Bent Festival Begins Tonight


The Bent festival, which begins tonight in New York City, is a celebration of DIY musical instruments. Artists from all over converge to beep, blip, and strum for your pleasure. With a heavy emphasis on hacking your own instruments, this is definitely something we’re interested in. If you’ve only heard a little bit of circuit bending and didn’t like it, you may want to give it a try anyway. The musical genres are extremely diverse, it’s not all just random noise.

48 thoughts on “Bent Festival Begins Tonight

  1. circuit bending is the fine art of taking an electronic board (any will do, but preferably one that has a speaker already attached) and doing things to it that it was never designed to handle, to make noises that were never meant to be heard. Circuit bending takes no real skill because anyone who has real skill can just build a circuit designed to make the sound they want without the excessive violence against electronics that occurs with circuit bending. it also takes no musical talent since the noise that it creates is by no means music and would only feel at home in a techno soundtrack to a horror show. The people who do think circuit bending have listened to the beach boys song “Good Vibrations” once to often and think they can improve on the theremin but obviously have no idea how to do so. When circuit benders retire, they should be opened up and someone should poke around them with metal objects, just to see what kind of noises THEY make!

    I apologize for the above rant, i just feel strongly about this.

  2. Somebody should get a metal object and poke the metal object inside a plug socket and see what sounds they make! Wot a load of Popty ping. (That last word doesn’t make much sense but it is a great welsh word!).

  3. It just seems to boil down to wilful ignorance.
    The wizard’s computer creates these electronical devices that mortal man has no way of understanding, so we don’t even try, we just jam a screwdriver into it, short the pins on any and all ICs and stick a spoon in our mouth that is wired to the board (what the christ? Do you /WANT/ a shock?) I don’t know why it makes that noise, but /arn’t microswitches and knobs cool!?!!/

    If they just looked into 555 timers, they’d be able to build their own and at least understand a little of what they’re doing.

    I like electronic music, this is not what I like.

  4. Aww, can’t handle a little chaos guys?
    Ever hear of John Cage?

    Circuit bending can be the SOURCE for music. Samples are created from the circuit bends. It does require skill, and is not simply jamming a screwdriver or touching the boards. Switches, potentiometers and even light or touch sensitive pitch bends can make very expressive instruments.

    For some high quality circuit bent instruments check out for the creator of the art.

    Or just look at this picture:

  5. Gosh all those guys seens to be high up on drugs.

    It’s been a while since I first heard something about circuit bending, now that I know what it’s all about I just can say that it’s very lame.

  6. this is what happens when hippies try to understand electronics, or when people who did understand electronics roast their brain with hallucinogens until they no longer remember. While these techniques promise to make really neat music, they almost never do. it takes skill (which i do not profess to have) to make music, but anyone can make noise (and get high).

  7. And all this time I thought “maybe there really is something to that circuit bending fad and I’m just missing the obvious”. But now that I’ve seen them explain it in their own words I’m forced to agree with everyone else who has already pointed out how lame it really is.

    Synthesizers are cool. Creating a real, usable instrument from nothing is cool. Modifying an instrument to enhance it is cool. Destroying and instrument so you can randomly prod it’s exposed circuitry and listen to it die is not cool at all. I’d rather listen to a crying toddler with a pot and a spoon.

    Most of those toys they’re destroying would have made perfectly decent instruments in the hands of an artist before they were turned into ugly hunks of junk.

  8. To my own discredit, I did not watch the video before I put out that rant about my opinion of what circuit bending is and what it does. I just watched the video and now feel justified about what I said. What I failed to realize is how inadequate my little rant was. They take soldiering irons and dremel tools and do unspeakable things with them. They are sticking spoons in their mouths with wires attached, oh please. i mean really, a quote from the video “even if you don’t have an electronics degree or education or background you can still have fun in electronics,” hey buddy! musicians don’t need an electronics degree to play an instrument, but can sure do better than you can! These oxygen-deprived-from-birth cult members are treating circuit bending like a poorly thought out religion, and are in serious risk of being revealed as the single-digit-IQ-should-be-sterilized-so-they-don’t-reproduce that they are!

  9. circuit bending = stupid.

    I mean really, like others have said, look up the datasheet of a 555, figure out what the hell an RC circuit (not remote control, resistive/capacitive) is, and go buy a variety pack of resistors, or better yet, salvage from some of the “instruments” you have already killed and start swapping. I’m sure you will find it somewhat more interesting.
    If that fails, I have a TV you can bend. (Not really, I don’t have a TV, but If I did I would give it to you).
    Really though. Radio Shack STILL makes those little electronics labs with the spring posts, get one, you might learn something.

