The Doc Project

After this carpenter died, his family found a trove of mysterious tapes in the attic

Pat Maloney was a gifted experimental musician in the 1970s, until he suddenly stopped playing entirely.

Pat Maloney was a gifted experimental musician in the 1970s, until he suddenly stopped playing entirely

Pat Maloney lived and worked in Arden, Ontario. (Joanne Pickett)

Originally published on Nov. 12, 2018.

Pat Maloney passed away in the late summer of 2016. He'd been facing terminal cancer, and died at home in the village of Arden, Ont., with his wife, Joanne Pickett, by his side. Their final years together were some of their strongest.

"We became the best of friends," she said. "We just spent such great time together. We took road trips, we talked a lot… We did all of the things that we hadn't taken the time to do before."

Maloney had been a father, a friend. He was a carpenter and a conversationalist, with a sharp wit and a sense of humour. He loved reading books and watching a good hockey game.

Pat Maloney and Joanne Pickett with their children Emma and Luke. (Submitted by Joanne Pickett)

He also used to play the flute — but that was a very long time ago.

For years, it sat in a kitchen cupboard, not so much an instrument as a relic. To his kids, the flute was evidence of a former life back in the 1970s, when Maloney worked in Toronto as a recording engineer and played in numerous bands.

"I'd pull it out of the cupboard and force him to play a couple of notes," said Luke Maloney, Pat and Joanne's son, "But it wouldn't last more than a couple of seconds and he'd put it away. Playing music was something he was sheepish about in the time I was around."

Pat Maloney playing his flute in the 1970s. (Submitted by Joanne Pickett)

The flute gathered dust. They never heard him use it, or make music at all. After Maloney's death, there were traces of him all over the house — woodworking materials, paperwork, half-finished projects — but it took a year for his wife to decide she was ready to climb the stairs to the attic, which Maloney had managed to fill from floor to ceiling, over the years, with boxes and tools and who knew what else.

That's when she found them.

Tapes. Dozens and dozens of tapes. And the old reel-to-reel machines Maloney had recorded them on.

Pat Maloney packed away dozens of reel-to-reel tapes with his experimental music on them. (Submitted by Joanne Pickett)

Everything was in pristine condition, untouched for decades. Pickett didn't know what to do with the discovery, but she had a feeling that a neighbour of hers would. 

Help from a kindred spirit

Jonas Bonnetta fronts the band Evening Hymns and runs a recording studio, called Port William Sound, on his property.

Pickett called Bonnetta, and he was like a kid in a candy store. "When I saw the machines and the shape they were in, I was like, '…Let's use these machines to digitize all the tapes!'" he said.

"I was interested in being able to give [Pickett] recordings of this person she spent a huge portion of her life with. Because I think anybody would want that."

But Bonnetta was not prepared for what he uncovered.

Jonas Bonnetta holding Pat Maloney's tape in his studio (CBC/Jessa Runciman)

On the tapes were original folk songs, with lyrics about love and lost dreams. Vocals by Gary Broderick:

There were avant-garde explorations on an analog synthesizer, prepared piano and bells:

And a flute; the very one that sat for so long in the kitchen cupboard in Arden:

Amid all Maloney's decades-old creations, there was a question Bonnetta couldn't ignore: Why did Maloney give it all up, and put it away?

"Because he was invested in the intellectual side of music, I find it so bizarre that he would just stop making recordings," said Bonnetta, "And that (his kids) don't know that Pat."

He gestured to the piles of tapes. "I mean, what a gift, you know?"

So Bonnetta decided to share what he found with Maloney's family. They all gathered in the family home. Before he pressed play, Pickett was nervous. "It's a little overwhelming, to tell you the truth," she said.

It does kind of bring him back to life. I feel like I'm going to turn around and see him.- Joanne Pickett, Pat Maloney's widow

After hearing some of his father's music for the first time, something clicked for Luke Maloney. "That makes sense. He was always a rebel and that seems to be reflected in his music as well. I guess he liked to be a challenge in all aspects."

"It does kind of bring him back to life," Pickett said. "I feel like I'm going to turn around and see him... it's a gift for us but it would've been a greater gift had we discovered it sooner and maybe it could've been part of his life for the last years."

(Submitted by Jessa Runciman)
About the producer 

Jessa Runciman is a reporter with CBC Ottawa, a radio producer and music writer who lives in the woods of Quebec, north of Ottawa.

This documentary was co-produced by Veronica Simmonds, and edited with Acey Rowe.