Beatrix Jar is Bianca Pettis (Beatrix) and Jacob Aaron Roske (JAR). The duo teaches workshops on Circuit Bending and performs live with an eclectic set of gear including an AM radio, bent Speak ‘n Spells, drum machines and samplers.
I met up with them in Minneapolis last week to discuss their new album Golden Fuzz and their approach to musicmaking. They’re an enthusiastic twosome, finishing each other’s sentences and eager to illustrate their ideas by firing up a piece of gear and making some excellent sounds.
Golden Fuzz may be the most accurate album title I’ve seen all year. It’s a shimmering mosaic of beats and samples layered with a smattering of live vocals, samples, circuit-bent toys and AM interference. The tracks flow and build organically with a distinctly human element. A jazz-like approach and bent electronics interact with crisp beats and found samples in a way that tells a dreamlike story, impressionistic and a little funky. It’s a bold and refreshing approach to digital musicmaking, taking chances and letting elements of unpredictability and in-the-moment decisions guide the process along. This is a fun, lush album that draws from a wide and rich palette of sounds, and I recommend that you check it out.
They’ve got a great live/work space in a building populated entirely by artists, writers, dancers and the like. It happened to be Jacob’s birthday while I was in town and they invited me over to discuss art and music, and have some food, drink and an impromptu jam session.
What is Beatrix Jar?
It’s us! Bianca Pettis (BEATRIX) and Jacob Aaron Roske (JAR).
What is Fuzzy Sound Collage?
It’s the way we describe the music we make. We say fuzzy – because our music makes your feel good/warm. Sound Collage describes the style of music we make.
Who does what? What are each of your strengths, and what is the interaction like between them?
We started thinking about things with this “hair metaphor”. Bianca grows the hair – that is she creates a “rough draft” of the song – she’s attracted to dark bass, drums, cool sounds.
[Note: Bianca has a totally killer afro.]
JAR is the stylist. He comes in and cleans up the songs, giving them shape and definition. He also has a background as a sound/audio technician so he’s able to make decisions about technical details.
Together we’re always trying to impress each other with our choices and ideas.
What is your workflow like in creating a composition? Do you start with the beats first, or textures, or a sample? Is there a set pattern or do you change it up each time?
We’re always changing it up. We’re as creative in our process as we are with anything. We may be attracted to something – the dirty horns stolen from a car commercial in Golden Fuzz’s first track Open Lava Entropy for example.
With that track we played the commercial a few times and said “we should incorporate that.” Beatrix’s first impulse was to use the horns as samples. JAR decided to cut them up, loop them, and add another layer of the same sound transposed. Beatrix adds another layer of horns. We listen again, then sleep on it.
On day two we listen and start tweaking some more. Bianca added vocals, then we both improvised our own sounds as introduction. So when the voices sing “BEATRIX,” Bianca brings in a little sound, then the same thing happens with JAR.
What hardware are you using to generate sounds? What is each of your favorite pieces of gear?
Beatrix: Denon DNS-1000 CDJ
JAR: Circuit Bent Devices: (2) TI Speak and Spells, Speak and Math, Speak and Read, Casio MT-540, Yamaha DD-3 Drum Machine, AM Radio + Flash Camera.
How do you arrange a composition? Do you work it out live or piece it all together in the computer? Is recording and editing a part of the creative process or the means to an end?
Everything starts on the computer from various sound sources and samples. The song we create on the computer serves as a roadmap for our live performances but before we incorporate the song into the show – we rehearse with it, get inspired by it and try to find our way through it incorporating our individual parts. Bianca will search around for samples/found sounds that compliment the piece. JAR will find new ways to manipulate his modified machines to compliment.
Unlike other electronic bands we introduce songs into our live set before we record them – which gives us the opportunity to play with the song over and over before we commit it a final version.
What software do you use to record? What is your workflow like there?
We use the multi-tracking program Apple Soundtrack. We like the layout and the way the program handles loops. It’s an easy program to use and you can bring any analog sound into it and record vocals as well.
Can you list a few artists or performers that have informed your
approach? What particularly about them inspires/drives you?
1. Well, we draw on the abundance of discarded sounds and soundmaking devices in the world, and also the technology now available which allows us to access and repurpose those to our own ends.
2. Karen O. [of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs] dressed as a dragon at the Redding Festival playing in front of a million people.
[note: I couldn’t find a picture of Karen O’s dragon costume, but here’s another picture of her doing her thing. You get the idea.]
3. Comic timing – we love good comedy. The speed and exchange between performers is so exciting when it’s all connected and in the moment. We try to have a similar exchange sonically and when we perform live.
You’ve said that this project occupies the space somewhere between music and art. What aspects of the artist’s approach do you employ? How does that differ from a musician’s approach?
We’re not trained musicians – so everything we do is about emotion – when we make songs we try to evoke a feeling and we work intuitively to do so. We approach our work in the spirit of play.
How does live performance change what you do? What aspects are emphasized or de-emphasized? Does performing live introduce limitations to your process?
At home we just have more control over our environment. We’re more comfortable, we can set our levels…
Live performances are much more dynamic– you have to deal with the people, the space, the audio system, the sound tech…
We find that if we can establish a positive reciprocal relationship with the audience, it raises the emotional stakes, helps us tune in, and inspires us to play better.
What did you set out to accomplish with your new album? Did it happen? Did something else happen? What is your opinion of the final result?
1. We wanted to represent where we are and what we’re currently doing.
3. We met Mike Una. [ed’s note: 😀]
We love Golden Fuzz. We put a lot of love and effort into the CD– we think it accurately captures where we are now sonically.
While I was in Minneapolis we got a chance to jam a little bit and it was a lot of fun. Beatrix Jar and my sometime performance group Memory Selector all set up in their workspace and played for a few friends. Here’s a little bit of the audio from that evening: