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new moods for antique iron jaw harp

by chik white

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dharmalogos Chik White has done it again, given us an album of jaw harp improvisation that never sounds like he's repeating himself. There's some real beauty in the tunes he conjures here. The new harps of course provide new tones which are most welcome for long-time listeners. And the production on this is clear and consistent, a room sound rather than the uncontrollable wilds he often plays in.
solo1 00:29
solo2 01:14
solo3 00:37
solo4 00:42
solo5 00:43
solo6 02:35
solo7 00:52
solo8 01:22
solo9 00:48
solo10 00:42
solo11 01:55
solo12 00:53
solo13 02:13
solo14 00:34
solo15 00:40
solo16 01:13
solo17 00:18


Between the 18th and early 20th centuries, England had a bustling jaw harp trade. Though most folks in Britain during those times never considered the jaw harp much more than a musical toy, the harps made there were known for quality. And they were exported in great numbers to North America and across Europe. I became interested in English-made jaw harps after reading Michael Wright’s excellent book, The Jews-Harp in Britain and Ireland. The archival illustrations of old English harps presented in those pages captivated my imagination. So I started lurking around eBay to source these forgotten instruments. Earlier this year, I finally found two—one in Canada and the other in Australia. Both are iron English harps; they date to at least the early 1900s, possibly earlier. Of the two, the large ornate harp from Australia charmed me most. It's the one I play on this album. And it's the one on the cover.

This jaw harp from Australia is different from any of the modern harps I own. It’s quiet, almost muted, and has little of the saturation that characterizes many new harps. Playing it feels similar to the experience of picking at an electric guitar that’s not plugged into an amp. The tongue is also incredibly stiff. When I pluck it, I think of the great 18th-century German virtuous Karl Eulenstein, who lost his front teeth to these old iron harps. A dangerous instrument! Regardless, I’ve fallen in love with this particular jaw harp. It has such a warm, melodious sound, especially when closed-miked with a decent condenser. So for March, I couldn’t help but play it almost every night, often recording. These sessions took me into some heady realms and would often leave me exhausted and dazed. A wild month of noisemaking.

new moods for antique iron jaw harp is a collection of snippets from those evening sessions in March. All tracks were freely improvised and won’t be repeated. The recordings and performances are raw and unprocessed. Thanks for listening.


released April 1, 2021

Recorded in Chezzetcook, Nova Scotia.


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chik white Nova Scotia

chik white is the moniker I use for my work as a free improviser. For years, my instrument of choice was the jaw harp, but recently, I’ve expanded my practice to include voice, nose flutes, horns, guitar, and harmonica. Along with the many chik white releases chronicled on this page, I’ve also included select field recording works issued under my proper name, Darcy Spidle. ... more

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