All posts by Austin

Free Music Friday – MEGADUMP

by Creme DeMentia


Here is a recording made in Cincinnati by Karl aka thejunkyardcatalyst at the Thriftsore Boratorium on May 18th, 2010 at about 3:00am. It features thejunkyardcatalyst and Mark 1/2 Mang as well as the members of CMKT 4.   Lots of circuit bent instruments as well as some prepared guitar, regular guitar, synthesizers, records, sleep deprivation, juggled cats and yelling neighbors. This is the first in a series of MEGADUMP recordings to follow on for more information. Enjoy!

CMKT 4 and Michael Una at Maker Faire Detroit 2010

Come visit us at Maker Faire 2010 Detroit at the Henry Ford this weekend (Jul 31 & Aug 1)! We’ll be at the booth CMKT 4: Making Music from Junk, where we’ll have Bottle-Cap Contact Mics, Circuit Bent Devices, and Piezo Instruments for sale. Michael Una will be joining us there with some gear from UnatronicsCMKT 4 will be performing Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm and Michael Una will be performing Sunday morning at 10:00am.

Here are some pictures of what we’ll have with us to sell:



Roth Mobot to open OFFF in Paris


by Creme DeMentia

Chicago circuit-bending duo Roth Mobot — Patrick McCarthy and Tommy Stephenson– are set to open the *sold out* 2010 OFFF (International Festival for the Post-Digital Creation Culture) in Paris, France on Thursday, June 24.   US Circuit Benders Casper Electronics and Bleep Labs are also set to perform Friday and Saturday, respectively.  A table of circuit-bent performance (see Nerdferences) show-times and full event schedule are available at the OFFF website, although it won’t do you much good if you don’t already have your ticket.

Roth Mobot left Tuesday for Paris and have hopefully arrived safely, so if you don’t have your ticket to see them, perhaps you can track them down.  Although the OFFF is paying for their airfare and stay, they are not paying to ship Roth Mobot’s gear or feed them; you can help defer their cost to play by clicking the Paypal donation button at their website.   When I talked to Patrick last, it sounded as though they were going to stay a couple extra days on both sides of the festival, seeing the sights and padding the Rolodex;  let’s hope they brought their camera as well, I’m sure all of us on this side of the Atlantic are anxious to see pictures and hear a full report!

* Update * Photos from the Event!

Flickr Gallery Link by Roth Mobot.

CMKT 4 on ~ORE~ Theatre Intangible

by Creme DeMentia

CMKT 4 returned from our first US tour a couple of weeks back.  With the ESG right on its heels and with all the video I collected, it’s been slow-going getting all of the material together for a thorough Tour Log.   We should have a Tour Log available for you here on GetLoFi within the next week or so.  A recording we participated in while on tour, however, is already available:

ORE Theatre Intangible E023 Artificial

We paid a visit to Tony Youngblood, host of ORE Theatre Intangible while we visited Nashville.  Jeff found Tony by searching “Nashville Circuit Bending” online.  Tony invited us to play a regular CMKT 4 set and then play two short improvised sets for the Theatre Intangible Podcast, the latter of which you’ll hear if you follow the link.   There are many other episodes of Theater Intangible for your listening pleasure as well, they are chock full of improvised performances and interviews with people who make crazy sounds in interesting ways.

Thanks so much to Tony for helping to make our visit to Nashville such a great experience!

CMKT 4, Spooky Sounds Flashlight

by Creme DeMentia

So, I am in my first rock band and it is my pleasure and privilege to be able to share this with GetLofi Readers. It consists of myself on drums/circuit-bent electronics, Jeff Cox on acoustic guitar/bass and Zach Adams on guitar/synthesizers. Here is a video from our first performance at the House Cafe, in DeKalb, IL:

In a recent GetLofi article, Spunky Toofers compared single circuit-bent devices to patches on a modular synthesizer.  I think it’s an apt comparison.  Despite the inconvenience of lugging around a gigantic array of devices, there is something to be said for the visual appeal of a table crowded with beautiful, weird-looking/-sounding gizmos.  Let us not discount either the incredibly unique sounds within some simpler devices.  I have found that performing solo has become an interesting puzzle when faced with a dozen or so instruments, all with different interfaces and sound potential, all able to make noise at the same time.

