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Circuit-Bending
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In this issue

Circuit-Bending
Did You Know?
Tech Notes
Telly Award Winner!
Recent Projects
"I don't appreciate avant-garde, electronic music. It makes me feel quite ill."

Ravi Shankar

Circuit-Bending

in 1967, a freak occurrence led to an entire genre of music making.  Reed Ghazala haphazardly threw a cheap 9-volt toy amplifier into his metal desk drawer. The back had been taken off and the power was on. The circuits in the back shorted with the metal and created bizarre and freakish sounds. Most of us would have grabbed the amp, turned it off, and thought nothing more of it. But Ghazala, being  a musician and experimental visual artist, was already thinking outside the toy box. He experimented with the circuitry by placing his fingers, and other electronic components later on, around the circuit board and changing the sounds. Ghazala's teenage enthusiasm for his poor-man's noisemaker was also fueled by the fact that the best synthesizers at the time cost upwards of $250,000.

Electronic instruments are often modified for predictable results, like altering an effects pedal or keyboard. Theses mods are shared with enthusiasts so they can get the same result. Circuit-benders prefer to create unique mods by self-discovery. They often use cheap toys to experiment with, like plastic amplified guitars and all-in-one keyboards. Look around a circuit-bender's room and you'll find toy musical instruments, games, and other cheap electronics with no backs, wires clipped to circuit boards, and volume pots hastily soldered onto the back.

There was similar experimentation going on at the time in BBC's Radiophonic Workshop. Created in 1958, Daphne Oram and Desmond Briscoe wanted to create electronic sounds and musique concrete, just like the French broadcasters were doing (those Limeys and Frogs are always trying to outdo each other). Originally pieced together with electronic equipment leftovers, that tradition would prevail over the next 34 years. Any crazy, wacky, insane way to modify equipment to get a unique sound was the order of the day. Most of the music and peculiar sounds in the original Dr. Who and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy came out of this studio. 


The "Wobbulator"

One strange edict that was mostly followed during RW's tenure was the three-month rule. During its formation, a board of directors was appointed to oversee the studio. One board member had a concerned doctor friend that, out of concern for their health in this unconventional workplace, suggested that no one work there longer than three months. Ironically, Daphne Oram, who came up with the idea of the Radiophonic Workshop, was the first victim of the rule. But the steady influx of fresh musicians and engineers kept the ideas fresh for years.

By 1992, organization-wide budget cuts closed the studio. Now it would be accountants instead of lunatics that would run the asylum, they said. Thank goodness for lunatics.

Find out more about the famous Radiophonic Workshop here.

Take a tour through the former Radiophonic Workshop studios with a former lunatic here.

Did You Know?

  • The 3-month rule at the Radiophonic Workshop didn't apply to everyone.  Co-founder Desmond Briscoe was allowed to remain on and manage the department.
  • Dick Mills is the longest surviving member, working from 1960 until 1993.  He has the most Dr. Who credits and is a popular draw at Dr. Who conventions.
  • Woman had thought they made strides in the workplace during and after World War II.  They did for a while, though by the late 1950's the male-dominated workforce went back to old ways.
  • There were several women composers of note that went through the Radiophonic Workshop.  These include Daphne Oram (co-founder), Delia Derbyshire (Dr. Who composer), and Maddalena Fagandini (who succeeded Oram and went on to be a successful TV producer).

Tech Notes

For you Dr. Who fans, the voice of the Dalek is an iconic audio signature.  Dick Mills and Roger Hodgson created the sound by using an early transformer ring modulator.
 

They experimented with distortion and modulation frequencies until they settled on a 30Hz (30 cycles-per-second) tone to vibrate the voice.  During the taping of each episode, an actor had to stand off stage and deliver the Dalek lines through the modulator.  A tape recorder playing that 30Hz tone was blended with the actor's voice in order to get the effect.  Sometimes the tape would be played back at the wrong speed, thus altering the sound of the Dalek's voice.  This only added to the campiness and appeal of Dr. Who.
 
Neil Kesterson

A Silver Telly Winner!

Our self-produced documentary, "The Beat of a Different Drummer: The Story of America's Last All-Female Military Band," is a recipient of a Silver Telly Award.

The Telly Awards was founded in 1979 and is the premier award honoring outstanding local, regional, and cable TV commercials and programs, the finest video and film productions, and online commercials, video and films. Winners represent the best work of the most respected advertising agencies, production companies, television stations, cable operators, and corporate video departments in the world.

A prestigious judging panel of over 500 accomplished industry professionals, each a past winner of a Silver Telly and a member of The Silver Telly Council, judged the competition, upholding the historical standard of excellence that Telly represents. The Silver Council evaluated entries to recognize distinction in creative work – entries do not compete against each other – rather entries are judged against a high standard of merit. Less than 10% of entries are chosen as Winners of the Silver Telly, our highest honor.

“The Beat of a Different Drummer” is the story of America’s last all-female military band - the 14th Army Women’s Army Corp Band. The other military branches fielded all-female bands, but the WAC Band survived longer than any. Through four decades, the WAC Band offered a woman the rare chance to have a career as a professional musician.

The standards were very high for WAC Band members. They were not only elite musicians, they were representatives of the United States Army. Their audiences were diverse - they marched out recruits for morning drills; they performed for enthusiastic audiences in small town America; and they played for presidents.

The struggle for equal rights has been a familiar burden for women throughout history. But these women chose to follow their own dreams. They marched down a road that would usher in a new era for women in America. They marched to the beat of a different drummer.

To learn more about the documentary, click here.

To learn more about the Telly Awards, click here.

Recent Projects

  • "Same Guy" TV track for Alison Lundergan Grimes for Senator (Putnam Partners, Arlington, VA)
  • "My Favorite Teacher" radio campaign for Virginia Education Association (Taylor Brand Group, Lancaster, PA)
  • Continuing sales training modules for Lexmark International (Lexmark, Lexington, KY)
  • Chinese language version of Keeneland Branding video (Keeneland, Lexington, KY)
  • Keeneland "September Yearling Sale" TV soundtrack updates (Keeneland, Lexington, KY)
  • Learning module voice-overs for medical professionals (CE Concepts, Lexington, KY)
  • Post-produce soundtrack for UK Recruiting video (Cornett, Lexington, KY)
  • "Build a Business" marketing video soundtrack for Owen Electric and Jackson Energy (East Kentucky Power, Winchester, KY)
  • Mastering of remote recording of the men's barbershop chorus for web demo (Kentuckians Chorus, Lexington, KY)
  • Radio spots for Planet Fitness grand opening in Huntington Mall (Barboursville, WV) (John E Campbell / Right Place Media, Lexington, KY)
  • Live sound direction and engineering for University of Kentucky home football games at Commonwealth Stadium (my 15th year!)
Copyright © 2014 Dynamix Productions, Inc., All rights reserved.


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