Circuit Bending Adventures: Part 1 (Plus I Have a Mailing List Now!)

So I’m coming towards the end of my MA studies now and as part of my final major project I decided to create some sound libraries. These are based on filling gaps within my own library, and exploring techniques and ideas that I’m unfamiliar with and interested in. So far it’s been both a steep learning curve and extremely fun!

I’ve been interviewing people who do this currently, field recording, editing, tinkering learning about metadata and all kinds of other stuff pretty much non stop for the last few months! I’ve got three libraries currently in the works and I’ll be releasing them from sometime in late October onwards. If you’re interested you can sign up for my shiny new mailing list, you’ll see a pop up form on the homepage of this site!

Okay, plug over, now back to the subject in hand, circuit bending! Specifically circuit bending some sweet old toy synthesisers, a Major Morgan and the legendary Stylophone! The Major Morgan I’ve had ever since I can remember but it was gathering dust in my dad’s house and so I brought it home with me a while ago with the intention of doing something creative with it. The Stylophone was a kind gift from my mother-in-law (she knows me well)! I’m a total newbie to the world of circuit bending, so I decided to keep it simple and just add an output jack and on/off switch to the Major Morgan.

Because he’s so small, I found it tricky to fit them in him, so inspired by this great blog post  (which involves a much more complex build than mine) I built a breakout box and stuck the components in there.  I followed the instructions from this article to wire up the components.

The process looked like this:

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The initial opening him up and inserting bits into the breakout box

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Then I built some multicore wire using heat-shrink I had kicking around and hooked up the speaker and jack

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Connected up the on/off switch and proceeded to try and get everything back in the box

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And here he is post surgery, looking as maniacally happy as ever…

I bought all my components from Bitsbox who are great and UK based, and it came to under a tenner in total. I used a switch jack as suggested in the article so the speaker turns of when he’s plugged in. I then went on to dismantle the Stylophone feeling emboldened by my new found circuit bending success, but then I remembered I don’t really know anything about electronics so I basically just put it back together!

I did add an LDR to the circuit, attempting to use it as a pitch bend by mimicking where the tuning knob was wired up and it did indeed affect the pitch. However, it only changed the pitch by about a semi-tone in either direction. I’m guessing it’s not providing very much resistance and this is why, any electronics aficionados please feel free to tell me if that’s correct in the comments as I’d love to get some more extreme light based pitch shifting nonsense out of the Stylophone!

Here’s some of the sounds I got out of both instruments:

This is going to be the first in a series of circuit bent toy libraries as I’ve got loads of other toys waiting to be messed with in my cupboard at home. I’d encourage anyone to give circuit bending a go, even if you know literally nothing about electronics. I didn’t know anything at all when I started this project and I feel like I’ve come away (a little) wiser and having made some fun new sounds. If you do have a go, please let me know, I’d love to hear about other folks projects and hear the sounds you make!

Published by Submerged Tapes

Hi, I'm Jake, I'm an assistant sound editor, occasional musician and all round audio nerd based in Bristol, UK.

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