The Bent Festival, a toy (horror) story


If genius and insanity are often fused, so are creativity and destruction. In the spirit of this paradox, the Bent Festival offers attendees the opportunity to “circuit bend”—that is, to tear apart electronic toys and use them to generate musical tones.

The Bent Festival includes concerts in the evenings of May 1 and 2, and then a full day of demonstrations, workshops, and performances on May 3. It will take place at Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis.

Michael Rosenthal, curator of the festival, says that the idea of tearing electronics apart and “repurposing” the components to make music is not new, but has experienced a renaissance in the past decade. “It’s a commentary on [the fact that there is] so much waste out there,” Rosenthal said. “People are saying, ‘We don’t need to go out and buy something new.’”

The festival, now in its fifth year, started in New York but last year expanded to Los Angeles and Minneapolis. “It’s a fringe movement, so we go where the people are,” Rosenthal said. It turns out that Minneapolis is a center for circuit bending in the Midwest. “It’s a cool town with a great vibe,” Rosenthal said. “Several circuit benders came to New York and asked us to run workshops out there.”

The Bent Festival was originally created to support and encourage circuit-bending musicians, but has since also embraced artists who utilize recycled electronics to create other forms of art. In addition to performances by “bending” musicians, the festival includes workshops where adults and children can learn to turn things like a broken Game Boy or the guts of an old Tandy computer into a musical instrument.

According to the Bent Festival Web site, bending is something anyone can do with surprisingly few materials. Where other kinds of musicianship require years of training and expensive lessons, and where typical performances only allow audiences a passive role, bending allows quick and interactive involvement in generating music by means of do-it-yourself noodling. Workshops being offered as part of this year’s festival include “Intro to Circuit Bending,” “Circuit Bending Drum Machines,” and “Analog Sensor Devices.” Circuit bending performances by bands such as Crème De Menthia, Memory Selector, and Albino Ghost Monkey demonstrate the range of artistry that can be attained by repurposing unwanted and discarded playthings. This does not bode well for Buzz Lightyear.

Mark Weaver grew up in Fairborn, Ohio and then embarked on a life journey that has taken him across the U.S. and around the world. He has spent the last ten years teaching linguistics and English as a second language at colleges and universities in Texas, Minnesota, and California. Before that, he worked with a linguistics organization in Ethiopia. He is currently a freelance writer living in Minneapolis.