Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bent Fest 2009

Since the last time I posted here, I've been paid for the first two weeks of my job. As much as I loved living off of dumpster bagels and drinking $2 PBR, having money rules. Just being able to splurge again is great, and I did so this past weekend at the Bent Festival in Manhattan.

For those of you that are not familiar with "circuit bending," is the process of opening up a simple circuit and modifying it, or "bending" it, to produce different sounds. For example:

Now, most of this sounds like nonsense. Circuit bending and music are definitely two separate areas that should not be confused at first. Circuit bending is the process of discovery: finding out that your furby or see-and-say can produce the same sounds from Dark Side of the Moon. Does this mean you can make another Dark Side of the Moon with your see-and-say and a soldering iron? Absolutely not.

The first night of Bent Festival was Thursday, but that also happened to be the same night as Handmade Music at the 3rd Ward, which is essentially the same thing. So I decided to stay in Brooklyn and check out what was going on over there.

Turns out we got two performers that were scheduled for Friday night of Bent Fest. First, and most impressive, was Peter Edwards of Casperelectronics. Essentially, Peter has a bunch of different tone generators with the same clock running through the system. Each tone generator has different settings, and by modifying each one slightly, he was able to simulate a full "band" sound, using a patch bay of external Voltage Controlled Oscillators.

For those of you that didn't understand that, he plugged lots of stuff in and turned lots of knobs. Made cool sounds. This is sort of a preview into his live performance:

The second act was called E Squared. This was a more random performance, utilizing many different kinds of circuits from old turntables to card readers. They were sort of like DJs that used circuit boards.

So on Friday night, I headed down to The Tank, right on the edge of tourist hell Manhattan, and found that the space was A LOT smaller than I expected. Of course I had missed the free beer, but I was just in time to see Peter Edwards perform again.

I ran into my old friend Lauren, who is working on her masters thesis based around the circuit bending culture. We talked to Dr. Bleep, the inventor of the Thingamagoop. It is essentially a small noise-box with a photo-sensor and a few VCOs, but they're handmade and pretty cool to play with.

I also checked out an installation that used circuits with traced patterns for your hands to produce various different tones, as well as video.

For sale, there were a lot of starter kits, from stripped down Arduinos, to LED displays, to synths constructed on a breadboard. Instead of buying any of the kits, I opted to go for the book that was debuted earlier that night by Nic Collins. It is called Handmade Electronic Music, and it is a great read for people interested in getting started with circuit bending. You do not need an electronics background for it either.

Saturday night I had planned to return, but work was exhausting so I headed home. I was hoping it was going on today, but no such luck. All the tutorials and everything were Saturday afternoon. However, I'm going to start building some projects in this book and see what comes of it. I have a soldering iron and a breadboard so why the hell not.

Here's a preview to my next post: What happens when you put seven audio engineers in 2,000 square foot loft in Bed-Stuy? This could be the start of a hilarious sitcom.

1 comment:

  1. You also need to check out Circuit Bending: Build Your Own Alien Instruments by Reed Ghazala. Can't wait to visit the studio.