Circuit Bending with PartyShank

Thanks to Howard and Christian of Partyshank, I finally have a term to use when describing the glitchy bleep-bloop technoise used in their music... but what on earth is 'circuit bending'? NIN, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Portishead, Venetian Snares, ec8or, and exemplified by Partyshank... circuit bending is behind the some of the best 'tech' noise in my collection. So what is it?

Circuit Bending is the art of producing music through the 'bent' - or unintended - usage of electronic circuits, usually involving weirdly modified childhood toys. My Speak & Read always seemed like a great candidate for sampling, but circuit bending goes beyond recording mere audio samples. Electro-tech artists actually crack open the toy's outer casing, hardwiring into the circuitry inside to create sounds. The result is some remarkably clear, although often experimentally derived, musical tweaking via the short-circuiting of the device.

circuit bending

Christian of the circuit bending duo Partyshank was kind enough to answer a few questions, explaining where some of their sounds come from. "We have never made a certain "type" of music, but everything would fall under electronic music as a whole. I used to produce drum and bass as a kid and then started making electro a few years ago. Howard had circuit bent the toys and together we decided to use the 2 combined."

The guys from Partyshank don't just borrow from their toys, but use them to create the majority of sounds in some songs. The track Gary is based on the modification of the Gary Toy; another of Howard's favourites is the Super Concert Toy though it's rarely used in live sets. Though this technique seems too elite to have a mass following, there are a number of resources available online for anyone interested in starting their own projects. You can even purchase pre-bent toys on eBay!

Christian tells me, "There is loads on the internet on circuit bending, or if you drop us a message on myspace we are more than happy to help out with information. Whenever we have time we reply and try help anyone out with sequencing and what equipment to get." Thanks to Partyshank who were voted one of the 'top ten' favourites of myspace and cranked it at The Social last week... though they claim they have had a few gigs that were less receptive to their sound, Toronto gets it.

My thanks also to DJ 0=0 and Producer Dave Moag for helping introduce me to local circuit bending. These Toronto producers' favourite toys? For DnB DJ 0=0, the Speak & Spell, and Casio sk-1 / sk-5 are some of the most popular pieces of equipment to work with. Dave Moag has a project of his own, an Alesis hr16b drum machine. "It has tons of sounds and a removable patch bay so I could bend other pieces of gear with 36-pin printer ports, but still use the same bay. This allows me to create bridges between all the pins on the chip." It's amazing how much of the music I love is being made this way.

Photos courtesy of Matrixsynth (fickr) and 8hands.

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