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Circuit Bending & Recycling


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ROTH MOBOT | TOMMY STEPHENSON | PATRICK McCARTHY | CIRCUIT BENDING WORKSHOPS | ELECTRONIC MUSIC | EXPERIMENTAL ELECTRONICS | EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC | HOMEMADE ELECTRONICS } CHICAGO
EXPERIMENTAL ELECTRONICS, CIRCUIT BENDING, PERFORMANCES AND WORKSHOPS

Workshops, Classes, Salons, and the eSymposium

The Experimental Sound Studio
5925 N Ravenswood, Chicago, IL 60660 (map)
Register for the Workshop
Roth Mobot
has been invited to conduct one of their Introduction to Circuit Bending workshops as part of this year's Chicago Artists Month festival.

Tommy Stephenson and Patrick McCarthy, both vanguards of the circuit bending movement, have set the standard for immersive, interactive, alternative education with their unique focus on technology, invention, and problem solving through creative thinking and electronics tinkering.

Circuit Bending is the creative recycling of discarded consumer electronics, usually children's toys, guitar effects units, inexpensive battery-powered musical instruments, portable CD players, etc., to create unique experimental electronic art by adding wires, knobs, and switches to control new connections within the device's pre-existing circuitry.

No prior knowledge of electronics is required.

  Take apart an old toy and make a brand new musical instrument! At the end of this workshop participants will be able to identify and explore the basic components of a typical circuit board, the basics of soldering, install output jacks, switches, body contacts (and more!), and control a world of new sounds. Tools and components will be provided.

Participants are required to bring one or two battery-powered devices (with batteries!) to the workshop.

Register for Roth Mobot's Introduction to Circuit Bending Workshop

What is Circuit Bending?
 

Circuit Bending is the creative recycling of discarded consumer electronics, usually children’s toys, guitar effects units, inexpensive battery-powered musical instruments, portable CD players, etc., to create unique experimental electronic art by adding wires, knobs, and switches to control new connections within the device’s pre-existing circuitry.
No prior knowledge of electronics is required. Examples can be found on our 'Devices' page.

What's a Good Device to Bend?
Well for starters - don't bend anything you can't live without (especially if you're just starting out). Also never bend anything that plugs into the wall.

There are definitely some "holy grails" of bending - almost anything by Texas Instruments and Casio.

Lately I've been bending musical greeting cards. They don't just beep out a song anymore. They have actual samples in them now. Which brings me to another guideline - toys that have samples in them are the most desirable. If it says, "hi!" or barks or meows or quacks it's probably a good bet. Toys that merely beep and boop are usually not so fun.

Which brings up the obvious - toys that make sound. You'd be surprised how many students bring toys that make no sound to the workshop. True, you can bend them... but the results have less of an "immediate gratification" quality to them.

Battery-powered video devices are a candidate, but require a monitor to see the results (usually not readily available).

Usually the older toys are easier to work with. Here's why. There's a trend in electronics these days towards miniaturization and cost-efficiency that manifests itself in things known as SMDs (Surface Mounted Devices). They are tiny tiny versions of basic electronic components.

It's one thing to go after a fairly "see-able" resistor or capacitor in a toy, and it is quite a different thing to go after a little square of metal smaller than half a match head. It can be done, but requires excellent eyesight. I use one of those big magnifying lamps.

Some of the simplest things bend the best. I have this rather stupid Fischer Price toy that does nothing but count, do the ABCs, and that's about it. I put one clock bend in it and I love it. (SMD based, by the way).

Here's another general rule. Try to stay away from games. Not that they won't bend - just that they are more difficult to work with because you have to actually "play" the game in order to get it to make sound. Kind of a drag when you're trying to get at it's internal circuitry.


Workshops Currently Offered

Experimental Electronics 101a - Circuit Bending (Teens & Adults)
An Introduction to the Acquired Technology Arts

Dates and Times to be Announced

Take apart an old toy and make a brand new musical instrument! At the end of this workshop participants will be able to identify and explore the basic components of a typical circuit board, the basics of soldering, install output jacks, switches, body contacts (and more!), and control a world of new sounds. Tools and components will be provided. Participants are required to bring one or two battery-powered devices (with batteries!) to the class. No previous electronics experience is required.

Students are required to bring one or two battery powered devices to the class.

Digital Fabrication (Teens & Adults)
CAD for ALL

Dates and Times to be Announced

3D Printing, Laser Cutting, Robots.... The current Personal Manufacturing Revolution is upon us. Remember the world before PCs and Macs -- and how personal computers changed the world? It's happening again.

This is a guest teaching series requiring a particular on0site infrastructure. Contact us for details.

Experimental Electronics 101b - Build an Alien Sound Machine (Teens & Adults)
An Introduction to Electronic Schematics

Dates and Times to be Announced

This workshop will introduce participants to DIY electronics. The workshop will focus on how to read and write electronics schematics, while assembling a small electronic device to create alien noises using light. Participants will be taking home their small battery-powered device that is easily adapted into an environmentally reactive analogue "wearable." The skills learned in this workshop are a "must have" set for any electronics artist.

