“Circuit Breakers” created by Amber Jones, Amanda Marano, Caitlin Quinlan and Jack Taylor, is a piece that explores the modern representation of data with an attempt to break it. In our project, we explored the art of datamoshing, circuit bending and vocoding, all while projecting our visuals onto a pile of mirror balls to expand the area that visuals are typically confined in.
Circuit Bending – Amanda Marano
Datamoshing/Visuals – Jack Taylor
Composition – Caitlin Quinlan
Sound Design – Amber Jones
To circuit-bend our children’s toy, we decided to modify it to do a basic pitch-bend, that is, create the ability to dynamically adjust the pitch and speed of the toy in real-time. In order to do that we first found the resistor that controlled the clock speed of the simple printed circuit board inside the toy. A clock in digital logic is a signal that is used to synchronize all of the signals sent throughout a digital circuit, so everything runs in the order it is supposed to and nothing breaks. In order to find this resistor, we opened the back of the toy and located all of the larger components connected with wires (in our case it was two resistors, a capacitor, and the speaker). By changing the clock, either increasing or decreasing the speed, we change the speed of the entire circuit, and with it the pitch of the sounds (low pitch for low speeds, high pitch for high speeds). While playing the instrument, we touched these leads with our fingers (a licked finger creates a short in the circuit) and noted how the sound quality changed with the short circuit. When we located the correct resistor, we snipped it out and soldered in its place a potentiometer. A potentiometer is a variable resistor that is modifiable in real time by turning the dial or knob on the top, either with your fingers or a screwdriver. After drilling a hole in the toy’s chassis and sticking the potentiometer through, we were able to change the speed and pitch of the sounds by spinning the knob while playing notes. During our performance, we used a microphone by the speaker, but didn’t otherwise alter the original sounds in any way. – Amanda
Video of how the circuitbent piano functions:
For our final project it was my job to create the visuals using a databending technique called datamoshing. Datamoshing is a process that removes certain frames in a video which then allows it to glitch. For the visuals I wanted to play the idea of nature’s relationship to technology. I though that videos of flowers blooming would be interesting to datamosh and would contribute to our overarching theme of glitch. Basically I converted the videos into a different format using ffmpegx then imported those clips into a program called avidemux. With this program I was able to remove the I frames from the clips (these frames record the differences in movement from one frame to the next). I was also able to copy and past frames, resulting in explosions of colors and distorted movement. – Jack
For our project I was interested in using the vocoder. After Amber created the background music I composed a melody that could be sung with the vocoder over it. The toy piano had a kind of funny and sad tone to it when it was played so I paid homage to that in my lyrics and wrote:
“My circuits are bending
I can’t sing in tune
But maybe I can dance”
All of the post-processing effects and instruments used in our performance (besides the raw sound of the toy piano) were created using Ableton Live. Our original idea was to have a fun, upbeat, high-pitched and slightly overwhelming dance track, however, upon the bending of the toy piano, I realized that the sounds were completely different than intended. It turned out that the ‘broken’ sound of the toy piano was more apparent when its clock was slowed down. Paired along with the visuals as well, the song quickly changed from 160 bpm to 48bpm. The song itself was 7 tracks – 4 instrument tracks, a drumkit, the carrier for the vocoder track, and the vocoder. Every instrument rack/preset I made was with the ‘Analog’ instrument. I wanted the sounds to be very obviously and unapologetically digital, but slightly detuned to make them seem only slightly more organic. All of the sounds were either made with 2 Saw/Square oscillators or Saw/Saw oscillators.
guitar-like chords patch:
bit reduced 808: