I’ve got a nice little collection of three 80s-era Casio keyboards, they’re great for adding 8-bit chipsounds without having to resort to modifying old video game systems or messing about with VSTs. Once you start adding effects, whole new sonic avenues start to open up, and the simple waveforms start to become more and more useful in my productions.
Out of the three, I use the PT-1 the most. Essentially a variant of the 1980 VL-Tone, this mini synth has four sounds and a handful of rhythm patterns including ‘Rock 1’, most famously used in Trio’s “Da Da Da”. The sound of this thing is “generic NES game”, so I use it a lot when I need some 8-bit flair. It pairs well with effects and filtering, and is a lot more versatile than it initially seems. Its simplicity and small size also light it a lot of fun to play, when I bring this with me to shows, it usually leads to impromptu freestyle and jam sessions.
I got this thing to circuit bend, but then I broke a couple keys on it when it got stuck in a drawer, so now I’m planning on rack mounting this after I add a MIDI port to it. This keyboard has practically become synonymous with circuit bending, and because of that the average price has risen from around $5 – 10 a few years ago to around $80 currently. By itself, it’s not that exciting of a keyboard. The sampling feature is fun for a bit and can be used to make some pretty neat sounds, but the stock sounds are kind of boring. It does have some rudimentary sound editing capabilities and some fun rhythm patterns that make it a bit more useful, but where this thing really shines is the bending potential this thing possesses. There has been some really impressive hacks, check out GetLoFi or Burnkit 2600 for an introduction into what’s been going on, benders have found everything from noise generation to video output.
I’ll definitely be adding some features to this thing, and you’ll be hearing it very soon.
The MT-36 is another beginner’s keyboard, it has only six instruments and four rhythm patterns, but does squeeze in a one-finger accompaniment mode and unique percussion sounds. The instrument sounds are all generated from multiple square waves, so again, filtering is necessary to bring out the best in this instrument. I need to open this keyboard up as well, as there’s some issues with the tempo and volume sliders that makes trying to dial in anything an exercise in randomness.
Since I mainly got this for the auto-accompaniment mode (my next project visits quite a few of these forgotten gems), I may add a few light bends to this. Nothing in the way of apocalyptic noise generation, as that always disappoints me when I see these videos of circuit bent instruments and hear nothing but the first few seconds of a demo song, then nothing but crushing static. I know it’s supposed to be the fun of experimentation, but I’m a musician first and I like things like melody and tone. Call me old-fashioned if you want.