If I were to scribble my own Overlooked in Ohio piece, Brian Harnetty would likely be my artist of choice. I’ve written about Columbus’s gentle giant quite a few times, and I began wondering what Harnetty has been up to lately. Turns out, quite a bit.
Like he did for his collaboration with Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Silent City, and his previous full-length, American Winter, Harnetty continues his excavation of the Berea College Appalachian Sound Archives in Kentucky, finding old folk songs, interviews and other odds & ends from Appalachia and layering the found sounds with his own instrumentation. His new album will be called Rawhead & Bloodybones, and it’s a collection of old archival folk tales as told by children. “The combination of the children’s innocence and the often gruesome tales is a pretty powerful combination already. I added some instrumental parts, and other samples,” Harnetty says. This one will be out in late winter/early spring of next year — on vinyl this time, too.
Harnetty also has a sound installation that will open Nov. 12 at a sound art gallery called the Audible Gallery, which is part of the Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago. The installation is based on the archives of enigmatic jazz musician Sun Ra. (He’s hopeful that this, too, may become an album, pending permission from the Sun Ra archives trustees.) Full description of the installation below. I particularly like this excerpt from Harnetty: “I am not a jazz musician. I cannot lay claim to Sun Ra’s history, nor can I ever fully understand him or his music. But I can listen, intently, and enter a dialogue, bringing my own knowledge and thought and experience.”
Brian Harnetty : The Star-Faced One
6-Channel Sound Installation
60 minute continuous loop 2010
Title borrowed from poem by Konstantine Balmont via Igor Stravinsky:
“His eyes were like stars, like flames which furrow space. His visage was like the sun when it shines at its zenith. The luminous colors of the heavens, purple, azure, and gold, dappled the gorgeous robe he wore to be reborn among us….”
On one level, this piece is a way to access a vast collection and explore the many facets, dichotomies, contradictions, and beauty contained within. The collection in itself is already a kind of large-scale composition, a finite world that points to the endless universe. My contribution is but one of an infinite number of pieces that can come from it.
I am not a jazz musician. I cannot lay claim to Sun Ra’s history, nor can I ever fully understand him or his music. But I can listen, intently, and enter a dialogue, bringing my own knowledge and thought and experience. How to enter a dialogue with Sun Ra? Start playing along, always listening with imagination and empathy….soon, your own voice emerges, runs along side, converses with, connects, while all along staying independent; they are “co-habitating” together.
In this conversation, there is also the gift economy: finding a way to bring the archives out of the defined world and into the daylight, to hold them, and pass them on. Their energy lies in the exchange, and is how they can stay alive and in motion.
Many thanks to the trustees for the Sun Ra/El Saturn Collection in the Creative Audio Archive at Experimental Sound Studio, who have generously given permission and access to the recordings.
Samples: All from the Sun Ra/El Saturn collection housed at the Sun Ra/El Saturn Collection in the Creative Audio Archive at Experimental Sound Studio.
Musicians: Brian Harnetty, Piano, Rhodes Electric Piano, Celesta Jeremy Woodruff, Saxophone, Flute Fred Lonberg-Holm, Cello Jeff Kimmel, Bass Clarinet Aaron Butler, Vibraphone