Circuit Bending 101 – 10th September

For all those with inquisitive minds, I’ll be hosting a circuit bending workshop as part of the British Science Festival on 10th September


A three-hour workshop in which you’ll learn how to make unusual noises by creatively modifying toys and other devices.

Circuit bending is the creative art of making experimental modifications to toys and other small devices, making them perform in unexpected ways, making new sounds and discovering new functions. Explore the basics of circuit bending, including soldering, and try it out on your own battery powered toys or devices.

Buy tickets here: The event will be taking place in the Education Room at the Barber Institue of Fine Arts.

This event is part of the British Science Festival 2014 taking place in Birmingham from 6-11 September. Details of all events are available online at Tickets can be booked online or by calling 08456 807 207.


Circuit bending a Video Tech VEC1070 Video Processor

I had the pleasure of meeting up with Tony Hill recently, where I acquired a copy of his new glitch zine, Junk DNA of the Digital Mind. He was kind enough to divulge that he used some of the devices by Video Tech Designs to create content. Being relatively cheap (due to their limited functions) I immediately got onto ebay to find my own to bend, which I did at the Many & Varied Skills Share Jamboree!

Bending the VEC1070

Video Tech VEC1070 Video Processor

The unit itself is a fairly simple one when compared to actual video mixers like the Panasonic WJ AVE3. Karl Klomp has a more in-depth look at the hackability of video mixers.

Aside from basic video adjustments, like brightness and contrast, there isn’t much else you can do. That is until the bending begins!

Many & Varied Skills Share Jamboree

For this modification I simply added an on/off switch to the first and middle pins of the potentiometer controlling contrast. When the switch is turned on and the contrast turned up to its maximum things start to get glitchy! The results are probably easiest shown in the below video:

As you can see things looked great when the unit was connected to an analogue TV but less so when connected to a monitor or projector via the composite port, and by that I mean there was often no display at all! As a perpetual beginner to the world of circuit bending I’ll admit that my understanding of why this is happening is still hazy, but I’m led to believe that the glitchy video causes synchronisation errors, causing the device reading the signal to get confused and fall over. To rectify this I (may) need a time base corrector. Any expert knowledge regarding this is warmly welcomed!

I did not let this glitch in the works stop me from trying to find a way to record at least a bit of output to my computer. Upon my return to basecamp home I raided my device clump and found a hacky solution that utilises the VEC1070, my laptop (running Ubuntu 12.04 on a Dell Studio 1555), an external monitor Easy Cap USB TV capture card and a scan converter (this one).

Creating a loop

Perhaps the hardest part to configure in this connection was the Easy Cap USB TV Capture Card. There exists a blog dedicated installing a using the USB card with a particular bias towards those with the DC60 chipset. Luckily the one that I purchased years ago has that chipset and so installation was fairly painless but time consuming. The aforementioned blog has all the info you’ll need/find regarding finding, installing and using the card on Linux.

The rest of the connections are perhaps best explained in the following diagram:


The reason for the external monitor is to monitor the output of the VEC1070 and do some feedback loops! It’s not necessary in all cases. For this scenario I also set my display to extend the desktop, rather than mirror it.

Recording the output

Displaying the output was not always a big headache. Now that the USB capture card is a video device (mine is /dev/video3) I could display it on screen using avplay -f video4linux2 /dev/video3. The output sometimes stuttered, but it was otherwise ok. Unfortunately, as with the VGA monitor and projector, the moment I turned on the glitch switch it almost instantly cut out. This left me ~1 second to capture some of the visuals using screen-recording software. 🙁

Strangely, however, Pure Data (yet again) came to my rescue. Using Pd-extended 0.43.4 I was able to send the message [device /dev/video3 ( to [pix_video] to display the output of the VEC1070. Furthermore, it didn’t cut out as often when I flipped the glitch switch! The only drawback? The colour is mostly yellow and green. :-/

