Shawnee Ohio

Ep. 23: Forest Listening Rooms (Brian Harnetty)

What would happen if you took red state rural voters on a walk into the woods with left-wing environmental activists and experimental music fans? Our guest this episode knows the answer.

BRIAN HARNETTY is a composer and an interdisciplinary artist using sound and listening to foster social change. 

While Brian studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music, London, one of his teachers, Michael Finnissy, suggested he look for musical inspiration in his home state of Ohio. Brian took that advice and the result has been eight internationally acclaimed albums. Brian’s music combines archival recordings of interviews and singing—often from the Berea College Appalachian Sound Archives—with his original compositions. 

For the past decade, Brian has focused on the myth, history, ecology, and economy of Shawnee, a small Appalachian town in Ohio. His 2019 album Shawnee, Ohio was praised by the BBC, the Wire, and named 2019 Underground Album of the Year by MOJO. The album engages with the social and environmental impacts felt by the town and nearby Wayne National Forest in their long history with extractive industries from timber to coal mining to fracking. 

But Brian doesn’t just document Shawnee’s narrative—he intervenes in it. He’s an environmental activist of a gentle kind, one who gets area residents of different political stripes to walk in the woods together to listen—to one another and to the forest. All in service of protecting and healing the land. In this episode, we are  thrilled to present an audio documentary that Brian Harnetty has produced for Phantom Power about this quietly radical experiment, called Forest Listening Rooms. And afterwards I’ll speak to Brian about his project. 

Learn more:

Visit Brian Harnetty’s studio in Ohio.

Check out his Bandcamp page.

Visit his website.