Circuit bending is the art (as opposed to science) of modifying audio toys to produce musical instruments. By creatively shorting circuits, adding switches and pots you can create a truly unique musical object. The hobby is incredibly easy get started in; just roll down to your local thrift store and pick up some old speak ‘n’ spells and start poking around. This comes with all the usual disclamers i.e. don’t hook house current up to your body. If you’re careful though you’ll soon be hearing the wonderful sounds of a know-it-all speak ‘n’ spell in agonizing pain. Sound like fun? Have a look at Anti-Theory’s great guide to everything you need to know to get started with circuit bending.
There is also an interesting gallery show over at Crown Dozen.
Circuit bending is the process of taking a small electronic toy or musical instrument, soldering wires to pads on the PCB, and hoping the sounds it produces will be cool. It’s not a science by any means, and any good, weird sounds you’ll get out of a Speak ‘N Spell or old MIDI keyboard are made entirely by accident or hours and hours of experimentation.
Until now, you could tell how technically adept a circuit bender was simply by how many switches were on the circuit-bent instrument. [Alpha Charlie] doesn’t need switches. Instead, he’s using a few crosspoint switch ICs to connect different pins and pads on the TR-626’s PCB with an Arduino. All of this is controlled by a touchscreen display, and experimenting with the circuit is as simple as pushing a few buttons. Each ‘bend’ is computer controlled, and can be saved and recalled at will.
Of course, circuit bending doesn’t do anyone any good if it sounds like crap. [Alpha Charlie] doesn’t have to worry there. In the video below, he’s getting some very unique sounds that sound like a choir of angels to dorks like myself that listen to Nintendo music.
For all the effort engineers put into electronic design, very few people ever get to appreciate it. All the hard work that goes into laying out a good PCB and carefully selecting just the right components is hidden the moment the board is slipped into an enclosure, only to be interacted with again through a user interface that gets all the credit for the look and feel of the product.
And yet there are some who design circuits purely as works of art. They may do something interesting or useful, but function is generally secondary to form for these circuit sculptors. Often consisting of skeletons of brass wire bent at precise angles to form intricate structures, circuit sculptures are the zen garden of electronic design: they’re where the designer turns to quiet the madness of making deadlines and meeting specs by focusing on the beauty of components themselves and putting them on display for all to enjoy.
By day, our host Mohit designs and builds hardware at Particle. By night, however, the wires and pliers come out, and he makes circuit sculptures that come alive. Check out his portfolio; you won’t be disappointed. This Hack Chat will be your chance to find out everything that goes into making these sculptures. Find out where Mohit gets his inspiration, learn his secrets for such precise, satisfyingly crisp wire-bending, and see what it takes to turn silicon into art.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about. Continue reading “Circuit Sculpture Hack Chat”→
It doesn’t seem as though bending wire would be much of a chore, but when you’re making art from your circuits, it can be everything. Just the right angle in just the right place can make the difference between a circuit sculpture that draws gasps and one that’s only “Meh.”
[Jiří Praus] creates circuit sculptures that are about as far away from the “Meh” end of the spectrum as possible. And to help him make them even more spectacular, he has started prototyping a wire-bending machine to add precision to his bends. There’s no build log at the moment, but the video below shows progress to date. All the parts are 3D-printed, with two NEMA 17 steppers taking care of both wire feed and moving the bending head. It appears that the head has multiple slots for tools of different shapes. For now, the wire is rotated around its long axis manually, but another stepper could be added to take care of that job.
[Jiří] tells us that while he loves making circuit sculptures like his amazing mechanical tulip, he hates repeating himself. He hopes this bender will make repeat jobs a little less tedious and a lot more precise, and we hope he goes forward with the build so we get to see both it and more of his wonderful works of circuit art.
If you’re anything like us, more than a few of your projects were borne out of the fact that you had some crusty bit of gear that was badly in need of a second lease on life. Whether it was a hand-me-down or pulled out of the garbage, we’ve all at one time or another had some piece of hardware in our hands that might not be worth anything in its current form, but would make an awesome excuse for warming up the soldering iron.
That’s what happened when [joekutz] got his hands on this exceptionally juvenile keyboard toy. In its original state, it was so janky it couldn’t even reliably detect two keys being pressed at the same time; sort of a problem for a keyboard. So he decided to pull it apart and use it as a circuit bending playground. Thanks in part to how much free space was inside of the case, he was able to pack in a number of interesting modifications which he’s kindly detailed on Hackaday.io.
[joekutz] started by adding a headphone jack to the device, as well as a switch to disable the keyboard’s speaker. That allows not only listening to digital jams in private, but makes it possible to capture high-quality audio when connected to the computer. He then started poking around the PCB with a resistor and listening for changes. When the pitch of the keyboard changed, he soldered a potentiometer into its place and now had a way to adjust it on the fly.
Of particular note is the clever physical reverb he came up with. A microphone and speaker are connected to each other with a spring made out of an old guitar string. Audio from the keyboard’s PCB is played on the speaker and a TDA2022 low-voltage amplifier boosts the signal from the microphone. The end result is a very cool ethereal metallic effect.
The Casio SK-1 keyboard is fairly well-known in the “circuit bending” scene, where its simple internals lend themselves to modifications and tweaks to adjust the device’s output in all sorts of interesting ways. But creating music via circuit bending the SK-1 can be tedious, as it boils down to fiddling with the internals blindly until it sounds cool. [Nick Price] wanted to do something a bit more scientific, and decided to try replacing his SK-1’s ROM with an Arduino so he could take complete control it.
That’s the idea, anyway. Right now he’s gotten as far as dumping the ROM and getting the Arduino hooked up in place of it. Unfortunately the resulting sound conjures up mental images of a 56K modem being cooked in a microwave. Clearly [Nick] still has some work ahead of him.
For now though, the progress is fascinating enough. He was able to pull the original NEC 23C256 chip out of the keyboard and read its contents using an Arduino and some code he cooked up, and he’s even put the dump online for any other SK-1 hackers out there. He then wrote some new code for the Arduino to spit data from the ROM dump back to the keyboard when requested. In theory, it should sound the same as before, but with the added ability to “forge” the data going back to the keyboard to make new sounds.
The result is what you hear in the video linked after the break. Not exactly what [Nick] had in mind. After some snooping with the logic analyzer, he believes the issue is that the Arduino can’t respond as fast as the original NEC chip did. He’s now got an NVRAM chip on order to replace the original NEC chip; the idea is that he can still use the Arduino to reprogram the NVRAM chip when he wants to play around with the sound.
Through-hole assembly means bending leads on components and putting the leads through holes in the circuit board, then soldering them in place, and trimming the wires. That took up too much space and assembly time and labor, so the next step was surface mount, in which components are placed on top of the circuit board and then solder paste melts and solders the parts together. This made assembly much faster and cheaper and smaller.
Now we have embedded components, where in order to save even more, the components are embedded inside the circuit board itself. While this is not yet a technology that is available (or probably even desirable) for the Hackaday community, reading about it made my “holy cow!” hairs tingle, so here’s more on a new technology that has recently reached an availability level that more and more companies are finding acceptable, and a bit on some usable design techniques for saving space and components.