    This post is not directed to anyone in particular, just people who poke around in electronics without knowing what the hell they are doing.

    To their credit, I remember reading some ‘rules’ that the circuit bending community had agreed upon, and one of them was that the device MUST NOT run off of mains current, and MUST be powered by bateries, as to avoid electric shock.


  10. Wow, the circuit bending hate displayed here is uber harsh and seems to be baseless. First, let me point out that this video is an abridged version of a Circuit Bending Documentary that was also on HaD a while ago.

    You guys defend machines in the same way PETA defends animals (by finding homes for only 7 out of the 2000+ animals it takes in a year and putting the rest down). It boggles my mind how you all can’t see the beauty and joy of creating art, as abstract as it may be (yet often is not), out of the waste of mass produced electronics which feed many of the projects that we hope to have posted on this very site.

    Yes, we all know some 555 chips will make a shitty synth box, but that’s not the point of circuit bending. I agree that it is willful ignorance, but only in that it’s WILLFUL. These aren’t retards who found a Casio keyboard and a spoon, they are releasing their creative sides by sweeping aside their dogma of technical know-how to take a fresh point of view. Did you SEE the rooms these guys were Bending in? Freaking mad scientist labs, not some layman’s dining room table!

    Since I was a child, I have been fascinated by electronics, and I would take apart anything and everything. I would poke around like this and while there’s nothing really you can learn about circuity/etc. that would be otherwise useful, it is fun and gets you thinking creatively and critically. Now that I am finally learning about micro controllers and circuitry in depth, I have no techno-phobia what so ever when it comes to integrated circuits.

    The old adage applies here: “Don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it.” and if you have, and didn’t get consumed by it, you are a cold, heartless soul, who should go crawl into a hole and do nothing fun. Ever.

  11. oh and once i went to bend a 70s starwars toy that had buttons which played character quotes from the movie. It had batteries, but when i opened it, low and behold, not a sound circuit in sight. The sound came from a spring loaded custom ‘vinyl record’ and needle that was just physically butted up against a speaker cone. is was a powerless 8 track record that was the coolest thing i had ever seen. Unfortunately, once taken apart, there was no putting it back together in a working manner.

  12. to Xeracy:
    this is not hate that i am putting out. I had a little electronic organ and discovered that i could change the sound if i touched it and i thought that was cool. the difference is that i sought to discover the reason for the change: i increased the capacitance of the circuit. I then went on to change entire capacitors and got different waveforms that i could play musically. then i hit puberty, took piano lessons, played in marching band and basically grew up. I still love music and a love discovery, the problem i have with circuit bending is that there is no pattern to it except the utterances of a failing circuit board trying to have a justified existence. there is no science behind it. and i have tried it, so i can knock it

    to anon: i checked out the link, good one thank you, the second video was for chiptune marching band. this is a group that builds their own instruments from scratch, kudos on the technical skill. I do not agree that this could be considered music per say, art i don’t think so but i’m sure someone does, an exercise in expression definitely. modding foot pedals to get a wider variety of distortions, nice. but circuit bending a plastic toy guitar while it’s behind your head like your on a stage playing in a rock band is just plain wrong. What mind altering drugs are these individuals on that allows them to think that this behavior is normal, let alone cool.

    oh and Xeracy, these circuit boards are not lost pets, they don’t breed in the wild and they don’t have life outside what we give them, they did not evolve by accident, they were designed with a specific purpose in mind, once they are no longer able to perform that purpose, they need to be retired or repaired so please stop with the peta references. that’s just pathetic.

    In the world of exploration, it is a given that an individual is going to fail from time to time, it’s a law of averages, but you must not fear failure because then you never learn from mistakes, circuit benders are unique though, they always fail and then fail to learn from their failures. so mathematically that would be:
    circuit bending = FAIL

  13. ridiculous internet outrage

    My only explanation is that the whiners are forced to read this site as some sort of court-ordered settlement, because why else would they hang on a site where they so obviously don’t get it?

    I guess it just goes to show that any where someone is doing something someone else is also there to whine and bitch and moan about it.

    who cares if some cast-off toys get cut into and made different, honestly?
    Cowboy up for five minutes.

  14. to strider_mt2k:
    we live in a free country, people can do whatever they want and talk about whatever they want (as evidenced by your comment). Hack-a-day to me is people coming together and doing just that. sometimes the ideas are thought to be good, sometimes not. there is another line that is crossed in my mind when it comes to circuit bending, it is not hacking, it’s about sound, about trying to make music and utterly failing to do so, but still talking it up like it’s a real hack when its not. talking like it’s real music when it’s not. acting like it’s serious when the only ones who take it seriously are other benders. that’s what i really care about, benders are posers, pure and simple and should not under ANY circumstance be taken seriously, EVER.

