Photo by Julian Foglietti for Columbus Alive and Pacific Standard

Photo by Julian Foglietti for Columbus Alive and Pacific Standard

FOREST LISTENING ROOMS (2018-19)

A Blade of Grass Fellow Brian Harnetty is an artist who chose to stay... His commitment to place is a radical choice, in the original sense of ‘radical,’ meaning to have roots, specifically to share the experiences and concerns of communities to which we are accountable.
— Robert Sember
Harnetty has invited people from the Little Cities of Black Diamonds—from traditional environmentalists to lifelong drillers—to take part in a radical act of listening in hopes of finding literal common ground via their shared love of the land. The forest itself is the mediator. Maybe, Harnetty argues, if we listen to the forest together, we can alter its future.
— Joel Oliphint, Pacific Standard / Columbus Alive

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The Lost Art of Listening: Sound Artist Brian Harnetty wants to transform the future of Appalachian Ohio’s forests through radical acts of listening

A collaboration between Columbus Alive and Pacific Standard
Joel Oliphint, June 2019

"OK, so we'll just listen for a few minutes."

Brian Harnetty sits in a metal folding chair in a clearing at the base of Robinson's Cave in Wayne National Forest, which covers nearly a quarter million acres in the Appalachian foothills of Southeast Ohio. About 20 others join Harnetty, seated in a circle on a warm, humid Saturday morning in May, their chairs slowly puncturing the soft ground.

For more than 10 minutes, no one says a word. It takes a bit to settle into the quiet, to live in it comfortably, but soon the vibe becomes meditative. It feels like a ritual. Some people bow their heads. Some fold their hands and close their eyes. Others scan the woods that surround the clearing.

A sycamore partially shades the circle of listeners, dappling sunlight into the middle of the ring. As the wind blows, the swaying branches and quivering leaves of countless trees create a kind of woodwind symphony. Someone's stomach growls. A dog barks; it sounds enormous and menacing. The trill of a red-bellied woodpecker dominates an improvisational chorus of birdsongs. At times, motorcycle engines temporarily take over as they cruise along Main Street in New Straitsville, a town known for its Moonshine Festival that sits just below the clearing…


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Stay, Listen, Organize: Bridging Appalachia’s Past and Present through Sound 

A Blade of Grass Magazine, Issue 2, “Who”
Robert Sember, April 2019

A Blade of Grass Fellow Brian Harnetty is an artist who chose to stay. Born into a multi-generational Appalachian family in southern Ohio, his work as composer, musician, and sound studies scholar is both inspired by and addressed to his local communities. His commitment to place is a radical choice, in the original sense of “radical,” meaning to have roots, specifically to share the experiences and concerns of communities to which we are accountable.

Brian uses a deceptively simple practice to root himself in place and community: he listens. He has listened for close to twenty years, which has enabled him to realize a remarkably diverse collection of compositions, recordings, and writings. His latest work, Forest Listening Rooms, brings together residents and workers from rural Appalachian Ohio for collective, site-specific listening sessions. In these events, listening is a tool for community organizing…


Harnetty interviews Joelene Dixon in the Perry State Forest, Ohio

Harnetty interviews Joelene Dixon in the Perry State Forest, Ohio

The Sounds of Rural America

Published by The Daily Yonder and 100 Days in Appalachia
May, 2019

An audio project set in Appalachian Ohio expands the idea of “listening to each other” to include natural soundscapes and audio archives. Composer and artist Brian Harnetty says such listening is one way to bridge differences in perspectives, politics, and place.

I spend a lot of time listening to Appalachian Ohio. I listen to its people: bakers and shopkeepers, community organizers and coal miners, farmers and fracking protesters, and they all have a story to tell. I listen to places, too: forest hemlocks and sulphury streams, warblers and spring peepers, oil wells and local industry, as they come together to make the region’s soundscapes. Just as importantly, I listen to sound archives, where I hear voices and songs of everyday people; I am eavesdropping as sound and history collide.

I transform these sound archives into new music. For the past two decades I have worked as a composer and ethnographer to figure out a process and a language to do so. I have worked with archives across Appalachia and the Midwest from Kentucky to Chicago. They have included everything from 90-year old ballad singers to the ruminations of jazz visionary Sun Ra. In this work I am striving toward a new way of listening that involves careful attention to both old recordings and contemporary voices. The projects look back and perform history, but invariably they also lead me to the present moment.

Making music from archives helps me develop an understanding of complex cultural and social relationships that inform both rural and urban places. …