Summa: diary (November 26-30, 2022)

There are doubtless many different kinds of sounds in the world, and nothing is without sound (1 Corinthians 14.10).

The Apostle Paul’s rumination on the varieties and comprehensiveness of sound forms part of his treatise on the exercise of the gift of tongues in a congregational setting. This intelligible language doesn’t edify anyone in the absence of the equally miraculous gift of interpretation, he remonstrated. Better to speak a few words that can be understood than a great many in a foreign tongue. Verse 10 (above), however, doesn’t advance this argument. Instead, it reads as an aside. As though (uncharacteristically) the apostle had permitted his mind to be distracted by a thought that was far broader in its scope and implication than the subject at hand. I’m reminded of the final verse of John’s gospel. Here the writer reflects upon all those works Christ performed that remained unrecorded. John allows his thoughts to expand beyond the page in order to touch upon the unimaginable. He signs-off with a flourish of breathtaking hyperbole (which was uncharacteristic of his writing too): ‘But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written’ (John 21.25).

November 26. Yesterday, the BibleSound database and ‘Creed’ [working title] recordings were completed (in the provisional sense of that word). The former will be refined and fleshed out in the course of further research on the dataset. This morning, I began processing the sound files for ‘Creed’. The recordings of the 12-voice words were checked for audible comprehensibility (the word ‘sins’ was made over, due to a weak initial sibilance); equalised for volume; and ‘topped and tailed’, in order to remove silences, clicks, and sputters at the beginning and end.

Visual samples of sound files

November 27. The diary entry for August 22, 2018 has the subheading: ‘This life. Today. These moments’. It comprises sound recordings made of my activities at home throughout that day (which was divided into fours periods). The ‘best’ (for want of a better word) sounds, in this context, are those which most clearly delineate and evoke either the object or action that gave rise to them. Today: 8.15-8.45 am. Sound extracts taken from one half hour:

November 28. Today is the anniversary of William Blake’s (1757-1827) birth. He was baptised at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London — where I belong. Blake claimed that he’d received spiritual visions of biblical and historical persons, and supernatural entities (such as the ghost of a flea), who’d stood before him long enough to be drawn:

William Blake, The Ghost of a Flea (c.1819-20) tempera and gold on mahogany, 21.4 × 16.2 cm (Tate, London) (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

9.30 am: I’d a consultation with a practice-nurse at my GP surgery, in order to obtain a prescription for antibiotics. I’ve been suffering from a sinus infection during this last week. 10.30 am: On my return from the chemists, I knuckled-down to the day’s work. The database was reviewed, and its Bible verses ‘read, mark[ed], and inwardly digest[ed]’ (as one of the collects in the Book of Common Prayer enjoins). 1.45 am: Having regularised the volume levels of the ‘Creed’ [working title] recordings, I made a first stab at matching the loudness of the set. Volume and loudness aren’t the same measures. The former can be expressed, objectively and scientifically, in decibels. The latter is experienced more subjectively. It’s a matter of human perception which, in turn, is coloured by the percipient’s acuity of hearing and listening. These terms aren’t synonymous either; the former is mode of awareness and the latter, of attention; the same difference as there is between seeing and looking.

Recently, however, the music industry has introduced LUFS (Loudness Units relative to Full Scale) as a standardised measurement of audio loudness. It attempts to factor together human perception and electrical signal intensity. In practice, it’s used to match the output of, say, different tracks on an album — so that they sound as loud as one another.

6.00 pm: Eventide:

6.00 pm

November 29. 7.45 am: A communion. 8.30 am: A little Christmassing before heading into a cold studio to confront the day’s challenges. Morningtide:

8.30 am

Adobe Audition CC (the Digital Audio Workstation software that I use for sound production) has a LUFS engine which automatically normalises the signal output of the sound files poured into it. Today, I’m reviewing the work that it undertook on my behalf yesterday, and rerunning the program at a higher volume setting. Inevitably, what the algorithm assumes to be generic human perception may not necessarily coincide with what this particular human perceives, in all instances. Consequently, the engine’s efforts (which are accurate on the whole) needed to be tweaked manually, by either + or – 1 to 2.5 dB in some instances. To this end, the technique that I’m deploying presently is adapted from my experience of comparing and equalising the tone and saturation of colours. (Painting has, more than any other discipline, prepared me for working with sound.) First, I elected a ‘control’ file (equivalent to a sample swatch), and then placed it next to each of the other files in turn, while alternating my audition between them until their respective loudness was equalised. In the end, the experience of the ear (my ear) trumps all other evaluations. Matching loudness is the aspect of sound production that has pushed me closest to the edge of professional despair.

Matching colour tone and sound loudness


There was something about the sound coming from outdoors, in conjunction with the ambient temperature, sunlight, and time of year, that reminded me of another place and other days in the past. In the second year of my BA (Hons) Fine Art study, I’d sometimes take the bus from Newport, Momouthshire, to a stop near Waun-Llwyd on the road to Ebbw Vale. On a hillside plateau above the road, I’d stand beneath an electricity pylon for six hours — with a drawing board suspended at my waist by a guitar strap — and draw the National Grid substation in the valley below. It was blisteringly cold … always. I wore the fingerless gloves that my Mam had made me … always. Often, the wind was so strong that I’d stagger to stay upright. It was a grim experience from start to finish. Nevertheless, it was there that I uncovered aspects of my identity, and developed visual preoccupations, which have remained relevant ever since. The experience was also a practical exposition of the Apostle Paul’s conviction that ‘suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope’.

Ebbw Fawr valley (courtesy of Google Maps); John Harvey, Garden City, Ebbw Fawr (1979) pen, ink, pencil, and watercolour, 20.3 x 8.4 cm.

November 30. Morningtide. Sunrise 8.02 am, 126° south-east. The coldness was like a brittle noise in the air. I ‘heard’ it through my nostrils and ‘spoke’ it through my mouth, while filling my lungs to capacity. Thus the landscape became a part of me. Dog walkers and joggers were few in number. Council workers patched potholes. The first flames of the sun’s fire ‘goldified’ (as my Dad would’ve said) the north slope of Pen Dinas and the summit of Constitution Hill. And so the day fanned into flame.

The Promenade, looking towards the north-west.

8.45 am. Adminy things first. 10.00 am: I resumed my review of the BibleSound database with the intention of initiating the Nothing is Without Sound [working title] book project. The nature of which will, no doubt, reveal itself in the process of research. For certain, the text will address descriptions and functions of sound in the Bible; the visual representation of sound in biblical art; and the relevance of both to the study of the Judaeo-christian scriptures, biblical art history, sound-art history and practice, theology, biblical studies, and the conditions of the contemporary world. At the outset, four questions presented themselves: 1. Why does a book on this topic need to be written?; 2. Who would benefit from such a book, and in what ways?; 3. What will I bring to the book that no one else can?; and 4. What relevance does this work have for the world that I and its readers live in, presently?

1.30 pm: I phased the ‘Creed’ project into the afternoon’s ‘workflow’, while continuing to examine my notes on the BibleSound database and focussing my attention on question 4. A few years ago, I’d have responded to its interrogation reluctantly. Back then, the notion of relevance was inextricably bound-up with an insistence within academia that researchers anticipate the public impact of their projects — even before they were begun. Since then, I’ve learned how to separate the concepts of relevance and impact. The Penallta Colliery: Sound Pictures project had a contemporary relevance thrust upon it, as it were. COP26 had fingered fossil fuels as public enemy number one in the fight against global warming. Consequently, a suite of sound compositions dealing with coal and its history could hardly not express a position on the evils of mining.

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