing sounds by generating electrical signals of different frequencies. These electrical signals are played through a loudspeaker or set of headphones...

s to create new musical or visual instruments and sound generators.

Emphasizing spontaneity and randomness, the techniques of circuit bending have been commonly associated with noise music
Noise music
Noise music is a term used to describe varieties of avant-garde music and sound art that may use elements such as cacophony, dissonance, atonality, noise, indeterminacy, and repetition in their realization. Noise music can feature distortion, various types of acoustically or electronically...

, though many more conventional contemporary musicians and musical groups have been known to experiment with "bent" instruments. Circuit bending usually involves dismantling the machine and adding components such as switches and potentiometer
A potentiometer , informally, a pot, is a three-terminal resistor with a sliding contact that forms an adjustable voltage divider. If only two terminals are used , it acts as a variable resistor or rheostat. Potentiometers are commonly used to control electrical devices such as volume controls on...

s that alter the circuit.

Experimental process

The circuit bending process has been developed largely by individuals with next to no formalised training in electronic theory and circuit design, experimenting with second-hand electronics in a DIY fashion, either with inexpensive keyboards or drum machine
Drum machine
A drum machine is an electronic musical instrument designed to imitate the sound of drums or other percussion instruments. They are used in a variety of musical genres, not just purely electronic music...

s, or with electronic children's toys not associated with musical production. Haphazard shorting out of electronic items will almost inevitably at some time lead to the destruction of the circuit being prodded about. Worse still, it could present risk of fire, burning or electrocution.

Aesthetic value, immediate usability and highly randomized results are often factors in the process of successfully bending electronics. Although the history of electronic music
Electronic music
Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments and electronic music technology in its production. In general a distinction can be made between sound produced using electromechanical means and that produced using electronic technology. Examples of electromechanical sound...

 is often associated with unconventional sonic results, such innovators as Robert Moog
Robert Moog
Robert Arthur Moog , commonly called Bob Moog was an American pioneer of electronic music, best known as the inventor of the Moog synthesizer.-Life:...

 and Léon Theremin
Léon Theremin
Léon Theremin was a Russian and Soviet inventor. He is most famous for his invention of the theremin, one of the first electronic musical instruments. He is also the inventor of interlace, a technique of improving the picture quality of a video signal, widely used in video and television technology...

 were electrical engineers, and more concerned with the consistency and sound design of their instruments. Circuit bending is typified by inconsistencies in the instruments built in an unscientific manner. While many pre-fitted circuit bent machines are on offer for sale at auction sites such as eBay
eBay Inc. is an American internet consumer-to-consumer corporation that manages, an online auction and shopping website in which people and businesses buy and sell a broad variety of goods and services worldwide...

, this somewhat contravenes the intention of most practitioners. Machines bent to a repeated configuration are more analogous to the well known practice of "mods", such as the Devilfish mod for the Roland TB-303
Roland TB-303
The Roland TB-303 Bass Line is a bass synthesizer with built-in sequencer manufactured by the Roland corporation from late 1981 to 1984 that had a defining role in the development of contemporary electronic music.-History:...

, or various Analogman
Analog Man LLC is a company that makes and modifies guitar effects pedals.In 1995, the company, led by "Analog Mike" Piera, started modifying Ibanez Tube Screamer overdrive pedals to sound like the vintage ones which were used by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Johnson...

 or Pedaldoc guitar pedal circuit modifications.

