Derek Sajbel, better known in the circuit bending community as Dr. Rek, took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions I had. If you ever get a chance to see Dr. Rek perform or have a chance to speak with Derek, please seize the moment. All around the experience is a dance party not to be forgotten. The wealth of knowledge swelling inside his head is ridiculously insane. I’m always amazed too at how often he is there giving a hand with the circuit bending and his work on propelling the art.
Q: You have a lot of interesting things going on as far as circuit bending…Let’s start with the Documentary.
What all is going into the documentary and when did you start collecting footage?
Rek: I started to make the circuit bending documentary in 2002 after graduating college, at that point it was something I had known about since 1996, so I was surprised there was not a documentary already. I had just graduated from the USC school of cinema-television and decided that documentary, music video and video art would be my main video strengths, so I decided then to start The Circuit Bending Documentary.
In the winter of 2002 I contacted Q.R. Ghazala and told him about my plans. He was fully supportive and in the spring of 2003 I flew out to Cincinnati to spend a week interviewing the man himself. From there I created a set of questions and began interviewing and documenting all the circuit bending I could. In January 2004, Ghazala informed me of Bent Fest, and I edited together what I had shot in that first year or so into the now-infamous “What is Circuit Bending?” short (half a million views and counting on youtube). After attending Bent 2004 and having the time of my life, I thought I could have a finished documentary before the next year. That didn’t work out and in honor of the Tank, who at the time was losing there space in 2005, I made a DVD journal of Bent 2004. I was able to sell a couple hundred DVDs of 2004, and due to the response, I continued making DVD journals of each years Bent festival, while also shooting more interviews and footage on the west coast. Bent Festival DVD sales are next to nothing now though and no longer are able to serve their purpose of supporting my expenses to travel to Bent, so I am considering not making the DVDs anymore, in order to focus on the final product.
So, the final documentary would entail five or more years of Bent festival footage, footage from other bending performances and events, and interviews with over 100 people.
Q: When do you envision the final production of this on going documentary to come to an end?
Rek: I wish it was over already. At this point I have some 200 plus hours of footage, about half of which is from Bent Festivals, which I plan to edit into the “final” documentary. It has become such a mountain of footage though, that with my current job teaching English in japan, I have barely enough time to finish Bent DVDs and work on my own music. As Mike Rosenthal suggested, I really could use some editing interns to help with the final edit.
Q: Are you planning on releasing the documentary yourself?
Rek: Maybe, but I think it would benefit the awareness and appreciation of the art form more with a release through a known distribution system, than me peddling DVDs on my website. I applied for a PBS distribution in the past, but they weren’t interested due to fact that they saw making Bent Festival DVDs as a “competing production”.
Q: Between gathering footage you seem like you’re well traveled. When we first hooked up, you were in California, now you’re living in Japan. How did this move happen, and what’s it like as far a circuit bending in Japan?
Rek: I got a job teaching English through the Jet program. I’ve long had an interest and ties to the country, so I took the job to return here and to escape from LA, as I was not able to support myself on the small amount of money I was making freelance teaching and video editing.
Circuit Bending in Japan is still very small, like most good scenes in Japan, and it tends to overlap with the noise and chip-tune scenes. I’ve met about 5 or 6 artists in Japan so far that use Circuit Bending in their music or as their music. I’ve been most impressed by Kaseo’s Pikaremin orchestra and Shotaro Nakano’s bent Pachinko machine installation, as well as a circuit bending installation I randomly found in Tokyo last year. There are also a few artists who use bent instruments with their Game Boys, like Maru and Chesterfield. One group I still want to see is the (e) – bombers, they have backpack amps made with PVC tubes for their bends that are very reminiscent of a ghostbusters proton pack. There is a “bending” festival in Tokyo called Bend++ held every year, but I have yet to attend.
Q: Many people reading this might not know, but you’re actually in a couple bent recording projects…
Rek: Well I started making music in 1994, with a couple friends, we made parody rock. Our band was called Nirvana 2: The Sequel. Once I started using bending in live performances around 2002, me and my friend Andy started a project called DnAbent, which was primarily bent keyboards and produced two albums. During that time, inspired by Bogdan Raczynski, Andy started writing beats in impulse tracker to play off an old Thinkpad Pentium he got for free for us to circuit bend over. Our friend Recipe, a super talented celloist, asked to play with us and thus began the group that would eventually settle on the name, Zef Renirhs. Zef Renirhs was more of a cult than a band as each performance was a different and separate happening unto itself. Besides me and Andy, the members tended to differ at each performance throughout 2002-06, as not everyone could make it to every show and we encouraged anyone to participate. It was Recipe, being the genius that he is, who through a play on words changed my name, Derek, to Dr. Rek. I began writing beats on my own in 2004, which resulted in my self-pressed release of “The Business of Absurdity” vinyl EP in summer 2005. I believe that Bent 2004 was my first solo performance, until then I had always performed in groups of at least two people. To this date I have been in nearly a dozen projects, Nirvana 2: The Sequel, Language Problem, Fuzakenna, DnAbent, Zef Renirhs, I think this place is haunted, Dr. Rek, The Circuit Bending Orchestra, Denki Poo and Poopie Kewpie. The majority of which contains or features circuit bending. I also DJ under the name Dr. Rek, having been a college radio DJ from 98-02, I moved onto DJing parties in 2003.
Q: Do you ever play any circuit bent shows as Dr. Rek in Japan?
Rek: I have been playing shows every few months with a crew of chiptune kids in Fukuoka that includes my favorite Japanese chip/bend artist, Maru, and have played a few times in Osaka and Tokyo. I have yet to play a show that is strictly bending, all so far have been noise, chiptune or breakcore focused so far. I do hope to play Bend++ in Tokyo someday.
Q: One of my favorite projects of yours is ABSURDITY.BIZ! I think one of the first you tube video’s I saw was Absurdity doing a circuit bent parade by a train stop. What all is Absudity.biz, like when did it start what all do you do, how often do you play?
Rek: Absurdity.Biz is my website and production company name. The website features free downloadable mp3s of most of all of my music from 1997 to the present, as well as many of the videos I have created and merchandise. The parade you speak of is the “Highland Park Thursday Evening Circuit Bending Gentleman’s Society Marching Band and Ladies Auxillary” created by Zef Renirhs bandmate and great friend Jeff Boynton and his wife Mona Jean. They march every year in the Pasadena Doo-Dah Parade as well as a few others.
Q: You met a girl in Japan?
Rek: Yes, the first week I was here I met Akiko, we’ve been together for almost two years now. I got her interested in making her own music and helped her learn Ableton Live. She produces excellent music, you can find a link on my myspace page.
Q: Are you guys currently doing a project together as well, could you elaborate on that a bit?
Rek: Yes, we started a lover’s acid project about a year ago. At first we didn’t have a name, but one night I woke from a dream and said “Poopie Kewpie!”, “Poopie Kewpie?” Akiko asked, “Poopie Kewpie…” I responded and promptly fell asleep again. At the time, it meant something in my dream which I can’t remember, but it became our group name. So far we have made about 7 or 8 tracks together, all acid, though none have yet to incorporate circuit bending, we hope to do so soon.
Q: Your like an O.G. of bending to me, like one of the first people I heard of doing such a thing. When did you start bending, and how did you stumble upon such a thing?
Rek: I was introduced to circuit bending in 1996 by a compilation of experimental instrument music called “gravichords, whirlies and pyrophones” from ellipsis arts. My friend Tavys, aka Big Tex, bought the book/CD, and shared it with me and some friends. It featured a 2 page spread about each instrument/track and after reading Q.R. Ghazala’s section about circuit bending the speak n’ spell, we enthusiastically started searching thrift stores and began bending for our own personal amusement. However I didn’t actually engage in soldering till college, as I had severely burned my leg with a soldering iron in junior high school, fusing hair into my burnt skin, and was afraid to touch an iron again for some time.
Q: Have you released any material for any of your projects?
Rek: Mostly I have self-released, selling CDRs, self-pressed vinyl and putting mp3s on the web. You can find links to most of this thru my myspace page or website. I have released a few tracks on Infinite Complexity / Phthalo Records comps in 2003 and 2004. Also I have a track on each of the Tiger Claw Record comps. A new Dr. Rek track and a Poopie Kewpie track will be coming out on Net-Lab.co.uk this summer I believe, and another Poopie Kewpie track will be released at faltyDL.com very soon. Hoping to release a Dr. Rek EP/LP in the near future, as well as a Poopie Kewpie EP on some British acid label or another.
Q: What are some of your favorite bends you’ve done?
Rek: Definitely the Yamaha PSS-460/470. I made two albums with only recordings of bends of my 460 (DnAbent vol. 1 & 2), its produced the most elaborate sounds and melodies of all the bends I’ve done. Wuv Luv is also a good bend, crunky square wave melodies with a ridiculous visual appeal. Also I really like this DonDake Button I just bent, for its visual and novel appeal, as well as my Donald Trump and giggling Elmo dolls for similar novelty reasons. My favorite body contact piece is the Koolshades drum machine, they come in three or so varieties, but its basically 4 analog drums that make the sounds of crickets and moose calls when you body bend it.
Q: Anything else you want to add?
Rek: Pretty excited about my other Japanese group, Denki Poo. It’s a power acid punk duo with my friend/barber/father of two of my elementary students, Atsushi. We have been playing shows mostly with local experimental punk bands and been well received, you can also find some recordings of our live sets on my podcast, http://absurdity-biz.podomatic.com
Thanks for the interview!