Circuit Bending
May 15, 2005 9:48 AM   Subscribe

Circuit Bending : The art of taking (usually consumer-grade children's toys) electronics and short circuiting them for audio effects previously not intended by the manufacturer. The simple directions are to probe around the insides of a vivisected toy to find the connections that cause distortion, repitition, pitch change etc. After that all you have to do is solder wires to an on/off switch, dial or button.

Maybe a little like the Frankenstein monster projects like this can be pretty inexpensive. All you need is a bunch of wires, switchs, knobs and a soldering iron. Not to mention hours of trial and error. Any subjects for experimentation can be found at your local thrift store. Too lazy to shop around for victims? Trouble findng switches for under 5$ each? You can always buy one ready-made.
posted by Napierzaza (17 comments total)
while circuit bending is cool, a simple search would've shown that metafilter has been introduced to this activity several times before.
posted by angry modem at 9:50 AM on May 15, 2005

I have a friend who makes customised instruments using circuit bending.. It's neat stuff.

Thanks for the post, Napie. I found some cool stuff I hadn't seen before in it.

God forbid you ever talk about anything that might have been talked about before. Metafilter certainly doesn't ever get any new readers - everyone reading this thread has been a member forever - so they've seen it already.

[note: a search in the past year shows nothin' - a search since the beginning shows January 2004, January 2002 - 2 times hardly constitutes use of the word "several"]

posted by twiggy at 10:20 AM on May 15, 2005

Re: Napierzaza's link—please don't buy a TableBeast from that guy. He will jerk you around and send the unit out whenever he feels like it, and the thing is a waste of time compared to a circuit bent piece you could easily make yourself. The Tablebeast essentially will not ever perform the same way twice, and not in a good/cool/unique way. The sounds are not spectacular. You are better off running an old SK-1 through something like a Bitrman—at least you'll be able to control the sound enough to write songs that way.

Circuit bending was also discussed here.

/anyone want to buy a used TableBeast?
posted by dhoyt at 10:26 AM on May 15, 2005

sounds like old aphex twin
posted by gunthersghost at 10:31 AM on May 15, 2005

I use a bent Kawasaki toy keyboard in one of the tracks on my second album. Good times, good times.

I really wish I could find a way to slow down its internal clock to drop the pitch, but unearthly plaintive wailing was pretty neat too.

I'd get more into it but cutting stuff up in software gives me just the right balance of chaos and control, without burning yourself with a soldering iron. Still some of those guys come up with great stuff.

One thing I haven't found in software yet though is a decent approximation of a diode ring modulator, instead of the "clean" 4-pole ones that show up all over the place. So many of the best circuit-bent sounds have that quality to them, and bitcrushing/sample rate reduction don't quite get there.
posted by Foosnark at 10:32 AM on May 15, 2005

Maybe five or six years ago I saw SONIC BOOM / E.A.R. in Toronto playing a dozen modified speak-and-spells... amazing show.
posted by glider at 10:33 AM on May 15, 2005

When I worked at a Major Electronics Retailer (ok, it was Radio Shack) in college, we hooked up the speaker wires from a large amplifier to the battery connection on a stuffed dog with an internal radio. It emitted some pretty interesting squeaks and pops before it melted down into a black puddle.
posted by goatdog at 12:19 PM on May 15, 2005

One of the speakers in my car took a dump the other day on account of the ground (-) wire shorting to the window mount...for an hour I was enthralled with the weird noises, occasionally insync with motor speed, that it made. This is cool!
posted by notsnot at 12:41 PM on May 15, 2005

I hadn't seen this before but its something I feel like I should have been doing for the last twenty years. I'm so far behind!
posted by fenriq at 2:31 PM on May 15, 2005

I wish I could hear the speakers when I am driving my Jeep with the doors off.


Mmmmm beer.
posted by evilelvis at 6:30 PM on May 15, 2005

I really wish I could find a way to slow down its internal clock to drop the pitch

did you try limiting the voltage from the batteries? a potentiometer or resistor inline with the battery+ accomplishes this on most simple toys. Also, there is usually a single resistor on the board somewhere that sets the clock speed. It's usually sensitive enough to be affected by touching it with moist fingers. Replace it with a pot for over (or under)clocking.
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 6:41 PM on May 15, 2005

I searched Metafilter and didn't find anything. Oh well, I guess I'm not so good at searching MeFi.
posted by Napierzaza at 8:53 PM on May 15, 2005

thanks for the post.

i've seen these guys on a few occasions and they're a lot of fun - fisher-price hacks and deranged dressups. there are mp3 samples too.
posted by soi-disant at 9:36 PM on May 15, 2005

Reed Ghazala has a circuit-bending book coming out this summer.
posted by O9scar at 11:17 PM on May 15, 2005

Although it wasn't exactly circuit-bending, back in the days when calculaors had LED displays, I'd sometimes amuse myself by setting an AM radio to a freq where there weren't any local stations and then "play" the calculator, pressing buttons randomly to change the display. Interference from the display caused scratchy, static-tinged tones from the speaker. I got to where I could play the opening phrase of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" by putting in some combination of numbers.
posted by alumshubby at 3:50 AM on May 16, 2005

The most comprehensive list of bending links I've seen is at
Really nice looking pieces from Tim Kaiser.
I really wish I could find a way to slow down its internal clock to drop the pitch
The kawasaki/DSI toys most often do have a single resistor for clk/pitch control, but they are extremely sensitive. The res is easy to find it is the one closest to the blob. Doing the usual swap for a smaller res and larger pot does not do the trick. The range is very limited before crashing. Building your own variable oscillator (various chips and designs) will usually get around this problem, but not with the Kawasaki/DSI toys I've seen. On my keyboard I added a 555 osc and injected that signal into the circuit through the clk/pitch res to modulate the original clk signal.
posted by sailormouth at 8:28 AM on May 16, 2005

The Tank in New York hosted the BENT festival a couple weeks ago. There were a bunch of great workshops with free toys and supplies and benders walking around helping people learn how to do it. If you're in New York and you're interested in learning how to bend, you might wanna keep an eye on the Tank's website for more CB fun.
posted by plasticpool at 10:19 AM on May 16, 2005

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