Category Archives: Interviews

Girl Talk Mentions Circuit Bending to Pitchfork

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In this recent interview by Pitchfork Media, Girl Talk opens up about his electronic music roots and the ascend to stardom, which started with circuit bending toys and throwing fireworks into the audience. During the High School Band years in the very late 90s Gregg Gillis experimented by tearing apart kids’ toys in order to juxtapose pop songs with avant-noises. Today he is pretty damn good at juxtaposing pop songs with other pop songs often with minimal regard for sample clearing. GT shows are usually sold out affairs packed full of partying hipsters wanting to shake their asses. Girl Talk is also associated with Wham CityDan Deacon‘s Label. Enjoy.

Bitcrusher (The French Connection)

Bitcrusher

Interview by: Rodney Clark

From time to time I get a few here and there e-mails from folks wanting to know how they can get an album on Tiger Claw Records. I feel bad by having to tell them I’m pretty much a broke outfit with a list of to get tos as far as releases go. When BitCrusher contacted me it was no different, except I was left wishing I could let more people know of his awesome sound and crazy bent projects! So I asked him if he would take the time to answer a few e-questions about his project, the French sensation “Bitcrusher“…

Q: When did you start Bitcrusher, and who all is involved in the project?

B: Bitcrusher is a solo project born in 2005. With this project, I try to combine my musical influences and satisfied my need of sound experimentation. My influences are: Electronica, 8bit music, circuit bending, noise, breakcore, sound expérimentations, DIY, and many more….

Q: What part of France are you from and what is the scene like for benders in France?

B: I live in Angouleme for my studies in the middle of the France. The scene I know the best is in Paris, but this last couple of years the circuit bending scene is growing everywhere in France!! In France The circuit bending scene is close to the Chipmusic scene.

A little tours of the French scene through internet:

oscillateur
hypatia
computertruck
flexrex
bananar
toysrnoise
dataglitch
The Cheatcode
nurykabe
Gakona
thewunderbarloopsession
abstraktive
urzhiata
bitcrusher

Forums:

codelab
Audiofanzine/circuit bending

Q: Do you play out a lot as Bitcrusher and what response do you get from the crowd?

B: I have a few, live, as Bitcrusher. Most time, I play with friend in Ponctuals projects: The Cheatcode with Nurykabe using Gameboys and circuit bend toys. Also in Paracetamol with Kobah using bass, circuit bent toys and synth. The response we have from the crowd, beside the pleasure to listen live music, is that people are surprised that we made some music with the toys of their childhood and the fact we have tortured and modified these toys! It’s very emotional! Plus there is a part of « mad scientist » in the bend toys which fascinates! Live, the aesthetic aspect of instruments and the way we use it, is just as important as the sound.

Bitcrusher Vacuum

Q: You have some pretty neat bends. The one that caught my eye though, is the Mega Aspirateur (orange vacuum). What all went into making that thing…and what can it do?

B: In reality, it is a case mod, of a circuit bent Alesis HR16 ! The vacuum cleaner was emptied of its main mechanisms. The most difficult part to build with this instrument was to put the original circuits of the HR16 into the vacuum cleaner, because there was not enough space inside it. I was obliged to cut the main circuits of the hr16 in two parts, and connect every cut-tracks with wires. I had to move the screen. The volume pot and the output integrate the alimentation and change the key via a switch, that makes « soft reset » when bends are uncontrollable. For a visual effect during a live set, I integrated a stroboscope with a speed knob. For the bends I only choose uncontrollable bends, that make distortion and aleatoric sounds.

Bitcrusher Vacuum Alesis HR-16

They often crash the OS, but for making sound, they don’t need to be triggered by the keys or sequencer (it’s for this reason I put a direct switch for soft reset)

Features:
19 – switches to control different bends
1 – rotary switch to control 12 bends
1 – button panic to restart the OS
1 – fader for controlling the sound output
2 – jack output for routing the stereo output to a mixer or recorder
1 – Stroboscope for visual effect during live performance
1 – knob to control the speed of the strobe!

Hairdryer

Q: Another bend I noticed was a hair drier… That thing looks seriously dangerous! 🙂 I guess I wanna know what all went into building it and what it can do?

