Daily Distraction: Enter the forest with Brian Harnetty

The Columbus multidisciplinary artist continues his 'Forest Listening Rooms' work with a new ambient score

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
Brian Harnetty records the sound of a stream in Perry State Forest in 2019.

Back in the summer of 2019, Alive took readers on a journey into the woods with multidisciplinary Columbus artist Brian Harnetty, who created a project he dubbed Forest Listening Rooms. 

"It’s basically like, ‘There’s this crazy dude who’d like to go out to the forest with you and just sit and listen,’” Harnetty said at the time

More:The lost art of listening

Since then, the 11-year project, which came about through relationships Harnetty developed with folks in Appalachian Ohio (and particularly in Wayne National Forest), has evolved and grown. Recently, Harnetty made an installation version of Forest Listening Rooms for the Columbus Museum of Art, and last week, he released a remixed and mastered version of the installation's soundtrack on Bandcamp.

"On this recording, you’ll hear the voices of past and present local residents of the forest in Appalachian Ohio," Harnetty said in a statement about the 13-minute track. "They recount their love for the land, memories of the past, disasters and underground mine fires, economic and political struggles over mining and extraction, and their hopes for the future. You’ll also hear field recordings of the natural environment of the forest: a spring chorus of pre-dawn birds, summer drones of insects, and faint autumn sounds of wind and rain on brittle, fallen leaves. Finally, you’ll hear the sounds of an ensemble of seven musicians, whose long tones and static, ambient harmonies complement and interact with the environmental and human sounds already present."

One of the featured voices belongs to Perry County resident Joelene Dixon, whom Harnetty interviewed the day I accompanied the pair into the forest. As Dixon stared out across Essington Lake, she began to reflect on her relationship with her family and with the land, and how the two are inextricably linked. 

“My parents are gone. And after my dad died — my mom died first — and after my dad died, I wasn’t quite ready for… the feeling of being an orphan," Dixon says in the recording. "And something about being in an area that is familiar to you, that reminds you of your childhood, reminds you of carefree days, is comforting. I don’t know how else to say it, it’s just comforting. It’s home.”

Listen to "Forest Listening Rooms" via Bandcamp below.