Interview with circuit benders Beatrx*JAR

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Necessity is supposedly the mother of invention but what about creativity? Minneapolis duo Beatrix*JAR (she's Beatrix, he's JAR) stand somewhere in between the worlds of technology and the arts. They are circuit benders. What that means is that they take electronic instruments and toys that make sound, open them up and play around until they make new sounds the manufactures never intended. They turn these explorations into music, putting out two records now I Love You Talk Bird and Golden Fuzz. In addition to playing shows the duo also put on workshops so that others can learn the fun of crafting new sounds out of old toys. I talked to the Beatrix*JAR about their particular brand of music.

Ian Brill: Some of the songs on I Love You Talk Bird like "Oral Fixation" combine the circuit bending sounds with singing and lyrics. The songs on Golden Fuzz are more like dance songs with these hypnotic beats under them. Why the move in that direction?

Beatrix*JAR: Our move into the dance direction stems from our experiences as live performers. We aren’t trained musicians and we found that when we were doing live vocals it was easy to get to get thrown off by different and unfamiliar environments and various sound systems. With Golden Fuzz instead of singing live we sampled our voices in the safety of our studio for a few tracks.

I Love You Talk Bird was a mellow experience (in terms of tempo) but we found with the more songs we created our natural progression grew into experimenting more with tempo and rhythm. We also find that the faster beats in live performance engage us more as performers and that energy passes on to the audience.

IB: Where did the idea to do not just shows but also workshops come from?

B*J: Honestly, it stems from the fact that people didn’t really understand what we were (are) doing sonically. The workshops became this way to inform and inspire people with hands-on circuit bending and also give them the language and experience to understand what circuit bending is – and we hope that with that knowledge they will approach our music and other benders music with open ears and maybe be inspired to make music this way themselves.

IB: What are some of the best toys you have found in your quest for new sounds?

B*J: The Casio MT-540 is always our favorite, we use it as the demo machine in our workshops and it never fails – the machine is unlimited in its sonic options.

IB: I know JAR started doing work like this alone. What is the benefit of being a duo. I imagine it's a lot more fun trying to find the right sound from a 1980's toy with two people than it is with one.

B*J: We reinforce one another. We’re the two people always dancing at the show.

Maybe it all comes down to chemistry. We have unique and shared musical sensibilities and it just works – there are these unspoken exchanges that make for this fun and playful experience. It’s always so great to look onstage and see the other – nodding – affirming – dancing.

Each of us is always encouraging the other - so when one of us hits the wall the other is there to help bust through – even in the most intense moments of frustration we are happy to be there for each other – 80’s toy or life issue.

IB: In addition to manipulated toy sounds songs some of the songs on Golden Fuzz have these great speech samples, like the one about a kid creating a DIY robot in "Arthur Golden" (which is related to what you guys do musically); Where are the places you find the sources for those samples?

B*J: Like circuit bending, it’s really all about searching for sounds that are pleasing to our ears. We find audio sources from reel to reel tapes, old records,, old drive-inn movie intermission reels, training and instructional videos. Some of the speech samples come from the Speak and Spell too. There is some quality that catches our ear that works as a building block to the composition. With Arthur Golden it was the Do It Yourself Robot – we were like yes! *Laughing*

Beatrix*JAR's website
Beatrix*JAR on MySpace
The Minneapolis City Pages on Beatrix*JAR

Podcast: TSOYA Classic: Go! For It.


We continue our journey into The Sound of Young America's vast audio archive with this program from The Sound of Young America Classics.

On this week's show Go! For It writer Paul Feig and musician Ian Parton are in the hot seat.

Among his many accolades, Paul Feig can count the creation of 90’s cult tv show “Freaks and Geeks” and the book “Superstud: How I Became a 24 Year Old Virgin”. Paul is also an actor, director and producer.

The Go! Team are a super-talented, highly energetic bunch of musicians from Brighton in the UK. Founder member Ian Parton takes TSOYA behind the scenes and tells us what makes the band what it is!

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Podcast: Dan Deacon


Dan Deacon is an electronic music performer based in Baltimore, Maryland. In fact he's a classically trained composer with a Masters degree in electro-acoustic composition. From 2003 - 2006 he released no less than seven self-produced albums.

His latest offering "Spiderman of the Rings" blends his frenzied live performance electro anthems with amusing lyrics and colorful instrumentals. Dan has maintained an almost constant tour schedule but has still found the time to draw on his classical background and compose and perform for ensembles at museums and galleries around the United States.

