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A few more (nerdy) thoughts on circuit bending and whether rewriting software for old games, toys, appliances, etc. should be included in it. Paul Slocum got lumped into the discussion because he participated in the recent Bent festival in New York and his modified Epson printer--as opposed to say, the vintage computers he works with--seems more in the bending spirit of altering consumer devices we don't normally think of as music-producing. That piece I would call bent, perhaps software-wise as opposed to hardware-wise (Slocum proposes "circuit folding" but that's not as blunt or catchy as "circuit bending"). As for whether bending produces boring work, Slocum notes in the comments that "lot of those ['80s] toys and keyboards sound crazy and awesome whether they're modified or not." Good point; j, on the other hand, says:
Circuit bending makes useful audio material if you have a well 'bent' machine which when in the hands of an experienced bender is mostly calculated as well.I'm for extending "circuit bending" to include hacking, with educating our ears to hear the distinctions good but still optional. ("For additional credit, is this [insert sound here] mechanically bent, virtually bent [i.e., within the program], or hacker bent [i.e., made by rewriting the program]?") I have a slight stake in this, having made some visual work that could be called circuit bent, even though it involved neither programming nor working within a program nor even getting out the soldering gun. Any citations to The Wire or Electronic Musician or other places where this issue might have been discussed would be appreciated. Also, it'd be great to hear more from Paul about the "bends for the Fisher Price Pixelvision video camera" he mentions--haven't seen any work done with that machine in quite a while but what I saw was inspiring.
That said, circuit bent machines' random nature are also an asset. They can provide phrases of sounds that just could not be made up in one's head.
I do think the distinction made between circuit bending and folding is interesting but one is not necessarily better than the other.
UPDATE: Slocum continues to object in the comments to being called a circuit bender. I guess my thought would be, if someone asks you to be in a bending festival again don't do it. You'll have to trust me that the scene in NY is interesting. I don't know how you can judge it surfing around the internet, or living in Dallas (sorry to my friends that stay, but you need to get out of that Baptist hellhole). The definition of bending is as expansive as you want to make it.
A while back I got really mad on hearing Harry Nilsson's lovely and quirky song "He Needs Me" in a shoe commercial and wrote a post where I used the F word a lot. Nilsson was an interesting musician and it was nice hearing "Put the Lime in the Coconut" in a Williamsburg bar recently. "You're breakin' my heart, you're tearing it apart, so fuck you" was also a groundbreaker in its day. Anyway, aspersions were cast on the Nilsson estate over the shoe thing and an anonymous commenter took me to task for it:
regarding your harry nilsson rant... i guess they don't call you moody for nothin'. after harry nilsson's money manager, Cindy Sims, stole everything from him and was sentenced to prison, Harry was forced to try to sell some of his songs for commercials... it doesn't surprise me that his songs are still being used now in commercials... after his fortune was stolen.Assuming this is true, sorry.
harry singing a ban deodorant ad...
Paul Slocum emailed to say he appreciated the post on his work but perhaps isn't so happy to be slapped into the "circuit bending" category:
Is my work really circuit bending? key differences: (1) that traditional circuit bending has more of a chaotic element to it (placing wires without knowing exactly what's going to happen) where my stuff is mostly deliberate and calculated. And (2) while traditional circuit bending doesn't require much technical expertise, my work requires a ridiculous amount of geeky programming knowledge. (3) That my work really falls into the realm of software modification much more than hardware modification. All of my devices can easily be returned to their original state either by removing a cartridge or EPROM. Not so of circuit bend items. My stuff's like "Circuit Folding" or something.I described the genre as "emerging" but Ghazala says in the interview linked above that he started using found consumer electronics to make sound in the '60s. But the "instruments as sculpture" aspect of the trend perhaps isn't so interesting. The Nautical Almanac machines posted earlier intrigue because they look like form following function, whether that's actually true or not. (Genuine bricolage as opposed to self-consciously arty bricolage--though the guitar body is pushing it.) Similarly, just because one rewired a consumer device doesn't make the sound interesting. Again, I liked NA the times I heard them as much for the mic-swallowing, pushing-the-limit intensity of their live act--and complex, hybrid analog/digital sounds I didn't think I'd heard before--as the tweaking of instruments. The question here is whether circuit-bending is a big or well defined enough field to incorporate Slocum's light, software-based interventions into existing equipment and Cory Arcangel's hacked Nintendo cartridges. Maybe that is the evolution of the genre, rather than something completely different. Which is not to say I'm not guilty of indulging in a facile journalistic hook.
