Transcript Episode 651: Brian Harnetty

The Workbench is an ode to the power of objects. The EP is the celebration of the titular possession Brian Harnetty inherited when his father passed. It's an tribute to a man who could seemingly "fix anything," a trait the musician admits he did not inherit. The younger Harnetty is, however, a whiz at creating songs with his hands, incorporating a wealth of found sounds for a richer portrait of his late father

Brian Harnetty  0:12  
Shawnee St. Park is in really the bottom of, you know, the southern most part of Ohio and is closer to Cincinnati. But the town of Shawnee is in southeastern Ohio. And again, you know, not a lot of people recognize that Ohio is like 1/3 part of Appalachia. And so actually both of those places are part of Appalachia. But yeah, the village of Shawnee is different. Yeah.

Brian Heater  0:43  
So you have a personal Connection to the town. Correct.

Brian Harnetty  0:48  
It's where my mother's family and ancestors migrated to in the 1870s as Welsh coal miners, and they lived there for several generations. And then my grandfather was grew up there in the 1910s and 1920s, and then left and moved to Columbus. So weirdly, I had never been to Shawnee. As a child, I visited a nearby town where my father grew up all the time. But Shawnee became a sort of new place to me that was steeped in history, and family history as an adult. And so it had a double edged sword there. I mean, it felt like I was a bit of an outsider. But also I had this familial Connection that allowed me to introduce myself to folks that were there that may have known some of my relatives. Coal mining

Brian Heater  1:48  
is really kind of the quintessential Appalachian job, I feel. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead. No, no.

Brian Harnetty  2:00  
Sure. Well, it is. And interestingly, Ohio's history around Coal mining is an earlier one than what we most typically hear about in Kentucky and West Virginia, for example, which happened largely in the 20th century. But Ohio's coal mining boom was in the 19th century. And it was actually where a lot of labor disputes happened. And this small town, Shawnee, and the adjacent town, new Streetsville is where groups of miners secretly met together to create the United mineworkers. So it has a really strong labor history as well. And then the other interesting fact that is that area also has an underground mind fire that's been going on for nearly 140 years. So it's a it's a quite a it's quite an interesting, complicated, you know, beautiful, but then also, you know, environmentally and economically damaged place there are

Brian Heater  3:05  
a surprising number of those perpetual underground fires in the country. It's it's always Centralia I think might be the most famous one and I I think they effectively had to evacuate the entire town because of it.

Brian Harnetty  3:23  
Right? I mean, I've I haven't visited Centralia but listening to it on on some videos is a pretty wild experience, because you can actually hear you know, the crackling of the of the fire.

Brian Heater  3:36  
I heard some people discuss me with relation to to unionizing and the history of labor in America, the coal mining industry, and it makes a lot of sense that that has been such a central part of it because it's obviously a very difficult not only a very difficult job, but one that ultimately is they will damage your insides if you do it for long enough. Sure.

Brian Harnetty  4:02  
Both inside and the environment as well. And so Coal mining is has has largely disappeared from this part of Ohio. There's still one remaining mine that's there. But it's really been a process of the environmental damage through acid mine drainage that people are dealing with now. And the regrowth of the forest so that entire area was clear cut. There was no trees left in the 1920s mountaintop

Brian Heater  4:33  
removal I understand it's a big thing as well. It

Brian Harnetty  4:36  
absolutely is. Although not in Ohio, that again took place on the larger mountains in Kentucky and West Virginia.

Brian Heater  4:48  
They had a massive flooding Kentucky and I think that was a really big part of it. Oh yeah, the mountaintop removal.

Brian Harnetty  4:53  
Yeah. And Ohio's damage is really around that Earlier mining and and then the regrowth of the forest. And then ways to mitigate the acid mineral mine drainage. Yeah.

Brian Heater  5:09  
Your interest in Shawnee specifically is that a direct result of having had family there?

Brian Harnetty  5:19  
Yeah, I, I had been working with sound archives for many years as a composer, I'm trained as a composer and a sound artist. And I have incorporated field recordings and oral histories and sampling broadly into my work for many years. And I had been working in Kentucky, at Berea College, and working with their Appalachian sound archives. And it made me look internally and try to think about my own family and their their origins. And so that brought me to southeastern Ohio, I went back to school, I also had a lot of questions, ethical questions around sampling, and what that meant, and I wanted to learn more about it. And so I started the Ph. D. program at Ohio University, which is in Athens, Ohio. And, and, and thought about ethnography as toolkit as a way of deeply hanging out with groups of people in southeastern Ohio, so that I could connect the recordings that I was listening to, with the actual people or the relatives of those people. And that didn't solve the ethical problems around appropriation and sampling, but it sure went a long way to figuring out paths through and a way to engage deeply with archival recordings, and with communities of people. Now, the family history part of it, sort of stupidly, it dawned on me as I was like visiting Shawnee for the first time as part of a class. And I realized that that my family was from there. And so I had to really go back and talk to my living family members, and then learn that history. And then, you know, go through the town's archives as well. So it became a story about the place, and then also a personal story about family. So

Brian Heater  7:25  
that's just kind of a wild coincidence, you know, of all of the villages around southeastern Ohio, they happen to deers.

Brian Harnetty  7:36  
Yeah, and I mean, it's had a long history of, obviously, the labor history and the environmental history, but it's also a bit of a cultural center for the region. I mean, at most, it had a couple 1000 people living there, but they boasted having two opera houses, for example. And the main street, you know, a century ago, is quite remarkable. I mean, it has it had, it looked like an old western town, for example, with, you know, really unique architecture, those two opera houses and a thriving economy. And then now it looks to the outsiders eye as a ghost town, with everything, everything pretty gone. Yeah. Which is not necessarily true.

Brian Heater  8:21  
What's your sense of how they ended up with two opera houses?

Brian Harnetty  8:27  
Well, they were competing against one another. I mean, I mean, it's also it was also due to the labor organization. So they were probably both built by different, you know, labor societies that were competing with one another. And, like I said, you know, and then in the 1880s, and 90s, all those groups came together to make the the mineworkers or whatever. So,

Brian Heater  8:54  
specifically, what were the ethical questions, it's effectively just the fact that you're using people's voices in your work who can't sign off?

Brian Harnetty  9:05  
Well, I think when I started in the late 90s, and early 2000s, the the sentiment around sampling more broadly, culturally, was like, This is amazing, you know, the whole world is open to hip hop

Brian Heater  9:22  
was was kind of Yeah, the tip of that spear it Yeah.

Brian Harnetty  9:25  
And I had been working a lot with, for example, the Harry Smith anthology of, you know, folk music as a starting place. And, and for me. I can't say that I was thinking about who are the people on the other end of these recordings, and what are their lives and what are their family's lives? And so it became a slow process and of really finding those connections. And so for example, when I was in Kentucky, I was listening to recordings of this woman named Edie The gram who I really loved, and then met her great granddaughter. And it just hit me like a ton of bricks. Like there are, you know, even though the recording was made 40 or 50 years ago, here's a living person, you know, that has family stories connected to those recordings, and it completely changed my attitude towards them, you know, it changed from like, I can use whatever I want and use it however, I'd like to, you know, I need to think about these family members, and take them into consideration. I mean, these are not recordings of, you know, powerful people or famous people, they are of everyday people. So, and oftentimes, you know, the recording side of us might be of marginalized people. And so that has to really factor into, you know, my use of

Brian Heater  10:53  
with that last example. How can you be mindful that you're giving, as you said, marginalized people the proper respect?

Brian Harnetty  11:06  
You can't you can't ever fully answer the question, or I personally can't. So, from from my vantage point, and my own identity for

Brian Heater  11:18  
two white guys named Brian, exactly.

Brian Harnetty  11:21  
I mean, I can give an example. In 2010, or 2009, I was asked by experimental sound studio in Chicago to work with the sunrise hillside and collection there. And this is a, you know, a set of like five or 600 tapes that sun raw made. The the experimental bandleader and composer.

