Hutchins Library
Special Collections & Archives

Hutchins Library
Special Collection & Archives


Appalachian Music Fellowship Program - 2006

Brian Harnetty

Fellowship Activity Report (27.9 KB)
Composition Process
Audio Excerpts

Brian Harnetty at work in the Reading Room of Special Collections & Archives

Brian Harnetty (April) focused on identifying and analyzing traditional music for incorporation in a large-scale multiple media work entitled american winter. Brian is from Columbus, Ohio, and received his Master of Music in Composition degree from the Royal Academy of Music in London in 2000. Recently he has served as visiting professor of music at Kenyon College and is presently collaborating on an energy related video project with Appalshop. Brian's Fellowship Activity Report is available as a pdf file. (Document will open in a new window.)

Brian Harnetty’s report on the composition process for american winter - May 2006:

Earlier pieces that I have made were assembled almost entirely out of samples, including instrumental parts. What makes this piece different (for me) is that over the last year I have been "sampling" fragments of folk tunes, transcribing them, changing/abstracting them (by slowing them down, for example, or leaving out notes), and then performing them on live instruments. This creates what I would call a "sound-field" -- a mostly static, sustained group of notes that the samples from the Berea Archives can float on top of, accompany, or interact with. This would include singers, instrumentalists, radio fragments, and so on, all centered on the themes of winter, night, journeys, rural America, and war. Also, I've broken down these sound-fields into nearly 20 relatively brief (ca. 3-5 minutes or so) pieces. This makes a kind of large-scale "song" cycle that tells many ambiguous stories, and will ultimately feel like an audio-film.

One of the students at Berea asked me if I was an "Appalachian DJ." (!) While I am not thinking of these pieces in the exact same way a hip hop artist would, they will have similar kinds of influence: samples, loops, collage, and so on. The major difference is that there aren't any big beats/drums; the pieces tend to float more than revolve around regular rhythmic patterns.

Right now I am in the process of narrowing down the samples material from Berea, and assembling them into the larger structure of the piece. I have much of the instrumental recording finished, and over the next month or so will be putting the two layers together. My initial plan was to have the piece finished and performed this winter (December, 2006 or January, 2007); it looks like I will finish well before that date, and could have a CD copy of the pieces ready sometime this summer.

A typical performance would include 4-5 performers (including computer and the Berea samples), along with video projections that would include images from Berea's Appalachian Photo Archives. The final work will be between 60-75 minutes. I think a typical audience would be similar to what you would find in a university setting or art/performance space. I have also been working with many visual artists. This piece would work well in a gallery or museum.

Audio Excerpts

Excerpt 1
: from american winter

This is a typical example of how I am approaching much of the material from the Berea
Appalachian Sound Archives. The piece combines a field recording of Addie Graham
being interviewed and singing “The Lonesome Scenes of Winter” along with an
ensemble of instruments: banjo, piano, toy piano, bells, and dulcimer. The instruments
create a deliberately sparse, empty ‘field’ of sound, separate from the recordings. They
are a loose accompaniment to Addie Graham and something for her voice to push off of,
to react against. This allows the listener to hear several layers of sounds, both as a
combined effect and each element independently.

Excerpt 2: from an untitled collection of short sound pieces

Part of a collection of sounds from the Berea Appalachian Sound Archives, this short
piece is defined by an overlooked and insignificant aspect of a field recording: the
chiming of a clock in the background. During an interview of the musician Buell Kazee
by Loyal Jones, many ambient sounds are present. The chiming of a clock and the
immediate moments that surround it became the structure of the piece. By letting a
random but easily distinguishable moment create the framework, fragmented and
contrasting text is heard, and the background sounds are placed in the foreground of the
listener’s perception.

Excerpt 3: from conversations with coal miners and with death

This is a portion of the sound material presented in a May 2006 appearance at the University of Northern Iowa. I traveled there to perform at their gallery of art (as part of the Fossil Fools art collective). I used old turntables and electronics, making a collage of samples and sounds, including the Maggard Coalmine interviews from Berea and "Conversation with Death" sung by Dellie Norton. The installation portion of the exhibition was a 12-minute loop that included sounds and video. This is the kind of space/environment that would also work well for american winter.

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