These Are Not Songs: The Art & Sound of Ivo

Ivanov’s Glitchmachines

Text by Christopher James Gray

Circuit bending, for the uninitiated, is the sonic alchemy of short-circuiting electronic devices to yield strange and volatile sounds. Like others in this community, Ivo Ivanov started out by experimenting with toys purchased at local thrift stores for two bucks apiece. In early 2005, Ivanov started the Glitchmachines brand when a friend encouraged him to showcase his aesthetically unique instruments. Since then, his work has been commissioned by artists ranging from Beck to NIN to Men Without Hats.

“Glitchmachines is really the culmination of most of my obsessions,” Ivanov explains, “I love art, music, electronics, synthesis, technology, etc.” These passions are manifested in machines that look just as unconventional as they sound. Take the flagship Glitchmachines device, the Syntax Cataract, for example. Each starts out as a Touch & Tell, one of the variations on the ubiquitous Speak & Spell educational toy. The toy’s plastic surface provides an ideal canvas for painting. Each custom paint job takes Ivanov at least one full day of work. The device is unrecognizable by the time he finishes, obscured under colorful stripes or broad zig-zagging lines or black-on-black tones. Yet while the Syntax Cataract comes in any number of finishes, each one retains the same playful-yet-impeccably-precise design that characterizes the Glitchmachines aesthetic.

The other reason Ivanov builds on the Touch & Tell is that its circuit is especially prone to harsh digital noise. “It just sounds more evil!” he says with a laugh. A sample of the Syntax Cataract’s sonic output can be heard on the Glitchmachine’s myspace at “ROCKET-POWERED-SA-T-T-TELLITE” says a stuttering robotic voice, pushing momentarily through a wave of digitized distortion before devolving into a wash of clashing blips. The three-minute recording defies classification. Listeners regularly debate over whether or not it constitutes a song. Is it even music at all? What would John Cage say? Ivanov’s answer is elegant and characteristically unassuming, “Sound and noise are music, and vice versa.”

The Syntax Cataract is currently available at Robotspeak in SF and at Analogue Haven in LA. For custom orders or other inquiries, Ivo Ivanov can be reached at