middle: diagram of 2008 version
bottom: custom software screenshot

Electro-acoustic banjo

banjo with custom electronics/software
2002 - 2011

The electro-acoustic banjo was an evolving project started shortly after moving to Chicago from North Carolina, utilized as a site to explore identity politics, power relations, and larger formal music concerns.

My original intent was to re-invent and re-imagine an icon of a Southern identity where public memory is at odds with its actual history. Initially, I was interested in the formal structures of free jazz, which has a progressive discourse of "freedom" and inclusion while actual performance often being closed to radical changes to tradition.

As the work progressed, my concerns have largely shifted from identity politics into an investigation of the construction of meaning more aligned with Svetlana Boym's notions of "off-modernism" in relation to nostalgia.

With technical advising from STEIM and Harvestworks, the electro-acoustic banjo itself has developed into an instrument where the source and control of electronic sound lies in the instrument itself. Because of accelerometers on the instrument, custom software can be controlled simply by moving forward or side-to-side. Additionally, the resulting processed or synthesized sound is amplified through a transducer in the instrument, turning the banjo into a speaker.

"Not too many musicians have redefined what the banjo is about the way Woody Sullender has."
- Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader

"If he keeps it up, and there seems to be no doubt that he will, he has the potential to become one of the most innovative and historically important players of [the banjo]"
- Tiny Mix Tapes

"Sullender combines impressive technique with an adventurous spirit"
- Time Out New York