Archive for the “Circuit Bent” Category

As many of you know, I like old stuff. My love for old stuff guides me to places like eBay, Kobey’s Swap Meet, and other garage sales & outdoor markets in search of more old stuff. I’m always looking for old drum machines, analog synthesizers, and other miscellaneous sound making machines to either fix, or bent to do something it was never meant to do. You know, circuit bend it in some way. Nearly all of my gadgets focus on sound. Until now.

While walking through Kobey’s one day, I saw my first flippy clock that I have in years. I had to have it. Now I see them everywhere. I currently have 3 of them, and with my hoarding tendencies, I know the obsession will not end there.

This first one that I bought at Kobey’s did not work, I knew this when I bought it. I bought it anyway, hoping that I could get it working again, clean it up, have it proudly on display, and use it to listen to Coast To Coast late at night while playing the XBox. So after coming home, I started unscrewing screws that say “Do Not Unscrew” to see it’s insides, to see it’s guts. I took out the “flippy” section, and found that the fix was a pretty easy one. The flaps were just stuck together from a dried liguid spilt on it some time ago. My assumption is that someone many years ago tipped over a bottle of booze on top of it, rendering it forever “stuck.” Because of my super-human like detective skills, it’s time of death by alcohol was sometime between 8 and 9 o’clock PM. Ironically enough, I fixed it by cleaning it with q-tips soaked in rubbing alcohol.

So why do I post this, you ask? Because I decided to take a picture to document my odd hobby. On another really nice evening in Southern California, and after a couple of beers, the flippy clock lives on.

Taking this apart to fix it is why I loved taking apart my Triumph to modify it, is why I love finding an old analog synthesizer to take apart and fix, is why I love inventing and soldering something that never existed before, and is why I love old stuff. I can almost guarantee that my next invention will involve one of these endearing flippy clocks.

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I have been convinced for a long time that I am a hoarder of sorts, and I suppose that I am when it comes to digital items, like music and movies (right now I’m at over 31,000 songs and over 600 movies on a number of hard drives). But being a digital hoarder doesn’t really affect my life in the negative way seen with most hoarders. I don’t have trash all throughout my house, nor do I have any rooms that are piled high with boxes of things. But I tend to accumulate lot’s of stuff when it comes to certain areas. Jen and I were sitting in the hot tub last night and I came to the realization that I am not a hoarder, but a collector of items, like those seen in the picture below.

When I get obsessed with a hobby, I feel like I need to collect everything within my grasp that has to do with said hobby, and with my expensive taste, I need to collect the best stuff. I got into making music, and decided that I needed to collect as many things that have to do with creating music as are within my grasp. And by means of craigslist & ebay, the ends are limitless.

Anyway, Here is a picture of what a corner of my garage is looking like these days. Can you even begin to name all the instruments that are seen in this picture??? In exactly one week, I will post a comment that mentions every single musically inclined item that is pictured here. If you can guess more than 5 of these things, I will be thoroughly impressed. You might even get a prize.

1st angle:

click to enlarge

2nd angle:

click to enlarge

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Circuit bending under fluorescent lights in a dark basement with a cold beer in the early hours of morning is ideal for spending creative energy. I spent a good portion of a Friday night finishing what I had planned in my head about a month ago to build. I spent hours at the workbench, making sure everything worked out perfectly. My electronic exploits fall under the perfectionist traits I hold as an artist. Because, yes, this is an art.

I call the new creation a bop gun. It is a small circuit, bent to glorious ends. Originally, it’s purpose, it’s only purpose, was to digitally output a laughing sound when triggered. I took out the circuit, added resisters, buttons, photo resisters, switches, and a spring using the conductivity of human flesh to change the sound into something amazing. Once I mapped out the bend, I disassembled a toy gun and carved out enough space to fit my creation. The finished product is built with precise beauty paired with ideal ergonomic functionality.

What’s the point? The satisfaction is in the process of building something, no matter how ridiculously impractical.