In your blog, you are usually pretty unforgiving of redundant art. Does circuit bending deserve a bit of a thrashing here? Reed Ghazala thoroughly explored the idea what, like 25 years ago? And wasn't Nam Jun Paik kind of a bender as well (long before that)? I love that bending is accessible to so many people, but in many cases the audio results are totally unlistenable. The process and concept is the interesting part, and that's been so explored. It seems like it's time for something beyond a confused Speak & Spell and croaking SK-1. I'm kinda torn about the whole thing.
New track: "Kill Maurice" [mp3 removed]. I made a video to go with this but I think I'll hold off on posting it. The molecular imagery seems too zany for this music. I learned a lot about editing, and sync-ing sound to images, but I'm starting to think I really hate video. It sucks your attention and demands more, more, more to a much greater extent than music, still imagery, or even looped .GIFs--it's an almost bottomless pit of (diminishing) content. There's a reason Billy Grant's rapidfire, overloaded videos are the way they are--it's what the medium has conditioned our eyes to expect. I've made three short vids now and dislike them not as videos, but philosophically, in that they seem to be trying to play the same game. Maybe I just haven't found the right fit between the music I'm writing and the imagery. But I also hate most MTV and it's hard to find a way around that model.
Above is a screen shot for an animated .GIF of mine that I saved as a 3.32 MB Quicktime movie. It depicts the growth of endorphins in a test subject watching Wheel of Fortune with his relatives at Thanksgiving (not really, I just put that in as a grant-friendly soundbite). Click here to view. One orange sphere is an "anomaly."
War and politics talk has been muted on this page since the shock of learning the exact number of torture-toleratin' Jesucrats out there (59 million, wasn't it?). Comments continue to trickle in along the lines of, "now let's not offend the Bushvoters." Of course I'd like those folks to admit their bloodthirsty instincts prevailed over what was best for America in the larger world, but my strongest bond is with people who marched against the war or had a sick feeling in the pit of their stomach when they saw the Abu Ghraib photos, as opposed to racist glee, numbness, or the naive belief that it was the work of "a few bad eggs." True, Kerry never mentioned the pictures in the campaign, but he at least had a conscience about US military excesses at one time in his life. Conventional wisdom had it that if he'd come off as a peacenik he would have lost even bigger. Now we're back to the Vietnam days of destroying villages to save them and glorifying Marlboro men for military exploits that mean...what, precisely? Oh, yeah, quelling local rebellions of Muslim extremists so that democracy can be spread to the rest of Iraq.
Haven't been to the rehung MOMA yet. On principal, this page worships Alfred Barr and believes his successors are "grocery clerks," to use Colonel Kurtz's phrase. Once it became apparent the museum would never be the dynamic collection Barr originally envisioned, shedding older works as it acquired newer ones, it should have left well enough alone and enshrined his gripping narrative as whole generations saw and remember it. Anyone not as smart and perceptive as he perhaps ought not presume to tamper with what worked--as in, sold the world on a particular (ostensibly too linear, politically unbalanced) vision of artistic change at a particular moment in history. Whatever one thinks of Cezanne's position as the cornerstone of pictorial Modernism, the current staffers' substitution of that corny Paul Signac in his place at the entrance is just lame. Dress the decision up as they will, as signifying the importance of proto-Pop or what have you, it was evidently a flattering-the-donors move, as the Signac is pledged to the museum by David Rockefeller. Above, left to right: Christopher Ashley, Robert Morris Serra, Abe Linkoln. Picture courtesy Screenfull & Look, See.
As an example of the circuit bent gear phenomenon mentioned in the previous post--this is Nautical Almanac's equipment table.