Introduction to Experimental Music & Instruments (Kids)
How to Build an Instrument from Scratch

Dates and Times to be Announced

What is “Experimental Music?” How does one play it? On what sorts of instruments is it played? How do you conduct it? How do you score for it? This workshop specifically designed for children ages 11 - 14 yrs. explores these questions as well as what it means to make your own musical instruments out of common household materials and how to create your own music on them. This three-hour workshop emphasizes non-traditional approaches to music and sound. Participants will be engaged in “homemade” instrument design, construction, and playing.

Introduction to Homemade Electroacoustics (Adults)
H
ow to Build a Simple Contact Microphone

Dates and Times to be Announced

Not to geek out on science too much, but how does a contact microphone actually work? Learn the basics of the Piezoelectric effect while honing basic soldering skills. During the first half of the workshop participants will learn the physics of a contact mic, as well as the simplicity of its construction from reclaimed materials. The second half of the workshop participants will learn the basics of DIY electroacoustic instrument design and construction. Participants are encouraged to bring random objects to amplify - sheet metal, cardboard boxes, acoustic instruments, slinkies, coat hangers, textured plastic objects, etc. No previous electronics experience is required!

Introduction to Homemade Electroacoustics (Kids)
What's the Science Behind Amplified Sound?

Dates and Times to be Announced

Students ages 11- 14 will learn the basics of DIY (Do It Yourself) experimental electroacoustic musical instrument design and construction. Emphasis will be on learning the science behind the amplification of acoustic sound, what is resonance, and how to build experimental electroacoustic musical instruments from common household materials.

Experimental Electronics 201 - How to Build a Controller Oscillator (Adults)
An Introduction to OContol Oscillators

Dates and Times to be Announced

This workshop will focus on a more advanced level of electronics hacking. How to read and write electronics schematics, how to assemble and use homemade sequencers to control and trigger electronic devices. Though not a prerequisite, participants will benefit from having basic soldering and Circuit Bending skills, a basic understanding of electronics components, and a basic understanding of oscillators. Participants are encouraged to bring a Circuit Bent device to the workshop.

Experimental Electronics 301 - How to Build a Vactrol Sequencer (Adults)
Advanced Coltrol Oscillators

Dates and Times to be Announced

"Vactrol” is the trade name for an optoisolator or optocoupler. A simple vactrol is a lightproof packet containing an LED and a photoresistor, usually a Cadmium Sulfide (CdS) cell. Practically any material can be used as the vactrol’s casing – as long as it is lightproof (electrician’s tape, gaffer’s tape, heat shrink tubing, opaque epoxy, wood, etc.) Optoisolators are a convenient way to control trigger points within a circuit bent toy. Controlled by a homemade sequencer circuit and various devices can be triggered in predictable (and sometimes unpredictable!) patterns. Though not a prerequisite, participants will benefit from having basic soldering and Circuit Bending skills, a basic understanding of electronics components, and a basic understanding of oscillators. Participants are encouraged to bring a Circuit Bent device to the workshop.

Music and the Arduino
An Introduction to Granular Synthesis Programming

Dates and Times to be Announced

The Arduino is a "microcontroller," basically a computer in the palm of your hand. Learn the basics of programming an Arduino while creating a small, but very loud granular synthesizer, a basic sound synthesis method that operates on the microsound time scale.
Students are required to have basic Soldering and Circuit Bending skills and a basic understanding of electronics components.

How To Build a Portable Amplifier
Skip the Kit - Build it from Scratch!

Dates and Times to be Announced

This workshop will guide you step by step through the process of building your own standard, battery-powered, portable amplifier.

This course will show how simple electronics construction can be while emphasizing the basics of soldering, following an electronics diagram, custom circuit design, circuit construction, and finishing techniques. Though students may bring their favorite tools, all that is required is a 9v battery and a "box" to house your completed amplifier circuit (good candidates include cigar boxes, coffee cans, Tupperware, broken radios, small pre-existing speaker cabinets, etc. -- anything that can can be easily manipulated with a hand drill).
Students are required to have basic Soldering and Circuit Bending skills and a basic understanding of electronics components.


Past Circuit Bending Lectures and Workshops
The University of Chicago
The Experimental Sound Studio, Chicago
The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago
The Eco-Arts Festival, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
The Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago

The Peter Jones Gallery, Chicago
Nic Collins' Hardware Hacking Class, The School of the Art Institute, Chicago
The Association for Computing Machinery, DePaul University, Chicago
The Peter Jones Gallery, Chicago
The Open Source Open Ear Festival, The Mess Hall, Chicago
The Peter Jones Gallery, Chicago
The PACedge Festival, The Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago
Festival de Música Electrónica Latina, The National Museum of Mexican Art, Chicago
The eSymposium, Lizard's Liquid Lounge, Chicago
Thank you to Tom Young, Dan Demchuk, Ruth Hnatusko, Tim Invason, Factory Smoke, Carl Broman, Borja Sotamoyor, and Jaimee for the photos

Circuit Bent Saturdays - the weekly electronics symkposium

the eSymposium

EVERY Month (#eSymp)
Location TBA Monthly (join the google group below to be up to date)

To nurture the Midwest experimental electronics community, we host a free monthly "eSymposium," a lateral lecture series wherein participants are both teachers and students. There's soldering, tinkering, Q&A, show-&-tell, bending circuits, hacking toys, demonstrations, and open jamming.

Join the eSymposium's Google Group, or check out the eSymposium's SoundCloud Group.


Circuit Bending Links
Bending Links Electronics Supplier Links

 

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