h̸̴̪̘̞͓̓ͭ̅ͤͫ̈̿̂͋̈́̍̽́̔̈́̓͡͡ȇ̓̽̃̏̃́̈ͣ́ͥ̓ͤͦͬͧ̀̅҉̮̜̖̙̤l͛̆̏ͯ̔̈͒̑͏̖̯̬͚͓̺͎̳͝l̴ͨ͛ͮͦͥ͒̂͛ͬ͌ͤ̾ͦ̋̏ͯ̎̚͢͏̝̥̤͖̻̫̰͍̲͚̮̱̯͇ͅơ̲͔̫̱͍̦̩͎̝͖̞̦̘̖͙̖ͭ̀ͮͪͮ̚͢m̢͖̺̥̻̫̖͎̪̥̝͓̝̺̞͉͎ͥ̈́̓ͣ͛ͭͮ̄͆̈́̄͋̂̄ͯ͞e̶̶͙̰͓̹̖̝̎̂ͣ̒̑͌͗́́̚͡!̷̢̬̪̺͖̟̗͍̖̬̻ͩ̔́̅̇̈́͆̾̋̄̇̏̔̂͢ h̸̴̪̘̞͓̓ͭ̅ͤͫ̈̿̂͋̈́̍̽́̔̈́̓͡͡ȇ̓̽̃̏̃́̈ͣ́ͥ̓ͤͦͬͧ̀̅҉̮̜̖̙̤l͛̆̏ͯ̔̈͒̑͏̖̯̬͚͓̺͎̳͝l̴ͨ͛ͮͦͥ͒̂͛ͬ͌ͤ̾ͦ̋̏ͯ̎̚͢͏̝̥̤͖̻̫̰͍̲͚̮̱̯͇ͅơ̲͔̫̱͍̦̩͎̝͖̞̦̘̖͙̖ͭ̀ͮͪͮ̚͢m̢͖̺̥̻̫̖͎̪̥̝͓̝̺̞͉͎ͥ̈́̓ͣ͛ͭͮ̄͆̈́̄͋̂̄ͯ͞e̶̶͙̰͓̹̖̝̎̂ͣ̒̑͌͗́́̚͡!̷̢̬̪̺͖̟̗͍̖̬̻ͩ̔́̅̇̈́͆̾̋̄̇̏̔̂͢ h̸̴̪̘̞͓̓ͭ̅ͤͫ̈̿̂͋̈́̍̽́̔̈́̓͡͡ȇ̓̽̃̏̃́̈ͣ́ͥ̓ͤͦͬͧ̀̅҉̮̜̖̙̤l͛̆̏ͯ̔̈͒̑͏̖̯̬͚͓̺͎̳͝l̴ͨ͛ͮͦͥ͒̂͛ͬ͌ͤ̾ͦ̋̏ͯ̎̚͢͏̝̥̤͖̻̫̰͍̲͚̮̱̯͇ͅơ̲͔̫̱͍̦̩͎̝͖̞̦̘̖͙̖ͭ̀ͮͪͮ̚͢m̢͖̺̥̻̫̖͎̪̥̝͓̝̺̞͉͎ͥ̈́̓ͣ͛ͭͮ̄͆̈́̄͋̂̄ͯ͞e̶̶͙̰͓̹̖̝̎̂ͣ̒̑͌͗́́̚͡!̷̢̬̪̺͖̟̗͍̖̬̻ͩ̔́̅̇̈́͆̾̋̄̇̏̔̂͢ h̸̴̪̘̞͓̓ͭ̅ͤͫ̈̿̂͋̈́̍̽́̔̈́̓͡͡ȇ̓̽̃̏̃́̈ͣ́ͥ̓ͤͦͬͧ̀̅҉̮̜̖̙̤l͛̆̏ͯ̔̈͒̑͏̖̯̬͚͓̺͎̳͝l̴ͨ͛ͮͦͥ͒̂͛ͬ͌ͤ̾ͦ̋̏ͯ̎̚͢͏̝̥̤͖̻̫̰͍̲͚̮̱̯͇ͅơ̲͔̫̱͍̦̩͎̝͖̞̦̘̖͙̖ͭ̀ͮͪͮ̚͢m̢͖̺̥̻̫̖͎̪̥̝͓̝̺̞͉͎ͥ̈́̓ͣ͛ͭͮ̄͆̈́̄͋̂̄ͯ͞e̶̶͙̰͓̹̖̝̎̂ͣ̒̑͌͗́́̚͡!̷̢̬̪̺͖̟̗͍̖̬̻ͩ̔́̅̇̈́͆̾̋̄̇̏̔̂͢

This, I believe/am hoping, can be fixed in an update to the Easy Cap kernel module. I’ll be doing some bug reporting…


I should probably just buy a time base converter and a composite to VGA scan converter.


TOYBOX at TROVE opened on Friday 15th June. The opening was a great success! Thanks to everyone who braved the rained and came to the opening.

The exhibition featured modified and hacked toys and similar-themed films and performances. Here’s the toys:


Horsing Around by James Gill


Untitled by Katy Morrison


Panther by David Lee


Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy by Claire Davies


Untitled by Sam Underwood


Mid Life Crisis by Duncan McKellar

And here’s a video of some of the more interactive toys in action

The opening also included performances from Richard Peel, Daniel Salisbury and Kate Spence, as well as videos from Emilie Crew, Rosie Curtis & Steph Bryant and Maria Mattos.

Charlie Levine has also written an overview of the opening with some additional pictures

Thanks again to everyone that came!

