We are often so taken by the sounds of an instrument that we forget that the instrument itself is a labour of love. Jacken gives equal agency to her skill as an instrument builder and gives us incredible insight into the harsh sounds of instrument making that usually predates the beautiful sounds of the instrument. This time only fused together, and with a healthy dose of electronic experimentation.
"At the end of the project I returned to the workbench, fishing from the scrap bin discarded pieces of oak, cherry, and walnut from this and other builds. These were collected together to make 12 forms, from which 12 blocks the size and shape of a cassette box could be cut. The cover art shows these scraps arranged and assembled ready for the blocks to be shaped. The blocks themselves have been smoothed and oiled on all sides but one, to reveal the work in their creation."
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Jacken Elswyth is a London-based folk musician, banjo player, and instrument builder.
In her music making she is focused on exploring traditional tunes, developing extrapolations on folk styles and techniques, and investigating drone, ambience, and improvisation within and beyond folk music. She organises the Betwixt & Between tape series as one avenue of these investigations, and compiles occasional Almagest mixes as another. She plays and records solo and in collaboration - chiefly with Shovel Dance Collective.
She also builds and repairs banjos and other instruments, with a focus on folk craft and vernacular styles. This practice and these instruments inform and facilitate her music making.
"This tape is the result of an on-off project of the last year and a half, begun as I started to build my first mountain banjo at the end of 2019 and continued through lockdowns in 2020 / early 2021."
"Fretless, gut or nylon strung, and made out of readily available materials, the mountain banjo is a return towards the banjo's gourd-bodied roots developed by people who had played modern open-back high tension instruments but couldn't afford their own. Like the cigar box guitar, it's a folk appropriation and approximation of a mass-market instrument, firmly in lineage with the instruments that preceded that market. This mountain banjo was built of oak, cherry, walnut, bone, calfskin, and pvc, following instructions detailed in the third Foxfire experimental education / Appalachian ethnography collection."
"The initial source sound was recorded throughout the banjo build over winter 2019/20 - all the sawing, shaping, and sanding captured with only a vague plan for use. As lockdowns began in spring 2020 I took additional recordings in the garden, on breaks from the workbench in the garage. At the end of the build these recordings were grouped, manipulated, and arranged to provide the basis for the album. As I got to know the instrument I recorded improvisations in response to these tracks, adding the two traditional tunes to showcase a more straightforwardly folk playing of this folk instrument."
"At the end of the project I returned to the workbench, fishing from the scrap bin discarded pieces of oak, cherry, and walnut from this and other builds. These were collected together to form 12 forms, from which 12 blocks the size and shape of a cassette box could be cut. The cover art shows these scraps arranged and assembled ready for the blocks to be shaped. The blocks themselves have been smoothed and oiled on all sides but one, to reveal the work in their creation."