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Circuit-Bending Art

by Nadene Thériault-Copeland

(published in the monthly column We Have Art in Our Nature for the Nipissing Reader, Volume 13 (09) 2017)

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you could modify the sounds an electronic toy would make? What if you could find a new purpose for those old electronic gadgets kicking around in that closet or in the garage? Well, here are some examples of people who have done that for artistic purposes…

Circuit-bending can be traced back to recordings made by Reed Ghazala in the late 60s. Of the discovery itself, Ghazala relates…

“The year was ’66 or ’67. I had left a toy 9-volt transistor amplifier amidst the clutter of my desk drawer, the back of its housing missing and with the power turned on. When I closed the drawer, to my amazement, there suddenly came from within my desk miniature versions of the sounds I associated with the massive synthesizers of the day … When I realized that the sounds I heard were the result of the toy amplifier’s electronics accidentally shorting out against something metallic it was resting on, two ideas immediately struck:

If these sounds are being created by accident, what could be done by purpose? If this can be done to an amplifier, meant to amplify a sound but to make NO SOUND itself, what would happen to SOUND-MAKING electronics when purposely shorted-out in the same way?”  Reed Ghazala in an interview with Jason Gross

NAISA’s new fall exhibit, to be launched on September 22nd at NAISA North Media Arts Centre, includes a series of art works created by London Ontario artist James Kirkpatrick.  The series of sculptures, entitled “Sound Mods of James Kirkpatrick” are all created from circuit-bending various audio devices.  Not only is the exhibit visually stunning, but the individual pieces are interactive and so the gallery goer is encouraged to play the sounds and by doing so, create their own unique experience.

Go to the SOUNDplay website for more info.

Also known for his participation in the early Canadian graffiti movement and as avant-garde hip-hop artist “Thesis Sahib”, Kirkpatrick works in a variety of media including drawing, painting, sculpture, zines, mask-making and experimental sound improvisation.  In recent years, his work has incorporated sculptural, kinetic and auditory elements. 

By combining his 2D aesthetic with custom-built circuit-bent electronics, Kirkpatrick creates hand-held sculptures that function as both musical instruments and experimental sound machines. The sculptures are extensions of Kirkpatrick’s drawing and painting practice and are also used in his collaborations and live performances.

Click on these links for more information

James Kirkpatrick

Reed Ghazala interview


Nadene Thériault-Copeland is the Executive Director of New Adventures in Sound Art and co-owner of Warbler’s Roost in South River.  She studied composition with James Tenney at York University where she received her B.A. Spec. Hons. Music in 1991.  naisa@naisa.ca

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