Summa: diary (November 18-23, 2022)

‘What’s stopping you, John?’ / ‘Sigh, but not loud’ (Ezekiel 24.17).

November 18.

8.30 am – 5.00 pm

8.30 am: An early morning ‘scrape’ with the hygienist and a refilling by the dentist, followed by an up-hill power-walk to the Arts Centre. There, I enjoyed a conversation over coffee (on the topics of birds, artistic influence, and visual languages), along with a view of the Refugees from National Socialism in Wales: Learning from the Past for the Future exhibition. It was heartening to witness the ways in which our ‘Nation of Sanctuary’ has woven outsiders into its social and cultural fabric. (Rather that merely tolerated them, begrudgingly.) Immigrant artists such as Josef Herman (1911-2000) (a Polish Jew who escaped persecution and came to work in Ystradgynlais, West Glamorgan) and Heinz Koppel (1919-80) (a German Jew who escaped the Nazification of his country and came to live in Dowlais, near Merthyr Tydfil) made an enormous contribution to the development of art in Wales from the mid-20th century onwards.

In the early 1950s, Herman’s influence on one contemporary and largely self-taught artist and coalminer from South Wales was of signal importance. In the Miner-Artists booklet, I wrote:

Cyril Ifold [1922-86] was one of a number of miner-artists who made the pilgrimage to Herman’s studio. Ifold was living not far away at Glanrhyd. A friend from Swansea art school took Ifold and a portfolio of his work to show Herman. It was to be the turning point in his life. While Herman and the friend looked through the work, Ifold wandered around Herman’s studio looking at the artist’s own paintings They indicated to him the direction he should be going in his work more powerfully than anything he might have overheard from the two artists in discussion.

John Harvey, Miner-Artists The Art of Welsh Coal Workers (Aberystwyth: National Library of Wales, 2000) 16.
Cyril Ifold, The Culvert (1985) oil on board, 58.2 x 84 cm.

November 20. Today:

11.00 am – 8.00 pm

November 21. 7.00 am: I awoke from a dream, in which I’d heard — coming from a record player deck that’d been placed on a bench in a small abandoned laboratory — a composition which opened with a sustained minor chord comprising a great many notes. There was neither dissonance nor discernible instrumentation. The music, while melancholic, was supremely uplifting. This was a sound that I wanted to both possess and be possessed by. It carried into waking-world — still audible in my mind’s ear.

7.00 am

8.15 am: My office at the School of Art was always hot in winter. Not warm, but hot. So hot, that I had to open the window to let in cold air (because the radiator couldn’t be regulated). At home, on a chill wet day like this, I miss that obscenity. 9.00 am: The BibleSound database (again): Ezekiel. (In the background: the music of William Byrd (1543-1623).) The visionary chariot was as acoustically as it was visually present to the prophet: the sounds of loud rumbling; the creature’s wings as they brushed against each other; and the turning of wheels (Ezekiel 3.12-13). The account begins in the first chapter of the book. While providing a description of the complex of elements that make-up the vision, the text doesn’t denote, unambiguously, how they connect. Consequently, Bible illustrators have conceived of them assembled in a variety of ways. Likewise, the sonic content is evocative of types of sound, rather than prescriptive and particular. For example: What were the amplitude and frequency of the ‘loud rumbling’? Were they like those of thunder overhead? On reading the passage, I recall (from my childhood) the low, reverberant vibration made by lorries laden with coal slag that trundled passed the window of my maternal grandparents’ scullery, which was situated below street level in Blaina, Monmouthshire. Thus, the text enters my life’s experience and the sound resonates with my acoustic history.

Matthäus Merian, Ezekiel’s vision of the chariot, Icones Biblicae (1650) (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
My maternal-grandparents’ scullery, with uncle Owen Rees, Blaina (1987).

November 22. 8.00 am: On my morning’s ambulation along the Promenade, I met a retired lecturer from the university’s former Department of Irish. He’d recently taken up photography, and bought a second-hand camera for £30. It’s a small, bellows unit with a Zeiss lens, and in excellent condition. So, quite a bargain. Analogue photography is rather like unmonitored (headphoneless) sound capture. In each, the operator cannot either see or hear what the recording device perceives. Nevertheless, an accrued experience of the device’s controls helps to develop an informed intuition about how to achieve a successful outcome.

