Summa: diary (February 27-28, 2023)

Today, one of the greatest challenges facing us as individuals is to live in the present moment and concentrate fully and exclusively on the task set before us.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday

February 27 (Monday). One minute before midnight on Friday night, an earthquake with a magnitude of 3.7 shook the area around my home town of Abertillery. No harm done, other than to the nerves of some residents. Anything between 2.5 and 4.5 is often felt, but causes only minor damage. The earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on February 6 was 7.8 on the Richter scale and, to date, has claimed over 44,000 lives and brought down many buildings in the area.

On Saturday, I viewed Ashley Thorpe‘s film Borley Rectory: The Most Haunted House in England (2017). Thorpe is a very intelligent animator. His 75-minute film, which is made entirely in black and white, combines computer animation with real action and digital reconstructions of photographs and film of the Rectory, taken in the early 1930s. It’s painstakingly executed. Films on the theme of the paranormal often fail at the point they reveal the ghost too vividly. In that moment, the sense of its sublime enigma and evasiveness evaporates — never to be restored. Like the erotic (and unlike the pornographic) image, it’s that which is withheld — intimated, but never disclosed — rather than what is manifest, that intrigues and maintains our attention. Thorpe knows how to hold back; he understands the principle of strength in reserve.

Over dinner (and only because I was eating alone), I reunited with a film that I’d not seen since an early teenager: Peter Cook’s and Dudley Moore’s Bedazzled (1967). It’s based upon the legend of Faust, who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for unlimited pleasure and knowledge. There’s also a reference to Satan’s contest with God, in which the former is permitted test the allegiance of God’s servant Job, as narrated in the book of the eponymous protagonist. While comedic in nature, the film deals with some thorny theological issues seriously. I was reminded of two truths: first, our fantasies about the happier and more fulfilling life that we aren’t living presently never reckon upon the certainty that every version of ourselves and our circumstances will have a downside; and, secondly, you should never trust the devil.

Yesterday evening, I watched Toby Amies’s documentary celebrating the the 50th anniversary of King Crimson: In the Court of the Crimson King. Bill Reiflin, the keyboard player and one of the bands ensemble of three drummers from 2013 to 2019. died at the age 59, in March 2020. He was interviewed for the film knowing he’d terminal colon cancer and not long to live. His self-composure, absence of self pity, and stoicism in the face of the inevitable, was both admirable and heroic? Reiflin expressed an unwavering commitment to continue working to the best of his ability, until he could not. The quality of the work that he’d leave behind was of paramount importance to him. And, the proximity of death gave him a renewed sense of urgency.

8.30 am: A review of the week ahead. This weeks emphasis would be on studiology and an orientation to sound composition on the new rig. 9.25 pm: ‘I heard her call my name’, to invoke the title of the Velvet Underground song. I’ve written about this phenomenon — which I consider to be this auditory illusion, rather than an acoustic ghost — severally in my online diaries. The voice (which is identifiably that of my late mother) always calls ‘John!’ from the landing outside the bedrooms on the first floor. Usually, I hear it’s summons when I’m in my study on the second floor. Tonight, I was watching TV in the lounge on the ground floor. Again, the sound emanated from the landing above.

February 28 (Tuesday). 3.00 am: In my dream, I saw five identical gift boxes wrapped in floral paper and tied with ribbon. In my head, I asked: ‘Are these presents given to me by an angel or a devil?’ In my heart, I knew that they should be returned to the sender unopened. For no matter how desirable their contents were, they were inappropriate. In one interpretation of the dream, the five boxes represented different people who’d come into my life, one after the other. In another interpretation, they represented one person, who’d entered five times. I awoke with the vivid sensation that a woman’s smooth, warm palm was carressing the side of my face.

6.30 am: Proof of presence:

7.30 am: Writing. 9.00 am: Reading. Séan Street’s book begins in the Picton Reading Room, part of the Central Library, Liverpool. The building is modelled on the Reading Room at the British Library, London. There, I worked on my PhD and first began making recordings of a room’s sound. In 1988, I captured the conditional ‘silence’ of the Reading Room as part of the Aural Diary project. The device used was one of the first generation of small player/recorders: the Sony Walkman FM/AM Stereo Cassette-corder WM-F65. It was the equivalent of the Kodak Instamatic, and permitted the discrete capture of in-field events anywhere — albeit at what would be considered today lof-fi resolution.The recording was subsequently adapted as a component of the B-Lit-Z (2013) composition.

Capturing the acoustic character of an interior is rather like taking, what Street calls, a ‘sound photograph’ (and what I’ve elsewhere called an ‘audiograph’). Whereas the visual photograph is static and apprehensible in a moment (more or less), the audiograph is linear and apprehensible only over time. My interest, presently, is in ‘photographing’ the sonic imprint of interiors and skyscapes that no longer exist and, therefore, cannot be either seen or heard. Essentially, my approach is interpretive and reconstructive.

Séan Street, The Sound of a Room (London: Routledge, 2020) & ‘The Reading Room of the British Library, London’ (1859) engraving (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).
Interior of the Reading Room of the British Library, London (2.30 pm, December 12, 1988.)

11.30 am: Writing. 12.15 pm: studiology: crank-up.

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