Brian Heater  11:45  
Yeah, that's about 2% of his catalog, I would think, yeah, exactly.

Brian Harnetty  11:50  
What mostly while he was in Chicago, so during those years, and I was asked, along with other artists and writers and filmmakers, and musicians, to reinterpret the archive, as a celebration of its digitization, and as part of that process, I entered in willingly into a contract with Sunrise nephew, who is the copyright holder of those recordings. And that contract explicitly said that he and you know, the other people that were in charge of the recordings, had the ability to not accept my piece, my work. And so it needed to go through that process of asking permission, and then, you know, getting even another layer of permission for the project to go forward. And I saw that as an excellent, you know, beginning steps to to, to answer that question that you're you're, you know, trying to get out there. Obviously, there's a lot more that you can do around research about community Outreach, and so forth. But yeah, that was the start.

Brian Heater  12:59  
But knowing that at some point that the the are going to be looking at this and giving this a thumbs up or thumbs down, does that affect the work from the outset? Or your approach

Brian Harnetty  13:12  
to Yeah, it does? It totally does. And I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. I think that having those now, if it was if it again, if it was sample, this is an interesting question, because if it was a sample from I don't know, a presidential library, for example, do you see what I mean? That's a very top down archive, as it were a public power person. Yeah. And so that relationship is very different. The power structure of that relationship is very different. And so I think I would approach it that very differently, and and, you know, be much more open to challenge, for example, or, you know, to think, and listen critically, still listening critically to the other material as well. But But I think what it boils down to is just taking into consideration, you know, who the recordings are from, and what's the best way to use them? Yeah, it's

Brian Heater  14:15  
interesting, and I'm curious where son draw slots into this is probably a bad word to use. But that hierarchy as far as yes, you know, center obviously was black, and he was black at a time when it was even harder to be black than it than it currently is. But in terms of, I don't know, power structure or in terms of your approach to it. Is he closer to the president or the ordinary person in the archive? He is an intergalactic magical Sun beings.

Brian Harnetty  14:54  
That's right. Yeah. You can't dispute that. Yes, I think he's out solidly on the side of the marginalized, and that his work explicitly is about, you know, finding ways to circumnavigate that horrible world that he was in, you know, if you grow up during the Jim Crow era, the, the, you know, what, what is now called Afrofuturism, right? Which was his imagination, and was a way of, you know, escaping and having something that could not be touched by anyone else. And, and then to come back and be able to, you know, live and work in this world, this flawed, this flawed world, while carrying around this mythology around around himself, I think that that's a really intriguing and fascinating way to, to approach life. And acknowledging that. So, in my own project, I didn't try to imitate, I wasn't trying to, you know, wear really fantastical clothing, or imagine that I was part of that universe, because I'm not. And so I was able to try to be in dialogue with that material, to understand it critically, but also to treat it with a certain amount of respect. And then I think it another aspect of that is because there were other voices, other people participating in the same project, it made me less of an authority, which was great, because I'm not. And it made several different people reinterpreting the same material. And at the same time, the listener can always go back and listen to the original material as well. And so there's a path back to the original author, as it were. And, and so all of those things create, like this web of interaction. I mean, the, the other side of it is, is that music and all creative acts are always a hybrid, they're always building off of these different things that we come across. And our instinct to combine disparate things and learn from it and make something new is really deeply embedded. I mean, the concept of musical borrowing is, you know, as oldest music,

Brian Heater  17:23  
certainly in jazz, yeah. Yeah, sure. Well, I

Brian Harnetty  17:27  
mean, you can go back to like, early notated music. And it's like, they're stealing the old Gregorian chant or something like that. So. So yeah, all of those things I, you know, I've been thinking about a lot of obviously, use