Circuit bending an audio device typically involves removing the rear panel of the device and connecting any two circuit locations with a "jumper" wire, sending current from one part of the circuit into another. Results are monitored through either the device's internal speaker or by connecting an amplifier to the speaker output. If an interesting effect is achieved, this connection would be marked for future reference or kept active by either soldering a new connection or bridging it with crocodile clip
Crocodile clip
thumb|Standard clipthumb|Pair of standard clipsA crocodile clip is a simple mechanical device for creating a temporary electrical connector, and is named for its resemblance to an alligator's or crocodile's jaws...

s. Often other components are inserted at these points such as pushbuttons or switches, to turn the effect on or off; or components such as resistor
A linear resistor is a linear, passive two-terminal electrical component that implements electrical resistance as a circuit element.The current through a resistor is in direct proportion to the voltage across the resistor's terminals. Thus, the ratio of the voltage applied across a resistor's...

s or capacitor
A capacitor is a passive two-terminal electrical component used to store energy in an electric field. The forms of practical capacitors vary widely, but all contain at least two electrical conductors separated by a dielectric ; for example, one common construction consists of metal foils separated...

s, to change the quality of the audio output. This is repeated in a trial and error basis. Other components added into the circuit can give the performer more expressiveness, such as potentiometer
A potentiometer , informally, a pot, is a three-terminal resistor with a sliding contact that forms an adjustable voltage divider. If only two terminals are used , it acts as a variable resistor or rheostat. Potentiometers are commonly used to control electrical devices such as volume controls on...

s, photoresistor
A photoresistor or light dependent resistor is a resistor whose resistance decreases with increasing incident light intensity. It can also be referred to as a photoconductor or CdS device, from "cadmium sulfide," which is the material from which the device is made and that actually exhibits the...

s (for reaction to light) and pressure sensors. The simplest input, and the one most identified with circuit bending, is the body contact, where the performer's touch causes the circuit to change the sound. Often metal knobs, plates, screws or studs are wired to these circuit points to give an easier access to these points from the outside the case of the device.

Since creative experimentation is key element to the practice of circuit bending, there is always a possibility that short circuiting may yield undesirable results, including component failure. In particular, connecting the power supply or a capacitor directly to a computer chip lead can destroy the chip and make the device inoperable. Before beginning to do circuit bending, a person should learn the basic risk factors about working with electrical and electronic products, including how to identify capacitors (which can give a person a serious shock due to the electrical charge that they store), and how to avoid risks with AC power. For safety reasons, a circuit bender should have a few basic electronics tools, such as a multimeter
A multimeter or a multitester, also known as a VOM , is an electronic measuring instrument that combines several measurement functions in one unit. A typical multimeter may include features such as the ability to measure voltage, current and resistance...

 (an electronic testing device which measures voltage, resistance and other factors). It is advised that beginner circuit benders should never "bend" any device that gets its power from mains electricity
Mains electricity
Mains is the general-purpose alternating current electric power supply. In the US, electric power is referred to by several names including household power, household electricity, powerline, domestic power, wall power, line power, AC power, city power, street power, and grid power...

 (household AC power), as this would carry a serious risk of electrocution.


Although similar methods were previously used by other musicians and engineers, this method of music creation is believed to have been pioneered by Reed Ghazala
Reed Ghazala
Qubais Reed Ghazala, an American author, photographer, composer, musician and experimental instrument builder, is recognized as the "father of circuit bending," having discovered the technique in 1966, pioneered it, named it, and taught it ever since...

 in the 1960s. Ghazala's experience with circuit-bending began in 1966 when a toy transistor
A transistor is a semiconductor device used to amplify and switch electronic signals and power. It is composed of a semiconductor material with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit. A voltage or current applied to one pair of the transistor's terminals changes the current...

Generally, an amplifier or simply amp, is a device for increasing the power of a signal.In popular use, the term usually describes an electronic amplifier, in which the input "signal" is usually a voltage or a current. In audio applications, amplifiers drive the loudspeakers used in PA systems to...

, by chance, shorted-out against a metal object in his desk drawer, resulting in a stream of unusual sounds. While Ghazala explicitly makes no claims as to be the first circuit bender, he coined the term Circuit Bending and whole-heartedly promoted the proliferation of the concept and practice through his writings and internet site, earning him the title "Father of Circuit Bending".

Serge Tcherepnin
Serge Tcherepnin
Serge Tcherepnin is an American composer and electronic-instrument builder of Russian-Chinese origin. He created the Serge Modular synthesizer.-Biography:...

