Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Bent '07: Acoustic Torture

A few weeks ago, I decided to get a full pass to the Bent '07 Circuit Bending Festival, meaning I could attend workshops and three concerts-worth of music made with electronics, preferably found and mangled together.

(Above)Yes, that really is a carrot inside a antique hand-cranked grinder...

Overall, I would have to say to anyone thinking about attending such concerts: DON'T, unless your idea of music is hair dryers, band saws, static, and high pitched squeels. With not even a handful of exceptions, these were not musicians; these were scientists and hobbyists tinkering with ugly noisy repetitive sounds for way too long, having way more fun (or sometimes looking even more bored) than an audience listening. It turns out that attaching any old random non-musical electronic equipment to speakers, even if you pour water on it (!) still sounds like shit noise, unless you endow it with something. Rhythm, dynamics, melody, tonality, music theory of any sort, really -- all conspicuously absent here. Uninvited. Still, everyone else seemed to be rooting for sonic obnoxiousness (either noisy sounds, or god-awful playing of standard instruments), and if you're that sort, by all means go!

(Above) A trio for cassette decks and viola

The one act I did like (and which actually did involve what I thought of as Circuit Bending) was a Japanese fellow wearing sci-fi goggles, pulling out bright plasticky toy electronic instruments from a box, hooking them up via cable one by one to his rig which inclued a pair of Alesis AirFX boxes, a Korg KaossPad, a CD player, and strange vintage electronic toys that I couldn't identify. The result was enjoyable techno music.

I did enjoy the workshops though. In the morning, our instructor had us each build an oscillator and then a primitive 4 note sequencer:

Then, outside a few of us ripped open a cheezy plastic keyboard, found a resistor, attached some alligator clips and a potentiometer to it. Suddenly we could play a demented version of "Happy Birthday," violating Copyright, the warranty, and probably some end-user license agreements in one fell swoop.

Finally, a guy showed us how to make unusual instrument controllers, including this one made of Jell-O™:


Ironically, I was able to go home, wake up the next day and finally enjoy the cacaphonous condo construction symphony outside my window for a change. At least it has rhythm.

To hear acoustic examples, try this Associated Press Podcast.

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posted by Brian at 6:06 PM

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