On the Scene: Beatrix Jar plays with music, toys

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NOISES IN A JAR: Beatrix Jar is a deconstructionist electronic duo. Bianca Pettis and Jacob Aaron Roske make instruments out of old electronic toys. (And they're probably the cutest couple ever, doing our interview on speaker phone.)

Think long-forgotten Speak & Spell and Casio keyboards. The Minneapolis-based Pettis and Roske are conceptual audio artists, and they will demonstrate their craft at 8 tonight at the Columbia Museum of Art. They will also host a workshop on circuit bending and toy modification at 10 a.m. Saturday. (Sorry, registration ended Sept. 18.)

The circuit bending in the music - basically short-circuiting battery-powered toys, thus releasing new, hidden sounds - creates blippy, whirly and fuzzy sound collages.

The use of technology in music, especially hip-hop these days with the auto-tuned voices, is a popular point of contention for purists. And it has been suggested that video games such as "The Beatles: Rock Band" will inspire younger generations to pick up guitars.

Beatrix Jar likes technology, and the indeterminacy of pressing buttons.

"I love technology," Pettis said. "I don't know if I would be making music without technology."

Roske added: "Without the aid of technology, I don't know how much further I would've progressed as a musician."

Some writers have suggested Beatrix Jar sounds like Boards of Canada. I hear bits of Telefon Tel Aviv. Pettis and Roske said they've been described as Daft Punk with toys.

Whatever the label, the duo is just looking for new sounds to experience. They also mix in samples, even implementing the scratching techniques of a DJ.

"We would call ourselves more like sonic explorers," Pettis said. "We're always searching for new sounds."

Roske, who, like a gentleman, always lets Pettis answer first, added: "We do like to sample a lot of different sources. We're always listening for that next sound."

The art of circuit bending isn't a foreign idea. Beatrix Jar, which frequently plays museums, is an ambassador of the movement. The band is inspired by art.

Prior to our interview, Pettis and Roske were designing sound for a play. The sound will act like a supporting character.

"It's a local play by a punk-rock theater company," Pettis said. "We designed all the cool sounds for it."

With all this noise being exchanged, don't Pettis and Roske need silence, some time when the volume is muted?

"There's time in the world when I need quiet time because we do deal with sound constantly," Roske said. "We've been sewing birds together, so that's quiet."

Isn't that cute?

The museum is at Main and Hampton streets. $8 and $10; (803) 799-2810

VOICES LIKE SWEET HONEY: Ask Aisha Kahlil how long she's been singing in Sweet Honey in the Rock, the Grammy-winning all-female African-American a cappella ensemble, and she'll dodge the question.

"I've been with the group for a while," she said, chuckling.

The singers will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Koger Center.

Sweet Honey in the Rock was formed in 1973 by Bernice Johnson Reagon, who founded the group in Washington, D.C.

Kahlil hasn't been there that long, but she joined the group after moving to D.C. to rehearse with a band that was scheduled to tour Europe. That tour fell through.

"So I was kind of hanging out," she said. "I asked for guidance. You have to take the guidance when it comes."

Her vocal talent got her an invite to join Sweet Honey.

The singers on stage, usually five, blend energetic and beautiful harmonies. They blend song styles easily, and you'll hear elements of traditional African music, blues, jazz, gospel and R&B.

"It's great black music. The whole gamut of it," Kahlil said. "But a capella style."

Sweet Honey sings about issues, both uplifting and sorrowful.

"It's too much sometimes," she said. "It's really great to be a part of the group that seems to touch people. We try to tell stories in the music that we select.

"We'll hit those harmonies, and sometimes it's like church. You feel the spirit."

The spirit isn't something she can dodge like a question.

The Koger Center is at 1051 Greene St. $31 to $41; (803) 251-2222

SONGWRITING HELP: Danielle Howle, who just released the sweet, sour and simple "Swamp Sessions," will give a tutorial on songwriting 1 to 5 p.m. Thursday at Saluda Shoals. The workshop, hosted by the Musicians & Songwriters Guild of S.C., will focus on nature-inspired songwriting.

Howle recorded "Swamp Sessions" using solar power in Francis Marion National Forest in Awendaw. Here's the best part of the workshop: It only costs $5. Saluda Shoals is at 5605 Bush River Road.

Howle's workshop is part of "unearth, a celebration of naturally inspired art," a nature-celebration program being held Wednesday through Oct. 5. Other events include Shaggin' on the Shoals with the Dick Goodwin Orchestra Oct. 2 and the Palmetto Mastersingers' concert Oct. 3. For more information, call (803) 213-2035.

TWO ON THE MULE: Josh Roberts who is usually backed by his band, The Hinges, will play a solo show at 8 tonight at The White Mule. And he'll possibly have a Hinge or two with him.

On Saturday at the Main Street restaurant and listening room, Girls Guns and Glory will headline a show that will also feature Hick'ry Hawkins and Zach Seibert.

The White Mule is at 1530 D Main St. $3 tonight, $6 Saturday; (803) 661-8199