, designer of the Serge modular synthesizers, discussed his early experiments in the 1950s with the transistor radio
Transistor radio
A transistor radio is a small portable radio receiver using transistor-based circuitry. Following their development in 1954 they became the most popular electronic communication device in history, with billions manufactured during the 1960s and 1970s...

, in which he found sensitive circuit points in those simple electronic devices and brought them out to "body contacts" on the plastic chassis. Prior to Mark's and Reed's experiments other pioneers also explored the body-contact idea, one of the earliest being Thaddeus Cahill
Thaddeus Cahill
Thaddeus Cahill was a prominent inventor of the early 20th century. He is widely credited with the invention of the first electromechanical musical instrument, which he dubbed the telharmonium....

 (1897) whose telharmonium
The Telharmonium was an early electronic musical instrument, developed by Thaddeus Cahill in 1897. The electrical signal from the Telharmonium was transmitted over wires; it was heard on the receiving end by means of 'horn' speakers.Like the later Hammond organ, the Telharmonium used tonewheels to...

, it is reported, was also touch-sensitive.

Since 1984, Swiss duo Voice Crack
Voice Crack
Voice Crack was a Swiss electronic free improvisation group. Formed in late 1972 by Andy Guhl and Norbert Möslang, Voice Crack were initially a free jazz duo...

 created music by manipulating common electronic devices in a practice they termed "cracked everyday electronics."

In 2009, circuit bending rock band CMKT 4 began touring America teaching workshops on circuit bending and DIY electronics.

See also

  • MOS Technology SID
    MOS Technology SID
    The MOS Technology 6581/8580 SID is the built-in Programmable Sound Generator chip of Commodore's CBM-II, Commodore 64, Commodore 128 and Commodore MAX Machine home computers...

  • MIDIbox
    The MIDIbox project is an open source modular DIY framework MIDI platform built around the PIC family of microcontrollers and recently with STM32 32-bit ARM Cortex too...

  • Kraakdoos
    The Kraakdoos is a custom made battery-powered noise-making electronic device.It is a small box with six metal contacts on top, which when pressed by fingers will generate all manner of unusual sounds and tones...

  • Chiptunes
  • Glitch (music)
    Glitch (music)
    Glitch is a term used to describe a genre of electronic music that emerged in the mid to late 1990s. The glitch aesthetic is characterized by a deliberate use of glitch based sonic artifacts that would normally be viewed as unwanted disturbances reducing the overall sound quality and are thus...

  • Noise music
    Noise music
    Noise music is a term used to describe varieties of avant-garde music and sound art that may use elements such as cacophony, dissonance, atonality, noise, indeterminacy, and repetition in their realization. Noise music can feature distortion, various types of acoustically or electronically...

  • Electronic art music
  • NIME
  • Atari Punk Console
    Atari Punk Console
    The Atari Punk Console is a popular circuit that utilizes two 555 timer ICs or a single 556 dual timer IC. The original circuit, called a "Stepped Tone Generator", was published in a Radio Shack booklet: "Engineer's Notebook: Integrated Circuit Applications" in 1980 and then in "Engineer's...

  • Casper Electronics
    Casper Electronics
    Casper Electronics was founded in 2000 by Pete Edwards. The company's main products are musical instruments made from electronic toys using circuit bending...

  • No-Fi
    No-Fi is a term used to describe music or media created outside conventional technical standards.-The name:Where "Hi-fi" and "Lo-fi" are short for "High Fidelity" and "Low Fidelity", respectively, "No-fi" is a play-on-words intended to be interpreted as meaning "No Fidelity".-The sound:No-Fi is an...

  • Beatrix JAR
    Beatrix JAR
    Beatrix*JAR is a conceptual electronic music duo and couple consisting of sound artists Bianca Pettis - "Beatrix" and Jacob Aaron Roske - "JAR". The duo creates audio collage and inspires electronic sound art movements. Based in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Pettis and Roske grew up discouraged by the...

External links