B: It’s in the same spirit as the vacuum cleaner! The hair drier was emptied of its main mechanisms. Then I put a circuit bent toy that transforms the voice. There are 4 switches that mod the voice: robot effect, tremolo, grave and high. I put an instant switch for muting the sound and make sync-up effect. One knob for the volume and one knob for the micro sensibility.

Hairdryer Circuit Bent

Q: Your sound is a lot like Albino Ghost Monkey meets early Igloo Martian. Totally a great sound in my mind. What got you into Circuit bending and when did you start?

B: I started circuit bending in 2004, after discovering it through the internet on the Reed Ghazala website and in his book. David Steinberg’s website, burnkit2600, Nicolas Collins and the Paris’s 8bit scene which is close to the circuit bending scene. But especially by the enjoyment to modify my 1st toy: « la dictée magique » (french speak and spell). Many aspect of circuit bending are addicting to me: DIY, original sound, expérimentation, musical approach, and electronic bugs and chaos!

Q: Do you have any recordings of your music out right now, and if so where could we get a copy?

B: You can find some of my music here: Bitcrusher and The Cheat Code

Q: What does the future hold for Bitcrusher?

B: Actually, I’m working on my first circuit bent album. My friend Nurykabe and Gakona are trying to create an associative music label for chipmusic and circuit bending called Dataglitch.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

B: The Dataglitch label is willing to release a record, and needs you to submit a work about “robot masters”. Thanks for interest and inspiration, keep the solder in the hand and tortured more toys !

Circuit Bent Sega Master System

Thanks Syl, for the great info on you and the French scene! Hope people get aboard the Dataglitch label and help the Art prevail!!!!!
-Rodney

…and then there was Circuit Bending

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Interview by Rodney:

Qubais Reed Ghazala has been circuit bending since the 60’s. He’s credited with documenting the first known bent device as we know it. Short circuiting an electronic device more than likely happened before, but Reed saw it’s potential as something more. I sent him a few questions a couple weeks back. I wanted to do a piece that lets new and old readers inside Reeds mind. So we take it from the beginning and also try to find out what tomorrow holds…if the theory stands… the theory of a tomorrow. (Que the Doctor Who theme now)

Q: How did you come about in your mind the concept of Circuit Bending? What went off inside that triggered the imagination process, to switch on to the fact that a glitching toy could be seen as something more than a broken piece of garbage?

QRG: The sounds that came from that first short circuit back in the mid 1960’s were just so interesting! This was a mini-amp, 9V, shorting out in my desk drawer. The result was a series of electronic sounds rising in pitch, over and over, like a modern police siren. But back then, of course, sirens were purely mechanical. So there was nothing really to compare this to! I immediately thought, “If this can happen by accident, what might happen if I started blindly short-circuiting the amp here, there and everywhere? Are there more hidden sounds?” The idea of “toy” or “garbage” never came into my mind. This was magic.

I’ve been a chance artist since a little boy (neighbors thought I was strange, freezing colored liquids in the winter back yard to see the forms they’d take). Recognizing another chance art here was easy. Bending sonically explains chance the way Suminagashi and dye migration explain visually. All of these “sound” the same to me – see if you don’t think so.

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How about chance flavors? Here’s my Captain Beefheart cake whose inner fruits are swirled not to blend, but to randomly distribute. Will the next bite be tangerine or blackberry? Chance is fun.

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Q: Was your pulse racing as you thought to yourself, maybe someone else out there could be turned on to this? What at that time did you think you had to do to achieve getting the idea out there?

QRG: But I was 13 or 14! Getting the idea out there wasn’t a concern. All I wanted to do was experiment with the chance-found circuit paths. I put pots in these new circuit paths. Caps. Photo cells. I extended the touch-sensitive circuit points to body-contacts. I was so totally swamped with ideas to expand this circuit that my concentration was soaked.

It became obvious that people were interested in how this had happened. And as time passed I began to answer editor’s requests, and began to explain my processes and thoughts.

Really, I never wondered whether people would want to explore the techniques or not. I knew, as time passed, that the technique was special within the field (this is after doing it the “right” way [time-consuming kit building, chart and schematic studying, math tables to learn, etc.] for many, many years only to end-up with the same thing anyone else does). Circuit-bending breaks this monotony and can empower anyone.

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Q: For those who may not know, you’re considered in most peoples’ minds as the founding father of Circuit bending, if you will. What if anything does that mean to you?

