What is Circuit Bending?

There are some things you hear about that can just boggle your mind. This is one of them. Circuit bending is an art form unlike any other - it requires intelligence, creativity and a smidgeon of insanity. Let's explain what it is...
What's it all about?
Ever had one of those kids toys that says things like "The Cow goes Moo"? Circuit bending is the process of turning that into "The Cow goes BZZZZZZzzzzzBZBEOgeOCEOOOOOooooooo". It is finding conventional things such as toys and music making machines, usually cheap or second hand ones, opening them up and playing around with their internal circuits until they make sounds they weren't necessarily designed to make.
More specifically, this involves the circuit bender putting a jumper wire between two points on the circuit board and seeing what sound is made from the device's internal speaker. If it makes some awesome noise that they like, they can make it more permanent by soldering buttons or switches to connect those points, turning it into a modification or "mod" of the original device.
When did it start?
It has been going for as long as these toys and keyboard have been invented. There are always people who have messed with things in ways they weren't intended to be messed with... However, the first recorded circuit-bender, and the man who coined the term "circuit bending" is Reed Ghazala; a musician and experimental instrument builder.
The multi talented American started his circuit bending fascination by chance, when he accidentally short circuited a toy amplifier against a metal object in his desk, making a crazy sound. Instead of getting annoyed, he decided to make an art form out of it, and continues to promote the experimental phenomenon on his website. This dedication has earned him the title of "The Father of Circuit Bending" by Circuit Bending enthusiasts.
How did it get popular?
It started gaining popularity, however, past the year 2000 with events like The "XCOM Extreme Computing Festival" giving limelight to circuit benders and programmers who dared to design unusual and downright mental sounds from their existing toys. More recently, with genres such as chiptune and glitch hop advocating the use of circuit-bent electronics in a more accessible and musical way, the art form has gained new levels of popularity. Artists use anything from the previously mentioned childrenís toys to Guitar Hero controllers to retro drum machines to create their signature sound and impress on stage.
Why is Circuit bending so crazily entertaining?
It's delving into the insides of a device you have no clue how it works and seeing what noises you can make. It's learning by trial and error how to make the most painful, hilarious and inspiring noises you can from devices that were not made to do so. Some people go as far as to say it's a spiritual process - controlled chaos, bringing things into existence that should not exist. While that view is not for everyone, I think most people can appreciate the element of fun created by just messing around with toys and seeing what they can do.
How do I get started?
First things first - under no circumstances do you ever open up and attempt to circuit bend anything that is connected to the mains. You will die - and that would be a seriously stupid way to die.
A couple of techniques to get you started:
Looping
If you connect the output of the synth/sample circuit that makes the sound in a device to the input of the amp circuit, then the output of the amp circuit to an input on the synth circuit, then trigger the device, chances are you'll get some seriously obscure feedback-loop sounds!
Clock Bending
If your device has what is known as an "R/C" clock, you can make yourself a sweet pitch bend device! Just press on it gently (it should be a resistor near the synth chip) and you'll hear the pitch change as you do so!
Remember, the whole art form is based on experimentation - see what crazy sounds you can make with any old toys and synths you have lying around...
Whether it's the start of a new way of life or just good for a laugh is up to you!

Related Articles

  • How To Promote Your Music on Instagram

    How To Promote Your Music on Instagram

    In years gone by artists required a marketing budget almost greater than the cost of their studio time to promote their latest album, usually followed by an extensive touring schedule and relentle

    Read More 2
  • Getting Creative With Homemade Foley Drums & Percussion

    Getting Creative With Homemade Foley Drums & Percussion

    When it comes to studio recording, the drum kit can be one of the most time consuming and awkward instruments to get right. With so many variations in mic placements to consider, finding the right

    Read More 2
  • Finding Your Inspiration

    Finding Your Inspiration

    In the creative industries, it can be extremely difficult to rely on your own motivation and inspiration to make sure your projects are truly the work that you intended. Intrinsically linked with o

    Read More 2
  • 5 Tips On Playing A Perfect DJ Set

    5 Tips On Playing A Perfect DJ Set

    Mixing tracks in front of a crowd is a whole lot of fun, and with continuing developments in DJ equipment it is becoming more accessible than ever before. However, it's all too easy for that perfect d

    Read More 2
  • Top 4 Ideas For Creative Inspiration

    Top 4 Ideas For Creative Inspiration

    Sometimes, you're just stuck for ideas or inspiration. But don't worry, as we are on a crusade to help you make the best tune possible! It's possibly the most frustrating part of music production

    Read More 2
  • How To Get Analogue Synths - Cheap

    How To Get Analogue Synths - Cheap

    We're big fans of all things digital here at Prime Loops. From virtual synths to samplers, audio manglers and classic emulations, there's pretty much nothing you can't do with a laptop. But over the l

    Read More 2
  • Ultimate Music Industry Tips

    Ultimate Music Industry Tips

    We recently attended an industry meet-up where some of the most respected producers, DJs and remixers in the game gave their views on where the industry is at in 2014, and how new producers should a

    Read More 2
  • What Are The Physical Limits Of Sound?

    What Are The Physical Limits Of Sound?

    The physical nature of sound is something that we don't really consider too often. And that's not surprising when you think about it – if you're using a virtual analogue synth in a DAW, there is no

    Read More 2
  • How To Become A Professional At Monitoring

    How To Become A Professional At Monitoring

    Studio monitors are something that many novice producers and gear-heads tend to overlook somewhat. And it's not hugely surprising – in the general list of exciting kit available, monitors will alway

    Read More 2
  • How To Always Be Inspired & Beat Writers Block

    How To Always Be Inspired & Beat Writers Block

    Although this blog frequently touches on the technical aspects of music production, that's not the whole story. And while a quality mixdown can help you polish up a new tune, there's still no substitu

    Read More 2