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Greg Saunier of Deerhoof

Interview: Paul & Storm by Aaron Matthews

Paul & Storm with Jonathan Coulton (center) Photo by Aaron Haley

Together Paul Sabourin and Greg “Storm” DiCostanzo are professional singing persons Paul & Storm, who comprised ½ of comedic a capella group Da Vinci’s Notebook. Da Vinci’s Notebook has been on hiatus since 2004 but still occasionally reunite for corporate events. Paul & Storm are currently touring with noted troubadour and TSOYA guest Jonathan Coulton. Their latest album, Gumbo Pants, was released online on August 26. I corresponded with Paul and Greg via email and asked them some questions about making a career of music & comedy.

Aaron: What made you want to get into the lucrative genre of musical comedy?

PAUL: The short answer: it was the only thing we were really good at.
The somewhat longer answer: we started out in 1994 in an a cappella group called Da Vinci's Notebook, which started as a little hobby group that only did covers. The songs that seemed to be the most fun and get the best audience response were songs by another a cappella group called the Bobs, who did a lot of funny originals. So we drifted towards that, and Storm and I fell into a writing partnership, as we have similar backgrounds (children of the '80s and lovers of all pop culture) and compatible senses of humor; so we started writing songs in a similar vein. Before we knew it, we were the main writers for what had evolved into a full-time comedy a cappella group.

When that group stopped performing in 2004, Storm and I desperately wanted to avoid getting real jobs, so we tried performing as a duo, and with a good degree of adjustment (like getting comfortable with playing an instrument and singing at the same time), it worked pretty well.

What's your writing process like?

STORM: We don't have a single set process. Sometimes an idea will strike one of us out of the blue and the other will have just a few tweaks, or add what Lennon and McCartney called "the middle eight". But more often it's comparable to two people working a potter's wheel together.
Generally one of us will drop the initial lump of clay (usually a comic hook, song style, and/or a few lines), the brain wheels spin, and we shape it until it's just right, adding more clay as necessary. Sometimes both of our hands are on the clay, sometimes we alternate, and a lot of the time the pot doesn't make it to glazing (chord structure/melody) or the kiln (recording phase) at all.

P: Sometimes it's demand-side-based ("We gotta write a song this week"); and sometimes it's supply-side ("Wow, we should totally write a song about this awesome topic/idea/thing I just thought of/had/saw"). And sometimes they can feed off each other. For example, we were going to be on the [nationally syndicated morning radio program] "The Bob and Tom Show" a couple months back, and wanted to come up with one more new song the night before. While noodling, Storm started doing his awesome James Taylor impression; so we tried to find a way to make a relatively lame thing (impressions in general) somewhat more interesting, so we thought, "well, what if he were...I dunno, on fire?" Which led to our song "If James Taylor Were on Fire", which in turn led to a bunch of other "If" songs ("If Bob Dylan Were Hiding at the Bottom of a Well", "If They Might Be Giants Were the Ice Cream Man", etc.).

So the demand side ("We need a new song for radio tomorrow") dovetailed nicely with the supply side ("We do some impressions; how can we use them in a not-crappy way?").

What would you say are the benefits of distributing your music independently through online stores? Have either of you been approached by labels since DVN or considered signing to one?

S: We haven't been approached by any labels (yet) as Paul and Storm, but in DVN we were, and it just didn't make much sense for us.

The upside [of signing with a label] is that more people will know who you are so that you can draw large numbers of people to your shows, be on the cover of magazines, and otherwise live the rock 'n' roll dream.

That's all fine, but you give up making money on your actual music, and it means that to really make a living you have to be on the road all the time. And while we're by no means geezers, we like being home and not waking up every morning in a hotel room wondering what city we're in.

P: Labels have been historically good at three things: advancing you cash to get a recording done, putting your record in stores, and coordinating PR. But a) recording technology, home studios and such have made getting a quality recording far more affordable than in decades past; b) retail may not have been made completely obsolete by the Internet, but it's getting damn close; and c) you can hire a PR person independently (since you'd be paying for the PR at a label anyway). So it's far less necessary to be "signed" to achieve a reasonable degree of success. We don't have an unquenchable ambition to be ridiculously famous, so for us, the trade-off is worth it.

Special thanks to Ian Brill for help editing the interview.

You can learn more about Paul & Storm and purchase their music here.
To read an unedited version of this interview, visit Aaron's blog here.

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