Summa: diary (April 1-13, 2022)

Kyrie, eléison. [Lord, have mercy.]

April 1. Proof of presence.

April 3. I walked through Natur Parc Penglais, from the woods to the quarry, during the afternoon. The sunlight was brittle, creating a dramatic chiaroscuro and shadow-cast. The conditions were conducive to thinking in the round. An image presented itself to me, unsummoned: I saw, in my mind’s eye, someone who was imprisoned in their past — raging loudly and rattling the bars, without noticing that the door was wide open.

April 5. 11.30 am. I presented my final contribution to the university’s PhD Research Writing Programme, entitled ‘Writing a Conference Paper’, online. I’ve lost count of how many times this workshop has been held over the years. But this would be the last occasion, for a certainty. (‘So it better be good, John!’, the inner-tyrant railed.) I’d be testing the road worthiness of my advice to the students, when I deliver my own ‘conference’ paper at the Tŷ Cerdd CoDi Off-Grid event in the afternoon. Over the past week, I’ve upgraded aspects on my presentation kit — adding sidelights and a dynamic microphone. The quality of streamed video and sound is often compromised in transmission. So, it makes sense to ensure that the integrity of both is as good as it can be (within the limitations of my resources) at the send-end.

2.00 pm: It’s my custom to do a full ‘dress’ rehearsal of a presentation shortly before its delivery. I advised my class members do do the same, this morning. (I practice what I preach.) In so doing, I can ensure that the paper is deliverable within the prescribed frame (one hour, on this occasion) and make as many bloopers as I might. The same muffs and fluffs rarely reoccur in the actual performance.

3.45 pm: Into the Zoom environment. The app’s menu layout is altogether not that of Teams (which I’m used to). It took a little time to establish what controls I had at my disposal, and responsibility for, before the gates were opened to allow the ‘teaming hoards’ into the room. The delivery went without any further technical hitch. I’ve yet to be comfortable talking to folk whom I can’t see. It’s like being a stand-up comic performing in a darkened room to an audience that doesn’t laugh. The presentation was well received, and I was encouraged by some of the observations made at the conclusion. (A video of the event can be viewed here.)

April 6. Today it rained.

April 7. By evening, the first mix of all fourteen tracks that make up the Penallta Colliery: Sound Pictures album was complete. Quite apart from establishing a balance between, and a hierarchy of, the composition’s components, the aim has been to remove any part that is superfluous to the whole. Ruthlessness and discretion must walk hand-in-hand when editing. Take away one component too many, and the whole edifice collapses. I was reminded of the children’s (and, as I recall, tipsy adult’s) game, Ker Plunk (1967). Marbles sit on top of a lattice of plastic straws that pass through holes in a plastic tube. Each player in turn endeavours to pull out a straw without dislodging any. Inevitably there’s one straw that, when extracted, sets off an avalanche of clattering glass balls. This was what had to be avoided, as I played my own ‘tantalizing game of nerve and skill’.

For the last half hour of the working day, I sat in my study’s armchair and read under a low light while looking towards the window and at the scene beyond. Forty-five years ago, I’d often done the same while listening to music in my parent’s front room (the ‘parlour’) in Abertillery. The congruency of the time of day, the rooms’ ambience, my posture and mood, and the view before me tonight, summoned precisely the same feelings as I’d experienced back then. My older and younger selves were, in that moment, conflated. Emotion allied to memory can create a wormhole between the present and past. They’re a mode of time travel.

April 9. 8.30 am: ‘It’s a cold but vitalising morning’, I messaged my family from the wall at the entrance to the harbour. 9.30 am: I pressed on with the second-phase mix. On this occasion, I made my adjustments while listening to the first mix (which I’d created over headphones) on the near-distance studio monitors and subwoofer. This present rendering, I anticipate, will be concluded by the Easter weekend. The third-phase mix will be made, once again, using headphones; and the fourth-phase mix, using the mid-distance studio monitors and subwoofer. Thereafter, I shall be so sick of listening to the compositions that I’ll never want to play them again. Only then will they be ready for CD transfer.

In the background, the design proofs of the cover, booklet, and sound masters for the Seven Prayers for Stephen Chilton: Requiem CD release were finalised. This project had been a labour of love, in more senses than one: my ‘farewell note’ to him. (Mors Immatura.) During the period since March 2020, and the first lockdown, I’ve composed three albums (the present one included). None have been about either the pandemic or the world’s other current calamities. However, the conditions of these last two years served to open-up a headspace — such as I’d never before experienced. They’ve enabled me to, quoting The Who, ‘see for miles and miles’. Isolation wasn’t a burden. My early years of solitary playing as an only child had prepared me for it. Having released six albums in as many years I want, now, to take a break from composition in order to explore further my means of sound production — without any expectations or goals.

April 13. During a PhD Fine Art tutorial this morning, our discussion ventured down the byway of life-drawing classes. (You had to be there is appreciate the relevance of this excursion.) My first encounter with the discipline was in April 1977, at the Foundation Studies annex of the Faculty of Design, Gwent College of Higher Education in Emlyn Street, Newport, Gwent. I sat an entrance exam comprising an all-morning life drawing test, followed by an all afternoon art history examination by essay. Prior to that day, I’d neither drawn anything that wasn’t from a two-dimensional source, nor worked in a vertical plane from an easel; nor had the opportunity to ogle a naked woman legitimately. Edna, the model, was a seasoned pro and one of the best that I’ve ever worked with. It was she who tested us. Her repertoire of poses was designed to stretch an artist.

A year after submission, my article is published in Die Bibel in Der Kunst. It’s a contextualisation of my sound composition entitled ‘Image and Inscription‘, which appeared on The Bible in Translation (2016) album.

2.00 pm: Off to Aberaeron after lunch for a return match with my ENT consultant. I’d been asked to attend a half hour earlier than the original appointment time. My expectation — that I’d arrive and breeze into the doctor’s surgery — was scotched by reality. In the end, I had to wait a half-an-hour longer than the original appointment time. Inconveniences have to be endured sometimes. But I wish staff would communicate the reasons why they’re inevitable; that doesn’t require huge resources, just a little time, consideration, and courtesy. On this occasion, I was belligerent: ‘I want another CT scan and a blood test, please, doctor!’ He didn’t demure. Physicians of quality know their stuff. And, over the years, I’ve come to respect far more the subtly of their knowledge and discernment. But the suffering patient is also in-the-know. They experience the ailment from the inside out, and for far longer than a twenty-minute consultation.

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