The Instruments Of Change: Reed Ghazala
Without the tools to create, where would we be? Listening to the sound of one hand clapping, probably. In this column we’ll be looking at people who invent their own tools—be they musical, artistic, photographic—any sort of bespoke equipment from innovative builders of all disciplines and ages in a celebration of the fine art of invention. This week: Reed Ghazala
Reed Ghazala is known to the world as the founding father of circuit bending. But that’s really just the tip of the instrumental iceberg, as he’s invented hundreds of music tools over the decades based on the circuit-bending principle of customizing and modifying existing electronic devices. This shaman of customization has created tailored instruments for all sorts of musicians, like the electronic carafe he made for Tom Waits, along with a wide variety of avant-garde musical appliances that defy the usual classifications. Specializing in handmade instruments that utilize randomness, he pioneered the use of creating experimental equipment by raiding a second hand store and going at your electronic purchases with a screwdriver and a look of unerring dedication in your eye.
He is also an author and visual artist, designer and photographer. But it’s his handmade instruments that he’ll be remembered for—his inspired, innovative, alchemical creations that are like hybrid musical machines that take the form of psychedelic alien toys. This audionaut brought DIY sonic experimentation to the masses, here’s some of his creations.
Using a 1940s stenograph as its home, this strange contraption is an insect voice synthesizer. In addition to being an arthropodic sound device that wouldn’t be out of place in a William Burrough’s novel, it also “synthesizes orchestral textures, choirs, and a strange assortment of surreal musical voices.”
This “monster theremin” turns radio interference into fine art and ear-bleeding into a look du jour. It shares with the theremin the ability to change pitch and volume without the need for physical contact, but it differs in that “other circuit elements are brought forward to also act as RF sensitive modulators within the pool of radio emissions generated by a plasma globe.”
Part of his body-contact series, this eye-challenging device merges instrument and musician, running electricity through both so they become one. Reed explains: “Via plastokinesis, an instrument body is re-formed to meet the electro-biological control set aesthetic of the artist/instrument interface, in this example, an organic, audio-centric body-contacting and transmission of electrical current between the two nuclei – player and circuit.” Be afraid.
iPad 2 Audio Desk
An audio dock for the iPad 2 to compliment the experimental music apps, a hack that provides functionality and “allows all jacks to be mounted on the aluminum case for easy access. Plus, jacks are upgraded from dongly 1/8” mini to standard 1/4"."
Bass Riff Guitar
It’s not just electrical equipment that Ghazala disrupts, anything’s fair game. Take this hacked acoustic guitar which got picked up in a thrift store and changed after “a file, a hand drill, and a coping saw + 2 hrs work” from a six string guitar into a four string bass riff guitar.