In 1967, Reed Ghazala discovered something amazing just by sitting at his desk.
At the time he was a broke teenager, musician, and experimental artist known to friends for his magnetic sculptures and the sort of pyrotechnic displays that once sent him into emergency surgery. And then one day in 1967, his desk began to emit strange sounds. He recognized their sci-fi whirrs and electronic tones as something like the sound of the expensive synthesizers of the day, and he was sure he wasn’t imagining it.
The source turned out to be nothing more than a toy amplifier he had left in a desk drawer, its wires exposed due to a broken case, its power still switched on. The toy’s innards were short circuiting against the inside of the metal desk, and in so doing were making music that neither its creators nor its owner could ever have imagined. Circuit bending was born.
The latest episode of Motherboard.tv looks at Reed Ghazala, the father of circuit bending.
Today thousands of benders follow Reed’s lead, customizing or simply breaking their synthesizers, children’s toys and other easy-to-crack-open gadgets with the hope of generating cacophonies of sound.
“Circuit bending has leveled the playing field,” he says. “It has become everyman’s technique for prototyping audio circuitry.”
One barometer of circuit bending’s reach is the annual Bent Festival. This year’s fest, which starts June 23rd in Brooklyn, features workshops, video screenings, art exhibitions, installations, and music performances.
Three decades after launching his musical idea, Reed is still building instruments out of the kind of electronics that tend to pile up in our closets, and fostering the idea that with a little bit of tinkering we can all make some pretty unearthly music.
“If Jackson Pollock were to design electronics, he’d be a circuit bender,” says Ghazala. “The wires fall upon the circuit like the paint on Pollack’s canvas.”