Singing helmets and robot crickets: Weird music mods from Moogfest (pictures)
There were plenty of awesome electronic instruments played at Moogfest this year. From a calculator to an old Atari console, check out these creative entries in the festival's annual circuit-bending contest.
A different kind of music
The concept of circuit bending -- altering the internal
circuits of electronic devices like keyboards, drum machines, and kids' toys to
create new musical instruments -- was first conceived by Reed Ghazala in 1966
when he noticed that a short-circuiting toy amp in his desk was making sounds.
Since then, circuit bending has become a core part of the culture of electronic
tinkerers, and Ghazala himself has created experimental instruments for
world-class musicians like Peter Gabriel and Tom Waits.
To celebrate this unique way of creating instruments, Moogfest -- a
festival of electronic arts and music held regularly in Asheville, N.C. -- launched a circuit-bending competition. The rules this year were simple: competitors could spend only up to
$70 and the "bent" instrument had to be battery-powered.
This device, by entrant Rebecca Baxter, beat that budget by $50, coming in at just $20 for parts. It uses a simple "Genie" pocket
calculator as its input device and, through the use of two capacitors, some
wire, switches, and an audio jack, it turns boring numerical inputs into sweet
This entry from the Drunkard Crickets, a self-described
"group of Chilean circuit benders," turns the infrared output of a
Sony TV remote control into sounds that you activate by placing your hands on
or near the metal plates. The device, which does in fact make sounds like the plaintive
song of a pack of deranged robotic crickets, also came in way under budget,
costing just $20 for the remote, speaker, cable, and battery (excluding the cost of
the metal plates, which were recycled).
Photo by: Video screenshot by Michael Franco/CNET / Caption by:
Bending a toy guitar
think you need an engineering degree to create your own circuit bends, this
project could change your mind. It was created using a Kawasaki toy guitar, and
in the instructions on how to make your own, the inventor, who names himself
only as Trazmick (or Connor in his video), says, "Take your gator clips and poke around on
the circuit board(s) while triggering sounds by pressing some of the toy's
buttons. Listen for anything weird or that sounds good. When you find a bend or
any new connection between two points on the circuit board that makes a cool,
new sound, clip the gator clips to that point on the circuit board and
experiment by placing a potentiometer between the two points. Try and find a
pot that controls the effect of the bend. Try placing switches between the bend
as well to be able to turn the bend on and off. "
So basically, just wire
things together till you get a sound you like and make those connections permanent.
Sounds like something most of us could handle, eh?
Barnwell, a student from North Carolina State University's Mechatronics program in
Moogfest's home city of Asheville, N.C., created his circuit bend
with the goal of adding a visual element to the device. So he mashed up an old
Atari 2600 video game console with a cheap Casio keyboard to create what he has
called his "Cataritone" – a device that morphs the video output of classic
Atari games in accordance with what someone plays on the keyboard. His creative
mod earned him fourth place in the competition.
native Mike Sisk pulled a variety of elements together to create his bend, which
earned him third place in the competition. His device is created from a toy
Kawasaki/Remco electric guitar, a toy voice changer, and a kid's cassette
player. The case in which he neatly arranged all these components spent its
former life as a barbecue tool holder. Although his device only garnered him a
third-place win, the judges felt that the way in which he neatly packaged such
a disparate collection of gear could serve as a model for other benders in the
calling this invention simply "helmet bend" does it a disservice. The
real name chosen by its maker is: "C. Freddi's Super Sonic Circuit Bending Helmet: A Reflective,
Transmodern Statement on The Creative Culture of Hardware Hacking, The
Socioeconomic and Environmental Necessity of Using Sustainable Resources, and
The Nature and Extent of Interactivity and Community Influence, 2014."
It was the
only one of the finalists that could be worn, and that no doubt helped propel it
into second place.
The device is made from a
modified Yamaha QY-10t MIDI sequencer and employs a helmet-mounted microphone
to convert voice input into fuzzy synthesized sound.
out more from C. Freddi's entry videos part one, two, and three.
To make his
grand-prize-winning circuit bend, George Gleixner, a 23-year-old University
of Virginia graduate, started with a Hing Hon EK-001, a small
Chinese-built children's keyboard. To this he added a large plexiglass control
panel containing a series of bends, including distortions, glitches, various
modulations, three low-frequency oscillators, video inputs and outputs, and the
coolest part of all -- optical theremins to give the machine that real sci-fi