Summa: diary (September 18-24, 2022)

Why seek ye the living among the dead (Luke 24.5).

September 18. I received my fourth Covid-19 vaccination and second booster yesterday. Throughout the night, I tossed and turned and felt, first, feverish, then, chilled. Today, mild flu-like symptoms and a very sore arm persist. This is the first adverse reaction to the substance that I’ve experienced. A day for lolling around indolently, then. The broadcast of the service of Holy Communion from St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London, was marred by a camera that couldn’t cope with the strong sunlight (and transfigured everyone in its path) and a dippy sound system. (In such circumstances, my mind scrolls through a a long list of possible causes and cures.)

September 19. The day of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. Throughout this period of national grief, the themes of death, loss, eternal life, immortal love, and resurrection have been held in a respectful equipoise. Her passing was not (like that of Princess Diana) a tragedy but, rather, an inevitability. For none can avoid a confrontation with the ‘last enemy’. Whatever our beliefs, this is one thing upon which we can all agree. Many in the congregations were hesitant hymn singers. Grief can inhibit; but so can unfamiliarity. However, many could recite the Lord’s Prayer even with their eyes closed. Me, I came unstuck after the first verse of the National Anthem.

September 20. Shortly before waking, I experienced a dismal dream. The context was that of my parents’ house, sometime after they’d died and before it was sold. In 1991 I would travel from Aberystwyth to my home town of Abertillery, periodically, in order to both ensure that the property was secure and well maintained and gradually dispose of its contents. By then, it was a lifeless shell, full only of their absence. In my dream, the rooms were cast in a dim, cold-grey half-light; the dank air was chilled; and condensation dribbled down the curtainless windows. [Cut to:] Beyond them, I could see the ruins of the back garden: the boundaries, fallen; the flower beds, overgrown; and the grass, blackened by soot and slush. The lounge wallpaper had begun to bubble and peel. [Cut to:] I looked-up towards the first floor landing (barely visible in the semi-darkness) and the closed door of Mum’s and Dad’s bedroom (on the left). When I awoke, these impressions still hung before my mind’s eye. But it was my felt memory of the house’s absence of light and hope (the gloom, in both its perceptual and psychological sense), and the signs of slow and inevitable decay, that endured for the remainder of the day.

I pay little heed to my dreams. Most of them, to quote Issac Watts’ famous hymn (beloved of funeral services), ‘fly forgotten’ … at the opening day’. Some, no doubt, comment upon either my present subliminal anxieties or unresolved and unreconciled experiences in the past. Perhaps, too, they serve as the mind’s preparation for what’s to come — so that I might, in a measure, better prepare, psychologically and emotionally. Truth be told, most bad dreams we experience aren’t anything like as bad as the things that we may actually experience in waking-world.

September 21. It’s less than a week before the beginning of the new academic year. In the past, I’d now be swatting a swarm of incoming emails, updating module outlines, and drawing-up timetables for their delivery. Today, however, there were only two unread emails in my Inbox when I began work; and one was an Amazon recommendation.

Yesterday, I returned to the BibleSound database. To the, now, extensive list of ‘active sounds’ (for example, cries, thunder, trumpet blasts, and the noises of battle) I’ve added ‘passive sounds’ (such as silence and quiet), as well as perceptual terms (including, listening, hearing, and attending). Once all the entries have been completed, I’ll read again the Old and New Testaments in a translation other than the one that I’d used for my initial scope. This will be the New American Standard Revised Version — the translation preferred by most academic biblical researchers. It has the great advantage of being based upon what are considered to be the oldest and most reliable manuscripts; a formal-equivalent (word-for-word) rather than a dynamic-equivalent (communicating the basic message of the scriptures for the modern reader) translation of those texts; and made by scholars representing a wide variety of theological viewpoints, rather than sectarian perspectives (as does the New International Version).

Reading the Bible as sound only has been fascinating. Rendering it as such, will be so much the more. Quite a number of the sounds described in the text, either denotatively or as simile, are reminiscent of those that I’d evoked on the Noisome Spirits (2021) album. (Already, it all feels so familiar.) The Scripture’s sonorities begin in Eden with ‘the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day’, and end with the testimony of John the Divine: ‘the one who heard [my emphasis] and saw these things’ he’d described in the prophecy (Genesis 3. 8; Revelation 22.8).

After lunch, I began making notes for a prospective blog interview that has been pending for several months. During my stand and stretch-my-legs breaks, I restrung the Crimson RF Custom Stealth guitar. It has received several modifications since this video was first released. A unique instrument.

September 22. The BibleSound survey will provide the research base for several related practice-based and textual projects. The latter will extend ideas first aired in the ‘”The Hearing Ear and the Seeing Eye”: Transformative Listening to the Biblical Image’ chapter, in Transforming Christian Thought in the Visual Arts (2021). The former continues to grow in my audio imagination. I’m in no rush to realise it.

September 23. I came across the following snippet on my Twitter feed (which is fed by a good number of jazz-orientated sites). It’s typical of a strand of white popular opinion and music criticism that prevailed during the first part of the 20th century. (Later, Rock n’ Roll would be similarly maligned.) It reflects the perception that jazz was driven by dark and dangerous African ‘jungle’ rhythms which sent the ‘natives’ into frenzied trance, and encouraged sexual abandon along with other expressions of turpitude. Reports denouncing the phenomenon were published in Church magazines on both sides of the Atlantic during the colonialist period. African music was considered to be irredeemably sullied by its association with tribal ritual and beliefs and, as a consequence, inappropriable by western Christian culture. As Stephen H Martin has written:

the early Christian missionaries denied the legitimacy of indigenous customs, believing that attempts to assimilate them into Christian worship would merely perpetuate “heathenism”.

‘African Church Music: The Genesis of an Acculturative Style’, Black Sacred Music, 2/1 (March 1, 1988) 33-44.

It’s John Coltrane’s birthday today. He — perhaps more than any other composer/player — successfully integrated the African roots of jazz (its rhythms, freedom, and ecstasy) to a mode of spirituality that, while inspired by the music and preaching of his African Methodist Episcopal upnringing, was not confined to it. For him, jazz was the music of the Holy Spirit. His albums played in the background as I worked, all through the morning.

Today, too, begins Freshers’ Weekend (or the ‘Big Welcome’, as Aberytwyth University refers to this very special time in a new student’s life). Today, I’m cheering them on from the sidelines. On this day four years ago, I wrote:

Met a river of cars piled high with duvets, cardboard boxes, and music systems. The students: they were back.

‘Traditional Diary’, diary (September 15, 2018 – June 30, 2021) September 22, 2018.

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