Circuit Bending Adventures: Part 2

A short one today, to say that I’m nearly finished with my MA and I’ve been designing some sounds using the library I’ve created from circuit bending some old toys. It’s been a pretty fun process and hopefully will just be the beginning of my circuit bending adventures!

I’ll be releasing the library of sounds that I’ve recorded and created from these toys sometime over the coming months.

Check out some of the sounds here:

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:

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


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


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


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!

Fun with Hydrophones

This month I have begun my MA program and so far it seems like it’s going to be loads of fun.

The other folks on my course all seem very nice and they have a diverse range of interests in all kinds of things sound related, from the super high tech, to the very low tech.

So far, aside from the obvious beginning of essay writing, I have mostly been focusing on making some underwater recordings.

I hired out some Jez Riley French hydrophones from the uni’s asset store and have been making lots of recordings with them. Mostly this involves trying to get them to stay underwater by sticking them in slightly awkward places like this:

Results have been varied to say the least but I’ve got some recordings that I’m pretty happy with and the process itself really encourages you to listen and experiment with placement a lot, which has been very fun.

I’ll update this post with some of the recordings I’ve made in the next week or so.

Update: Here’s a recording I made at Bristol Harbourside from the end of a pontoon. I dropped the hydrophone about 4 metres down into the water and came across this terrifying scraping sound. Ten nerd points for anyone who can identify it. My best guess is some kind of sluice/valve thing or some part of a boat (although there were no obviously moving or loud boats around at the time)

DIY Parabolic Mic!

After some months of faffing around and one botched attempt I have finally finished building a rudimentary DIY parabolic mic to use for field recordings. In total, the project probably cost me around £15 and I’m pretty happy with the result.



The materials I used are as follows:
1x Large Plastic Bin Lid
1x Jam Jar Lid
2x Jubilee Clips
1x Wooden Dowel
1x Metal Pipe
1x Lavalier (around £8 from amazon)
Gaffer’s Tape
Cable Ties

The only tools I used were a hacksaw, hot glue gun, drill, ruler, pen and a pair of scissors. The basic idea for my design came from this article and it was pretty simple to construct. I modified their design slightly after calculating (very roughly using the formula found here) where the focal point of my parabola was. Seeing as the bin lid I used as a dish is not a true parabolic curve, it doesn’t reflect quite as well as it would if it was, but i’m happy with it anyhow for the time being.

There are lots of folks out there who have made substantially better parabolic reflectors than me and some who have  constructed their own mics for the purpose. Check out examples here and here for starters.

Field recordings to follow shortly!

Update: Here’s a field recording made with the mic.


Update: I’ve now retired this mic as it was a bit unwieldy, fragile and not that effective. Still a good learning experience for me though! I took the lav mic and repurposed it into a DIY stethoscope mic which you can read more about here.

First Transmission

Over the coming months I will be using this blog to keep a diary of my work.

I hope to be able to keep track of my projects here, whilst also sharing my thoughts and feelings about the various things I’m working on with the aim of improving my writing skills and creating an ongoing document of my work.

I’m currently in the process of building a DIY hydrophone and a parabolic reflector to use for field recordings.

I will be sharing my progress and any subsequent recordings I make with them here over the next few months.