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Art School: Music with Mark Wheat and Beatrix*JAR

It was a beautiful autumn day on Sunday, October 13, with changing leaves and the crisp air at that perfect temperature. But Art School was in session, with its eager students tucked away in the Walker Cinema. It was here, with the audience nestled into the cozy red seats, that the excitement for creativity and […]

Kate Heller's Camera 278 (910x683)

It was a beautiful autumn day on Sunday, October 13, with changing leaves and the crisp air at that perfect temperature. But Art School was in session, with its eager students tucked away in the Walker Cinema. It was here, with the audience nestled into the cozy red seats, that the excitement for creativity and experience in the spirit of fall radiated through. This session began with 89.3 The Current’s Mark Wheat speaking about how he would prepare for one of the indie electronic and pop shows included in the 2013–14 Walker performing arts season (CocoRosie, Tim Hecker + Oneotrix Point Never, and Olga Bell). Then, he introduced the indie-electronic-pop duo through a short interview about their formation and process. Through Wheat’s guidance we were then enabled to navigate the uneven waters of Beatrix*JAR’s unique musical stylings.

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Beatrix*JAR is the definition of a dynamic duo. The adorably creative couple  — Bianca Janine Pettis and Jacob Aaron Roske — finds an artistic outlet through the discovery of sounds, sounds which are usually overlooked due to their obtrusive nature. Pettis and Roske have a special talent for finding these sounds and luring the beauty out of them. The instruments they create out of neglected children’s toys, nostalgic ‘80s electronic musical instruments, AM radios, and even disposable cameras produce musical notes never before heard. Through a technique called circuit-bending, Beatrix*JAR delves into the dark mysterious innards of electronics to unearth hidden sounds from circuits and wires. As they fearlessly play with the blurred distinction between art, science, music, and mechanics, their creative output elevates the team to artistic nirvana. Their innovatively juxtaposed music has been featured by numerous museums, while Pettis and Roske have used their instruments as catalysts for a wealth of worthy causes, such as positive teen-engagement.

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In addition to producing music for their albums (I Love You Talk Bird, Golden Fuzz, and Art Star) the duo enjoys pursuing other artistic endeavors such as sewing stuffed cat and bird animals and creating colorful zines out of old books.

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Although there is definitely an improvised-sounding element to Beatrix*JAR’s songs, due to the nature of electronic music it can be very difficult and almost impossible to produce work completely created on the spot. Instead, Beatrix*JAR works from a “road map,” explained Jacob. There are moments when the two are so in their element that they can read off each other and just jam out, but for performances they prefer to have a loose script which they can deviate from if needed.

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At last, the time came for Study Hall, when the excited students had the opportunity to play Beatrix*JAR’s instruments and create music themselves. Pettis explained that it is always interesting to see what individuals come up with since many times people are too intimidated to attempt to play a grand piano or ornate cello, whereas children’s toys, AM radios, and disposable cameras allow even the most musically challenged individual to have fun. As not a very musically talented person myself, I found the atmosphere provided by the diverse instruments light and inviting. Almost immediately following their presentation, audience members approached Pettis, Roske, and their instruments with hardly any hesitation.

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The music produced by Art School students was filled with creative experimentation and amusing entertainment. It was a wonderful sight to see everyone working together across the small table to create beautiful music. Hands were flying everywhere as people wanted to try every instrument. The result was an eclectic mix of sounds resounding from the Cinema for the entire Walker to enjoy.