UW Libraries Blog

February 7, 2020

The Seattle Sound: A Tribute to Kearney Barton

Lizabeth (Betsy) Wilson, vice provost for digital initiatives and dean of University Libraries and John Vallier

album cover

Album cover of the new compilation to be released by Light in the Attic Records February 21st. On Saturday, March 7 (2-4 pm), Light in the Attic Records (LITA) will host a record-release party with KEXP DJ Greg Vandy. Several of the musicians on the comp are expected to attend and sign records.

Seattle’s Evening show on KING 5 recently visited the UW Libraries to uncover the story behind the soon-to-be released tribute album Kearney Barton: Architect of the Northwest Sound. The album was made possible through the generous donation of Kearney’s masters and support to UW Libraries from Barton’s niece, Patricia Maltsberger (THANK YOU!). This work is one of the many ways UW Libraries protects and preserves the works that shape our local culture and reflect local  history.

Watch the Story HERE

We caught up with UW Libraries’ ethnomusicologist and curator, John Vallier, to learn more about this important documentation of Kearney’s legacy.

Why is this collection and record release important?­

Say “Seattle Sound” and most think grunge. No doubt, Seattle based bands such as Nirvana, Mudhoney, and Soundgarden helped define that vintage punk infused sludge rock genre. But if you dig deeper and look for a broader understanding of the “Seattle Sound” you’ll find more than just one genre. From jazz to folk, soul to funk, avant garde noise to synth pop and beyond, what one discovers are Seattle sounds.

Seattle-based recording engineer and producer Kearney Barton (1931-2012) embodied this diversity of sounds. While he is considered the so-called Godfather of the “original Northwest sound”–a raw and reverberating analog sonic signature considered to be a 1950s and 1960s precursor to grunge–he is also known for recording across a constellation of genres and styles in his Seattle studios: opera, sitar rock, lounge, calypso, piano jazz, funk, synth pop, doo-wop, garage rock, brass band, prog rock, and so on. In short, Kearney Barton’s lifework reflects the manifold nature Seattle’s past.

With Kearney Barton: Architect of the Northwest Sound a curated selection of tunes have been re-mastered into a double LP release. Its 29 tracks give the listener a representative sample of his collection without having to dive into the archives. However, if what that listener needs is more Kearny Barton, no worries. The UW Ethnomusicology Archives can provide it by way of the over 11,000 items in the Kearney Barton Collection of Pacific Northwest Music.[1]

Why is this collection at the UW Libraries?

UW Libraries’ ethnomusicologist and curator, John Vallier displays Kearney-related items from the UW Libraries collections

In 2010 Kearney Barton, age 79, thought it was time to retire and move his collection of recordings out of his home/studio to UW. Matt Sullivan at Light in the Attic Records and mutual friend Scott Colburn of Gravelvoice Recordings contacted me. I had started a local music preservation project at UW a few years earlier, so Barton’s collection seemed like it would be a good fit. Barton agreed. A short time later, thanks to some initial seed funding from the UW Simpson Center for the Humanities, a small legion of student workers helped move and process the materials on the Seattle campus.

Sadly, in 2012, Kearney Barton passed away but at least he knew his legacy would live on at UW. His collection is now a cornerstone of the Seattle Sounds Archiving and Preservation Project (SSAPP).[2] SSAPP is a part of the UW Ethnomusicology Archives and includes many other collections, such as the Crocodile Café and 206 Hip Hop collections.

records produced by Barton


About UW Ethnomusicology Archives and Program

UW Libraries’ Ethnomusicology Archives (UWEA) includes music from around the globe and around the block.[3] It is one of the largest collections of its kind with some 50,000 recordings. The newly added BA degree in UW’s Ethnomusicology Program is drawing in undergraduate students who are intrigued by the diversity of the world’s musical expressions and are interested in interdisciplinary perspectives that illuminate music’s cultural contexts and meanings. Learn more about the BA in Ethnomusicology.

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[1] http://archiveswest.orbiscascade.org/ark:/80444/xv40075

[2] https://guides.lib.uw.edu/research/ps

[3] https://guides.lib.uw.edu/archives