CIRCUIT BENDING: Attendees at the fifth annual Bent Festival held recently in New York City take apart keyboards and toys during one of the festival's workshops, using the parts to construct electronic musical instruments or obscure works of art. Image: Courtesy of Craig Thompson
What do a Texas Instruments Speak & Spell learning toy, a vintage 1980s Casio keyboard and a Little Tikes toy megaphone have in common? All can be dismantled, rewired and transformed into musical instruments through a process known as "circuit bending."
Circuit benders recently congregated in New York City for the fifth annual Bent Festival, where experienced benders as well as novices were able to repurpose a variety of electronic devices, coaxing from them drones, whistles and bleeps that are often played in concert to create something akin to music.
The festival showcased the heritage of circuit bending as a do-it-yourself activity started by electronics enthusiasts, the randomness and spontaneity of the sounds, and the recycling of old toys and musical instruments to make new instruments. "Circuit bending is a really great entry point for people into electronics," says Mike Rosenthal, a graduate student in New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program. "Looking at the guts of an electronic instrument or toy is very intimidating. So bending is a real push to try and demystify electronics for people."
At the very least, circuit bending is having an impact on landfills, as fewer electronic gizmos end up as trash.