I’ve always had a fascination with analog electronic instruments—their physicality, their satisfyingly tactile knobs, levers & toggle switches, their relatively straightforward functionality of manipulating electronic impulses through wires on a circuitboard—and after recently falling into a late-night YouTube rabbit hole looking at videos about circuit bending*, I discovered the work of Tim Kaiser. Kaiser is like a mellow Frank Black crossed with a slightly twisted Mr. Science, creating one-of-a-kind electronic instruments in his basement workshop/laboratory from all manner of toys, industrial cast-offs, and obsolescent technologies. He searches the thrift stores and garage sales of his hometown of Duluth, Minnesota for the raw materials he uses to create frankenstein monsters of electronic noise. After a musical career (as a guitarist) that spanned punk rock to big band swing, Kaiser looked for new forms of musical expression and found it in the buzz, clang and whirl of ambient industrial soundscapes.
Kaiser builds these noisemakers for his own ambient performances (check out performance footage and select downloads from his handmade album releases) and as commissions for analog-loving clients. From the galleries on his site, it looks like he gives names to each and every one. His cased, circuit-bent creations names like Machina Dementia, The Clang-O-Matic, The Electronic Prayer Machine, and the Drone Machine IV (seen below right). His stringed instruments have names like The Upright Hammered Spring Bass, The Tri-Cello # 2 (commissioned by BT), and a series of Anti-Guitars.
Whereas the like-minded Aphex Twin shrouds himself and his circuit-bent analog gear in inscrutable mystery, Tim Kaiser tells you how he does everything to make those weird noises. Check out the 10 minute segment about Tim Kaiser produced for the web-only show Make: (yeah, I’d never heard of it either). The bit where he shakes a Salvation Army thrift store playpen overflowing with stuffed animals looking for that holy grail bear with the noisemaker guts is priceless.
*Circuit bending is the creative customization of the circuits within electronic devices such as low voltage, battery-powered guitar effects, children’s toys and small digital synthesizers to create new musical or visual instruments and sound generators