CMKT4, The House Cafe, DeKalb, IL 1/16/10 from Creme DeMentia on Vimeo.

For CMKT 4, I have added plywood wings to a student desk and done away with rack toms to accommodate some choice pieces of my circuit-bent gear as I drum.  I am currently using the Sesame Street All-Star Band Keyboard, The Animal Caller, The Bird Calendar, the Barbietron (coming soon), and a new device, the Haunted House, to get my palette of circuit-bent sounds.

I picked up a Halloween flashlight loaded with spooky sounds when I last was in Chicago.  Tommy from Roth Mobot had picked up one before when we were both at an American Science and Surplus months back, so I was familiar with the sounds and was pretty sure that he had circuit-bent it later.  I quickly dismantled it and found a pitch resistor.  What is amazing about this flashlight, musically speaking, is that it already drones on its own.   There are 8 sounds to choose from, each loops automatically until you press its button again or select a different sound.  This was probably my simplest and quickest project to date, it came together pretty fast over several days.

My only modifications were to the flashlight’s housing and pitch resistor.  The body contacts are metal beads from Michael’s, the case was a junky jewelry box from Salvation Army and the Haunted House illustration is actually cut from the cover of a garage sale book, “Haunted Houses.”  I was able to cut the flashlight lamp front flat with a Dremel cut-off disc chucked in my drill-press to turn it into the front window on the final instrument.  By doing this, it sat flush on the front of the jewelry box and I was able to use the flashlight’s own screws to affix it.  I replaced the flashlight bulb with an LED, transplanted its battery compartment, and replaced its buttons with some nice chunky black plastic DPDT switches.

As soon as I brought it to practice, it fit right in;  there are 3 different songs I use it for now.  It just goes to show that sometimes incredibly simple bends can sometimes result in very capable and good sounding instruments.

Also, CMKT 4 is coming for you, Minnesota!

Introducing The Creme DeMentia Channel on Vimeo

by Creme DeMentia

Regular readers of GetLoFi will recall announcements for a number of circuit-bent/experimental electronic live events during late 2009 here in the Midwest.  I was lucky enough to catch some of these performances with my camcorder.  I have been slowly adding the footage that I captured to my new Vimeo account and they are available for viewing at the new Creme DeMentia Vimeo Channel.  Below I have embedded several videos with some information about the performances.  Although I have not added every single video I’ve taken, I’ve been trying to add at least one new video a week as upload limits allow.

e^3 Micro Tour – GetLofi contributors Talking Computron, Creme DeMentia and Pelzwik teamed with Tim Kaiser to play a 3-night string of shows.  We started with a show with LWA in Iowa City at the Picador and then continued on to DeKalb, IL to play at Krystal’s Ultra-Lounge;  we ended in Chicago at i^3 Hypermedia,  where we added Roth Mobot to the bill and streamed the entire night of performances live online.  Video captured from the show at i^3 Hypermedia can be seen embedded in an older article here on GetLoFi, the performances I captured in Iowa City and DeKalb are embedded below.





Cincinnati –  After the e^3 Micro Tour, Tim Kaiser invited me to accompany him to Cincinnati for a couple of shows he was playing there.  I was able to play with Tim and Thriftsore Boratorium at the chilly Semantics Gallery.  Thriftsore Boratorium put on a very interesting set, broadcasting on several different frequencies to a dozen or more portable radios.  It was very bizarre to listen and move around in the field of distributed radios, hopefully the video captures some of that spirit.  The following day I shot some overhead footage of performances from David William and Tim Kaiser at the Contemporary Arts Center.  I had no idea what to expect from David William’s performance and was pleasantly surprised.  His approach is very subdued and I like the way he has re-purposed every-day objects as playable drone generators.   I was very happy to make his acquaintance and catch his performance.




There are more videos available at the Creme DeMentia Vimeo Channel.  I have also posted some full versions of past performances that were originally segmented for the Creme DeMentia Youtube Channel.  I will continue to post to both channels based on video sizes and lengths; Creme DeMentia Vimeo Channel will hold 10+ min. videos of performances, lectures and how-to videos, Creme DeMentia Youtube Channel will hold shorter videos of performances, toy demos, how-to videos, etc.

2009… a year of Bird Songs


by Creme DeMentia

As 2009 drew to a close, all I could think about was… TAKING DOWN THE BIRD CALENDAR!  OK, I would have ripped it down months ago, had I not promised my girlfriend that it would remain up until the year ended.  So, I, of course, went directly to my computer after making said promise and ordered another from the Internet.

The calendar is Bird Songs 2009, adapted from the book Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song by Les Beletsky.

From what I understand, people that have attempted to circuit bend the book have not had much luck finding a pitch bend, but I found that the calendar was very easy to circuit bend.  The video explains fairly clearly what’s going on, but for posterity’s sake, I will record it here as well:

I assembled a 555 Oscillator Kit and used it to trigger the birdsongs on this calendar’s sound strip; the kit has the 555 and components configured so that you can adjust the rate of the oscillator. There is a resistor on the circuit board of the calendar’s sound strip that can be replaced with potentiometers to control the pitch of the birdsongs.  Pitch can be controlled independently of the oscillator rate, so that the birdsongs can be triggered over and over quickly or slowly at both high and low pitches.  There are added body contacts connected to the calendar’s pitch circuit for expression, one contact in particular is the   ramp wave output from the 555 for a warble at the rate of the oscillator.

So ask around and maybe someone you know or someone near you is taking down this very calendar and wondering what to do with it – you should help them decide how best to recycle it. Why, you could even detach the sound strip and send it to me with your mailing address – the senders of the first 10 working Bird Songs 2009 Calendar Sound Strips I receive will be sent a free Bottle-Cap Contact Microphone!

Crème DeMentia

PO Box 116

DeKalb, IL 60115

Have a Happy 2010!  Coming Soon: LOTS of videos of Circuit Bent Performances from November/December 2009.


 e^3 poster

WED 11/11/09 – Iowa City, IA – The Picador, 33 E Washington, 21+, $6, 9PM – Tim Kaiser, Pelzwik, Talking Computron, Creme DeMentia, with guests.

THUR 11/12/09 – DeKalb, IL – Krystal’s Ultra Lounge, 122 S 1st St., 18+, $5, 9PM – Tim Kaiser, Pelzwik, Talking Computron, Creme DeMentia

FRI 11/13/09 –  Chicago, IL – i^3 Hypermedia, 11 W Illinois St, 4th floor, All Ages, $5, 9PM, BYOB, Tim Kaiser, Pelzwik, Talking Computron, Creme DeMentia, with special guests Roth Mobot.

3 cities, 3 nights of performances from artists all using homemade, modified, or circuit-bent instruments.   There will also be plenty of unique merchandise for purchase.  If you’re a regular reader of, you’ll know the performers:

Tim Kaiser, Duluth, MN –

Tim Kaiser and his other-worldly instruments have been featured in Make Magazine on numerous occasions. Tim uses synthesizers and effects he has built himself to process and blend with the sounds from his electro-acoustic sculptures/instruments. Most of Tim’s instruments are painstakingly frankensteined together from existing instruments, circuits of existing and original designs, and vintage housings (not necessarily that you would know). NOT TO BE MISSED!

Pelzwik, Minneapolis, MN –

Pelzwik, aka Nick Heimer, makes his own contact microphones in many different varieties. He employs these to route voice and acoustic instrument sounds into circuit-bent effects with bizarre results.

Talking Computron, Cedar Rapids, IA –

Talking Computron is none other than Alex, webmaster of the popular circuit-bending blog Listeners will embark on a smooth, minimal journey of sequenced circuit-bent synthesizers with additional layers of other electronic sounds.

Creme DeMentia, DeKalb, IL –

Austin Cliffe (Creme DeMentia) will hypnotize you with his found 35mm slide show while he slowly twiddles the knobs on a table full of circuit-bent toys blaring a wild, cartoonish wall of sounds.

More Information at

Roth Mobot, Chicago, IL  –  (Chicago show only)

Patrick McCarthy and Tommy Stephenson form the duo Roth Mobot.  They use sampling, an Amiga computer, and an array of circuit bent devices to immerse the audience in a layered, ever-evolving bath of electronic sounds.