QRG: Dedicating one’s life to art presumes an unsure future. Lots of work, sacrifice, and even bruising result (literally in my case: I was attacked more than once for being an experimentalist – it seems that any time you have something really cool, someone will try to take it away from you).

So, if one does keep at it, tries hard to teach, plus all the rest like coining terms, developing usable instruments, releasing recordings, writing and publishing, puts in decades of work developing a vision, creates “firsts,” then sure – it’s nice to see your work recognized.

Still, I’m by nature a recluse, not an attention seeker (I’m asked to speak all over the world – I don’t usually go). I’m in it now to turn people on, not to spread my name (my last public appearance was many years ago). And, so, the book does that, turn people on. But yeah – when people recognize where it came from, that’s fair. Fairness is good.

Editorial: (Rodney) Very nicely put…”Fairness is good”. It is why we are all reading this today.

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Q: You have written on the subject as a published author, being a leading guide to many first time benders. What literature is available to those that may want to get their hands on some of your work?

QRG: My book, Circuit-Bending, Building Your Own Alien Instruments, will get anyone into bending. It’s entirely original (unlike many electronics authors, I didn’t re-package other people’s ideas and terms to sell a book). So it’s the Real Deal, complete with history, soldering techniques, exploration guides, parts sources, three appendixes (including a super-powerful collection of diagrams of the best generic bends), and pictorial (as opposed to schematic) diagrams that anyone can understand.

All 20 of my EMI articles are still available as reprints. People like these – this is the series of writings that introduced circuit-bending to the world. But other than SK-1 and SA-2 Aleatron articles, the remaining are general in nature – exploring various bent instruments, but in a historic/philosophical way. Not this-wire-goes-here instructions. Still, they’re popular. And I did push the limits a few times centering on imaginary instruments or phenomena, outside the realm of bending.

Electronic Musician and MAKE (among others) have published my how-to articles. WIRED, Smithsonian and other well-knowns cover my work (often leading the interested to the work bench). And just tons of smaller press.

But the most powerful writing, believe it or not, was the free online how-to on anti-theory.com. This was the first how-to online, and it fed all the rest, either directly or not. Still there, still free, still super-powerful.

http://www.anti-theory.com/soundart/circuitbend/

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Q: Did you ever think Circuit Bending would be such an art form that it would inspire others (such as myself), to make this a sort of lifestyle? I mean…people across the world are using bent devices in their music, throwing workshops teaching the process. There have been festivals celebrating the art, web pages dedicated to the progression. Record labels have been formed that only put out artist that use circuit bent gear in their songs. There are even people selling their homemade instruments at profit.

QRG: I watched this technique explode into the mainstream in a way that no prior electronic process ever has. Not the academics (so much better published and supported!), nor the work of the theory-struck private designers ever “crossed the blood-brain barrier” like bending has. Why? I designed it that way!

For the general public, the layperson, the kid like me, at 15, who had no college access or money to get there, not much was available. What little there was (kits), again, were cool, but contained no surprises. And didn’t really teach you how to take-off instantly as a unique instrument designer with an endless range of immediate possibilities.

So – my technique was meant for the other 99% (real figure) of the world that the professors didn’t (can’t?) touch – all those persons who’ll never make it into a collegiate electronics class.

I guess I remember how empowering it was to begin designing unique, surprising-sounding instruments with no money or theory. I knew there were other people like me. This was for them… the other 99% of the world. It worked.

Q: How did the term “CIRCUIT BENDING” fly off? How did the art get the name that we know now as “CIRCUIT BENDING”?

QRG: Well, ya know, I named my process “Circuit-bending” back in 1992, in EMI, to open the art to discussion (naming things gives them life). Prior to that there was no “circuit-bending” happening under such name (though persons other than myself were exploring the creative short circuit, or so I figured, and said so in my first EMI article – the one where the term was first seen in print). And, truth be told, it was no easy term to coin. But it ended-up at the top of the stack. I liked it, and it did the job in the end.

Q: Do you sell any of your original circuit bent pieces?

QRG: Sure, but I also gift, which I enjoy much more. I do Bare Bends (unpainted – they’re economical and popular), as well as standard painted and top-end one-offs. I chrome metals, use tons of vintage parts, and sometimes employ unusual optics, and even incorporate client’s favorite parts (like the recent Steampunk Incantor with Plymouth Fury detailing).

