Six Static Scenes
With the start of the first lockdown I inevitably had a sense of place-boundness on my mind. For a while I had wanted to play around with some pieces that didn't go anywhere or develop too much, and the lockdown context felt like it justified it.
I had also been listening to a lot of old folk recordings; going through the Topic Records 'Voice of the People' albums to find songs and tunes to learn. I was repeatedly grabbed by the odd and irregular moments in those recordings - maybe slips and mistakes, maybe just idiosyncratic ways that people played and transmitted those old tunes.
For Six Static Scenes, each piece explores a fixed idea, taking these slips, flourishes, and idiosyncratic artefacts of folk technique as prompts.
The record was originally recorded for Cafe OTO’s digital-only Takuroku label, and is now being given a full physical and digital release by Neolithic Recordings.
From the liner notes, by Alex Neilson:
Folk music is a mongrel breed. Unreliable. Malleable. Promiscuous. The most exciting moments happen in its imperfections. The grit and grain of the old voices and their idiosyncratic ornamentations. The unintentional shifts in pitch. The untutored relationships to their instruments. The misheard lyric. The personality of the performer bringing out all the elemental, carnal beauty of the text- as if leavening a trowel under the mossy rock of our collective memory and showing us what’s writhing beneath.
Thank Jack-in-the-Green then for banjo player, Jacken Elswyth, who is so fluent in the tradition that she immediately evokes most of its major contributors (Roscoe Holcomb, Dink Roberts, Margaret Barry, Dock Boggs) while bringing something new to the conversation. In fact she has more in common with avant-hillbilly Henry Flynt in terms of zoning in on the most abstruse details of folk-form and amplifying them into hypnotic prayers. Foregrounding the shadow-drone that underpins all folk song and manifesting it as a devotional pulse. Using repetition and pattern-shift like the warp and weft of a weaver at their loom. Her banjo cogitating and coagulating like memories tunnelling into apprehension.
...regularly beautiful and raw, augmented by scratches, tension and twang... The Guardian
...an exercise in controlled chaos and hectic minimalism, and also as a modernist interpretation of an antiquated form ... a celebration of the other, the road not taken... Folk Radio
...a unique album... that explores the energies and frissons most of us barely notice... TradFolk
Betwixt & Between 8
Sullow / The Silver Field
The eighth instalment in the ongoing Betwixt & Between series is an opportunity to showcase a new collaboration. Continuing directly from Betwixt & Between 7's featuring of Shovel Dance Collective, Betwixt & Between 8 opens with Sullow - a new improvising trio featuring Jacken Elswyth (banjo), Daniel S. Evans (guitar), and Joshua Barfoot (percussion). Each also play as members of Shovel Dance Collective, but here they're stepping away from trad tunes and towards free-folk - quick attack, short decay, rapid burst composition.
On the reverse it features The Silver Field - her dreamy ambient psych-folk a perfect match for the series. The Silver Field is a sound world of Coral Rose & friends. Voice, tapes, bass, strings, reeds, drums, small sounds, big sounds, sunlight, moonlight, a lot of water.
Jacken Elswyth’s cassette label continues to shore up jagged folk jewels. The Guardian
Sullow fair tear out of the blocks, Barfoot spraying percussive wildfire a la Chris Corsano and the two stringspeople electing to saw, gnaw and pluck on their own respective tips – this music is free (as in improv) but each player reacts to the others’ wanderings with a sensitive ear. More Sullow soon please! The Quietus
There is so much beauty here. Space opening up for musicians and instruments to sail across aural seas.
Lost in a sea of sound
Banjo with the sound of its own making
Banjo with the sound of its own making closely marries Jacken Elswyth's practice as a musician and as an instrument maker. It comprises six improvisations and two traditional tunes for mountain banjo alongside layered and manipulated audio recorded during the banjo's construction:
“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 strung, and made out of readily available materials, the mountain banjo was a return towards the banjo's roots by people who couldn't afford to buy one. Like the cigarbox 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 Foxfire Appalachian ethnography collection.
Recordings were made throughout the banjo build and then 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 selected discarded pieces of oak, cherry, and walnut, collecting them into 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.”
Banjo With the Sound of its Own Making foregrounds the talents of the instrument’s most exciting young practitioners and makers The Guardian
Elswyth invites listeners into so many aspects of her world, sharing not just her music, but pieces of her work most wouldn’t otherwise experience. It’s a vulnerable position to dig into, but she makes the most of it and creates a wonderful, memorable experience. Foxy Digitalis
This pairing of actual music and the roughened noises of woodworking creates a level of intimacy with the instrument that might not have ever been quite captured before ... an important study of the artistry of the banjo’s construction and very presence, that deserves to be carefully preserved Record Crates United