Close-up: Brian Duffy
Who needs a polyphonic synthesiser when you've got a Speak and Spell?
Sunday 16 November 2008
A band whose instruments include a Hula Barbie and Speak & Spell machines might not sound like a recipe for a decent tune, let alone serious music, but Brian Duffy and his five fellow musicians in the Modified Toy Orchestra are proving that you don't need a synthesiser to make brilliantly strange but beautiful electronica.
Scavenging broken electronic toys from car boot sales, Duffy, who initiated the project, sets about discovering their musical potential through a process known as "circuit bending", which involves rewiring the toys to produce new sounds activated by a switch or dial.
While his ultimate aim is to produce listenable pop, it's the transformation of these abandoned playthings that interests Duffy: "It's about finding a hidden world," he explains. "If an old toy can become a sophisticated instrument, you suddenly question how you look at everything."
Ontological debates aside, the results are impressive, particularly in the case of the band's live performances, where Duffy and co skilfully manipulate 45 pieces including mini-keyboards, a toy camera and a choir of plastic farmyard animals to create a surprisingly full, rich sound.
Toys are not the easiest of workmates, however: "It takes ten months to prepare for a show," says Duffy. "They are hard to play anyway, but sometimes a toy will just crash on stage and produce sounds you've never heard before. You have to keep reining them in like naughty children."
The Modified Toy Orchestra perform in London's Covent Garden Piazza, 4 December, as part of the Christmas Delight programme of events, with installations by United Visual Artists. www.coventgardenlondonuk.com
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