  15. It seems some of these characters are making this out to be some ‘psychedelic experience’ or ‘enlightenment’ since they are just probing circuits and hooking up the result to an amplifier. I am all for taking apart ‘stuff’ and prodding to see what it can and can’t to and to see what I can force it to do, but essentially it’s just prodding around inside of someone’s creation that is not their own. The sounds they generate are simply that…sounds…and not very pleasant ones at that. Calling this music is over-glorifying electronic static or noise.

    What would really impress me would something like this: Take a Speak and Spell, open it up, find out how it works instead of just poking around, figure how the speech synthesis works and make it say things that are not in it’s ROM. That to me would take knowledge, skill and ingenuity. Any monkey can take probes and touch things with it.

  16. it’s not that we don’t condone learning and experimentation, it’s that *this* is the kind of stupid shit that’s getting //patented// ( i kid you not).

    these ideas are not novel nor original in any way. any one of us could have done this years ago, and may have (as a stepping stone to bigger and better things) but considered it not worth the time because you’re not *learning* anything. it’s akin to re-inventing the telephone and wanting national recognition for it. we are getting stupider as a nation, and this pretty much shows it..

    “Circuit bending takes no real skill because anyone who has real skill can just build a circuit designed to make the sound they want without the excessive violence against electronics that occurs with circuit bending.”

    need I say more?

  17. Thank you medix, the sad commentary is this:
    there are a finite number of genetic combinations (they are large in number but still finite) and the odds of two individuals who share a similar combination of genes (like those found in say, brother and sister) but are not related, increase exponentially with the total population count and their resultant offspring might show signs of genetic defect in either mental capacity or heightened physical limitations. or to quote medix “we are getting stupider as a nation, and this pretty much shows it.”

    and to my new best friend strider_mt2k:
    yippee Kiyay M***F****
    seriously love you long time, i do tend to rant a little more than i should but hey, i’m just burning off karma. I guess when you make a living repairing things like i do you get a little upset when you see intentional damage being done
    Keep it real strider_mt2k.

  18. It’s interesting the number of comments that slam this art form.

    Trent Reznor (NiN) uses bent instruments. Perhaps the slam critics also believe that NiN’s recordings are not music. My great-great-grandpappy would no doubt agree with you.

    It’s interesting, though.

  19. I was just corrected:

    Trent Reznor (NiN) and Keith Richards (Rolling Stones) have produced works with bent instruments purchased from my source of information on the topic.

    I understand that it is unscientific, and the part of me that designs purpose-driven circuits rebels at that. But this is considered art, and a glance at anti-theory dot com will make that clear.

  20. “But this is considered art”
    Today anything can be considered art, A pile of shit on the floor with matchsticks in it can be considered an art, hedgehog. How lower art standards can be.

  21. Didn’t folks make their own sometimes crude instruments back in the day?
    Isn’t the modern day banjo an example?
    -or the washtub bass? -or washboard?

    Did those folks always have a full education in the materials they were working with, or do you think a little experimentation was done?

    I guess a lot of folks walked a way from that stuff too back in the day.

  22. First of all, I’d like to point out that toys are meant to be played with. Most “normal” people are satisfied with doing this in accordance with the manufacturer’s expectations, i.e. playing factory pressed game disks on their video game consoles, and playing “normal” music on their sound-enabled toys. This is all perfectly fine for “normal” people. But there are some who simply get board with the way their toys “were meant to be played with.” There are some that see the manufacturer expectations as only a small subset of the things that can actually be done. Circuit bending, like hacking of any kind, is about exploring the world of technology unconstrained by preconceived notions of what should and shouldn’t be done. But before I go too far, I must stress that this idea needs to be approached intelligently. In all honesty, I found that video to be severely insulting. Getting stoned, ripping things apart, and jabbing at circuit boards with screwdrivers until you get something that sounds like a dying 24k modem is not hacking nor art. And the statement the guy made about circuit bending being for uneducated people who aren’t smart enough to even try to understand what they’re doing made me want to stab him in the face with that dremel he was using. Circuit bending is about taking devices that have failed to stimulate inquisitive minds with their original function, and exploring them to a higher potential (no voltage pun intended.) That higher potential may simply be the pleasure and unique sound that can come from a creative arrangement of wires and switches, and given that many of these projects started out as toys to begin with, that is entirely okay. But unlike the toy’s original function, bending also offers the chance for people to learn something about the circuits they are playing with. And hey, where would FiSSION (click my name if you are unfamiliar) be if I only played with my Wii like a normal child should. :)

    And finally:


    “they were designed with a specific purpose in mind, once they are no longer able to perform that purpose, they need to be retired or repaired”

    Umm, what the bloody hell is this?? You basically summed up exactly what hacking is *NOT*: blindly accepting technology as a gift from the corporate gods that one should never attempt to question or change. If you seriously believe that, why are you even here? For your own sake, stop reading Hackaday before you hurt yourself.

