Masters Project: 4. Circuit-Bending Toys (Part 3): What’s in a Name/Workshop 2 & 3

In this mini-series I will talk about circuit-bending as part of Creative Project, as well as occasionally, how it will relate to my Main composition project.

In the last post, I introduced you to the instruments by how I bent them. But now it’s time to Name and Fame them!

There are now three circuit bent toys being used in my Creative Project, I shall introduce them in the order of their naming.

(The descriptions of the instruments were written by Natalie Perdu, a member of Canterbury Christchurch University Scratch Orchestra, and fellow Masters Student. Without further adieu, here are the instruments they helped to create:


First of, let me introduce you to Lady Penelope. 

Lady Penelope

She is the only one to be described in a poem:

Pink whiz, heart attack girl.
Plastic face, no disgrace.
Living the life rarefied,
no second place.

Higher and higher the doyenne of cool.
Refined sugar sweetness,
distinctly old skool.

With vim And with vigour,
and clipped elocution,
she’ll draw you right in for your execution.

This is the game she loves to play.
The more you hold on,
the more you will pay.

Right to your core her electricity flows.
You’ll be bound in her net,
and trussed with pink bows.


Secondly, there is 8 Bit Guitar:

8-Bit Guitar

A Garrulous and dynamic individual. Naïvely enthusiastic. 8 Bit Guitar gallivants into situations into situations where angels fear to tread. Attention span of a washing machine on full spin, with the hear of a tiger. Always tries hard and the results never fail to bring a mile to the stoniest of hearts. Needs to be watched over or may try too hard and exhaust themselves.


And lastly, but by no means least, Farmageddon:



Bright, breezy, bubbly! Who wouldn’t be drawn to the cheery soul of Farmageddon? When you find the online, you will be drawn into their sweet, cheery, and oh so polite persona. There is nothing Faramgeddon won’t do for you. You will be made the center of their world.  Until you’re not. Until their darkness begins to show. You always though the darkness was there, but you brushed that thought aside. Now you know. Now you see the sociopath that is Farmageddon.

All three of these instruments, along with a fourth in it’s prototype stages were showcased as part of  a concert at Canterbury Christchurch University on the 19th April.

The fourth instrument named Gallitronia (no points for guessing the influence of the name or what toy was circuit bent). As mentioned, this instrument was presented in its prototype form during the performance, therefore its full potential has yet to be realised. But don’t despair, I will talk about it more in detail at some point in the future.

Throughout this process, my good friends and Videographers Michael-Paul Thompson of CinemaTree Media, and Nathaniel Beddall are creating a short documentary-style video of this project which whilst its main purpose is to document the project for my Creative Project Module, it will also be available to you lovely people via my YouTube Channel.


– Jason Hodgson (21st April 2017)


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Masters Project: 3. Circuit-Bending Toys (Part 2): The death of the Radioscramaphonia/First Workshop

In this mini-series I will talk about circuit-bending as part of Creative Project, as well as occasionally, how it will relate to my Main composition project.

When I started planning this entry I had completed my first Circuit Bent instrument and gave it the name ‘Radioscramaphonia’. I then made the mistake of adding things to it. In particular I wanted to increase my potentiometer, and to add an audio jack socket to allow for an easy way to amplify it. However, at that stage I did not have the skills or dexterity required to make these changes. And as a result, I had to pronounce the death of my Radioscramaphonia.

I even went to UKC to ask the computing department if they could help, but even they were unable to resurrect Radioscramaphonia.

Although, yes I was saddened to see my instrument give up its life, its sacrifice was not in vain. Instead, I had to see this as a learning opportunity.  What could I have done differently? What can I take away and learn from this experience?

Firstly, I’ve learnt the hard way that ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!’.

Secondly, I learnt not to over complicate the task when you don’t have the skills (yet). I could have easily just replaced the speakers with the audio jack socket, instead of attempting to find a way to bypass it when an audio jack was plugged into it. Whilst I know this is possible, I am now aware that I do not have the skills or dexterity yet to achieve this.

