ballpoint pens archive



The Powerbook G4 was already past its prime when I donated it to Ross in 2006. I was moving to Brooklyn. He was staying in Richmond, Virginia, where we went to college. (I graduated with a degree in graphic design, he dropped out and became a manager at a beloved local hipster sushi place.)

I was 21 years old and still clinging to the idea that I would spend my life making music with my best friend. Our band was called the Gaskets: a goofy, dance-y synth-pop duo formed in high school. Two CDs and countless shows later, I was convinced that we were about to break. (The optimism of youth!) If we were going to continue writing together, we would have to do it remotely. We needed a way to share files. I had a new computer, so I gave him my old one.

A year after I moved, our long-distance collaboration had resulted in only five finished new songs. I was intent on getting my career started and Ross was drinking more than usual. He missed shows and skipped recording dates. One day, after trying to get in touch with him for over a week, I finally got him on the phone. “I’m just not into it anymore,” he said. The notoriously fickle nature of long-term relationships didn’t make his withdrawal any less painful.

When Ross died in 2010, the Powerbook I’d given him came back to me. The machine was slow, loud, and buggy. As a laptop, worthless. But it was full of music: dozens of untitled mp3s imported from discs burned on an ex-girlfriend’s computer, plus a folder of GarageBand projects. There were songs and semi-songs and rough sketches produced with seemingly no end in mind—simply a record of experimentation and expression.

It’s not that I wasn’t already familiar with his solo material, which he sporadically posted on myspace and emailed to friends under the moniker Ballpoint Pens. But there was so much on the laptop that was totally new to me.

I loved the songs, and I became convinced that their worth was not strictly sentimental. They were catchy and tender; funny and sad. Probably we’d call it “bedroom pop” now; the tools were Ross’s voice, a cheap acoustic, and whatever sounds came preloaded in GarageBand. He played and sang directly into the computer microphone.

This project is an attempt to transfer and translate those songs. Part archive, part collaboration. I hope the people who loved Ross will be glad to hear the sound of his voice again. And perhaps a few new listeners will tap into his wavelength and discover what made him so special.

collections Collections

ballpoint pens
archive collection 1 – mazes

Album cover: Mazes rough mixes Vol 1
listen on bandcamp

18 songs
words and music by Ross Harman
37 minutes 56 seconds

produced by Ross Harman & Teddy Blanks

except “say what you will”
by Jamie Green
and “symphony”
by James Wallace

mixed by Alan Weatherhead

except “posture,” “one four,” and
“the right track” by Ross Harman


Ross’s project began with short, sweet guitar-based pop songs. The rest — his moody electronic songs, his shouty, beat-heavy dance tracks, his goofy joke songs, his noisy experimental work — would come later.

At first, all I wanted was to (slightly) improve the sonic quality of the recordings. I bought noise-reduction software to vacuum out the constant “laptop fan” sound that permeates the music—that sound being, I suppose, the cost of messing around in one’s bedroom at 3 a.m. with no interest in posterity.

One burst of tinkering led to another. I found AI-based tools that allowed Ross’s vocals to be isolated and turned up in the mix. More additions: bass, backup vocals, keyboards, improvements to the drums. The tinkering became obsessive—versions of each song accreted, mixing his parts and mine, trying to slot them together in a way that felt obscurely but unmistakably correct.

Was it wrong to interfere with his music, not knowing whether he’d approve of the results? Would any form of intervention no-matter-how-small destroy the homemade “found object” charm of the songs?

Anyhow, I kept going. A goal eventually cohered: to channel what I knew about his taste and get these songs as close to what they’d be if he’d had more time and resources.

But the project was also so simple, in the end. It was a way to honor Ross, yes, and a way to bring his songs to light, but really a way to make music with him again.

The first collection in the archive is called mazes. Many of the songs will be familiar to his friends, but some are “new.” I’m putting this site online with the first six tracks. I’ll try to post an additional song each week, or as soon as they are ready. Each one will be accompanied by his lyrics (to the best that I can decipher them), my notes, thoughts and memories, and Ross’s original mix, where that’s available.

01 mazes 1:32 lyrics, credits & notes
03 garden 1:26 lyrics, credits & notes

Thanks to my family and friends and Ross’s for their support and encouragement.
Tracks can be downloaded for free or purchased on Bandcamp.
Any money made from sales will go to paying for costs related to this project.
If you want to be updated when songs are posted, email
Website development graciously provided by Dan Shields.
A Young Blanks project.