Daily Distraction: Brian Harnetty's 'New Year's Eve Party (of One)'

Joel Oliphint
Art for "New Year's Eve Party (of One)"

Sound artist, musician and forest listener Brian Harnetty has been at work on a forthcoming album titled Words & Silences, with he describes as a "musical portrait" of Cistertian monk and writer Thomas Merton. 

The record "brings together sampled recordings of [Merton's] voice with my own group of wonderful musicians," Harnetty wrote in a recent newsletter. "The recordings he made are intimate, ranging from thoughts on Samuel Beckett, to Sufi mystics, to the 1967 Louisville race riots, to Michel Foucault. Words & Silences often feels like a play, with an exchange between Merton and the ensemble, and subtle references to the music he loved throughout his life, including sacred, folk, John Coltrane, and Kansas City jazz."

Merton used a tape recorder to document his thoughts, and Harnetty employed a particular snippet from New Year's Eve 1967 to create a new piece titled "New Year's Eve Party (of One)," which, in this era of pandemic-induced social distancing, feels like an appropriate 2020 NYE theme.

“This will be a sort of a New Year's Eve party I guess from now on. I’m up late. It’s 7 o’clock, and instead of going to bed I’m going to sit around and play some records. So you are invited to participate in this New Year's Eve party of one," Merton says at the start of the piece, then references the music he'll be playing from Kansas City jazz musician Mary Lou Williams. 

From there, Harnetty begins complementing the spoken word with piano, and then others join in: Jeremy Woodruff on flute and baritone sax, Katie Porter Maxwell on bass clarinet, Phil Rodriguez on trumpet and William Lang on trombone. 

Give it a listen here, and be like Merton this New Year's Eve.