Thankfully, however, this happened after the first workshop I ran as part of my Creative Project, in which I tasked myself with introducing the members of the Canterbury Chirst Church Scratch Orchestra to Circuit Bending.

The first workshop consisted of a potted history, followed by a demonstration of Radioscramaphonia, which led into them opening up toys to discover potential sounds that they could produce. Unfortunately, due to health and safety (and time scale to some extent), I was unable to allow them to use a soldering iron. To compensate this, I discussed with them about the built in failure to a project such as this. I warned them that the sounds they think could happen may change when wires and buttons are added, and new sounds may be discovered in the process. I also made it clear to them that there was a chance that the instruments may give up during the soldering process. I have had personal experience of this, but had no idea at the time that this was going to happen to my Radioscramaphonia. As an attempt at a backup to this problem, I advised them to explore more than one toy each.

The main toys they wanted to be bent were; a Pink Mini-Keyboard, a Pink Guitar, and a Leap Frog French/English Language toy.

The only one to survive from the main choices was the Pink Mini-Keyboard.

During the exploration of sounds in the first workshop, the speakers of the Pink Guitar was knocked and disconnected from the main circuitboard. After multiple attempts which included; replacing the batteries, replacing the wires, replacing the speaker, removing the speaker and connecting it directly to an audio jack socket; my attempts proved futile. Sound was still being made, but after a few seconds at full volume, it would decrease and end with you being barely able to hear it, even with amplification.

I did not have time to continue trying to fix this. So as the person who was playing tthe Pink Guitar had their heart set on a toy guitar, I popped to the local charity shops and found another toy guitar to circuit bend instead.

This circuit bending proved successful.

The second toy that did not survive this process was the Leap Frog French/English Language toy. Simply put, during the soldering, I must have accidentally connected something I shouldn’t have, and it just stopped working. So instead, a Farmyard Barn toy was circuit bent.

In the workshop we had discovered that hands-on was the best approach for this ensemble. The group weren’t over fond of the potentiometer, instead favouring the wires that used the body (and some spit) as a method of resistance. They also decided that they wanted a simple bend with resistant contact wires, and only a couple of buttons if possible that maybe triggered a new sound to be emitted from the toy.

With this in mind I’ve bent the toys with very little adaptations.

The Pink Keyboard had the contact wired added, and one button. The best way I can describe what the button does is to say that it makes the current audible. I’m not entirely certain this is the case, but for the sake of being able to imagine the kind of sound it produces, we’ll stick with that description. The contact wires on all the devices changes the resistance of the sound produced. Commonly this decreases the speed, which lowers the pitch. But occasionally it can increase the speed and pitch.

The replacement for the Pink Guitar, a White Guitar, also has these features. Another button was also added which sends a current via two connections which trigger sounds to be played. However, the connection isn’t clean, so instead you hear a quasi-random sound in terms of where the playback is cut with each pulse of current. Again, as my expertise do not lie within the fields of electronics or circuitry, I can only, certainty at this point, hazard an educated guess at what happens with the new connections I make.

The Farmyard Barn toy was an interesting, and very simple bend. No connections I tried sent any signal like those of the previous two bends. So this one would have no added button. Once again I added the contact wires, but in terms of additions, this was the only one.  Instead, by shear chance I discovered by making contact with the workings of the buttons (underneath the plastic animals), the velocity of the sound was vastly changed. With the addition of the contact wires, this dark and sinister sounds of an alien machine or creature emanated  from this innocent looking toy.

So far this was all the bending I had done in the time scale available between the first and second workshop.

In the next blog entry, I will talk about the second workshop, the naming of the instruments, and the plans for the rehearsal leading up to the performance. As well as some photos of the finished instruments.


– Jason Hodgson (10th March 2017)


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Masters Project: 2. Circuit-Bending Toys (Part 1): An Introduction and the Plan

In this mini-series I will talk about circuit-bending as part of Creative Project, as well as occasionally, how it will relate to my Main composition project.

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As corny as it sounds, the first question that has to be asked is ‘what is Circuit-Bending?’.

