“Our band utilizes modified children’s toys to create our sounds,” says Jacob Roske, one half of art-rock duo Beatrix*JAR. “It’s an art form called circuit bending, the creative short-circuiting of battery-powered devices like toys and keyboards. We explore the circuit board as if it were an electronic city, with various streets and cul-de-sacs. By making sonic shortcuts with a piece of wire or alligator clips, you release hidden organic sounds from the machine. Sometimes, the sound is loud like a guitar, or it can sound soft like a toy piano.”
He and bandmate Bianca Pettis also hold local workshops on how to modify cheaply acquired devices, from small to midsized keyboards to old guitar pedals, drum machines, Furby robots, Texas Instruments Speak & Spell toys, My First Words, and ALphabet Apples.
“We tell people to look for plastic, battery-powered children’s playthings that make sounds, that sing happy little songs or recite their ABCs, ideally ones with a battery compartment. Especially good are devices by Casio, Atari, VTech, Yamaha, and Playskool.” The duo usually pairs the workshops with a performance set as well.
Beatrix*JAR had already released three experimental synth-pop full-lengths before relocating from Minnesota to San Diego in 2010. “We started in Little Italy, but we moved up to Hillcrest, and it’s been a much better fit for us, as artists who work out of our home. There seems to be a large community of handmade device makers in San Diego.”
Roske says they began considering the move around 2009. “We did a workshop with the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s Teen Art Council, in conjunction with the Tara Donovan exhibit and her ability to create astounding works of art out of everyday objects.
“I’m sure some of those students are still bending circuits today.”