I found this melody in John and Alan Lomax’s Our Singing Country. I worked out the two-finger, thumb lead banjo part to highlight the double drones of the first and fifth string. The vocal style is haunted by the ghost of Roscoe Holcomb.
The electronics part uses an FFT freeze frame technique to create an evolving texture by extending a single frame of audio from the banjo (and sometimes voice). Applying pressure to force sensitive resistors mounted on the head and neck of the banjo changes the amplitude contour of the FFT synthesis, making the resulting sound smoother or spikier.
Michael Eck of The Albany Times-Union reviewed my Post & Beam recording recently along with releases by Mathew Kane and Kevin Bartlett. Here’s what he wrote about Post & Beam:
Hopson similarly has no fear of manipulating sound with anything near at hand, be it fingerpicks or a laptop computer.
On “Post & Beam,” however, he actually hews closer to Alan Lomax than Kraftwerk, with a haunting, often mesmerizing album of old songs and new sounds.
Throughout, he plays the banjo straight, with a gentle claw hammer behind his fragile-but-captivating voice. There are aspects of Sam Amidon and Chris Whitley at work here (especially in the original tunes), but Hopson’s individuality shines.
What pulls “Post & Beam” out of folk festival mode are the murmurings behind the songs. Atmospheric tangents (including the voice of NOAA weather radio) bubble and squeak without ever distracting. Oddly, they put an even tighter focus on Hopson’s vocal delivery, especially on appropriated chestnuts like “East Virginia,” “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” and “Bowling Green Green.”
There’s a tendency in freak folk towards atmosphere, a wind-blown, gauzy lope. Hopson certainly has it on “Post & Beam,” but his relaxed stride has a purpose, a goal, a destination.