Summa: diary (November 12-17, 2022)

All that has been, focused upon now. All that is to come, focused upon now.

For some of us, our greatest disappoint is ourselves.

November 12. 9.00 am: On the homeward stretch of my morning ambulation through town, as the shops began to open, I entered Maeth Y Meysydd [nutrition of the fields] — one of the Aberystwyth’s health and organic food outlets. Before I could open my mouth, the person behind the counter asked: ‘Will it be a half or a dozen eggs, this week?’ Remarkable! If only more store workers had such searing telepathic powers, then, shopping would be a snip. The incident reminded me of a time in my childhood when shopkeepers knew their customers and their needs … even before they did. (‘Observe the people as you walk. John!’, the voice in my head advised.)

9.30 am: Music theory: fretboard and stave/playing and reading, considered as one. (At times, I think there’s something seriously wrong with my processing skill. [Sigh!]) Patterns of repetition are revealed; a system becomes evident. There’s an inexorable logic to the progression of tonal intervals; no less beautiful for that. Eyes and fingers conspire to map these divisions in my head, in a manner that goes beyond conscious memory. Knowing must transcend cognisance to become intuition.

Guitar fretboard notated

November 14. At the beginning of the 20th century, it wasn’t usual for visual artists to have an interest in music that went beyond mere listening. For example, the painter and colour theorist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) also played the cello. A number of musicians and composers for their part — notably the composer and theorist Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) — also painted. (I dealt with this topic on my art history module entitled Art/Sound: practice, theory, and history (1800-20).) The composer Josef Matthias Hauer (1883-1959) sent the painter and colour theorist Johannes Itten (1888-1967) a watercolour schematic of ‘A Colour Sound Circle’, in 1919 — the year in which the latter began teaching at the Bauhaus. Hauer had mapped the musical Circle of Fifths onto a segmented circle of primary and secondary colours. At the time, Itten was interested in establishing harmonic relationships between pitch and colour.

J. M. Hauer, ‘A Sound Colour Circle’ (1919), watercolour, pen, and ink (courtesy of wikimedia Commons); Circle of fifths (courtesy of wikimedia Commons)

9.15 am: Thus far, the BibleSound research has thrown up enough material to support a decade’s worth of projects. I’m at Ecclesiastes:

The sound of grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low.

Ecclesiastes 12.4

Due to the sound of scaffolding being erected, close by, I maintained a text-based operation throughout the afternoon. And then there’s this most extraordinary verse, written by the prophet Isaiah. A voice that sounds loud from the depth of the earth and ascends to emerge out of the dust as a ghost-like whisper.

Then deep from the earth you shall speak, from low in the dust your words shall come; your voice shall come from the ground like the voice of a ghost, and your speech shall whisper out of the dust.

Isaiah 29.4

I recalled the account of the Witch of Endor summoning the late prophet Samuel. His ghost appeared as ‘a divine being coming up from the ground!’ (1 Samuel 28.13). In the Hebrew Bible, the place of the dead, Sheol  [שְׁאוֹל], was conceived (albeit vaguely) as a subterranean underworld where the souls of the dead were consigned.

William Blake, ‘The Ghost of Samuel Appearing to Saul’ (c. 1800) pen, ink, and watercolour over graphite, National Gallery of Art, London (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

November 15. 8.15 am: Having reinstated the Microsoft Office suite on my computers, I set about configuring contacts, transferring files, and rationalising cloud synchronisation. 11.00 am: I’d been invited by a London university to external examine a PhD in sound-art practice. I began filling in the requisite forms to prove my competence, identity, and place of domicile. 12.30 pm: Good news! One of my own PhD Fine Art students has, today, successfully passed the viva voce examination and received their doctorate. I’d expected nothing less of them.

2.00 pm: I pressed on with the BibleSound database, while trying to resolve what appeared to be several intractable sync problems with OneDrive and an external drive. (Belt and braces.) Possibly (and tentatively), the issue may be caused by having two accounts and two versions of OneDrive (one for each account) in operation on the same computer. It’s astonishing how much time and brain power these obstacles absorb. By the close of day, there was still no resolution. 7.00 pm: Meanwhile, there’s news that two stray Russian missiles have killed two people in Poland. Possibly, we are closer to the prospect of an escalation of the war than at any time since it began.

8.00am – 9.00 pm

November 16. 7.00 am: I awoke with an unfocussed, background anxiety. (Perhaps it was caused by something that I’d eaten yesterday.) More often its associated with a perceived loss of control. There’re things in my life that I’d like to make better, but I’ve neither the wit, nor power, nor opportunity to improve them. Things past are unalterable; things future, may never come to pass; and things in the moment are too immediate to fully apprehend. However, I can reform my response to present troubles and future uncertainties. And, here, my religion kicks in. Anxiety achieves nothing, said Christ. But prayer with thanksgiving, while turning-over those cares to God, does. Prayer (or, rather, God’s answer) changes, if not the circumstances then, my ability to deal with them.

8.30 am: ‘Think, think, think, John!’, the voice insisted. Thus provoked, I conceived two strategies that just might solve my cloud and external drive sync problems. They were tested in the background of the day’s other business. I faced-down Isaiah, whose references to sound are second only in number to those of the prophet Jeremiah.

1.30 am: Back to ‘Creed’ [working title], and …


4.00 pm: There was no rain; so, I walked the circuit of the town centre, returning via Plascrug Avenue and the railway bridge, from where, in the far distance, I could see the enticing lights of ‘Vanity Fair’, as some of the local chapel folk used to refer to it. When I first came to Aberystwyth, it was held on three consecutive Mondays in November. Now, it runs every day for one whole week. It’s pumping bass beat, the cries of those being sea-sawed into the air, the cacophony of competing sources of music, and an incomprehensible commentary brazened over the PA system, swell and wane like a spirit on the wind. In my forty years residence here, I’ve never once visited the fair. ‘Vanity of vanities.’

Aberystwyth Fun Fair

November 17. Life feels so ‘thin’, still. There is, I sense, a residual and persistent disconnect between people and people, and people and places. No doubt this is, in part, the aftershock of the pandemic and its lockdowns. Added to this, we’re presently experiencing profound insecurity and trepidation regarding: the climate crisis and its implications for our children’s future on this planet; ailing global and national economies; wars (ten of significance, at the time of writing); corporate greed, persecutions, discriminations, and myriad inequities; and our physical and mental well-being, as we struggle against a woefully under-resourced health system and face the challenge of staying warm and making both ends meat this winter. ‘A cry of lamentation went up’, wrote George Orwell in Animal Farm, echoing the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. ‘How we are ruined’, the latter would’ve concluded:

Take up weeping and wailing for the mountains,
and a lamentation for the pastures of the wilderness,
because they are laid waist so that one one passes through,
and the lowing of cattle is not heard;
both the birds of the air and the animals have fled and have gone.

Jeremiah 9.10

11.30 am: The BBC website’s live feed of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement twitched and scrolled on desktop computer monitor #2, while I continued working through the sounds of Jeremiah on monitor #1. Only now — after twelve years in power — do the Conservatives sound like they could govern with a degree of realism and a strategy. Let’s hope that Hunt wasn’t a bully in the past, and remains in post long enough to see through his vision over the next two years.

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