Sarah and I were at Kmart last night, and I looked around the toy section to see if they had any cool toys that I could use for music-making purposes. I’ve been on a circuit bending kick, or at least I’m trying to learn how to do some circuit bending. Circuit bending is taking existing devices and messing up their circuits to get them to do different things, such as changing the pitch, adding effects, making glitchy sounds, etc. It’s generally done to toys, although ones from the 80s-early 90s are best, since newer ones often have all the circuitry on a single chip.
Anyway, I found this awesome toy, a “Zoundz,” made by Zizzle. It was on sale for $15, marked down from $49.99. The idea is, there’s a white surface with three “hot spots” in which you place various “pawns.” Each pawn makes a different sound, and will play different melodies or beats depending on which hot spot you put it on. The hot spots also light up/blink in various colors. You can also adjust some effects, and using the cube pawn, you can record 5 seconds of your own audio. You can also plug in a mic or iPod and play it through the Zoundz. You can see a video of a Zoundz in action on their site or in this YouTube video (not mine).
The Zoundz is pretty cool as-is, but of limited utility for making music. It comes with pre-programmed loops (except the recordable cube). I hope that I can find a way to hack this thing to play my own sounds, allowing me to use the pawns to control it. I haven’t looked inside the device yet, but this seems a little ambitious to me at the moment. I definitely need to tackle some easier projects first.
I’m looking forward to the arrival of the Barbie Karaoke Machine I am getting from eBay, as it’ll be a fun circuit bending target, and hopefully a learning experience.
I’ve already had some circuit-bending success, adding audio outputs to a cheap keyboard I got at Wal-mart, and doing some semi-successful experiments with this old equipment I bought at an antique shop. It appears to be a Dictograph from the WWII era, and would have been used for eavesdropping/spying. It has several elements that are either speakers or microphones, which I am hoping to use as mics. I got one of them to work (sort of) already, although I had to yell to make it pick up my voice. It had a great boxy sound, and I’d love to use it for something, so hopefully I can get it working a bit better.