Toys – Episode 3 – Mad Scientists of Music

Episode three takes a journey into the underground world of circuit bending. Circuit benders hack children’s toys and dissect cheap archaic electronics, to produce strange new instruments. Circuit bending lies at the intersection of instrument building, grass roots activism and psychedelia. Listeners will learn about the history of circuit bending, a hobby that grew out of the the microprocessor and psychedelic revolutions in the 1960’s; and how these technological and cultural movements fused into a kind of activist musicianship.

From the work of Reed Ghazala (creator of Circuit Bending) on, musical tinkerers have been antiestablishment figures – taking technology beyond its intended uses and in the process becoming outsider artists.

Andrew Edgar explains how geographical differences in the history of consumerism influenced the musical cultures of different countries – and how he views taking toys apart as a sort of ‘sound archaeology’. Andrew introduces us to his collection of unique circuit bent instruments. Artist and VJ MarQu Vr situates circuit bending in the history of electronic music. John Leech gives us a live ‘cartridge ripping’ demo, which involves tricking a classic megadrive into producing chaotic musical sequences. We begin though, in Berlin, where writer and one time rock star Julian Gough, is making his own weird and wonderful instruments.

Episode 3 – ‘Toys

About the Series

BAI logo mark colourMad Scientists of Music is a six part, BAI funded documentary series on Near FM. The show explores the world of Circuit Bending, Chip Tune, and Electroacoustic music in Ireland. Low cost technology, recycled instruments and a new attitude to tinkering embodied by the ‘maker movement’ are helping to reinvent music. A new generation of Irish musicians raised around computers, the internet and video gaming, see noise as something to be hacked, taken apart, and reconstructed. These artists build their own instruments, whether by recycling toy keyboards, modifying video game consoles, or attaching electronics to traditional stringed instruments. They often share their music online for free, and in doing so challenge our ideas about copyright and ownership. Their playful attitude to technology finds new uses for obsolete devices and brings the collaboration of musicianship to engineering and the arts.


Sounds used from – Gamepak circuit bending bloof

Part 1 – Julian Gough in Berlin
Part 2 – Andrew Edgar & Gamepak collective
Part 3 – John Leech (of Siam Collective)

Also featuring MarQu Vr of Gamepak collective.

Tracks used: Cartridge rip by John Leech, improvised performance jam by MarQu Vr & Andrew Edgar.


Mad Scientists of Music is coming out, next week!

So, after a very great while, but still much sooner than expected, my first documentary series ‘Mad Scientists of Music‘ is almost here.

Quick and dirty promo – featuring the music of Bitwise Operator

The final lineup of interviewees is ¡NO!, Deathness Injection, Andrew Edgar, John Leech Siam Collective, MarQu VR, Kieran Dold, Ed Devane (Withering Zithering), Patchblocks, Bitwise Operator, Ewan Hennelly (HERV / ZPG), Meljoann, Niamh de Barra, Luxury Mollusc, Primal Barbershop Trio, Colm Olwill (DJ PCP), Niamh Houston (Chipzel), Dr Eoin O’Dell, Roger Gregg (Crazy Dog Audio Theatre), Oswald Green, Julian Gough (Toasted Heretic) and The Dublin Laptop Orchestra.

I’ve been hard at work over the last few days creating the press packs which will dutifully be sent over the top to die tomorrow. When you make radio programmes, especially for community stations, you’ve got a problem. No matter how good or bad, your show is pretty unlikely to get reviewed and hence listened to. As I’ve been working on this series for a year, gradually falling in love with a whole host of largely unknown Irish artists, this time I decided to do something to catch el jaded journo’s attention. Hence, THE ULTIMATE PRESS PACK O’DOOM. Containing: 1 cassette tape copy of episodes 1 & 6 of the doc, 1 wax sealed creepy letter from a mysterious personage, 1 set of exclusive and mysterious photos, and for three lucky journocritters an actual walkman to play said tape on. Big thank you to Seb of Deathness Injection for lending his tape duplication machine, and to everyone who helped me find a place to buy cassette tapes in Dublin in 2014 (hint: it’s Tower Records). Look out for the series on this site, and on iTunes from next week. Before then I’ll be posting the first web only episodes – a series of interviews about first experiences with music and technology. Watch this space.

Broadcast dates: Thursday May 29th @ 5pm, June 5th, 12th, 19th & 26th, July 3rd @ 5pm

Mad Scientists Of Music – February Update

john leach

Artist Highlight – (John Leach, Siam Collective / Gamepak)

John Leach is the man behind psychedelic rap collective Siam Collective (pictured). Out of costume he looks like Damon Albarn circa 1996, and talks like the charismatic head of a hip hop fuelled electronics cult. Along with A4 Sounds’ Andrew Edgar, MarQu VR and ‘Jeff Jeff Jeff’ he runs Gamepak, the group responsible for bringing chiptune gigs and circuit bending workshops to Dublin. I spoke to John in the creepy cosy former Magdalene laundry he calls a home. Here here is, in full mad scientist mode talking about humanity’s cybernetic relationship with the circuit.

And here he is demonstrating the black art of cartridge ripping.

Documentary Update

I’m sitting in the basement of Trinity Library, surrounded by studious folks burrowed in their laptops, their little desktop kingdoms defended by troops of empty Monster energy drinks and granola bar wrapper sandbags. On my laptop is a table of my work on Mad Scientists of Music to date. With the exception of a couple of sonic experiments it’s almost entirely been recording, collating and editing interviews: Capturing dozens of hours of ‘tape’, cutting out ems, ahs and digressions and slicing them into clips with names like ‘Quentin Tarantino’s Starwars’ and ‘Alien Language’. I’ve interviewed thirteen Irish electronic musicians, from circuit bending hackers to chiptune pop stars, and recorded several tours of their musical toyshops.

I’ve travelled to Limerick, Liverpool, Brighton, Maynooth and all over Dublin, in the process learning a little something about audio recording and the many many ways you can screw it up. I’ve had to deal with a couple of disasters – several of my preliminary interviews had to be completely redone due to foolhardy mic placement, and a whole week of editing work on a marvellous interview with Ewan Hennelly had to be redone from scratch when I managed to accidentally erase a bunch of files.

Technical mishaps aside, the interview process has gone great. My guests have included theramin robot builders Deathness Injection, the toytronica hackers of Gamepak, Irish hiphop diva Meljoann, and rising chiptune superstar Chipzel. Our conversations have gone everywhere from copyright to UFOlogy. I can’t wait to get this stuff out there. Thing is – there’s a long way to go before this documentary’s finished.

I keep a running tally of clip lengths in my SUPER-MEGA-EXTRA-ENORMOUS-SPREADSHEET-O-DOOM, and (with about half the interviews still to edit) we’re already looking at over 500 individual clips, containing 371 minutes of finished interviews, or enough for 12 thirty minute episodes, not counting music.

Putting it all together, mixing, building a sound scape worthy of the material and generally having fun – not to mention the chop chop chop of cutting the interviews, is going to take a looong time. With that in mind, I’m going to start posting Artist Highlights – brief bios of musicians featured in the documentary, with a couple of interesting / entertaining clips to accompany them. These won’t necessarily reflect the style or substance of the final series, but they’ll help motivate me to keep cutting, and hopefully provide a small thank you to the many musicians that have made the series possible.