Summa: diary (September 7-9, 2022)

Many wounds.

September 7. I’m only now beginning to feel some benefit from the operation that I underwent on August 5. This was to be expected. It can take up to a year before the sinuses settle and normal service resumes.

The first month of my early retirement has been dramatic, to say the least. The last eleven days, in particular, were traumatic and exhausting in equal measure. There’re times in life when the plague-wind blows hard, threatening everything in its path. We are none of us immune to either sudden calamity or an unexpected change of fortune or the arrival of bad news. Life is precarious, at best. Our happiness, joy, contentment, wellbeing, and ability to control circumstances is fleeting. However tightly we hold onto them, they slip through our fingers like melting ice cubes. As a consequence of my own experience of vicissitude lately, much of my time and energies have been directed away from the studio and study to the domestic scene, instead.

Where there’s been the opportunity, I’ve continued exploring the technique of circuit bending using a short-wave radio and mono cassette recorder as my instruments.

Before I began rerouting the radio’s internal signal paths, a test broadcast of a single voice was sent to the mixer via a Moogfooger MF-102 ring modulator. The resultant output was reminicient of the speech-sounds heard in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974). In the film, a man and woman are talking in San Francisco’s Union Square; their voices are distorted by the surveillance technology that’s evesdropping upon their conversation. This sound has haunted me ever since I first encountered it. How strange that it should emerge at my finger tips all these years later. (Interestingly, nearly a decade earlier, Steve Reich had recorded the source material for his tape-based composition It’s Gonna Rain in Union Square.)

Modulated radio broadcast (September 7, 2022)

September 8. Extracts from the studio notebook:

Impetus and impulse / Orderliness and clarity / Object-orientation / Rationalisation and pruning / You’ve no need to perform / You’ve no requirement to collaborate / Question your ambitions / Sound making is no different from either painting or writing / Consider the virtues of obscurity / Your sound work is not about music; it’s about intervals of tone / Identify the craft and discipline /Acquire new skills and knowledge / Scholarship is fundamental to your work/ Analyse your discomfort / Develop an audience / Consider the relevance of your work beyond the boundaries of art / Know your distinctives / What do I want? Why do I want it? What am I prepared to sacrifice in order to secure it? / Learn to be confortable with the ‘instrument’ / Value outsiderness and marginality / Play to your strengths / Don’t try to be like anyone else / Maintain continuity while breaking the mould / Where is there pretense? / Where is there a lack of confidence? / Be reconciled to the conditions of your reality / But endeavour to improve them / Happy are they who are adaptable.

And so it began, and ended, in one day.

In South Wales, schools pupils often referred to Elizabeth II as the ‘Queen of England’. Perhaps the ‘Queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth’ was a bit too much of a mouthful for them. Nevertheless, it did reflect a certain sense of detachment. Which is not to say that she was either unloved or disrespected by the communities of Wales. Quite the contrary. In an age of duplicitous, self-serving, and greedy political leaders and global capitalists, she exemplified virtues of honour, self-discipline, wisdom, and charity that are far too rare in public life today. Whether or not you’re a monarchist, one is compelled to admire her and acknowledge that she was a force for good throughout the world. She lived and died well, and has now laid down her crown at the feet of the King of Kings who’d saved her. And so begins the third Carolean era.

September 9. This morning I recalled the state funeral of Winston Churchill, which took place in London on January 30, 1965. I was five years old at the time. While ‘playing cars’ on the lounge carpet, I watched the procession on a Rediffusion black and white TV. In those days, the quality of BBC outside broadcasting was little better than that of the first moving images that returned from the Moon, four years later. The solemnity of that occasion impressed me, even then. Likewise, I was struck by the diffuse, ghostly low-contrast greyness of the image — as though the event was being viewed through a perpetual misty drizzle. I suspect that many visual artists of my generation who’d been brought up on pre-colour TV developed a deep appreciation of monochromacy, later in life.

State funeral of Winston Churchill, Begrafenis Churchill vanaf televisie, de kist, Bestanddeelnr 917-3888 (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

On Monday, a BBC radio producer emailed me via my Contact page on the John Harvey website. They wanted to discuss the early-stage development of a programme about art and faith. Today, we talked over the phone. At this juncture, the conversation was along the lines of: ‘We’re thinking of making a programme about X. How do you think we should go about it?’ I’m always happy contribute at the point of conception. It enables me to shape the project’s purpose and content far more than if I join later and have to fit into the shoe of an established structure that offers little manoeuvrability. I’ll wait and see whether the programme materialises in the New Year.

Historically, times of national crisis have been often accompanied by aerial portents (or so some claimed). For example, during the English Civil War, fearful firey oblongs and vast battling armies were seen in the skies — foreboding calamity. In contrast, today’s manifestions have been affirming and reassuring. They are, possibly, an expression of a collective separation anxiety. As it were: The ‘Great Matriarch’ has not departed, entirely; she’ll forever look down upon us. And these shall be the signs.

1 Comment. Leave new

  • Hi John, and a partial rainbow also appeared over Windsor Castle as the flag was lowered to half-mast too.
    We know so little about the power of thought as an accumulative energy: did the thoughts of the world move the rain clouds so that the sun could refract within a raindrop, or did God manifest the raindrops just in the right place and time for us to wonder at?
    Regarding the Queen’s head ‘in the clouds’ complete with hat, it was you, many years ago, who brought the word pareidolia to my attention: something I will never forget.
    Thank you for sharing your diary


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