Brian Heater  17:40  
the word dialogue. And that's a really interesting way of phrasing it. I'm, I'm a big Sun rock fan, I saw the orchestra. Marcia Allen, when they were in town here in New York a couple weeks ago. I would say that as musicians go, I would probably classify sunrise being a genius, which that strikes me as being a lot of pressure as a starting point for creating your own music. It

Brian Harnetty  18:06  
is. Yeah, absolutely. And I think what I could bring to that process, is my skills at listening to archives, and moving through archives, and listening for in between moments is what I often call them, it's those interstitial parts before after a song when people are tuning up, or in Sunrise case, when he was actually working with the orchestra and giving directions, the bits of dialogue that you could hear at the beginning of tapes, the the natural decay of the tapes, all of these different Sonic qualities of the medium of recordings is what I would say, you know, is is my jam. So I, I focused on the things that I was very good at. And then I also asked improvising musicians to contribute to the, to the project. Essentially, I worked in found the archival bits that I really liked. I turned them into a kind of click track, as it were, and then ask these musicians to play alongside and letting other people be experts at what they are doing. And then and then I was able to collage all those things together.

Brian Heater  19:32  
Was the disintegration loops. Was that an influence to you at any point, as you're describing sort of, you know, tape degrading over time, it reminds me of what he did. Yeah,

Brian Harnetty  19:42  
I mean, I Yeah. I remember when those came out when Basinski I mean, he's just phenomenal musicians still creating really great work. And that absolutely influenced me I think I was already working with archival materials. When I first heard those pieces, but what really struck me about them was going back to his own personal archive, and then allowing those things to deteriorate in those loops. And then finding the beauty of those things. So, I have thought about that a lot. I mean, I mean, it's, it's, it's probably connected to some kind of, you know, interest in different media and mediums. So it's like, the working in archives, you can't help but hear the layers of noise or, you know, information from, like, if it's recorded on an early 78, and then recorded to tape and then digitized, you're gonna get the Pops and the cracks. And yeah, and then you also hear, you know, it's how it's been sitting on the shelf, or you can, you can identify those different things. And the, the phrase that I really like about that is, it's a kind of noisy memory. And it's not alphabetic, it's not, you know, around words that we can understand. It sounds and the sounds have the information that's beyond how we can talk about it. And that to me, from a, I suppose a media studies perspective, is a really, really fascinating way to think about all these old things. I should also say, I mean, you can see behind me, I mean, I've got like these old radios and stuff like that, which is what I grew up with, like my dad just repaired old radios, and record players and stuff like that. So I was constantly being woken up early in the morning by the hiss and hum. And the, you know, the crackling of all these old things.

Brian Heater  21:47  
It's something I hadn't really thought of, but the timeframe of disintegration loops is interesting as well being the turn of the millennium, and really, in some sense, kind of the last throes of that world of physical media.

Brian Harnetty  22:08  
Yes, and of course, you know, I think everyone, myself, and not everyone, but I don't, it wasn't, it wasn't composed around 911. But I certainly that's when I

Brian Heater  22:22  
think it was like, from 20 years, it was like over a long period of time. Yeah.

Brian Harnetty  22:26  
And seeing it in that context. It felt like an end of something. I mean, I, you know, I grew up listening to the early Steve rash, and those tape loops there. And had an interest in repetition and tape loops, and things falling out of sync. But I think, yeah, with the Basinski, I mean, it was things falling apart. That was so that was, you know, and to make it simple enough, simple enough that you could, you could observe that and, and really see the beauty in it. That's, I think that's the real charm of that, that piece. Yeah.

Brian Heater  23:07  
In this hierarchy that we were establishing previously. Where does Where does Thomas and Burton sit?