Circuit-Bending is a term coined by Qubais Reed Ghazala in 1992 in Experimental Music Instruments Magazine after his now 50 year old technique of creatively short circuiting battery operated, noise making devices to discover sounds beyond the devices original intentions. Consequently, Reed is commonly referred to as the Father of Circuit-Bending.

Since then videos on YouTube, and forums discussing the technique have popped up all across the internet. I will be adding to this half a century old tradition, by creating my own circuit-bent instruments for both my Creative Project and my Main Project. (See my playlist ‘Creative Project‘).

Now I’m not going to bore you with a long and arduous essay about the history of circuit-bending (I’ve already done that for one of my essays). Even though there may be some history dotted throughout this mini-series of posts, the focus, however, will be on the process of this particular part of the project, thoughts I’ve had as I went along, and possibly a mini how-to for the less-so dexterous like myself (no promises on this one).

This series as a whole will also be accompanied by videos demonstrations of each element.(Again, see my YouTube playlist ‘Creative Project‘).

As mentioned earlier, in this mini-series I will talk about circuit-bending as part of Creative Project, as well as occasionally, how it will relate to my Main composition project. The two are not dissimilar, however this term I have chosen to use one element of my Main Project for my Creative Project so I can learn more about the topic without the distraction of it within the wider context of my Main Composition.

The basics are the same in so far as they both require me to create some circuit-bent instruments. The applications however are slightly different. For my Main Project, circuit-bending is a small part of a larger collection of devices. For Creative Project, circuit-bending is used in conjunction with workshopping, and composition creation with an ensemble. Therefore, because they share so many elements and discussions in the process, it seemed excessive to have separate posts for these projects, which is why I’ve chosen to combine them.

The outline for the practical side of the circuit-bending project is:

Step 1:
Research Circuit Bending (this part is already done)

Step 2:
Watch and Read some tutorials on the basics techniques for Circuit Bending – this can be done with…

Step 3:
Open up a toy and discover its hidden sounds. (Repeat this step for each toy).

Step 4:
Fix/Circuit Bend 1 Toy. This will inevitably end in me breaking something. However, the aim at with this step is to learn, rather than to succeed at my first attempt. If I do succeed I would consider this more of a failure, because it would have meant that nothing was learnt.

Step 5:
Create a short recording of me experimenting and improvisation with the Bent instrument.

The Creative Project:

The current purpose that Circuit-Bending has in my Creative Project, is to facilitate musicians in the act of improvisation, exploration, and discovery of chance based instrumentation.

There will be 3 workshops designed to introduce these musicians to Circuit-Bending and the its sound-world. At the end of the project, I do not aim to have created a coherent and reproductive composition using the circuit-bent toys, instead I am hoping to create a discussion about the possibilities of how the techniques used in the project could be used in other parts of music creation.

While writing this I’ve been pondering how at the end of the project, how could I evaluate whether or not the project was successful. The potential criteria I have come up with, are:

Did those involved learn a new skill?

A ‘new skill’ does not only refer to the technical aspects of circuit-bending. It also encompasses skills for the creation of music, ways to tackle the difficulties that arise when   faced with new or unusual material, how to tackle collaborative composition, among others.

Were the workshops engaging?

During the workshops, did the musicians feel included within the process? Were they active in their participation? Did they find the process/workshops interesting?

Did the musicians enjoy the process of chance-based instrument creation?

As self-explanatory as this question is, this one relates a lot to the last question but is more focused on whether the musicians had fun. Due to the nature of the project, the circuits can break or simply give-up. Because of this unpredictability, and potential failure that is built into a project such as this,  and as frustrating as it is, it is important to me that enjoyment is counted as part of the success of this project. Thus ensuring that if only one circuit bent instrument still exist at the end of the project, that the process is taken into account.

Have the musicians come away from the project with a new look are electronic music?

It is important to me and this project, for people to have learnt something new about electronic music. I have in the past been guilty of almost dismissing the importance of electronic music. Already, over the course of this project, I have gained a new love an respect for the art.

