Circuit-Bent CD Players [2023]

I have created iterations of circuit-bent Sony D-E301 Discmans. The modifications to these discmans entail patching out the RAM associated with its anti-skip protection; Sony call this ‘Electronic Shock Protection’. The various iterations are based upon the work of bogger R20029 and their ‘Discbitch’. Below are various approaches that I have taken, alongside associated performances. I also gave a presentation discussing my work in this area at InMusic23, which can be seen here. Feel free to contact me for any more information!

Electronic Short-Circuit Potentials (ESP)

Electronic Short-Circuit Potentials (ESP) is the first iteration of my CD Circuit-Bending experiments. ESP subverts the linear playback of compact audio discs by creatively short-circuiting a portable CD player’s built-in anti-skip circuitry: Electronic Shock Protection (ESP). Focus is drawn to the circuitry’s failure during playback; skip, stutter, utterance, layering of audio and glitches occur. Binary notions of signal and noise are blurred, post digital practices of failure celebrated. Through creative patching and short-circuiting the CD player’s anti-skip circuitry, broken out to a custom built circuit board with breadboard, switches and CMOS logic, unpredictable and sonically rewarding results ensue.

Difference Patterns [2023]

Difference Patterns is the first in a series of compositional studies that explore the creative use and misuse of a circuit-bent portable CD player when paired with viola. Difference Patterns #1 features a musical fragment, first played by the viola, which forms the structure and musical material for the work. Whilst the viola is played live with reverb the CD contains a recording of this same musical fragment without reverb.

As with the ESP version above, the data and address pins of the CD players RAM chip, which is associated with the electronic shock/skip protection, have been wired to headers allowing short circuits to be created by patching them directly to each other or to momentary switches. Since the switch control surface (seen below) can’t be easily controlled when playing the viola, I developed a way to control them by using foot switches connected a control boards. The footswitch (first photo below) is a 3D printed box, with 6 switches and associated LED indications that sends 5V signals to this control board, via a VGA cable. These signals can activate a CD4066 quad switch and four reed relay switches that can be patched to various section of the board (see photo below for detail).

During the performance of Difference Patterns #1 the CD player is ‘played’ by activating a series of patches, the ordinarily linear playback of recorded audio is subverted resulting in the discman stuttering, producing rhythmic superimpositions, clicks, pops, and glitches. These usually undesirable sonic artefacts are celebrated, influencing the performance and forming a recursive process that shapes the structure and direction of the performance.

Tactile control surface patched to headers and footswitch control board
Control board for footswitch