  23. I am a graduated art major who has stopped making art because of one plain and basic thing that has been overwhelming the “art world” as of late: most “art” is absolute garbage, in the most waste-of-space meaning of garbage, _YET_, people still make truckloads of horrible and waste-of-space art which do nothing rewarding for anyone except the ingrown group of “art world” people who are all so damn scarred of rejection that they compliment the crap up to the top while secretly loathing all of it.

    For an accurate depiction of the “art world” I suggest the movie “Murder Party” as it is a true glimpse at how outrageously true and funny the “art world” really can be.

    All that being said, like most form of “art”, most “bending” is awful and wost “benders” are terrible, _but_every_one_has_to_start_some_where_ and _most_people_never_make_any_thing_worth_fame_, but who’s to say they can’t keep on trying?

    It’s not your life they’re “wasting”, it’s theirs.

    Thus… quit all the complaining and just ignore the crap you don’t like!

  24. Oh yeah… and I stopped making art because I didn’t want to be associated with a group of individuals that creates so much freakin’ waste for meagerly tangible reasons.

    Compulsory waste seems to be a hell of a lot more reasonable than “creative” waste, or I would have stopped pooping ages ago, right?

    This is a “hack” site.

    Hacks are the use or alteration of a good/service/implement/environment/asset to a state that is different that it’s intended purpose.

    Circuit Bending fits the definition, even if you or I might not like that.

    Complaining changes nothing.

    Stop clogging the “hack” news responses with fascism.

  25. to punmaster:
    ok you got me, i should have added “re-purposed” to that list, but this implies that the original purpose is, at least in part, understood. I myself have taken apart a broken remote control car and used the steering motor to turn a gun turret with my erector set, i was 12, but at least i was understood what it was supposed to do, turn things back and forth. hacking to me, and i may be wrong in my interpretation, involves more of the re-purposing than anything else. obviously, i have an issue when that purpose involves circuit bending, i don’t see it as hacking and it should not be considered hacking, that takes something more. the funny thing is, when real, honest, and true talent in any art form is displayed, the medium in which it’s expressed, doesn’t really matter. lets compare two random videos i searched on google on the words “cheap keyboard” shows a good example of hacking and if all circuit bending was done like this, i would have nothing to complain about. this individual shows an understanding of music and has an idea of the type of sound he wants to make. this one, is just randomly pressing buttons to see what kind of weird sounds he could make. i daresay if they were to swap keyboards and do another video, i would probably say the same thing again.

    and on a personal note, i am not “blindly accepting technology as a gift from the corporate gods that one should never attempt to question or change.” but changing it requires a mind that is up to the challenge and should be done so only with careful thought and reason, wouldn’t you agree?

  26. Why is everyone saying these people should learn how the circuits work? Most of the fun comes from the mystery of it all, I imagine. Thinking of the circuit as a black box with inputs you probe and outputs you listen to is probably the reason why circuit bending is so entertaining; who cares if it sounds nice or is the proper thing to do (I see nothing wrong with putting an electrified spoon in your mouth so long as it’s not going to kill you).

  27. “who cares if it sounds nice or is the proper thing to do”
    I do, I care that it sound terrible and wrong as long as it shows here. Lets just do articles about smashing electronics with hammer, who cares….

  28. to lollynoob:
    “Why is everyone saying these people should learn how the circuits work?” if their goal is to make new and exciting sounds, the variety and number of sounds increase when you know how to manipulate the circuit, and i don’t mean by touching it, i mean by replacing components, changing the values. suppose they want to make a specific sound, they would know how to do that, or if they wanted to reproduce a sound that they chanced upon, they can do that with a background in electronics. that’s probably how Robert Arthur Moog went from selling therimins to building synthesizers. I myself am not satisfied with “the way things are” which is something i have in common with benders, I have to make things better, not as much improve them, more of a fix it if broken type of thing.

  29. right brain…. vs. left brain

    conservative…vs. liberal…

    red vs blue

    you have every right to proclaim these circuit bent works to be whatever you desire. people are having fun, and they may not have the same skills you do. but they still hack.

  30. It sounds like crap. That’s what it boils down too. It does not have a beat, or a melody and it isn’t even avaunt-guard . I might as well turn my radio to a dead station and snap my fingers.

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