Summa: diary (May 1-5, 2023)

But I won’t cry for yesterday, / There’s an ordinary world, / Somehow I have to find (Duran Duran, ‘Ordinary World’ (1993).)
I recall, being sat on a bench, before the museum, as the sun went down, hearing the sound of the city beyond the stones (John Harvey, forty-three years later).

John Harvey, standing stones, Gorsedd Gardens, Civic Centre, Cardiff (6.30 pm, May 9, 1980), pencil on paper, 11 × 7.5 cm, ‘Working Drawings’, Book 2 (1980).

May Day (Monday). 7.00 am: Over the past few days I’ve worked on the text for the new website, returned to the ‘John!’ [working title] composition, and reflected upon my theology and ecclesiology over the past twenty five years, as books on these topics are bagged-up in readiness for delivery to charity shops and secondhand bookstores. One may shed the skin of systems and frames of thought, while maintaining a core of certainty. The best theology should be malleable, adaptable, never settled (once and for all time), enabling, capable, and, to some measure, bespoke. It should grow and mutate in order to accommodate the complexities and perplexities of our life, as we move through it to the end and beyond.

Lived experience is rarely either straightforward or predictable. Contradictions, paradoxes, disappointments, hopelessness, unresolved predicaments, anxieties, repeated failures, unhealed heartaches, unbearable losses and separations, and sudden calamities, are its stock-in-trade. And theology is only a best guess at what sense is presently sensible: ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly’ (1 Corinthians 13.12).

The garden’s trees are in full blossom. A light wind scatters their petals, like pale pink snowflakes that refuse to melt.

10.00 am: As I settled to continue with ‘John!’ (which, I suspect, is now the sound work’s title), I watched my colleague Miranda Whall’s touching video threnody about her own late father, entitled After You Left. He, too, was an artist. Our loved ones depart, and yet remain in all those things they made and left behind after casting-off from this world. In contrast, the homage that I’m paying to my late father is void of consolation, darkly unsettling (in the spirit of Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP)), and without reassurance.

4.00 pm: An aside:

The Polaroid photograph was taken of me in a low light by my younger son while I was in Manchester on Easter Sunday, 2023. The flash on his camera failed to fire. The result was an almost entirely black exposure. I’ve used the glossy surface to reflect an image of my studio in Aberystwyth today, and photographed the Polaroid in situ. Like a magus’s obsidian mirror, the original photograph now reveals a reality that was elsewhere in space and time at the moment it was taken.

May 2 (Tuesday). 8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Academic administration, before I resumed work on ‘John!’ An email communication with a fellow academic on an age-old and spurious distinction between the periods for ‘research’ and ‘writing-up’ in PhD study:

The persistence of an insistence on the period of ‘writing-up’, in UK institutions, strikes me as vaguely archaic. Not least because, with the advent of word-processing software, students type-up their findings as they go. At the School of Art, we encourage PhD Fine Art and PhD Art History students to engage the process of writing from the outset, on the understanding that they cannot think deeply and precisely except through writing. We, too, supervise tutees during that period (off the radar), even though we oughtn’t (we are told) … because the student is no longer paying fees. But it’s often the time when they most need guidance and need most guidance, as they move towards the conclusion of their endeavour.

11.00 am: A long-overdue and deferred coffee and conversation with my friend, the artist Susan Forster.

The shoes, the gift, the prayer.

With ‘John!’, the trick is to trace the narrative suggested by the order of events that unfolded that night, but without illustrating it. At the end of that sequence, there’s a bridge: a press-button tone that sounds-out my home telephone number. It’s the number that my father’s neighbour’s son dialled to inform me of his death, and my father dialled to congratulate me on my 30th birthday, two years earlier.

April 3 (Wednesday). 7.30 am: Ambulation, with a view to seeking advice about weather-resistant exterior paints. Our local supplier opens at 8.00 am, for those in the ‘trade’.

8.30 am: Studiology. The first part of the morning was dedicated to constructing the sounds of a cassette-tape player being turned on, and the combined noise-floor of the device and the hiss of the tape. My mental and audio image of these sounds isn’t the same as the digital recorder captures. It can only hear, while I can also listen. In order to evoke the sound that’s in my head, the distinctive, mechanical ‘clunk’ of the ‘play’ button as it’s depressed was slowed down marginally, lowered in tone by one octave, and bathed in a mild reverberation. The sound of the device and tape were constructed from three separate recordings made from two different cassette-tape players, the outputs of which were, likewise, lowered in tone by one octave.

For the remainder of the day, I pieced together the section on EVPs. The objective was to create an ostensibly plausible rendering of a dead person’s voice that possessed many of the genre’s salient characteristics. Unlike ‘real’ EVP recordings — which can sometimes be tortuously long, and contain few audible incidents of note — the section had to be short, concise, and fruitful. I work painfully slowly. Each stone, or component of sound, must be cut from the quarry, shaped, and dressed before it can be inserted into the wall.

May 5 (Thursday). Studiology. A review of the the composition so far. The structure of the sound components in the Digital Audio Workstation software reminds me of paintings by the theorist and artist Charles Biederman.

John Harvey, ‘”John!”‘, Digital Audio Workstation environment (May 4, 2023) & Jan van de Marck, Charles Biederman: a retrospective exhibition with special emphasis on the Structurist works 1936-69, (London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1969).

I was introduced to his work in my first year of undergraduate studies. Later, I acquired the Arts Council of Great Britain catalogue of his retrospective show, held at the Hayward Gallery, London, in 1969. It was purchased at the Welsh Arts Council funded Oriel, Charles Street, Cardiff, which had a wonderful bookshop in its basement — a ‘must go to’ for art, Welsh language, and Anglo-Welsh literature enthusiasts during the the second half of the 1970s and early 1980s. The catalogue’s Forward was written by the show’s advisor: the British abstract painter Robyn Denny. Biederman was virtually unknown in the United Kingdom and had a very small following in the USA, where he lived. Denny explained:

The reasons for Biederman’s neglect are manifold. To some extent he is a victim of his own singular dedication which is unyielding in its declaration for a precise historical and moral posture of the artist.

Obscurity may be the necessary condition of the artist’s commitment to their inner directive and convictions. I’ve a great admiration for those who work and remain on the margins. Maintaining one’s practice in the absence of an audience requires enormous self-belief and self-determination.

By early afternoon, I’d concluded the composition. My father closed his telephone calls to me in his customary manner, saying: ‘Well I can’t think of any more’. This is the final statement heard in ‘John!’ and, chimed with my own feelings about the piece. In the evening, I read again sections from Ann R. Winsper’s, ‘Interpreting Electronic Voice Phenomena: The role of auditory perception, paranormal belief and individual differences’ (PhD, University of Central Lancashire, 2020). In the realms of pseudo-science, delusionalism, misperception, and misattribution, one must not only consult enthusiastic populist publications but also disinterested academic theorising.

John Harvey, My father (aged 40 years old), Abertillery (June 3, 1968).

May 5 (Friday). 8.00 am: I’ll let ‘John!’ settle for a few weeks before reviewing the composition. Today (which would be punctuated by appointments), I re-engaged with the Nothing is Without Sound project. It had been on the periphery of my attention for too long. Next week, ‘Creed’ [working title] would occupy the centre of vision. 10.00 am: Mop mow.

11.00 am: The question is: What kind of book am I writing? It has to be the book that I want to write. (That’s my ground zero.) The book should cover as many bases as possible within the field of the enquiry. I’ve no shortage of material and ideas. But can they be marshalled coherently? This book must draw closer to my practice than any previous ones that I’ve written. At some point, I’ll start writing in earnest, and trust that the whole will find its own shape and identity. Presently, I’m travelling across unchartered territory with neither a map nor sense of due-north.

2.15 pm: A weary-wary walk to the dentists to confront the inevitable. My recently collapsed tooth — which had showed signs of infection in prior x-rays — had to be removed. It took a good 20 minutes to loosen it. At the base was a sizeable but intact abscess. The removal of which may relieve some of the discomfort that I’ve experienced just above the ex-tooth in the Eustachian tube leading to my left ear drum.Which, in turn, would validate my theory (shared with both my dentists and Ear, Nose, and Throat clinician) that my symptoms were the effect of a compound cause. We’ll see.

When I was young, the dentist handed child patients a sugary lollipop when they left the surgery. I guess that’s how they got them to return, again and again and again. Looking through family photographs taken in the 1920s and 1930s, I was struck by how many of those men who’d smiled at the camera had blackened and missing teeth. Eating too many sweet things, while not observing oral hygiene, blighted the mouths of the working class. By the time they were in their 40s, many men — my father, grandfathers, and uncles included — had a full set of dentures.

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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