The drawl of the tide is mesmerising. In the Old Testament, the roar of the sea is a simile for loud, overwhelming, and complex acoustic phenomena, such as the voices of many people, the galloping of cavalry, the clash of weaponry, and the flapping of wings (like those described in Ezekiel’s vision of the creature). The sea’s ebb and flow is trans-historical and trans-geographical. Thus, today, I’m auditioning the same sound (more-or-less) as the prophet had heard in the 6th-century BCE, as he stood at the shore of the Mediterranean Sea before his exile in Babylon. Sounds can be a conduit that connect our present to a remote past. They’re a mode of conditional time travel, in this sense.

From the Promenade, Aberystwyth

9.30 am: BibleSound: Amos. The roar of a lion in the forest (Amos 3.4). I endeavoured to process all of the Old Testament references to sounds by mid-afternoon. 3.00 pm: Success!

In the background, I laid out (with a view to making trial) various digital microphones that’ll operate in conjunction with my iPod Touch (5th Generation). This is with a view to developing an audiographic facility that’s as serviceable as the photographic feature on my iPhone. The baseline of sonic resolution needs to be 24 bit/48.0 MHz, and the sound-field, stereophonic (ideally).

Well-defined and concise audio events don’t present themselves anything like as often as their visual counterparts. Moreover, you can’t frame a sound in the same way as a scene, object, or person within the camera’s view finder. Compositionally, sounds have only the beginning and end that are imposed upon them by the recording device when it’s switched on and off, usually. Moreover, sounds are often dependent upon the visual context in which they occur. The swell and wane of the sea’s waves — ‘a most majestic vision’ and sound, in reality — may appear diminished in their representation. The sonic frequencies flatten and compress; distinctions between nearness and distance, object and ground, are blurred; and what was perceived clearly in situ is rendered as an indeterminate mush on the recording. In part, this is because — at source — what’s heard is inseparable from what’s seen. (We understand the one in relation to the other.) Once rent assunder, the image stops and becomes silent; while the sound moves on blindly, without a guide.

Microphones (left to right): Rode iXY, Sony ECM-DS70P, Rode Videomic ME, and Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset

November 23. ‘Oh Morbius, where wert thou yestereve?’ I doubt that one hour’s sleep had been secured. 8.30 am: I yawned into my study. The BibleSound database moved into the New Testament. ‘The deaf hear’, Christ reminded John the Baptist (Matthew 11.5). As a consequence of a significant sinus infection, which went undiagnosed and untreated for a number of years, my hearing has been compromised. On top of this, I can no longer hear high frequencies as clearly. The latter is an inevitable consequence of ageing. Background tinnitus — which, I’m told, is always present in our heads to a greater or lesser degree, but hides behind the high-frequency sounds that we hear — is also, now, a feature of my auditory landscape. This week, I wrote to my dentist asking whether we could explore the possibility that my teeth are contributing to these deficits. If this proves to be the case, then, radical action will be required. [Gulp!] Meanwhile, I’m experimenting with drugs (in consultation with my GP). In order to prevent my sinuses from getting clogged-up again, we’re testing the effectiveness of various antihistamine medications. My body produces histamines at the drop of a hat, in response to the myriad allergens that plague it. Thus, I’m a human laboratory presently. (In the background: the music of Aaron Copeland (1900-1990).)

The loss of hearing is one thing; the loss of an ear, quite another. John’s Gospel records that, when Christ was arrested prior to his trial, the habitually impetuous Simon-Peter drew out his sword and cut off the right ear of the High-Priest’s slave. Luke adds that Christ healed earless Malcus, thereafter. This was his final miracle. ‘Malcus’s Ear’ would make an intriguing title for a sound work.

[unknown], ‘Pierre Couppe Loreille de Malcus’ [Peter cuts off Malcus’s ear] from Life and Passion of Christ, engraving, [n.d.] (courtesy of Wkimedia Commons).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed