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Consumer Electronics Make Music 207

Posted by michael
from the kazoo dept.
metoikos writes "Forget about hacking your Gameboy -- what about cat toys or Teddy Ruxpins? Any of these is fair game to a circuit bending hobbyist. Essentially, circuit bending is the art of making interesting noises come out of re-engineered consumer electronics, mostly toys. Bending recently came into the spotlight when a number of news organizations discovered the 2004 Bent Festival at New York's Tank. Derek Sajbel, a bender from California, is writing a book/doing a documentary on it." BishopBerkeley writes "Circuit bending has apparently been going on long enough among a large enough contingent of benders to merit a weeklong festival dedicated to bending circuits. The art is largely a process of making musical instruments by 'bending' the circuits of fairly common electronic instruments and gadgets. According to this article in the New York Times people have been making rather interesting music by modifying the strange toys with which a lot of us grew up. If you're near Manhattan, and you didn't know about the Bent Festival, then think about going. You can find more info at the official circuit bending web site."
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Consumer Electronics Make Music

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  • Benders? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Seoulstriker (748895) on Friday April 09, 2004 @08:48PM (#8822260)
    Bender Festival? Think of all the oil, cigars, and robot pr0n there would be...
  • So If I.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by TheKidWho (705796) on Friday April 09, 2004 @08:50PM (#8822270)
    So If I just go ahead and bend this keyboard something interest should come out...

    waits 10 seconds...

    ASDLJGFLKJ#$()!*U@#$!)ADFKOH#@$I!HJ@#KJRQWEKJFAK DS FHAKEJHROQWEOURQWLKJEF:LKJ#!LKJ#@$!
    • ASDLJGFLKJ#$()!*U@#$!)ADFKOH#@$I!HJ@#KJRQWEKJFAKDS FHAKEJHROQWEOURQWLKJEF:LKJ#!LKJ#@$!

      Try listening to Einstuerzende Neubauten. [neubauten.org] I'm sure that they've used something that sounds like that in at least one of their songs.

      And that way you can save yourself another keyboard.
    • by typhoonius (611834)

      Let me give it a shot.

      234df516g798!@3412$t5a46S546DF89f%@#a874!@23DF89 f%@#a874!@234df516g798!@34124df516g798!@3412$t5a46 S5234df516g798!@3412$t5a46S5#JLD89234df516g798!@34 12$t5a46S5235mD21f81wad7as123xz2384Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune24asqw546w@3412$t5a46S546438#a874!@#JL45a46 S546438#a874!sf132Fa@3412$t5a46S546438#a874!sf132F

      Oh, never mind, nothing'll ever come of that.

    • Happens I know a little Keyboardese...

      KEYBOARD: "Arghh! It hurts! It hurts! Oh the pain!"

  • by drewhearle (753120) on Friday April 09, 2004 @08:52PM (#8822283) Homepage Journal
    Think that circuit boards can only be bent by water if they're the cheap cardboard kind? Think again. Any cheap electronic toy's circuit board can be "bent" (in the musical context) by placing drops of water on the board in strategic locations.

    Electronic toys have also been known to melt (well, 'bend') when the batteries start running low.

  • Wow, That's Awful (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dirkdidit (550955) on Friday April 09, 2004 @08:55PM (#8822301) Homepage
    I'm sorry but I'm not sure you can call that anything but controlled noise, albeit poorly controlled. It's pretty bad.

    If that's all it takes to be called music, then I'm going to record all the noises my car makes and sell a CD of it.
    • Re:Wow, That's Awful (Score:4, Informative)

      by The Gline (173269) on Friday April 09, 2004 @09:15PM (#8822387) Homepage
      You've been beaten to it. Well, sort of.

      There's a group from Norway called Voice Crack, who create experimental electronic music from what they call "cracked everyday electronics." One album of theirs I heard used everything from a broken Speak and Spell to an electronic greeting card. Definitely not music as we know it, but interesting if you are drawn to that sort of thing. I imagine they would love being at something like this (and if they were there, correct me, please!).
    • Umm... this sort of thing is actually done. You can buy CDs of engine recordings from popular car models (In particular high-end sports cars are popular).

      Check out www.enginemusic.com [enginemusic.com] for instance.

      By the way, I don't understand the appeal.
    • If that's all it takes to be called music, then I'm going to record all the noises my car makes and sell a CD of it.

      Actually, there is an entire genre of modern-classical music, Pioneered by Pierre Schaeffer [lvc.edu] where the music is made primarily, or exclusively from found sound. It celebrated it's 50th anniversary a couple years ago or something.

      A show on a local radio show does Musique Concrete once a month. One of my favorite shows was musick made entirely from train sounds. It's funny that I thought o
    • Famous noise artist G.X Jupitter-Larsen [jupitter-larsen.com], when performing with his band, The Haters (who celebrated their 25th Anniversary last month), used to hold a live microphone against an electric grinder.

      At maximum amplification.

      Until it stopped working.

      As GX is fond of saying...

      A xylowave occurs everytime an effect has no cause, or a cause has no effect. [jupitter-larsen.com]
    • Agreed.

      About 20 years ago, there was a fad for this, using dozens of effects pedal modules and noise generators. It was called "power electronics".

      It sucked.

  • by Jon Abbott (723) on Friday April 09, 2004 @08:58PM (#8822314) Homepage
    What about [hacking] cat toys or Teddy Ruxpins?
    Ha! I remember when my sister had "Cricket", another one of those Teddy Ruxpin-like dolls that had a cassette player built into it. I threw a Metallica tape into Cricket, and she started lip syncing to Enter Sandman! Ah, those were the good ol' days...
    • Were Teddy Ruxpins still around when Enter Sandman came out?

      Reminds me of at a place where I worked they had a toy singing Christmas Tree. I can't stand Christmas Music for personal reasons, but to make a long story short I really wanted to put in a tape of Current 93 [brainwashed.com], especially their gothic folk music stuff. (Not as much for the spooky noise. Falling Back in Fields of Rape might be appropriate.)

      Never did it. Would probably get me fired. Example Lyrics. [jetfraer.net] I particularly like Hourglass [jetfraer.net] which has accous
      • Wow, the anonymous cowards are out in force tonight, aren't they (referring to the first replies to both your post and to mine)? How peevish they are.
        • Wow, the anonymous cowards are out in force tonight, aren't they (referring to the first replies to both your post and to mine)? How peevish they are.

          Yea, I would have left for a party an hour ago but I enjoy discussing experimental music almost as much as I do listening to it.

          OMIGOD! LOOK!

          I thought I saw Bakunin's ghost... realistically, though, I probably didn't.

          Goodnight everyone!
  • by John Courtland (585609) on Friday April 09, 2004 @09:01PM (#8822326)
    I remember reading a story about how an HP engineer set up a row of printers (I think it was 12, in total) and he programmed the servos to sing "Happy Birthday" for a fellow engineer... I wish I could remember more details but I'm in no state to look up details right now.
  • As the Barbie Liberation Army [sniggle.net]
  • by L3WKW4RM (228924) on Friday April 09, 2004 @09:02PM (#8822335) Homepage

    Bah. If you want to know circuit bending, check it out from the real masters...

    • Reed Ghazala [anti-theory.com], the godfather of bending
    • Dave Wright [carrionsound.com], the man behind Not Breathing
    • Warranty Void [haw-hamburg.de], a great practical FAQ for doing it yourself

    I've been torturing electronics for years, and have some personal instruments that make sounds no commercial synthesizer could ever do.

    • I've been torturing electronics for years, and have some personal instruments that make sounds no commercial synthesizer could ever do.

      Probably because nobody in their right mind would actually want their synthesizer to make those kinds of godawful noises.
  • was that Big Mouth Billy Bass [techweb.com] someone modded a long time ago to say "Pork!

  • by Xenographic (557057) on Friday April 09, 2004 @09:08PM (#8822363) Homepage Journal
    In one of the more unusual corners of the annals of copyright law, I seem to remember there being something about the "Teddy Ruxpin" which might well deter you from hacking it.

    For those of you who don't remember that device (and I have only vague recollections of seeing it on TV myself), the Teddy Ruxpin was a stuffed bear which moved its mouth in sync (more or less), to the words of any cassete placed in the device. When packaged with a book & tape, it would, in effect, read the book to the child.
    Now I imagine that by now you're wondering what on earth this could possibly have to do with copyright law, right? Allow me to quote from this [cio.com]:
    As an example of copyright law, Zittrain cited a case that involving the manufacturer of the Teddy Ruxpin talking teddy bear. The company sued when someone created a "new" Teddy Ruxpin doll by removing the tape inside the doll that simulates its speech, re-recording the tape and inserting it back into the doll. The judge found that the individual had in fact created a derivative work that infringed on Teddy Ruxpin's copyright.
    And we had best get used to unusual decisions like this. Unless you live to be over 70 (and barring a change in the law), absolutely nothing copyrighted during your lifetime will ever pass into the public domain.