Q: Do you yourself record any Music using circuit bent instruments?

QRG: Of course. The Secret Garden music (first Incantor music recording on planet earth) is being re-mastered and new material is being added to flesh-out a 2-LP set in heavy white audiophile vinyl. People can still obtain my Threnody CD (from-scratch Vox Insecta instrument).

vox_insecta.jpg And I’m being encouraged to release a number of early bent albums (Artifacts, A Watch in the Sea, Three Rings on the Ground, and many others). Too, I’ve just re-vamped my recording studio and more new work is on the way.

I’m always building new instruments…

Fractal Oscillator

fo1.jpg Ectoplastic Morpheum

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Recording is more demanding – I’m pretty picky about composition.

Q: You’re still pretty active in the art. Coming up in September is an event in Cincinnati called Circuitastrophe. You’re scheduled to be there for that, right? What are you planning on doing for the event? I heard maybe a workshop and lecture. What is this going to be like, what are attendants to expect?

QRG: “Lecture” is too cold for what this will be. I’ll be showing a multi-media “slide” show: “The Folk Music of chance Electronics,” or, “How to Start an Art Movement Without Really Trying.” It’s a behind-the-scenes you-are-there look at the hidden history of what brought the art to me, and what then brought us here. I start with the press runs (early exposure in underground music magazines) that ran the public course. And then you see what really happened to me and the art (both good and bad!).

I’m also handing-out to the first 100 people through the door a funky little chunk of circuit-bending history, sure to become one of bending’s most sought oddities. There will be puzzled expressions.

Editorial: (Rodney) I won’t ask what it is, to not spoil it for anyone…but now I’m sure this might push people off the bubble and get there.

Q: What other events are you scheduled for in the future? Any art shows or programs you might be taking part in besides Circuitastrophe?

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QRG: I’m capping-off the Circuitastrophe! event with my first Bent Be-In. The public is invited to this meeting of Circuitastrophe! performers, organizers and friends.

There will be final performances (including Nebulagirl), demonstrations, barter/swap areas, overnight tenting, canoeing, bike trails, all in a mystic area known as Fort Ancient.

America’s Stonehenge, the 2,000 year-old earthen mounds here are arranged as celestial calendars, built by woodland American Indians. The Be-In camp is in this area, at a woodsy bend of the Little Miami River, out in the country 30-min north of Cincinnati. See the website for info and camping reservations if staying overnight. This is a not-to-be-missed event for benders everywhere. Not that I’m expecting a humongous crowd. Just a good, important one.

Q: Do you make yourself available if people wanted you at their next workshop for a special insight?

QRG: Sometimes. But I travel a lot, often to remote areas. I can be hard to find.

Q: Are you open to individuals contacting you with questions about the art and if so how may one contact you?

QRG: Sure – I answer questions all day long here. I just ask that people look into the standard sources first (my book, the online how-to, and my published charts and etc). If the answer’s not there, I’ll do my best to help. I’m at: ghazala@anti-theory.com But as said, I’m often away. And when things pile up, regrettably, I can’t get to all the requests that arrive. I feel bad about that. All teachers would. That’s why we try to get our writings out there – to answer when we can’t.

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Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

QRG: In one of your questions you mentioned that circuit-bending can become a lifestyle. This is true. With these new concepts swirling in your mind, and the music spinning new stories in your ears, you change. Your consciousness is expanded. Understanding widens.

This was considered a threat during my teen years, in the 1960’s. An expanded consciousness might (and did) result in people questioning the capitalist goal of “a color TV and two cars in the garage” – the American Dream. But people do wake-up.

The bender lifestyle you recognized might be larger than is obvious. I recognize it as a social nuclei – a center of introspect whose reach, fertilized by this expanded consciousness, extends way beyond bending.

A common mind is emerging in the bending community. I’m reminded of the brightest futurists of my pivotal era, 40 years ago, when I talk to today’s benders. They’re the new philosophers, poets, art & civic leaders. I hope this will come-out at the Bent Be-In, at the open mic areas and fire circles.

Thanks for the interest here! Hope to see everyone at Circuitastrophe! and the Be-In!