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I’ve sent enough current through a few circuit boards now to explode, disable, and set ablaze my fair share of components. It’s amazing that I haven’t yet electrocuted, burned, or seriously maimed myself in the process. But inventing is like exploring, and it is an art form. I now have to fix the analog delay circuit that I built to incorporate into my analog synthesizer. And yes, the synth is complete and working perfectly.

Although this would appear to be the source of the problem, it is not. I enjoy the absurdity of how it looks though, and works better than the real problem. Now, I’m off to buy a handful of components to get this thing working again.

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Once upon a time, a boy ordered a build your own synthesizer kit, and soon after, it arrived in the mail. It consisted of hundreds of little parts, wires, components and an instruction book. The do-it-yourselfer was expected to be well versed using a soldering iron, and had at least some knowledge on how to read an electrical schematic. He said, “How hard can it be?” And it wasn’t so hard. He spent a few nights, working under the flourescent light of his work bench, with the smell of molten lead making his head only slightly enlightened. The test of his work was ready, and upon striking the first note, there was a deeply rich sound that made his heart pound. It was amazing. The satisfaction of building something as complex as a synthesizer and it operating as expected made the boy proud.

Then the boy said, “Why stop there?” and he decided he would integrate an analog delay to the circuit to give his sweeping sounds the warm echo that can only be achieved through an analog delay. An analog synthesizer deserves nothing less than an analog delay. Once the complimenting delay circuit was built and integrated into the synthesizer, the result was even more amazing than originally expected.

Now it was time to give this insane contraption a place to live.

Finding a case to house my insanity was difficult and time consuming. The boy knew what it needed to look like, but had a hard time finding it. Finally, on a Sunday afternoon at the swap meet, he found the perfect case. He saw it in the distance, a small black suitcase that originally lived as a picnic style tea set. It was wood wrapped in black leather with brass accents. The boy paid $5 and was on his way home with his ideal. It was time to wrap this thing up and stamp it complete.

Somewhere in the process of taking this complex circuit, and housing it in a custom case, the synthesizer decided to die a sudden and mysterious death. The boy figured, correctly, that the synthesizer, built to handle 12 volts of DC electric current, was accidentally fed 120 volts of straight AC. There were two separate paths the boy could take at this time. He could either send in the circuit to be fixed by the manufacturer, or he could give it another try with another mail ordered kit.

So he ordered another kit, which is awaiting a precise hand and clean solder. The boy debated sharing a picture of his original creation, but because he was searching for something to blog about this morning, he figured he’d share his story along with a photo of his dysfunctional synthesizer. It’s pretty, however inoperable. A working one will be coming soon.

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Holy shit…

I bought a Moog Prodigy off eBay the other day. I’ve heard that as far as synthesizers go, there really isn’t much that can compare in the richness of sound, nor layout of controls. Even having been manufactured in the early eighties, the Moog Prodigy is the pocket ace of many famous bands. It arrived on Friday and ate my soul.

It does look like it was made in the early eighties though. The wood panels are heavily scratched, the inside likely needs to be cleaned thoroughly, as well as the sheet metal front panel and keys. Also, there is one knob that completely broke off. Luckily it’s only the glide knob and not a cut-off. I am going to get right on this as soon as Jen and I are set up in our new place. So for now, I’ll just stick with the stock photo at the top of the post. Stay tuned for an upcoming post of the before and after.

Here are a few samples of what this thing can do. All of these tracks aren’t very difficult to play, but on the Prodigy, they sound friggin rad!

Vintage Moog Prodigy Demo by Calvin Cardioid

Bjork, NIN, Depeche Mode, Air are just a few names that utilize the amazing sounds this thing is capable of producing. I will have this one in my arsenal for as long as I can keep it rocking. It really is an unbelievable slice of synthesizer as well as a little piece of electronic music history.

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Now, before you start the name-calling, allow me to fully admit the level of my geeky behavior. I know it is overwhelming and often overflowing. Now with that out of the way, let’s talk about circuit bending.

It started with something called an Atari Punk Console (APC). An APC is basically a square wave noice generator where you control the frequency and length of the pulse with two potentiometers (two pots or knobs). When you twist the knobs, the pitch of the APC changes. It’s a fairly simple circuit to make, requiring minimal experience, and very satisfying results when you get it right. This was the beginning of the end for me.

Since that time (2 years ago or so), I’ve been getting my hands dirty building and modifying many different kinds of sound generating/modifying electronics. I’ve been taking apart toy keyboards and adding knobs and buttons to make them legitimate musical instruments. I’ve also been building things from scratch like a analog delay along with a 2 oscillator analog synthesizer. The end result is not something that gets me a lot of street cred, money, nor an advantageous edge in any popularity contests, but it sure is fun to build stuff with a legitimate application in mind. Yes, that’s right, legitimate application. I’ve held a few living room jam sessions with a half dozen people or more where the majority of instruments are modified electronic toys or home made synths of some sort. I’m nearly ready for the open mic experiment.

So what is circuit bending? The basics say that you take apart an electronic instrument and short circuit the electrical current to do something that was never intended by the manufacturer. These sounds can be god-awful noises, and occasionally something way cooler than what it normally does. It’s probably better to show you than to try to write about it. This is a self-preservation measure that I will take as to not fall off the deep-end of uncool.

This first one is my APC. I built the circuit into an Atari pong controller. It is controlled with the two knobs on the bottom when on switch is engaged. It also has a fine tune knob (the one on top), and a momentary release (the orange button). It’s a pretty cool little device. I’ll post some video if there’s any interest.

This one is a little keyboard that I built in a few extra knobs (top right) to control the output. One of the knobs gives a little distortion, one makes a lower pitch harmonic when you hit a key, and one a higher pitch harmonic. I also added the little red button on the lower right corner that adds a deep fuzz.

So whaddaya think? Have I lost all street cred? Am I practicing my best babe-repellent techniques? Or is this something worth writing about? Would you be interested in seeing more of these odd musical instruments? Videos maybe?


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I was going to ride out to the desert this weekend with a couple friends to watch the vintage bike races. I changed the oil in my bike and did a general tune up last weekend in preparation. Upon going online to get directions to the event, I discovered that my friends were mistaken on the date of the races. Even though they had directions, I was proactive enough to want a copy of my own for the just-in-case. I am glad I didn’t ride out into the middle of nowhere looking for races that didn’t exist. Hooray for being prepared. Hooray for boy scouts…

So, on Saturday morning I went to participate in a pool tournament. It was a qualifier round where the winners would move on to a semifinals tournament, and eventually the finals in Vegas. My chances are infinitely greater this time around because it is a singles tournament. The qualifier was a piece of cake, and I left without losing a single match. The competition will stiffen during the next 2 rounds and hold a fairly large purse. Early retirement, here I come…

Bare with me, I’m jumping around. My thought process and consciousness is somewhat fractured this afternoon.

I was recommended to read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. A friend made this recommendation, not the author. This is next on the list in case you’d like to read along. It looks like a quick read, though, so act fast! I was also asked to read some Tom Robbins a long, long time ago, but haven’t decided whether or not I am ready to dive into that at this time.

I fixed my meat thermometer just in time for a Sunday barbeque. Can you tell what the problem was, and what is a davoriginal fix?

On a final note, I have a list of stuff to do before I die. A bucketlist, in relation, however mine was created far before the movie came out. The list is physical, not metaphorical. Among many others, contained on this list are 2 items. 1. I was discussing the plan for jumping out of an airplane with a friend last night. We might opt out of going tandem, and take the 6 hour course to take the leap solo. 2. I am picking up painting with the hope of eventually having enough to show in a small, privately owned art gallery around town. I start painting tonight.

Peace bitches.

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