    Of course, if you're a US voter, and you would like to help end some of the copyright inanity (the DMCA, the NET Act, etc.), feel free to petition your representatives. You can call them for free via this 1-800 number (they will help transfer you to the proper representative): 1 (800) 839-5276
  • by HeavensTrash (175514) on Friday April 09, 2004 @09:15PM (#8822388)
    Apparently from reading comments on this board so far, most people seem to be offended by experimental music. "You call that music? That's just noise!". Believe it or not, Noise actually is a genre of music and has a rather large following. I don't care if you don't like it, but I could just as easily criticize whatever MTV or Classical Rock things you are all listening to.

    Remember, people used to say the same thing about Rock N' Roll, which in my opinion is a completely stale genre. Try and open your minds a bit to things you don't understand.
    • Even if you don't live in the state of, shall we say, bentness it takes to appreciate Merzbow, it is handy for driving away unwanted houseguests.
    • Don't forget the band "Art of Noise." =)

    • At least MTV and classical have notes. Holy shit, this stuff offends me. I haven't been studying music theory and applying myself at a *real* instrument, only to have some hack with a circuit board call a bunch of farting noises "music"!
      • Yeah, way to use your "overrated" rating to avoid metamoderation.
      • Same thing that was said about Jazz when that was the new sound.

        Same thing that was said about rock when that was the new sound.

        For that matter, same thing that was said about Classical when that was the new sound. I don't remember the specifics (anyone care to fill in?) but IIRC early/primitive music (as I believe is the correct name) only used a subset of the notes we use today. When these fancy-pants upstart noise makers came along with their full scales everyone thought the world was coming to an end.
        • DANGER, LOGICAL FLAW. People denounced Classical, then Jazz, then Rock as too noisy when they came around, therefore anything that someone says is too noisy will become the new form of popular music. If this happens, I will seriously kill myself. Rap was bad enough, but strange clicking and humming noises blasting from car stereos? Maybe Dr. Kervorkian had it right after all.
          • DANGER, LOGICAL FLAW

            No, not in the least.
            I'm neither stating nor implying that if people think of it as unlistenable noise it's destined to become the next big thing.

            In fact, I think everything that needs to be said about this can be summed up thusly

            "One man's poision..."
    • The debate goes back as far as you want to go back. Someone mentioned classical. Many famous compositions were decried as little more than random noise when they premiered. Many would consider jazz as a random sequence of squeaks.

      Earlier this year I went to a presentation of three one act ballets . The company is a major, tours worldwide, and has significant funding. The new artistic director is a young guy of his mid thirties. Anyway the third act was an incredibly choreographed presentation. Beau

    • This isn't music any more than putting a gold fish into pluged in blenders in public is art.

      It fits none of the classical defs of music. It is random electrical noise caused by torturing circutboards. Hell, if this is music, the sound of a cat pluged into the mains would be a fscking symphony.
      • Here we go again with the "Yes, but is it art?" issue.

        I personally can't understand why this debate rages on so long. It's a very, very simple issue.

        To determine whether something is art:

        1. Does it mean anything to you?
        Yes: It's probably art.
        No: It's probably not art.

        For example.. let's say you're wandering through a museum, and you come across, say, a toilet seat painted dayglo orange and nailed to the ceiling...

        If your reaction is "Oh. It's a toilet seat. Painted orange and nailed to the ceiling. How
    • To be music, I think that sequence of sounds needs to strike you as something more than just noise. I mean I suppose I could go into a technical definition of how tones relate to each other, the classical 12-note to an octave scale is NOT an arbitrary decision but relates to how sound waves work, but it's kind of lengthy for a ./ post. Basically, there is more to being music than just making noise. I mean I can play an executable as PCM or PWM data, that doesn't make the resulting noise music.

      I think indus
      • Very well put point, however..

        I mean I can play an executable as PCM or PWM data, that doesn't make the resulting noise music.

        Very true. I've experimented with something similar myself, loading NES roms into an oldschool MOD composer. 19 times out of 20 I ended up with completely uninspiring chaos, or a crashed program. But that other 1 time out of 20 made it worthwhile. It's the old monkeys and typewriters thing - generate enough random noise and you'll find something interesting eventually.

        The thing
  • cell phone feedback (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gribbly (39555) on Friday April 09, 2004 @09:19PM (#8822405)
    I've had some fun with cellphones recently. Have your cell phone in one hand, and use the other to have a friend's cell phone yours (may as well use his minutes, right?).

    When the call is established, put the cellphones in... er... a 69 position I guess. Microphone to speaker. You should get some pretty cool feedback this way, and you can 'control' it (sort of) by moving the phones around.