Have the musicians over a short space of time, become confident on the new instruments?

Again, another self-explanatory question. Simply put, are they as confident at exploring the circuit-bent instruments as they are their own instruments?

Did they present a coherent performance?

I’m not looking for a perfect performance, or even to have a complete score for a composition by the end of the project. Instead I’m looking for a performance where they engaged with both the instruments, sounds, ideas,  and the other musicians. Really, everything you look for in a normal free improvisation performance.

The Masters Project:

I don’t have a huge amount to say in this section as of yet, however I can say that how the Creative Project turns will change how I present the Circuit-Bent toys in my Masters Project.

The final word I could have to say in this introduction could easily be a list of items you need, but there’s no point reinventing the wheel, so instead I provided you with a link to the list that Reed has on his website Anti-Theory.

– Jason Hodgson (11th February 2017)


Don’t forget to share this blog.

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– website coming soon –

Inside the Machine Concert: Part 1 – Language is a Fictious Fact

On the 28th April 2016 I put on concert which featured a mixture of some of my favourite open-scored, chance-based, and quasi-composed/quasi-improvised pieces to both celebrate and summarise the three years I spent studying my BMus at Canterbury Christ Church University.

In fact, the current cover photo for this blog is of the desk I sat behind in this concert (31st January 2017).

In the following series of blog posts I will talk about the processes, the influences, and the reasons, behind each composition that featured in the concert. There may also be links to scores and recordings of the pieces. (This will be on a case by case basis).

Boringly, I’ve decided to write the posts in the order the pieces appeared in the concert. Therefore, the first one up is my 3D Graphic Score Language is a Fictitious Fact.

Composed in the first year of my degree, this piece was my first introduction to  the concept of graphic-notation. For one of our first compositions, we were challenged to create a graphic-score, and me being inept with anything that requires precision with my hands, decided that drawing, or painting, were out of the question. So for some strange reason I decided that paper-machaeing a box was the way to go. But with what? I’m not quite sure what exactly led up to the start of the idea, (I will try at least to piece together some of the facts in this post, but some are still fuzzy),  nonetheless the first decision of the concept was one that I believe many English scholars will cringe at; ripping up an Oxford English Dictionary. Why? Like I said, I’m not always sure why or where exactly the finite details come from. I’m sure that there are reasons that led up to the moments, but I can’t pin-point all of them down. Therefore, as I write this post, I can only examine what I do know. If anyone who reads this in the future can prove with indisputable evidence the reasons that led up to the seed of this concept (particularly the ripping up an OED), if I’m still alive, I would very much like to read it. However, if not… well all I can say is well done.

Anyway, I digress….

Have you ever noticed that when you say a word so many times it ceases to have meaning? Go on… try it now…. choose any word and say it over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over – you get the idea- until it just becomes a noise that you are making, which feels almost detached from you body. The meaning of the word is temporarily lost or mutated. See! it’s a strange thing…. OK, now, what about the fact that there are hundreds of words that sound the same, or have same or at least similar spellings but have completely different meanings? It is strange, the difference between ‘read’ and ‘read’ are up to the context of the sentence as a whole… but I bet you don’t know which order I put them in… I mean it’s 50/50 …. but still…. all these factors of language , I concluded, was because language, its rules and conditions, are completely made up over time. (Well I could only speak of English as my French, Spanish, Korean etc. are awful). What is it they say? – ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’! Except, of course, in 923 cases (according to the elves at QI): silly me.

Over the course of a few weeks (3 I believe), I collected words from various places and resources that I either thought sounded interesting or unusual, or ones that I thought looked bizarre ,  when written down (like ‘bizarre ‘for instance).

A few days prior to the start of the project, my step-grandmother had introduced me to a book called Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth. This book, (which I would recommend to anyone), takes you on a journey behind the origins and connections between words in the English language. His other book Horologicon which explores some of the lost words was also on my reading list. Consequently, some of the words from these books featured in the creation of the piece. During this part of the process, you could also spot me scribbling down words throughout the day as I heard these fascinating words. It was when I had collected nearly 200 words that I decided I had enough to work with.