Circuit Bending with a 555 Kit: The Animal Caller


by Austin

I came into circuit bending from a purely visual arts background with very minimal electronics knowledge.  I understood the very basic concept of an oscillator when I first started bending- some sort of circuitry that creates a waveform that oscillates between high and low states, but I had no idea what sort of circuitry went into making an oscillator nor did I understand how exactly I could incorporate an oscillator into a bent device.  I have since found there are many different ways to go about building an oscillator and there are a many different ways you can use them to control bent devices.  I have had very immediate success with GetLoFi 555 oscillator kits.  Their frequency is customizable to your purposes, depending on the potentiometer and capacitor you choose to set the oscillation range of the 555, you can get two (and possibly more) different wave form outputs, the board is conveniently tiny and ready to assemble, and it can often operate stably off the bent toy’s own batteries.

I have installed GetLoFi 555 oscillators into several different toys now and for each toy the oscillator has been used somewhat differently.  There will be a series of articles examining the insides of these toys, starting with a recent toy, the Animal Caller.  I found this toy for $0.99 on a trip to Michigan several months ago.  I was drawn to the Flintstone-esque look of the toy right away as well as the pictures of interesting animals on the toy’s sound selector, like the Hyena and Kookaburra.

It looks like a few benders on YouTube have already gotten inside of these toys.  The first video gives you an idea of what the toy sounds like normally, the second two show benders rocking their bent Animal Callers through some delay.




There is an On/Demo switch on the side of the device.  When set to “Demo” mode, it will play an animal’s call once when the selector is moved to a new animal.  When set to “On” mode, you actually blow into the mouthpiece and it causes the selected animal call to loop as long as you keep blowing.  I had never seen an interface like this on a cheap toy before.  Upon taking it apart, I found that your breath travels from the mouthpiece into a plastic tube which directs it onto a fan.  While the fan spins from your breath, two holes in the fan repeatedly pass between an infrared emitter and an infrared sensor, which causes the sounds to loop.  Unfortunately I didn’t photograph the toy or its guts in an unbent state.  The breath mechanism grossed me out and didn’t work very well; by removing it I was able to free up a lot of space inside.


Using a multi-meter, I was able to read the voltage at the infrared sensor when the hole in the fan passed between it and the infrared emitter.   When the hole passed, the voltage dropped to 0 on one of the sensor’s legs, which stays at +4.5v when the sensor cannot see the emitter.  I connected the square-wave output of the 555 kit to this leg and it simply worked; when the 555 is oscillating at its highest operating frequency, determined by the 4.7 uF cap and 50k pot, it somehow makes the toy think the fan is spinning, causing the animal sounds to loop indefinitely.

Animal Caller Pitch Bend

I found the pitch resistor, which is directly to the left of the black blob on the toy’s circuit board.  I was able to replace it with a trimmed 1M potentiometer with the remaining outer leg going to ground.  Body contacts are attached to each leg of the potentiometer. I was also able to feed the ramp wave that the 555 outputs (coming from the capacitor leg, pin 2)  into the toy’s pitch resistor instead of a +4.5V to give a scribbly warble.

Animal Caller 555 Oscillator

I added a 1/4″ output and used an SPDT switch to switch one of the toy’s speaker leads between a speaker lug and the 1/4″ output’s tip.  I then connected the 1/4″ jacket to the other speaker terminal, no switch from the toy’s circuit board.  The sound coming from the output was really distorted at first, so I tried shorting the two leads of the output with low resistance to see if that would replace the missing resistance from the toy’s speaker (8 ohms), which I was removing from the circuit.  It worked,  and I found that as I increased the resistance on my resistance substitution box, the distortion increased.  My friend Zach who was looking on as I was working suggested I try installing a distortion potentiometer, and sure enough a 1k potentiometer between the two legs of the 1/4″ output lets me dial in the distortion of the sound going to the 1/4″ output quite nicely.

Here’s an overall view of the Animal Caller Control Layout.

New Bottle-Cap Contact Microphones

by Creme DeMentia

I just finished a new batch of Bottle-Cap Contact Microphones in time for the recent GetLoFi Experimental Garage Sale, which was loads of fun!  I also recently modified a pair of maracas with piezo-discs in a simple and useful way.  I’ll share my process of modifying these maracas after a brief overview of the new batch of microphones.