Reed

Edit: The “be-In” website is being built, and to try again if it’s not up. It will be soon!

anti-theory.com/BE-IN

COOL! Thanks so much Reed for doing this article with us! I loved reading your answeres, as I thought I would. I guess it leaves me asking myself…Does the Man bend the Art, or does the Art bend the Man? My answer is I find the Art bends the Man… it takes you there, it gets inside your brain. But it almost seems obvious too. I look at artist I’ve known and how it takes a toll on their souls…Reed was right about it taking dedication. So as one who admires the art of Circuit Bending…I just have to say FORWARD!
-Rodney

Edit Edit: Thank you Rodney and Reed for your hard work on this article. More information on the Be-In will be available shortly. There is also an interview with Reed up on Gearwire, more awesome info! -CM

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle…Then Have A Disco Party!

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Interview By: Rodney

Non-stop Disco Action in the middle of any given field at any given time! You might be thinking…that would take one long extension cord, or a massive generator to power the night. Nope…you’d be just as wrong as kissing your first cousin. You see…DJ Dirty Ali (A.K.A. Joimson), has found a way to throw one heck of a Disco without aid of electricity or a generator, and he transports the whole thing in a wheelbarrow. Weird huh? What’s even weirder is his Discos’ compiled of 100% found objects, known only as Tip of the Pops solar powered wheelbarrow disco. Let’s investigate shall we…

Q: What is Tip of the Pops solar powered wheelbarrow disco?

J: Firstly let me tell you that the word tip means the same as dump in the UK. Tip of the Pops is an experimental mobile disco made from waste. I have been collecting records and equipment from there for 1 year in order to get to the stage I’m at now. This has been relatively easy because I work at a busy site in the south of England.

Currently there are two turntables, mixer, drum-machine, lights, amp etc. and hundreds of classic 7” vinyl records spanning six decades. The add-ons (also from the dump) include microphone and keyboard so people can MC, Beatbox, sing or jam along with whatever happening at the time.

Most of the stuff I get is in working order and the records are in good condition. The worst sounding because of it’s condition record is Sister Sledge, Lost in Music. But this is cool because it is kind of lost in a different way. Because of where Tip of the Pops comes from people expect it to sound rough but the sound quality is good and the music blows them away. It’s partly a nostalgia buzz because people remember saving up to buy the records and then playing them over and over whilst growing up.

A lot of younger kids have not even seen or used a turntable before and as the gear did not cost me anything I am happy to let anyone have a go. There will always be more equipment and music at the dump so I am not that bothered about things getting damaged. At one gig I even organized a disco dancing contest without having any prizes so I ended up giving away the records that the three winners danced to.

I should add every thing is as ‘tippy’ as possible. My current solar panel was bought new but I have 2 more from the dump that are working and will be installed soon. Even the computer I am writing this on is used for audio editing and was from the dump. Everything is constantly being upgraded as I find more useful gear. Last year I could only record DJ sets using cassette but this year I can digitally record using mini-disc or a creative jukebox. For the next gig I have found a tiny video camera small enough to wear and record.

My DJ name Dirty Ali is taken from the name for scrap metal, dirty alloy. An old record turntable would be dirty alloy if the plate was aluminum and the rest was not (best way to check is with a magnet). Even flight cases used for records or whatever else you put in them are part aluminum so they are dirty alloy too. My wheelbarrow is called Earwig after the first barrow I used at the Big Green Gathering festival 2007. Headphones are Earpod 300GB 😉

I have recently moved in to a workshop where I can continue to develop the project. The next earwig will be a four wheeled moto-barrow but before that I am attempting to build a pedal powered PA for a local community festival. Obviously I am interested in circuit bending too and that is how I found GetLoFi.com. Working where I do it’s a bit like being a kid in a candy store if you were interested in bending anything. As I am a novice I have ordered Build Your Own Alien Instruments by Reed Ghazala but it has not arrived and I have not found much.

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Q: When did this start, and why?