    I recently covered the Pixies song "Alec Eiffel" for an online Pixies tribute album (link omitted... don't need the /.-ing), and used my cellphone and answering machine to create some cool noises at the end.

    grib.
  • by aacool (700143) <aamanlamba2gmail.com> on Friday April 09, 2004 @09:36PM (#8822474) Journal
    Wonder if anyone remembers the theremin [theremin.info] - this was invented by a Soviet scientist Leon Theremin in 1918, it had no strings, no pipes or keys.

    Led Zeppelin used it to great effect. Here is the Beach Boys using it in Good Vibrations [theremin.info]

    One would venture to call this a 'bender' device since it is functionally the same as a metal detector, and works by sensing the proximity of the player's hands to the antennae.

    Any other similar devices or early bender apps?

  • Industrial (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Frennzy (730093) on Friday April 09, 2004 @09:43PM (#8822504) Homepage
    I read all the comments to this point, and saw no mention of industrial.

    It started at least 15 years ago (though some other versions may have started earlier)...in Germany.

    They recorded (sampled) industrial noise, and mixed it together with vocals, percussion (indeed, some bands used the sampled noises AS vocals and percussion) to make music. Skinny Puppy is a great example.

    Just thought I'd bring it up.
  • Check this link out
    http://www.andrew.cmu.edu/~hsakr/hdspeakers/hdspea kers.htm [cmu.edu]

    I saw this a while back, you gotta check out the movies clips.
  • by bossert (634096) on Friday April 09, 2004 @10:16PM (#8822620)
    Needless to say, something as odd as circuit bending doesn't have an "official" web site. However, the person widely credited with starting and popularizing circuit bending is Reed Ghazala, and his site is http://www.anti-theory.com/ [anti-theory.com]. Got to give credit where credit is due, folks... More information on bending and other amazing experimental musical instruments is available at http://www.oddmusic.com [oddmusic.com].
  • Does this remind anyone of Aphex Twin? He created a couple of albums using analog toys and circuits, including the sounds of the programs recorded on cassette tapes for the ZX-Spectrum computer (people from Europe will know what I am talking about), that was my first computer by the way a whooping 3.5 Mhz with 48K or ram.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    None of these non-standard uses are authorised by the patent holders. I'm notifying each and every one of the manufacturers about these blatant violations of the DMCA.
  • Oh, the fun I used to have with a Casio VL-Tone [hccnet.nl] twenty or so years ago. I was playing keyboards in a sort of psychedelic funk band (think XTC meets Parliament) and though my main keyboards were a Farfisa Mini-Compact, a Roland Juno 106, and an Ensoniq Mirage, a pair of VL-Tones were part of my gear.

    Despite tone generators worthy of a Nokia cell phone, a rhythm box that made a 606 sound like John Bonham, and a four-banger calculator to boot, they sounded like God's Own Voice when run through a Roland Space
  • Yesterday's News (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tiro (19535) on Friday April 09, 2004 @10:55PM (#8822762) Journal
    I am getting tired of reading yesterday's nytimes stories on /. This article was released twenty-four hours ago on NY Times Online, and has been in print all day.
  • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Friday April 09, 2004 @10:56PM (#8822768) Homepage Journal
    When I was in 4th grade or so, I had one of those "Little Professor" calculators [si.edu] from Texas Instruments which I decided to abuse with a sottering iron one day for shits and giggles. After messing around for a little bit, I found by reconnecting the transistors I could get it to make different sounds controlled by the keys. Suffice to say, it was very limited, but fun to play with for about a week.

    Funny how this is suddenly a fad.
    • It's been around for a long time, since at least the 80s in serious experimental music. It's just now been seen fit to post on Slashdot to be mocked by everyone, that's all.

      There are whole genres of music, like glitch and noise that make use of things like this regularly.
  • Here were a bunch of MIT grads that did just this...and everyone loved them at the time. Sure they included guitars and other equipment but they always had the BENT deal....
  • It doesn't look like much now, but I can't wait to see where it goes. Imagine working at a toy store, and posititioning Tim the Talking Teddy squashed under a stack of boxes, begging, "Please help me... I don't want to die." I don't see any real meaningful non-entertainment purposes to it, but I sure as hell wish I could reprogram my little brother's talking dolls to say, "bitch, ima fuck yo' ass up!"
  • It is true that it is possible for some people to do some interesting things.

    However, that isn't the case most of the time. Usually these people have little or no electronics knowledge. Instead, they do a lot of drugs and poke around the live circuits with spare bits of wire.

    At the end of it, all they're left with is some broken toys and hopefully a recording of an oscillator burning up as it's shorted to something else.

  • There's an album by Self called Gizmodgery. It was made entirely with Fisher Price toys. It's pretty hard to find, but definitely worth the effort. Here are a couple of reviews:

    here's one [inmusicwetrust.com]

    here's another [hybridmagazine.com]

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