Rolling Rock Caps Galore

I had built up lots of green 2-liter caps to use for the 1/4″ jack barrels, so I was on the lookout for metal bottle-caps to use that would look nice with them.  I found just what I was looking for when I went up to visit my mom in Wisconsin; the previous owner had lodged tons of Rolling Rock bottle-caps into styrofoam used to insulate a barn on the property she now owns.

Monster Magnet

I pulled them all down with a magnet and sorted out the damaged caps.  There were still hundreds of caps in really good shape.  I dedicated all the green 2-liter caps I had on hand to making a run of microphones to feature these iconic caps.  In addition I got some green hot glue and zip ties and mixed some special green plasti-dip for the run.  They came out looking like this:


A number of people have already received these in the mail, and they might have noted the slight change  in the design over previous batches.  Unlike before, I decided to also Plasti-dip the cables connecting the mic element to the 1/4″ jack barrels, and I think that made a big difference in their look.  I think the colored hot glue sharpens their appearance as well.  My friend Jesus has been using one of these new mics on his melodica and throat for live performances of his music.  His records and performs under the name Los Osos Voladores.  Check out the knitted cozy he made for the mic.


I recently decided to realize an idea using piezo-electric discs that was given to me by Miss Pussycat.   Miss Pussycat is married to Quintron and they’ve released numerous albums together.   I have been a fan of their music since high school, and back then I screen-printed a bunch of t-shirts with the design of Quintron’s excellent album “These Hands of Mine” on the front (“These Hands of Mine” was the first place I heard Quintron’s invention the Drum Buddy).


In order to print the shirts, I first asked their permission, and their only stipulation was that I had to send them two of the shirts. So, since then, I’ll send them things in the mail from time to time just for fun.  I sent along two contact microphones from my last batch, and Miss Pussycat wrote me back later to say that she was trying them with her maracas.


It seemed to me that it would be somewhat awkward to affix the mics to maracas, so I decided I would see about making a pair of maracas that had contact mics built into them.  This led to a fun and quick project – “Electric” Maracas!


I started out by looking at what there was in the way of maracas on eBay.  I was thinking cheap and plastic would be good criteria for selection, as they would be easy to work with and modify and I wouldn’t feel too bad if I destroyed them.  Pretty quickly I came across some maracas made by Manos Percussion that looked like the perfect candidates.

The maracas consist of hollow plastic bulbs attached to the ends of wooden handles with upholstery tacks.  I immediately removed the bulbs by pulling out the upholstery tacks.  I did this because I didn’t like the sound of the shaker filler inside the maracas, which were large plastic pellets that were too loud and clunky.


The hollow plastic bulb has a flat area about the size of a quarter where the company logo is – “MP.” This seemed like the perfect spot to put the piezo-electric elements, which I affixed with hot glue after attaching wire leads.


I carefully zip-tied the wires to the bulbs through some small holes I drilled and left wire tails hanging off about 1′ long.  I put protective (color-coordinated AND descriptive) bottle-caps over the piezo elements on the maracas (Redhook – R, Leinie’s – L).  I used red hot glue and Plasti-Dip to completely affix the cords and caps to the maraca bulbs.


I drilled the maraca handles out end-to-end so that the cord could fit through.


I then drilled one hole from the side of the handle to the hole I had drilled from end to end so that the cord could be slipped in the side and then out through the bottom of the handle.


The top end of the handle that would fit into the bulb I covered with hot glue, so the hole I drilled through the length of the handle would be filled.  I threaded the wires through the handles and trimmed the wire tail to length below the handle.  I then added the 1/4″ jack assembly to the ends of the cables.


I saw the opportunity to modify the maracas in a useful way when removing the harsh sounding plastic pellets; it gave me the idea to use hose-clamps instead of the upholstery tacks to hold the bulbs in place.  This now means that the user can fill and refill the maracas individually with whatever and how much shaker material they desire.  Rather than figure out what to put in them, I decided to send them straight to Miss Pussycat and see what she recommended, since she had given me the idea in the first place.  Of what she’s tried so far, she said that macaroni and beans both sounded good.

Quintron and Miss Pussycat are about to finish a Summer West Coast tour, so it may be a while before you can see them perform live near you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t download an album or visit them on myspace!