Summa: diary (March 6-10, 2023)

You discover that while you’re not as bad as some people, you’re quite a bit worse than most.

Saturday, Sunday

March 6 (Monday). Over the weekend, I completed processing test files for ‘The Singing in the Air’ [working title] project, installed midi hardware to control the Ableton Live software on the main studio computer, rationalised the sound output from an iMac and a PC laptop in the study, continued my purge of the theology book collection, undertook domestics, attended a church service and, in the evenings, watched foreign films (while stuffing myself with Pepsi, Kettle crisps, M&S cheddar and brie cheeses, Cadbury’s Diary Milk chocolate, a Magnum ice-cream stick bar, and a Bastide’s saucisson baton). When I take off the dietary brakes, all hell breaks lose! This is a case in point. Naturally and fundamentally, I’m undisciplined. Were it not for the restraints of routine, self-imposed deadlines, lists of determinations, spiritual and physical exercises, and habitual auto-chastening, I’d be indolent and dissolute.

6.45 am: I opened the back gate for the scaffolders to enter and remove their metal exoskeleton from the back of the house. 7.00 am: Writing. 7.30 am: Workout Day 5. 8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Email dispatches arising from ‘a communion’. 8.45 am: The second cuppa of the morning and an orientation to secondary sources related to the book project/notional conference paper, once again. (In the background: BBC Radio 3’s Choral Evensong.) More often than not these days, I prefer to study in silence. For there’re voices in my head, besides my own, with whom I converse about the task at hand. They’re the ‘ghosts’ of former teachers, fellow academics, and friends. 12.30 pm: A review of responses to the morning’s email dispatches.

6.45 am – 9.00 pm.

1.30 pm: I gathered together the notes that had already been written on the topic of ‘My Aural Diary’, and began composing the blog. Today on my Twitter feed I alighted upon:

I suspect the image refers to the interval, following a period of enormous clamour, described in the Book of Revelation:

And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.

Revelation 8.1.

I imagine the Ukrainian artist Kazimir Malevich would have warmed to this: a formal abstraction representing the cessation of sound for a curiously defined interval of time in Eternity. Yellow (rather than a monochromatic colour) = silence. Fascinating!

March 7 (Tuesday). 8.00 am: Having made headway with the ‘My Aural Diary’ blog, I continued in the same direction for the whole day, while the scaffolders completed their jangling outside my studio window. In the background, I transferred music CDs to the music app on my iMac. Now that I’ve rebuilt this old computer from the ground up, most of the installed software operates within tolerable parameters. (It’s slow but reliable, in other words. Like me.) By the close of the afternoon, the new blog was more or less in the bag.

8.00 am-9.00 pm

March 8 (Wednesday). 7.30 am: Writing. 8.00 am: A morning ambulation. ‘The Arctic Blast‘. ‘More like January than March!’, he replied. My face and fingers were numbed by the cold. A few snow flakes, cast upon the gathering wind, punctuated a sky of inert grey (approximating to interval nine on the Chevreul achromatic scale), before turning to dust.

I walked the Promenade and castle grounds before waiting outside the pharmacist for the doors to open at 8.45 am. (Rarely promptly.) 9.30 am: Pondering. (The house is quiet once more, now that the roofers and scaffolders have gone.) 10.00 am: Studiology. I took up the test session for ‘The Singing in the Air’ [working title] project where I’d left off last week. As I waited for files to shrink from 15:43:0 to 15:00:0 minutes length (which takes a long time, paradoxically), I rifled through my old fine art teaching folders. Some of the material will support the tutorial consultation service that I intend to launch in the future. (Details will be published in due course. In the meantime, anyone who wishes to sound me out should contact johnharveyaber@gmail.com.)

Ruins of the chapel wall, Aberystwyth castle (built 1277–89).

Betwixt file processing, I learned technology appropriate to the next phase of composition. There’re folk in YouTube land who’ve not only an enviable grasp of their means but also a consummate ability to explain complex equipment, software, and the relationship between the two, straightforwardly. No disrespect to the tecky-types who put together online manuals, but seasoned practitioners are far better tutors. And they’re eminently sympathetic to the struggling learner; for such were they at onetime too. These principles also pertain to fine art instruction. Presently, the test piece is being worked-up on the studio’s main computer, using Ableton Live 11 software and the Akai APC40 controller; the ‘Creed’ [working title] composition is taking place on the DJ desk using Ableton Live 11, the Ableton Push 2 controller, and a host of external effectors. Thus, I’m making trial of two related but contrasting sound rigs.

10.00 am – 5.00 pm.

March 9 (Maundy Thursday). 6.15 am: Workout Day 6. For the first thirty seconds of my exercises, I stand still and gradually become conscious of how my skull sits on the cervical vertebrae; where my centre of gravity rests (ideally, in the lower abdomen); the orientation of my skeleton in relation to the perpendicular; and the presence of stresses in my musculature. It’s the most serene and entirely focussed period of the day: the mind’s and soul’s communion with its enclosure. The body holds onto tensions established over decades of stresses and strains, caused by relentless work, the bodies fight with itself, the cumulative effect of emotional and mental exhaustion, calamities, failures, disappointments, recklessness, and self neglect. Persuading it to relinquish those impediments requires determination, time, and charity.

6.45 am: Writing. 7.15 am: A communion. 7.45 am: Emails arising from ‘a communion’. 8.30 am: Sourcing and resourcing. 8.45 am: The day’s second beverage. 9.00 am: Studiology. The twenty-six test files played together throw-up a complex of harmonics that evoke figgity melodic lines, which seem to ebb and flow like sounds carried on the wind from a distance. I’m back in the territory of The Remnant that Remaineth (Exodus 26​.​12) (2014) and, more recently, the ‘Sound expressive of something’ track, from the Noisome Spirits album (2020). (The seeds of future work are invariably sown in the soil of past work.) The aggregate pitch of the files orbits around C-major. I pushed the files in order to emphasise their A- and E-harmonic content. Always, I asked myself the question: ‘Where is the discipline?’ In other words, there must be a delimiting set of rules by which to play the game of composition, as well as a definable set of objectives against which the outcome can be measured. Neither the rules nor the objectives are necessarily self-evident. More often than not, they’re found during the process of composition. In their absence, the work may not rise above the merely aesthetic, and remain ear-candy of a high order.

6.15 am – 1.00 pm.

March 10 (Friday). 8.30 am: Onto the streets in search of bread and eggs. My younger son and his partner are visiting this weekend. ‘Slaughter the fatted calf!’; let the larder be stocked! Our local Tesco invariably plays popular love songs from the 1970s over the ‘Tannoy’. I suspect they’re appealing to an older demographic. This was borne out by the age-range of those who, like me, shuffled up and down the aisles, bearing an expression somewhere between bemusement and anxiety. I took timeout to down a hot chocolate at a local watering hole, while considering how memory was like time travel and the past infused the present.

10.00 am: Studiology, and a review yesterday’s introduction of an E-minor harmonic leaven in order to draw out the melancholy in the sound. Today, I shifted the pitch of several tracks by between -2 and +6 semitones in order to offset the serenity of the piece (which is reminiscent of an orchestra tuning to concert pitch), and introduce an unsettling and unresolved dissonance. Presently, the composition represents several contradictions in tension: stasis in motion, and either simple complexity or complex simplicity. The files would, now, be inserted into the Ableton Live sample launcher in batches, according to their high, medium, and low frequency bands.

8.30 am- 1.00 pm.

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