Seeing us through to the end of the year we’ve reached out to a number of our favourite artists and cultural creatives to join us in celebrating good things. A bunch of five things that make their world go around, inspire them or just need celebrating for what they are. There’s no theme here. It’s no kind of "best of year" round-up. These are just five things of the many things identified as making the world a better place to be. We’re all about positivity. Almost all of the time. We promise…
Brian Harnetty is a musician / artist / composer who frequently works with archive. His extraordinary album Words and Silences uses the recordings made by Trappist monk and mystic Thomas Merton as he was experimenting with a tape machine at his hermitage at Gethsemani in 1967. Harnetty frames Merton’s contemplative insights with great beauty. It’s an incredible record, in essence a collaboration as Harnetty allows Merton’s cadence and rhythm to guide the sound and, as suggested by the title, allows room for Merton’s momentary silences and uncertainties to shine through. Already high up there in "best of year" lists in the likes of "The Wire" and "Mojo", if you haven’t already heard it make some room in your own best of 2022 too. We’re thrilled that Brian found the time to join us in our celebration of good things. Here’s his five.
A vintage radio time machine, “Radiooooo” is an app that allows you to choose any country and decade (going back to 1900), to hear the music that would have been played there at that time. I’m still waiting for something that plays actual historic radio, but this is surprisingly satisfying, too. My friend Chris says, “I like to put a speaker in my bicycle’s basket, set it to Central Africa in the 1950s, and then ride around the neighborhood for a few hours.” Sounds great to me.
Niki Segnit/ Nat Segnit: Lateral Cooking and Retreat
I don’t know if this counts as two, but since I met Niki and Nat at the same time and have somehow conflated their writing together, I’ll say one. Niki’s book Lateral Cooking is a superlative cookbook that can also be read like a novel. It is snarky, hilarious, and full of curiosity. Niki has a lot to say about everything, always using food to connect her thoughts (and recipes) together. Nat’s book Retreat considers the search for and meaning of solitude. Nat travels around the world, learning from hermits, monks, and friends, sharing experiences and thoughtful insights into centuries of contemplative traditions. He also visits artist retreats, including Marble House in Vermont, where I met both Nat and Niki in 2019.
Hanif Abdurraqib: They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us and A Little Devil In America
A Columbus, Ohio native (my hometown too), Abdurraqib is a poet and writer (and MacArthur “Genius” Fellow) whose essays on music and many other subjects are singular, thoughtful, and beautiful. The fact that my formative musical experiences were completely different from Abdurraqib doesn't matter; I read along and am there with him, and appreciate both the candor and tenderness of his writing. It’s hard to find anyone who does not disparage Ohio, and Abdurraqib’s rendering of Columbus instead is both honest and compassionate. Published on the wonderful Ohio imprint Two Dollar Radio.
Robert Lax: Poems (1962-1997)
This book was gifted to me by its editor, John Beer, who worked with Lax in the last years of his life. Robert Lax was a writer and poet, and lifelong friend of Thomas Merton (Merton is the subject of my latest project, Words and Silences). Lax spent the last forty years of his life living on remote Greek islands. The poems are remarkable: spare, deceptively simple, and repetitive. They are also musical, as in: I hear pitch and rhythm and color when I read the words aloud. I feel like these poems have somehow fundamentally changed me and the way I understand the world. They will continue to stay with me.
My Father’s Workbench
After my father’s death a year ago, I inherited his workbench. My father repaired mechanical things: watches, clocks, cars, radar systems, typewriters, radios, computers, and record players. His patience and curiosity with these modest and everyday items — combined with an ability to seemingly repair anything — gave him a mythical quality in our family. As a child, I played with these objects, not understanding their function, but still falling into their textures, colors, glow, and their clacking, humming, scratching, and static. Someday, I’ll make something of these materials, a sound piece to reflect on time, his life, and the power of inherited objects. When I sit at the workbench now, I wonder if there are sonic traces of a person embedded in these objects. And then I wonder if these objects, in turn, might have their own agency, which we can activate and listen to.
Brian Harnetty’s Words and Silences is available here and on streaming platforms. Further information about his work can be found on his website.
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