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On the Beauty of Collections

Brian Harnetty (Appalachian Sound Archives Fellow 2006) focused on identifying and analyzing traditional music for incorporation in a large-scale multiple media work entitled 'american winter.'

Audio Highlight

Morgan Sexton

Morgan Sexton - Letcher County, KY
"In London City Where I Did Dwell," 10-27-1989.
Celebration of Traditional Music, (AC-OR-005-422)

Compositional Process for 'american winter'

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.