Brian Harnetty  23:15  
Oh, yeah, he's an interesting figure, right. Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk, who lived from 1915, I think, to 1968. And he was a writer, first and foremost, or now he's probably among first and foremost sorry, but he couldn't help being a writer as well. And he grew up just generationally in between the beats, were about 10 years older than or 10 years younger than him and the existentialists were about 10 years older than him and the way that I like to think about his writing is a mix of those two worlds and then obviously filtered through his religious and spiritual practice as it were. So yeah, yeah, but that doesn't help you answer that spectrum question but yeah

Brian Heater  24:22  
I read Philip Glass's memoir about a month or two back and you know, he's he's a little bit post B but it does he he was somebody who you know, certainly has been much like John Cage very interested in Eastern thought and that me now that plays a role in the music he makes. It was I think it might have been K to use the itching to actually or maybe it was glass I can't remember which one cage John Cage Okay, yeah, to help him help him compose and obviously the The beats were tremendously influenced by the the early, early in terms of America's and Buddhists coming over to the states, you know, the Dharma bums, for example. Right.

Brian Harnetty  25:12  
Yeah. And, you know, Merton was in dialogue with DT Suzuki, who really introduced this form of Zen Buddhism to the United States. He was also friends with the Dalai Lama, for example. So he, he really was one of those, I suppose you'd call him a spiritual master. And, but all of that stuff was less interesting to me, I have to say, then his openness and curiosity and vulnerability that I kept seeing in his journals. And it made me curious as to whether he had recorded anything. I knew there was a lot of tapes of him teaching, he was teaching the young monks, history and so forth. But that felt to, you know, public facing, and, I mean, he's like pontificating, and it's not, I mean, to my mind, it's not as interesting. So I visited the archives, and the archivist there, after I told told him what I was looking for, shared with me this series of recordings that had not been released before. And it was basically that one of the monks brought him a tape recorder into his Hermitage, where he was staying by himself. And, and brought him a tape recorder. And he immediately started to use this tape recorder as a creative practice, but also as like a contemplative tool. And right away, he's trying to test the limits of the machine. He's making field recordings, he's doing experimental, you know, he's playing records on top of it, and then like, improvising on top of that, and, and then questioning it as a medium. And it just happened to be the exact time where he had come out of having an affair with his with his nurse. So he, and he had decided to stay a monk and not and not go off and get married or whatever. And I think there was just like this great sadness, and he had been really cracked open, and you can hear it in the tapes, you can hear that vulnerability in his voice, there are moments when, you know, he's almost you can hear like a slight warble and a pause in his voice. Now, of course, I've listened to the recordings hundreds of times, and I might be adding my own, you know, my own agenda to it. And I might start to hear things that aren't there. I'm certainly I could be guilty of that. But I really do think it shows a level of vulnerability that you can't find in his writings, necessarily. And it there's an old phrase by a psychological phrase, which is like speech reveals your words and texts conceals, so that our writing can be very descriptive. But the speech itself and hearing it has an extra layer of information on it, that is that can that can help us discern what a person is thinking or or expressing.

Brian Heater  28:32  
That's part of it. Sure. But, you know, you were alluding to the difference between these effectively journals, and his teaching, which is much more structured, it was public, and more importantly, was he intended and was aware of the fact that would be consumed by the public. And as we're talking about certain ethical concerns around this, I'm curious, this is a this sounds like a very personal thing that he did that he didn't necessarily expect people to listen to.

Brian Harnetty  29:05  
That's true. And yet, I couldn't be wrong. His journals, which are were my way into really admiring Merton were published 20 years after his death, and and they, I think he had arranged for them to be published. But because of the sensitivity of of, you know, people that he was talking about. He wanted that to wait until many years later. And I think that these recordings would fall under that same umbrella, as it were. In fact, I think that the recordings are really an extension of those journals, to my mind, at least. And so you're right, they were not necessarily for public consumption. And yet, he had already made arrangements for Were his estate to be, you know, publicly consumed, as it were under this trust. So that might be the way in and then again, as far as my own permission, I had to get permission from, you know, the Thomas Merton trust, who owns all the rights as well as you know, I, you know, I, I've worked with one particular monk in particular, named Paul Quinlan, who was the monk who gave Merton the tape recorder. And, and got his informal, you know, interest and permission to go ahead.

Brian Heater  30:38  
When you said he was questioning it as a medium, what did you mean?

Brian Harnetty  30:44  
Well, you know, at that time, he was reading a lot of critical theory, as it were, and specifically Foucault. And, and he was an also a lot of Sufi mystics. And he was thinking about, you know, us as people being two sides of the same coin, you know, what we say, externally and what we feel internally. And then he started to relate that to the recorder itself, of the recorder being a, this lifeless box that yet was speaking back to him, as he spoke to it. And, you know, they knew to play it back and listen to his own voice. And so as the process of doing that made him question, maybe he wasn't, maybe he was saying too much off the cuff and not from the heart. And it made him think about choosing his words more wisely, as it were, but I think it was just a general sense of, you know, interrogating the recorder. And, and also, he had been reading a lot of Samuel Beckett, I do hear a plane flying over. There's Samuel Beckett play, called craps, last tape, which is about an old man, listening back to his life of record through his recordings that he made each decade. And I just thought about Merton doing the same thing where he's self reflecting, and questioning, you know, what he's written and who he is constantly. And then reaffirming, you know, this desire to be in solitude, and just to being literally open to the world.

Brian Heater  32:39  
That's interesting, too. And, you know, I could be fudging this a little bit, but it's seems that the timeframe we're talking about here is sort of right on the cusp of McLuhan coming around and really interrogating the medium. Yeah,

Brian Harnetty  32:53  
yeah. I don't know, the the years where those, you know, the medium is the message or the massage. Yeah,

Brian Heater  33:02  
if we're talking stickies here, though, that was the been, you know, right. Before I would think,

Brian Harnetty  33:06  
yeah, I and again, I met some Merlin Merton scholars over the summer, and they really know a lot. But yeah, that that I wouldn't put it out of the realm of possibility. And that he's, you know, definitely concerned and interested in in different media. I mean, but what I think he does is he inserts his contemplative expertise and practice into these different things. So for example, poetry. He wrote experimental poetry that could hang with, you know, Samuel Beckett and those style, that style of writing, but it always was through that contemplative lens, as well as painting, he did a lot of painting, and then photography, as well. So with each of these mediums, he was doing the same thing that he was doing in the writing, which is a curiosity and intellectual curiosity, but also like, just a spiritual curiosity about what these things could offer.

Brian Heater  34:14  
Was it spirituality that drew you to him in the first place?

Brian Harnetty  34:20  
Well, I grew up in a very Catholic household, and very loving family. But when I was a teenager, I started to think more critically about a lot of this a lot of my own religious upbringing. And that sort of led me to Merton because Merton was within the Catholic Church, but also very comfortable in questioning it and, and quite, you know, it was quite rebellious in the 60s in particular, coming out against the Vietnam War and nuclear proliferation Asian and around environmental issues, for example, but also in befriending, and being curious about other religions. And that, to me was a way to learn to open up myself beyond what my own upbringing was. And to sort of very gently, you know, enter into an argument with my parents over the years around, around that religious upbringing. And so it was very important for me as a teenager, and then into my early 20s. And then I sort of let it all go. And I didn't return to it again, until just a few years ago, because I was trying to find that style of writing again, that that seemed self assured, but also uncertain at the same time, and I'm very, very open. And so I went back to the journals and, and reconnected with those. And then that led me to the recordings, did

Brian Heater  36:01  
you get the sense that those conversations or arguments with your parents moved the needle at all, as far as their opinions on the subject?

Brian Harnetty  36:12  
I don't know the answer to that. I mean, it wasn't a huge, huge, blowout style argument or anything like that. It was just kind of like an ongoing dialogue, as I continued to grow and change. They were always willing to listen, but I think that they, you know, to their credit, had always stayed firm in their ideas and beliefs. And I never wanted to change them necessarily. I just became so curious about everything else that I needed to, to go my own way, too.

Brian Heater  36:53  
So would you say your father was religious?

Brian Harnetty  36:57  
Absolutely, yeah. Yeah, I think, my, my mother is a more of a contemplative. And she took it very seriously, it was part of an order of, of contemplatives. And so I grew up being very curious about the idea of contemplative practices. But for, for me, when I learned that, you know, that can also take place with Sufi mystics or 10, masters or Buddhists, or what have you. That that, that practice of, of silence, and being open and vulnerable to the to the world is felt like a I mean, no one really uses the word universal anymore. But it did feel like a more human, a human quality that was deeper down than than any one particular practice. So that was the thing. Yeah, that was that. I mean, I've really felt like a gift that my, my mom in particular gave to me. And my, my father was much more quiet about it, but also very steadfast. And his, his world was much more physical. And it was rooted in work and in objects and repairing a lot of different types of objects. It seemed like there was nothing that he couldn't repair. And so he's a very mechanically minded person. So it was that combination of those two different things that I think is really interesting.

Brian Heater  38:36  
Would you say that that was both his job and hobby?

Brian Harnetty  38:42  
Yes, so yeah, he was a typewriter repairman, which said, very antiquated job now there are there's no such thing. And he did that his whole career and then when he retired, that translated into, you know, antique radios, turntables, anything having to do with, you know, tubes and transistors and sound was really up his alley.

Brian Heater  39:09  
Are you mechanically inclined at all? No.

Brian Harnetty  39:13  
No, I have not. And I that was one way that we could connect though, because I would always bring him things that I knew that he could repair that I couldn't. So it was a way of connecting. There were there were a lot of ways that we were very different. Um, you know, I grew up very artistically minded, and deeply into classical music to begin with, and training as a classical musician, which couldn't be further from my father's upbringing, you know, in Appalachian Ohio. And,

Brian Heater  39:47  
you know, I hear that in some towns, they have two opera houses, so that's true.

Brian Harnetty  39:54  
I think it's a different kind of opera. Yeah. Yeah. Although Oh, yeah, yeah. My grandfather on my mom's side was a musician. So I suppose there's a bit there, but but my, yeah, my father saw the world through his hands and understood it very, very differently than than I. And yet, he was always encouraging. And even though he didn't understand what I was doing, and often thought that I should get a real job, as you know, as he would say, he still supported me, you know, through all those years, there

Brian Heater  40:35  
are ways on the face of it, in which obviously, they're opposites. But ultimately, maybe they're not too far from one another. I mean, obviously, I don't know, there are probably ways in which repairing, especially in old analog devices is creative. And certainly you have a job that requires, especially as a pianist you to use your hands. That's

Brian Harnetty  41:03  
absolutely true. Yeah, I Yeah, for sure. There's a lot I mean, I'm sure there's a lot of ways that it connects. And it feels closer now than it did, obviously, when I was young. So you, you, you know, you go out and you're trying to assert who you are, and defining yourself, perhaps against your family or other people that you've known. But as I got older, I could see, definitely those connections for sure. And I, you know, I have such a strong interest in the, you know, the old objects themselves, too. But I'm looking at them from a slightly different angle, or listening to them from a different angle, and trying to grasp them as, as a musician, as someone working with sound and even through writing or what have you. So, yeah, they're complementary, I'll say that, when did he pass? It's 2021. So two years ago, yeah, a little over two years ago, that

Brian Heater  42:08  
really directly spurred this project on.

Brian Harnetty  42:12  
It did it, the project, the workbench is really, because, you know, after he died, you know, part of the process of, of dealing with that was to help my mother, you know, clean up the house, and, you know, eventually get it ready to be sold. And that meant going through all of these objects of his, and the workbench was such an important part of me growing up, because I would sit there and obviously watch him work, and tinker with things. And so sitting there, I was trying to imagine, could the objects themselves have a kind of agency, could they somehow connect me, you know, to the past, or to this person that I've, you know, I've known my whole life, and I've obviously loved so when

Brian Heater  43:03  
we're talking about archival recordings, or these Thomas Merton recordings, like that is a tangible Connection to past lives. Yeah. But now you're talking about the heart, in a sense, the hardware that that was recorded on perhaps?

Brian Harnetty  43:17  
Yeah, well, yes. So on a tape recording, you can hear someone's voice but, you know, in this radio that this person repaired, what what can you notice, you can see, you know, the grain of the veneer that's been redone. You can see the craftsmanship and repairing, you know, the pieces or what have you, you can see the dedication of someone's, you know, wanting to make this object beautiful. And so maybe those are the things that I started to pay attention to,

Brian Heater  43:48  
when you inherited the workbench, and these objects were you at all motivated to try your hand or repairing things.

Brian Harnetty  44:02  
You know, I've, I've tried over the years a little bit, and I just have never had the knack for it. So you know, but now I have all these tools. So, but I will tell you one thing is that I basically, you know, took the workbench and set it up in my own garage. And almost immediately my, my son started coming out who was a teenager, and you know, a budding musician, and he brought his guitars right out there and started working on it. So

Brian Heater  44:33  
he gets the best of both worlds. It sounds like it was

Brian Harnetty  44:37  
totally fascinating. You know, it's very unprovoked. And I saw that as being, you know, oh, yeah, the workbench itself is a kind of gift. It doesn't have any monetary value. But it has this value as being a gift that I can then, you know, allow my son to use and then that put That's the gift in motion that puts that allows that. That physical object to be activated as it were. Yeah,

Brian Heater  45:09  
genetics are fascinating, aren't they? Yeah, totally. Sometimes things skip a generation and

Brian Harnetty  45:16  
yes, yeah.

Brian Heater  45:19  
Yeah, go ahead. No, no, no, please.

Brian Harnetty  45:21  
I was just gonna say, I mean, that's what happened with my grandfather on my mother's side, the one from Shawnee, who I never knew. And he was a musician. But he died before I was born. So, you know, I never got to experience any of that. And so part of, you know, part of growing up was people telling me, you know, oh, you're you're very much like, you know, your grandfather, even though you don't know who he is. So genetics are extremely

Brian Heater  45:49  
weird. Obviously, your son knew his grandfather. He

Brian Harnetty  45:53  
knew my Yeah, he knew my dad. Yes, he did. And so, but I suppose he's 15. Now. So, you know, he knew him first, you know, 13 years or whatever. And kids, kids are funny. I mean, they don't look like they are processing anything. But years from now. I'm sure they'll have all kinds of thoughts and memories around it. Yeah.

Brian Heater  46:16  
Back to the ethical conversation that we were talking about before. As we were discussing field recordings, one of your one of the ways in which you felt like to certain extent you were able to address it was contacting the family members. This is a this is an interesting case, because you are the family member. Yeah, this case, obviously, you know, we're talking about some like, I think voicemails answering machine messages on here. So things that again, like, perhaps Thomas Merton, he didn't necessarily or probably didn't necessarily expect that people who are going to be listening to how does ethics play a role when you're doing a project like this with your father?

Brian Harnetty  46:57  
Well, yes, it's so it's so personal, and the recording at the end of the piece, you know, I made while my dad was in hospice, and he was in that those last stages of life where you're essentially asleep, and, and, and it was just the breathing. And I don't know why I even made that recording. To be honest with you, it was just instinct, knowing

Brian Heater  47:24  
what I know about you based on this conversation. That's how you process things. Yes.

Brian Harnetty  47:30  
Right. And so I didn't even know if I would use it or not.

But I was very worried. To get to your question. I was very worried about my mother in particular, you know, hearing this recording and, and I have four sisters. So I was spent a lot of time trying to soften the blow as it were. But my mom was okay. And and I think she really appreciated and saw what I was doing. And then my sisters have commented in different ways, all all wonderful around it. And they've essentially agreed that it's a kind of gift for for other people as well. And that I'm, I'm okay. I'm okay with that. Yeah, it's very personal, very, very hard. But I just think there's something very deep there that it can resonate with. Well, everyone at some point in their lives has to deal with, obviously their own death but then the death of others.