J: The wheelbarrow disco debuted at the Big Green Gathering in August 2007 but I was involved with this and other festivals before that. In 2004 I was part of the independent free state of mind arts collective IFSOM. My role was to part organize a solar powered gallery at the first Earthwise festival. Before that I had never really considered or witnessed renewable energy and I was blown away by my experience there. Afterward I decided to invest in some of the equipment and start my own mobile power plant but it took two more years for me to get something resembling a renewable system called Creative Dynamo.

ffwd Easter 2007 and I started work at the tip, recycling for a living. I was already booked to provide electricity for the Artwise gallery at the Big Green in August but I wanted to do something extra. Throwing away all of the old equipment and records had become part of my job and in June I found a Panasonic SG-J550L (80’s ghettoblaster with built-in turntable). That was really the eureka moment!

From then on I was holding onto the records and sourcing the equipment – the rest is on my blog.

Why, because if you want to make the world a better place you must inspire people to make that change. When I started with IFSOM we were doing art exhibitions in empty shops in a derelict part of town. Although I wasn’t exhibiting anything I saw the transformation of the buildings and the knock-on effect in the community. Suddenly the place was not seen as such a dive and we attracted people from all walks of life. Putting pictures on walls was like applying social lubricant and people wanted to stop and talk and open-up about whatever.

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Tip of the Pops is obviously environmental and I wanted to do something with broard appeal. If I was to stop someone in the street and lecture them about climate change, recycling or anything else for that matter the chances are they would not listen. But if I dress it up and we have an ace time albeit dancing around listening to waste wouldn’t that be better (?) I think the psychologists call it social learning.

On Wednesday I did my first school gig, it was the last week of term so they were pretty much in holiday mode already. I was to entertain 14 year olds who could not take part in the organised activities for some reason or another. The teacher who deals with disruptive pupils said that she had never seen them so well behaved. I don’t think I was responsible for that but she was impressed enough to recommend me to the pupil referral unit. This is where they send the kids that are too bad for school. If I get in there it will be worth it just to have the opportunity to make them stop and think about the environment we share. Maybe I can get circuit bending into schools as part of a class.

Circuit bending would definitely make Tip of the Pops more interesting and get more people involved. I don’t consider myself a musician but I could make a few noises to jam with. If there is anyone out there interested in collaborating I’d be happy to hear from them. The video on my website is a good example of what can be achieved. A beatboxer making whale song over the top of an 80’s pop tune sounds bizarre but it works. That was off the cuff as we’d never met before and I still don’t know his name. At another impromptu gig we had about half a dozen kids stop by and join in with surprisingly good mc’ing and beatbox.

Given my experience I want to encourage more artists and groups to use renewable energy. Tip of the Pops is just one example of what’s possible as I’m certain there are more projects worldwide.

Q: So your whole rig is set up using a solar panel that goes along with you?

The solar panel is mounted on the roof of camper van and charges a 12v leisure battery. The battery is disconnected from the panel and used in the wheelbarrow for gigs. A 110 Ah battery has lasted all night and next day without letting me down. With just one 60 watt panel the camper van becomes a mobile power plant providing enough energy for Tip of the Pops and other artists. There is a windmill that can also be used but it is rarely needed.

Q: When are you performing next?

Earthwise festival 8-10 August, an eco and family friendly gig. The great thing about what I am doing is that it’s fairly portable so I can set-up and do any number of gigs, anywhere. Boscombe Community Fair 5-7th September this is where I will be debuting bent devices.

Q: Do you plan on having any bent devices incorporated into your set by then?

The book has arrived and I have found a Vtech talking alphabet desk to get started. I have a couple of keyboards lying around but I do not think they’ll sound as good as the Vtech. Perhaps I should practice on the keyboards as I do not want to fry my main piece just yet! I don’t want to wreck my drum-machine either as it will be ideal accompaniment to whatever I come up with. At work last summer I came up with words to the Calvin Harris track I get all the girls but it’s to do with finding stuff at the dump. It goes I get all the games (playstation, sega etc.), I get all the phones (sony, nokia etc.). My goal is to perform that at BCF using at least one bent instrument

Whatever happens it will be recorded and put online for all to see and hear. I am not sure about Myspace because I do not own copyright so I use archive.org instead. This is linked from my wordpress blog which has no advertising whatsoever. I suppose as I get more musical myspace might come into it’s own, as I have already found some great circuit bent music on there.

LINKS

www.creativedynamo.net

Tip of the Pops f a c e b o o k

Creative Dynamo Network tribe.net

http://www.myspace.com/joimson

* Thanks Joimson! COOL! Good luck with the bending! Should be a rocking rig once you get it all going.
-Rodney