Pick up Beatrix*JAR's 2006 CD I Love You Talk Bird, or the newer release Golden Fuzz, and you'll get a hazy, ambient mix of beats, samples and ghostly vocals, not unlike Boards of Canada. "We like to call it 'fuzzy sound collage,'" says Jacob Aaron Roske, a.k.a. JAR. The roots of the circuit-bending Minneapolis electronics duo's style stretch far back, from 1950s musique concrete to Kraftwerk's "Numbers," from Negativland and MC 900 Foot Jesus to today's mash-up artists, such as Girl Talk.
What sets Beatrix*JAR apart from these various media manipulators is its particular method of music generation -- Roske and girlfriend Bianca Pettis rely for their sound sources on rearranging the innards of electronic devices. Onstage, their setup fits entirely on a small table: an AM radio, a flash camera, four Speak and Spells (or Reads or Maths), a Casio keyboard, a Yamaha drumbox, and a Denon CDJ, scratched by Pettis (a.k.a Beatrix).
Circuit-bending can be addictive, says Pettis. "What's great is how immediate it is," she says. "You don't have to do anything except open the machine, get a piece of wire and touch the board. Then you're able to make sounds that you couldn't make any other way."
Nor is there anything mysterious or esoteric about the process -- it's so easy and DIY that the duo go around to libraries, colleges and museums giving workshops on how to circuit-bend, which are attended by kids, teens and adults. Neither is a trained musician, but Roske's old job as an A/V tech at a Minneapolis technical college opened his eyes to the concept of "sound art" and gave him the creative skills to work on electronics. Meanwhile, a performance by turntable wizard Christian Marclay at the Walker Art Center helped Pettis realize she could perform such music live and have a ball with it.
Consequently, the duo always look like they're having way too much fun onstage. Hey -- isn't experimental music supposed to be dour and chin-scratchingly serious? "Sometimes, experimental bands get pushed into a category where people just think, 'That's too weird,'" says Pettis. "We like to break down the walls that say music has to be a certain way."
"It shows that anyone can do it," Roske adds. "You just have to be willing to listen."
Beatrix*JAR with Margaret Cox and Michael Johnsen. 8 p.m. Fri., March 28. The Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky St., North Side. $7. 412-237-8300 or www.warhol.org