Summa: diary (April 15-21, 2023)

April 15 (Saturday). Since returning from Manchester I’ve been archiving both the scans (which I’d made last week) of my early artworks and a backlog of ‘Image Diary’ material — being a chronology of photographs depicting my family, events, travels, work, and observations. 9.00 am: My Facebook account had been hacked, I was told. ‘On it!’, as they say. ‘Exorcism!’, as I say. Immediately, I changed and doubled-down on the security protocols, limited visibility, notified users, and deleted spurious responses and false ‘friends’, in the hope that this would rid me of the possessing ‘spirit’.

Our home was burgled when I was about 6 years of age. Nothing much was taken, other than a few five-pound notes from the diningroom sideboard and the contents of my money box. The police arrived, interviewed us all, and dusted for fingerprints. The perpetrators were never caught. It was the awareness of intrusion — of violated space — which my parents and I found most disturbing. People whom we didn’t know or invite had walked across our floors, touched our property, and removed what didn’t belong to them. My confidence, hitherto, in domestic security had been rattled. This was the beginning of the end of my age of innocence. Today, we may be burgled in so many other ways besides.

10.00 am: Domestic admin beckoned, followed by a shopping frolic to buy a dozen very large free-range eggs and a crusty sourdough loaf. 12.00 pm: Into the studio to prepare equipment and software in readiness for composition next week. 1.30 pm: An afternoon of filing and flushing analogue correspondence, and finalising a PhD external examiner’s report.

10.00 am – 5.00 pm.

April 17 (Monday). 7.00 am: The report needed to be finished and dispatched by lunchtime. (My deadline.) (In the background: BBC Radio 3’s Choral Evensong, followed by a selection of compositions by William Byrd.)

Over the weekend I read an online article by Marina Popova, which discussed the diary that John Steinbeck maintained while writing The Grapes of Wrath (1939). Steinbeck was riven by self-doubt, a sense of his own inadequacy in the face of the task before him, the fear of mediocrity and the evanescence of success, and an awareness of his ignorance and inability (in his own eyes). Writing was often a miserable experience for him. He sensed the passing of time and the urgency with which the project needed to be completed in the light of his own failing health. The work took a significant toll on his sense of wellbeing. Throughout the process, he suffered from acute demoralisation, and developed a love/hate relationship with what he he’d written and himself. (Creative practice reveals to us a great deal about who we are, for better and for worse.) In the end, he condemned the finished book as merely ‘run-of-the mill’, rather than his greatest work (as he’d hoped it would be). Nevertheless, the novel received the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize, contributed significantly to his nomination for the Noble Prize for Literature (which he received in 1962), and is commonly regarded as his greatest work. Even if you can’t control your vacillating and accusatory feelings, you may be able to discipline your determination. Steinbeck applied himself consistently and never gave up, even when his every instinct told him that he should.

John Steinbeck plaque, Jack Kerouac Alley, San Francisco (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

12.30 pm: Report dispatched. Back to examination and domestic admin until lunchtime. 2.00 pm: Studiology. I returned to the ‘John!’ [working title] composition and began developing ways of generating and recording feedback and white noise.

April 18 (Tuesday). 6.30 am: In the dream, I and several friends (apparently) were viewing an exhibition of artworks by someone I knew (apparently), held at the National Gallery, London. One of the artist’s small landscapes hadn’t been affixed to the wall properly. I took out a screwdriver from my jacket pocket and attempted to remedy the problem, only to make it far worse. Cut to a scene where I’m in my pyjamas and dressing-gown awaking upon the gallery floor, among hundreds of Polaroid photographs and a number of black heavy-duty tool boxes that are strewn around about me haphazardly. The unsecure painting, together with the section of wall upon which had been hung, had gone, having been crudely excised by a handheld jigsaw (apparently).

I came across the document (below) in a box of my father’s memorabilia. A copy of his birth certificate was issued when he left school, at 16 years of age. It enabled him to claim fifteen weeks of dole under the Unemployment Insurance Act. This was a benefit scheme introduced by the Conservatives in 1920, when employment was very low. A year later it soared, and cost the Treasury dearly. In 1924, the ruling Labour Party — in a bid to reduce the drain on resources — debated whether the Act should be rescinded. In the end they agreed to introduce a means test, and offer it only to those who ‘were genuinely seeking work’.

April 19 (Wednesday). Kellogg’s Cornflakes don’t taste like they used to. The recurrence of a malady has slowed me down over the past few days. I’ve been lurching from study to studio to armchair in a bid to maintain some semblance of forward momentum and distract my mind from my body. Today, I began processing recordings made using a Yamaha Pocketrak PR7 digital audio recorder. This is a device (now discontinued) that looks cheap and ‘plasticy’ and has a ponderous menu system, but its recording quality and battery life is good. Fit for purpose, in this instance.

On reviewing the contents of the device prior to their deletion, I came across a field recording which I’ve no recollection making. The date-stamp indicates a time and a day in 2021. But I’m not convinced that this is correct. I’m all at sea; or, at least, by the water’s edge. The subject matter sounds as though the capture was a draft for the ‘Sea Interlude (Still Waters)’ composition on the I. Nothing. Lack (Psalm 23) EP, released in 2018.

The file names that I give recordings of noise or abstract sounds need to be sufficiently evocative to remind me of their sonic character. Today’s include: ‘searing’, ‘rasping’, ‘brittle white noise’, and ‘hollow-high’. The captions to foreign-language films watched on TV these days include texts indicating non-verbal sounds — such as ambient noise and types of music — for the hearing impaired. Descriptors such as ‘[troubling vibrations]’, [incoherent chatter]’, ‘[disconsolate sighs]’, and ‘[threatening music]’ could serve as the starting point for sound works that are entirely independent of the source to which they’re attached, originally.

April 20 (Thursday). ‘Between two worlds’.

7.45 am.

A reckoning. I have (been retired/taken early-retirement/resigned from academic employment) since 1 August. I’m now two thirds through the first year of ‘The Life to Come’ (as I’ve called it). Several retirees I know dedicated the first year of their renaissance to doing very little other than enhance their joie de vivre. I admire that; and they’ve benefited enormously from the voluntary hiatus. It has helped them to create a buffer zone between what they were and want to become. Continuity, consolidation, and change have been the watch words during my first year. I’ve wished to maintain and improve my activities across the board of sound and visual art practice and their histories, while challenging myself to develop new and related competences through projects designed (in part) to help me realise that ambition.

My list of ‘To Dos’ (and ‘To Bes’, also) was too extensive to be realised within one year. Some of my intentions have fallen away, because they proved to be either unnecessary or unworthy as soon as I began to realise them. However, nothing new has been added to the itinerary. And all things desirable and requisite are operational, to one degree or another, presently. There are, however, approaches to work and the organisation of a day that aren’t yet efficient. Avoidable distractions are still too prevalent. And, on occasion, the shear physicality of the instrumentation with which I work gets in the way of unhindered creative engagement.

The primary ambition for the first year was to take stock, archive, and tell the story of my career (and, increasingly, of my life) to myself before I continued with the narrative. I needed to see the beginning from the end, and to put my house in order before leaving it for another. I keep the same hours of work as I did when employed. However, my time and energies are now directed towards only a few, rather than a myriad, commitments.

At 12.00 pm and 2.00 pm I held two ‘pastoral’ conversations online. 3.00 pm: I returned to process further the sound files that I’d created yesterday. Something is beginning to move.

9.00 am-5.00 pm.

April 21 (Friday). 7.00 am: The large filling in my upper, rearmost left tooth (which had been slated for removal) has finally collapsed. This was inevitable, but no less mildly alarming for that. I await a summons from the Colosseum Dental practice. Until recently, I’d assumed the name was derived from the Coliseum Theatre, situated nearby — not realizing that the two are spelled differently. Apparently, ‘Colosseum’ refers only to the Flavian Amphitheatre in Rome. Whereas ‘coliseum’ is the spelling reserved for all other uses of the title. Curiously, the former resembles my shattered tooth.

Titus Vespian, Colosseum, Rome (founded AD 70–80) (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

9.00 am: Studiology. I reviewed the sound files that were generated yesterday, and prepared to embark upon composition. The sound of microphone feedback is an elegant shape.

Whatever presuppositions I have about either how the process of assembly will proceed or what will emerge in due course must be held in an open palm. Only at the point of juxtaposition do sounds make any practical sense. I’ve more than enough components to cover the white of the canvas, as it were. I construct sound works, component by component. Nothing that’s included at the outset necessarily remains there until the end. In my head, there’s a narrative (or sorts). Often, it’s expressed as a sequence of scenes or incidents. Today, I’ve constructed as audio metaphor for the howls and distortion emitted from my television in Aberystwyth at the moment my father died in Abertillery, on March 17, 1991. It doesn’t replicate the sound that I heard, but it does summon its sudden occurence, duration, ferocity, volume, discomfort, and equally sudden cessation.

See also: Intersections (archive);  Diary (September 15, 2018 – June 30, 2021)Diary (July 16, 2014 – September 4, 2018); John Harvey (main site); Instagram.

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