TROVE call out for toys

In June 2012 I’ll be co-curating an exhibition about toys at/with TROVE and Daniel Salisbury. More info, including how to get involved, is below:

Toy Box at TROVE

Image by Daniel Salisbury

TROVE is an independent art space in Birmingham, UK, which run a monthly changing programme of contemporary art exhibitions/events.

In June 2012 TROVE are hosting an exhibition about toys. This project leads on from the discovery that the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, where TROVE is based, used to produce more ‘toys’ than jewellery, guns or pens; all things it is now more famously known for producing. When researching what toys were produced in this area of Birmingham it was discovered that the term ‘toys’ was used to describe items such as buttons, cuff-links and belt buckles.

Calling all hackers and Circuit-benders

With the misinterpretation of the word ‘toys’ TROVE are looking for actual toys, as is the current understanding of the word, that have been altered, hacked, modified or electronically changed, rather than ‘toys’ meaning belt buckles, buttons etc.

Sound like something for you? Email me with your hacked creations ( and include:

  • your CV and a short personal statement
  • a short description of the work/toys
  • links to online footage of the toy is available
  • max 6 photographs of the toy/s you are proposing

The deadline for submissions is 6th May 2012

Notes for application:

  • please make sure you can deliver and collect your toys from TROVE (map); 11th/12th June for drop off and 24th June for collection.
  • If the toys require power, only applications where toys are battery powered will be accepted

This exhibition is also looking for films about toys to show. More info on that is here.

Happy hacking!

Circuit Bending at Fargo Hack Play Space

On Sunday 27th November I did a one-day micro-residency at Fargo Hack Play Space in Coventry. I was asked to bring unfinished projects, completed projects or something completely new that I wanted to start on. I have a fair bit of Pure Data and Processing code and ideas that need(ed) a lot of attention but I had serious doubts of whether they could be completed in six hours.

To say I had absolutely no idea what I was going to achieve in one day would be quite an understatement.

Fargo Hack Play Space

In the end I took along my laptop, the unfinshed audio cable hack, an Arduino, and the Vtech Learning Alphabet Classroom Toy toy that I had previously bought for a fizzPOP Circuit Bending Hack Session:

My previous attempts to hack it back then were largely unsuccessful. I was able to cut out the audio completely and break the toy on several occasions, but what I was after was a way to control or glitch the audio and LCD screen.

Fargo Hack Play Space

Part of my problem was that there were very few components to play around with. Aside from the buttons themselves all I had was a circuit board that had very tiny components.

Thankfully, with the help of Dom and Ashley I was able to locate the resistors and attach a potentiometer. Results varied throughout the day, but I was able to get it producing something out of the ordinary!

But then it borked.

Regardless, it’s progress! I’ll be continuing work on it soon, and may even try hooking up the buttons to an Arduino or my computer to trigger other things.

Thanks to Dom and Ashley for inviting me down there for the day, and for the pizza 🙂

Stenchival 2010

Stenchival 2010 took place in Leicester on the 7th and 8th August. The festival was held at the Fabrika Independent Arts Centre in the heart of Leicester.

The first day saw us all at a workshop where we made our very own Atari Punk Console. At a past fizzPOP event Jimmie Rodgers brought a few of the kits to make these with him but unfortunatley I was spoilt for choice by all of the other kits and didn’t get to build one. The instructor for this workshop was Stu Smith, better known as ASMO (Anti Social Musik Order), who is a well known circuit bender from Leicester.

Stenchival 2010

My soldering skills need a lot of work

My soldering skills weren’t quite up to scratch and I even managed to work on the wrong side of the veroboard, but luckily a lot of help was at hand. After a few hours I produced this finished Atari Punk Console. Thanks to Circuit Ben for providing the box that I’ll soon fit the device into properly

The evening was filled with VJ performances from some very talented people. I’ll let the video do the talking!

The second day started with a VJ workshop, although it seemed less of a workshop and more of a skills and ideas exchange. Tony from The Lab provided quite a good in depth overview of VJing without using laptops, which seems to be the norm recently.

Sean Clark of Cuttlefish also showed how he VJs using Max/MSP. This really interested me as I’d used Pure Data (the open source equivalent) for a while and was interested in how I could use it in live performances.

Unfortunately I was unable to stay for the final performances of the evening but Sean did suggest that we make a habit of meeting regularly to discuss and share our VJing skills. He recently set up the Leicester AV group on Facebook, which I hope to attend as long as it doesn’t clash with GLI.TC/H

Overall I was really glad to have gone to Stench. Whereas my past work tended to lean towards traditional media my more recent output involves more performance and video and so learning from VJs and other performers will benefit me greatly!

Thanks to New Generation Space for funding this trip

Above all thank you so much to New Generation Space, based in Stoke-On-Trent, for providing a bursary to fund my day at this rather awesome event!