Circuit-bending is a folk expression of randomly conceived analog electronic music. The
reconstruction and recontextualization of discarded or unused analog sound toys is
achieved by altering the circuit board by soldering switches or dials into the electrical
circuit path; these connections are found through a process of random testing. The father
and initial propagator of the craft, Reed Ghazala, posits that through this random process a
circuit-bent device becomes a “living instrument” with a unique lifespan and disposition.
Circuit-bending also serves as a commentary on the digital age of sound generation; the
corporate-influenced homogeneity of digital loop and sequencer composition is contested
by the fertile dialogue between a circuit bender's will and the variant responses of their
living instruments in a context of improvised performance. Inherent in the craft is the
recontextualization of scavenged materials; bent toys will either be kept in their original
housing to make this reuse apparent, or rehoused in other reused cases. I conducted
ethnographic research about the culture that ties Midwest circuit-benders together from
October 2009 to February 2010, in Minneapolis and in Dekalb and Chicago, Illinois. I
discovered that although the community is sparsely distributed in a geographical sense, its
tight-knit nature is maintained by internet correspondence and publicity, and periodic
gatherings—both of which serve to keep the cultural identity intact and keep cultural
Additional contributor: Anna Schultz (faculty mentor).
An Ethnography of Circuit-bending: Reuse, Chance, and Collaboration with the Living Instrument.
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