Improbable Instruments from Moogfest

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Moogfest is here, and with it, the Make sponsored circuit bending competition.

The competition, sponsored by Make, is held as a part of Moogfest, which emphasizes “the synthesis of technology, art and music.” Entries are featured from five finalists, each of whom has made an electric instrument based on circuit bending — the modification of circuits to produce unique sound and music — for less than $70. The entrants have built and tweaked and honed their instruments since the competition was announced in October; the results will be judged by a panel today.

If you’re not lucky enough to see the show in Asheville, North Carolina, you can still check out the instruments. Here’s a rundown of the finalists, along with their entry videos.

Asheville local Stephen Barnwell mashed up an old Atari with a Casio keyboard to create the Cataritone. Both were broken when he began, but he repaired them and added an oscillator/filter box. Most importantly, the Atari works, and adds a video component to the project — audio inputs drive visuals. All three parts are interconnected but separate, so mixing and matching their effects offers nearly endless possibilities.

Mike Sisk built his entry out of toys. A toy guitar, a toy voice modulator, a “my first cassette player”, a delay kit, and a bunch of scavenged parts, including a body from an old barbecue kit. Though the plastic guitar is the main audio source, he used just the string module, so no flashy Guitar Hero antics here. Instead, it’s controlled by the guitar’s strings and frets, placed in the barbecue box, and routed through effects built from the other toys.

George Gleixner also adapted a small keyboard, in this case a Hing Hon EK-001. Gleixner favors it because it’s easy to circuit bend, and because it’s what he used for his first bend back in 2008. He altered it, mounted it, and added LFOs, rhythm LEDs, and thumb tacks for touch contacts. And yes, it has a theremin too.

CFreddie built outside the box, hacking a Yamaha QY 10 and a Sonuus G2M to an old motorcycle helmet, blending music hardware with wearable technology and adding a microphone for hands-free use. He funnels the signal from the mic through the G2M MIDI converter, tracking the input and mimicking and altering it with the QY 10, which has a little keyboard, as well as a sequencer.

Haxxor Soniq bent an old Amstrad CKX 100, adding PCB panels directly to the keyboard. It also features a Korg Monotribe analog synthesizer and sequencer and the result is described as “a sinister 8-bit Chord Organ, a LO-FI Vintage style Arpeggiator & a complex, deeply fascinating Glitch noise generator” that “loves to make dark, lucid psychedelic tones.”

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Nathan Hurst is an editor at Make. He loves anything having to do with science or bicycling. He tweets as @nathanbhurst.

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