THE DAILY YONDER AND 100 DAYS IN APPALACHIA: THE SOUNDS OF RURAL AMERICA

I wrote a piece for The Daily Yonder and 100 Days in Appalachia on listening to the sounds of rural America, and how listening to people, places, and archives can help bridge rural/urban divisions and how we understand one another.

Forest Listening Room in Shawnee, Ohio. Photo: William Randall

Forest Listening Room in Shawnee, Ohio. Photo: William Randall

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. …