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  • Clip Art
  • Phil Archer (bio)

Sound examples and photographs related to this article are available at <>.

I was initially unsure whether these glorified strips of wire were worthy of the title "gizmo," but my reliance on them in my work outweighed any doubts in the end. The "crocodile clip" or "alligator clip" is possibly one of the most useful and elemental pieces of equipment in my toolbox, employed in various ways during the creation of a work.

My practice is heavily centered on circuit-bending and hardware hacking—the creative modification and appropriation of existing objects to entice the unexpected from the familiar. In such hands-on electronics, the ability to make and break connections between components quickly and easily is crucial; this is something crocodile clips are very good for.

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Fig. 1.

Phil Archer, work in progress, alligator clips and components, 2007.

Photo © Phil Archer

When building (admittedly very simple) circuits from scratch, I instinctively prefer to employ a Peter Vogel [1] approach, in which components are soldered together directly, by passing any breadboard or circuit board. Moving all the necessary components from breadboard to circuit board has always seemed too much like hard work, and I worry that my euphoria at creating a working circuit will cause a lapse in concentration as I attempt to rebuild it.

Instead, in the prototyping and testing stage of construction, crocodile clips hold all the elements in place, often gripping multiple components in their maw. Elements can be exchanged, points can be bridged and even entire separate circuits integrated in a snap. These works in progress are fragile and ephemeral constructions, relying on the strength of springs rather than copper tracks to preserve them from collapse.

It is always with a slight sense of sadness (and trepidation) that the clips are removed one by one and the connections soldered. Even at this stage, a set of crocodile clips has its uses. Does a connection need to be held in place while it is soldered? Use crocodile clips. Are components getting too hot for the fingers? Use crocodile clips. Also, when it is time to record the new creation for posterity and that minijack-to-XLR converter cannot be found—break out the crocodile clips and connect them directly.

Circuit-bending requires a similar flexibility—whether in exploring the circuit board in a live performance or searching for bends to permanently build into the device, a crocodile clip or two make useful hunting companions. Once one set of jaws has clamped itself around the leg of a chip, the other head is free to roam (clasping a resistor between its teeth if one is not feeling too reckless), tracking down other interesting points to bridge.

As interrelationships are formed among homemade circuitry, modified consumer electronics and end users, these qualities of flexibility, ephemerality [End Page 29] and fragility also permeate the work produced. A hardware-hacking, circuit-bending approach to music brings with it the realization that no connection, circuit or object is monolithic; nothing is ever "finished" or too sacred to be reworked or incorporated into another system. Any component could easily be connected to any other component, any circuit to another circuit; everything becomes a potential element in a network of new configurations and relationships.

Phil Archer
61 Wymer Street, Norwich NR2 4BJ, U.K. E-mail: <>.
Phil Archer

Phil Archer completed a Ph.D. in composition at the University of East Anglia in 2004 and is currently working at the Norwich School of Art and Design. His main areas of interest are circuit-bending and hardware hacking, the creation of electro-mechanical musical instruments and interfaces, and the use of these in live performance situations.


1. Peter Vogel is a pioneer of interactive sculptural electronics whose works emphasize the aesthetic qualities of electronic components and circuits. [End Page 30]



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