Having recently been introduced to Suso Flores, musician, producer and proponent of ‘circuit bending’, I’ve had a number of questions knocking around in my head. First question: what do musicians do? We’ll come back to that one, because I have a feeling we’ll find the answer somewhere in my second question: what is circuit bending?
Let’s dive in here with the circuit bending question. Conceptually speaking, it’s something kids do all the time - follow me here if you will, it’s relevant. I have two young nephews, and on the rare occasion when I visit them, often one is dressed as Spiderman, the other dressed as Batman, and they’re fighting each other with toy Lightsabers. Sure, that’s not what those characters and toys were meant for, it’s all a bit mixed up and re-purposed, but they’re having the time of their lives playing a new game made up out of apparently unrelated components. At its core, that’s what circuit bending is; re-purposing electronic objects, notably often children’s toys such as Speak and Spells, for use as something else, notably often new, unpredictable musical instruments. Technically speaking, it’s a little more involved than that, and involves changing the connections of a low-voltage sound-capable toy’s circuit board, some fiddly soldering and a little electrical know-how, but nothing that can’t be accomplished with a quick google search and a bit of practice at DIY electronics.
Suso Flores takes the DIY element of circuit bending and runs with it. For him, and for many other proponents of the practice (such as 1960’s pioneer, the ‘father of circuit bending’ Reed Ghazala), it is a movement. In Suso’s own words, “It’s a democratising process that showcases the true DIY nature of electronic music”. It’s evidenced even down to the details, such as a preference for circuit bending older toys than brand new ones, about which Suso says “recycling toys complements the very grass-roots logic of circuit bending [...] Once you reach the conclusion that you can make electronic sound devices out of the trash around our homes, it really sets a level playing field”. To that extent, it is something worth thinking about if DIY and ethics matter to you; the music ‘industry’ is more like a musical industrial complex, and the arm that makes your favourite instruments is just as complicit as the arm that churns out the muzak. To look at it another way, bigots with enough money the world over have access to, and even endorsements from, the brand that made your guitar, but they don’t have access to your old toy box. Sure, no ethical consumption under late capitalism, but in recycling toys and fashioning instruments out of them, Suso Flores puts an extra divider between his music and the industry.
As Suso describes his complex inner drivers: “Sometimes I get the feeling that I work for a team that is inside me, composed of really cool buddies that love me a lot and let me play this one time. They are a burst of colours, they are within the emotions of my tracks. They help me move, they are sort of my neural mechanism - working from another dimension I can't touch. Between many interferences, sometimes I've got to embrace them”.
Flores’ music is captivating from a conceptual viewpoint before you’ve heard a note of it, but it’s also some of the most enjoyable experimental music I have ever listened to. Listenability is something that often gets sidelined in the creative process with more experimental music, where the focus shifts from the overall enjoyment of the process to the desire to be different at any cost - not so with Suso Flores. The tracks on his frequently-updated soundcloud (so check the box marked ‘prolific’ too) are glitchy by nature and full of utterly alien soundscapes, owing to his choices of instrumentation including a toy ambulance, however they invite the uninitiated in with familiar elements: solid rhythms that give structure to the chaos, and offbeat melodies which turn into deeply unusual earworms. While not sticking to standard musical scales, tracks like ‘0036 3’ and ‘49 3’ are subversively catchy. It seems completely intentional, and while some experimental artists actively seek to alienate the uninitiated, Suso’s compositions are inviting and accessible. It makes total sense that they should be, after all, inclusivity is the very foundation of DIY and Suso Flores offers a way in, never forgetting that music is to be enjoyed.
Flores’ output so far is not only eminently listenable, but also playful. It doesn’t give sound like the intricate circuit diagrams inherent in its creation, it sounds like a guy having the time of his life, having sheer, unadulterated fun. And isn’t that the point? What musicians do is ‘play’. And as a musician you often work hard for your playtime - putting in the hours of practice, trying new approaches, and ultimately aiming towards making your ‘playtime’ more enjoyable, more rewarding and interesting. The famous Charles Eames quotation “Take Your Pleasure Seriously” encapsulates that idea pretty concisely in words, but Suso Flores demonstrates it perhaps even more concisely in actions. The concept of actually opening up an old toy box and transforming your childhood playthings into vessels for your seriously-taken passion just screams out to me the fact that “Musicians Play”.