So, what else goes better with a piece about this fictional thing we call ‘language, if not the condition that makes learning that fictional language more difficult and convoluted than it already is – Dyslexia! It just so happens that I have a few friends with Dyslexia. And because they’re my friends, I decided to give them the worst possible thing that only Satan himself could have thought up for them: a spelling test.

I gave each of my friends either a ‘hide-and-spell’ or ‘listen-and-spell’ spelling test for all of the words I collected. I popped this into a spreadsheet (I love those), and then combined or chose my favourite spellings that I felt looked the most unusual.

The next step was bit trickier. How could I represent these words as made-up? Well this is where I needed to do some research:

Going back to the lecture notes, I discovered a link to a PDF of John Cages Notations, a collection of various styles and composers open and graphically notated scores.  Flicking through, I was interested by the text of various scores and descriptions, and how they were displayed, but the most fascinating ones were those where the words were almost drawn. One particular example is that of Malcolm Goldstein’s  Illuminations from Fantastic Gardens (Example below):


I like how I could sound the words out using the score, but if someone else had the score, they could have a completely different idea of how to sound out the sounds. This inspired me to do the same, or similar. But instead of transcribing direct musical sounds (like crescendos) onto the score, I wanted to allow for a wider scope of interpretation. So in keeping with the 3D element, I chose to make the score almost like a diorama, by hanging smaller boxes inside the larger box with the words drawn onto them. Thus allowing for each performer to have a different view of the piece, and further widening the scope of interpretation.

On reflection, though not a conscious thought at the time, the words hanging in space, spinning and moving with the slightest puff of air, are of great relevance. Symbolising how words (and language) changes and flows with all the elements such as the space their used in, or how they mutate over time. Think about words that Shakespeare came up with which were considered improper, and you can start to see how laughable the idea of language being a fixed, and so tightly ruled item, really is. Now, whenever someone tells me I’m using ‘improper’ english…. it does arouse my suspicions as to whether their current understanding of the rules are flawed or not. Sometimes, when writing anything with the written word, you really do need to negotiate what rules you follow, and which ones you tweak… just a little… in order fulfil the requirements of the task.

After all this I added one more element to the piece:

If you’ve ever gotten work back from school with misspelt words, or if you’ve ever used a piece of software on a computer that automatically detects the spelling, you may have noticed that the ‘incorrect’ spellings are underlined in read. However, sometimes the computer doesn’t notice because the word may be spelt correctly, but be a completely different spelling. Did you notice that when referring to the colour ‘red’ I typed in ‘read’? If you did… please help me proof-read my essays. If not… you are not alone. This is a prime example of where a computer wouldn’t notice this spelling. Now it is fair to say that sometimes words and sentences can be underlined in blue or green by the software because it’s a grammatical error, but for the purposes of this piece (and post), let’s focus on the spelling. Long story shot, it didn’t notice it.

So how did I use this element in my piece you ask? Simply, I underlined any correct spellings as incorrect.

Now my piece was complete. I had successfully mangled the english language. The only thing left was to hear an interpretation of this score. I wouldn’t hear an interpretation however, until roughly a year later as part of a rehearsal for the Canterbury Scratch Orchestra, and sadly I can’t remember whether I recorded this rehearsal or not. This leaves me the rendition that was performed at the Inside the Machine concert. So, below is a direct links to the recordings of the piece on SoundCloud.

The first link is to the babble before the piece was performed.

The second is of the performance itself.

I would love to be able to share this particular score with the world. However, due to the nature of the score, it is currently carefully wrapped up in black-sacks in my attic. So the best I can do, is give you a PDF of the photographs I presented to the examiners. If you click here you can download a copy for yourself.

The next post will focus on the piece that won me the Canterbury Festival Composition Competition in 2015 A Throne of Games (you could probably guess at least one piece of material that inspired the piece).

– Jason Hodgson (31st January 2017)


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You can find me on:


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