Summa: diary (May 6-12, 2023)

‘God Save the Queen’ (Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols, 1977.)

May 6 (Saturday): Coronation.

A neighbourhood party to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, on Tuesday, June 2, 1953. My maternal great-grandfather, Grampa Rees (at the right of centre) and great-grandmother, Grandma Rees (to the right of him), sit regally, enjoying the day, in what appears to be a classroom, in Blaina, Monmouthshire. The venue may have been in lieu of a street gathering; the weather in South Wales that morning was overcast, with rain becoming more persistent and heavier as it progressed.

Save for Grampa, there’s a conspicuous absence of adult males in the photograph. Making cakes and tea, laying tables, and serving on them, were considered ‘women’s work’ in those days. To be fair, this was a domain that women had marked-out for themselves, and from which men (who rarely possessed the requisite competences) were excluded. Very likely, the men were all ‘down the pub’ by the time this photograph was taken. 10.00 am: A day immersed in website design.

May 7 (Sunday). In Eden.

May 8 (Monday). Some ideas present themselves with a ‘best before’ date. Once this has expired, the sense of imperative diminishes, and it becomes increasingly difficult to realise their potential with sufficient conviction and enthusiasm. ‘Creed’ [working title] is drifting into this category. Which is why the project has been prioritised this week. I’m also conscious that either the sound-source material garnered for ‘John!’ or the idea of EVPs in general, may have one further application. ‘Creed’ was conceived as a basis for learning the Ableton Live 11 software, originally. Therefore, uncharacteristically of my work, it doesn’t yet proceed from a concept or systemic process. The sound recording has always been in search of a structure and strategy for transformation.

In the collection of the Museum of Russian Icons, there’s a late-nineteenth century artefact referred to as ‘The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed’. In essence, the central image is a 4 × 4 square grid comprising sixteen scenes illustrative of: creedal statement; the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ; the First Council of Nicaea; and significant festivals in the Christian calendar. The grid motifs and narratives supply an interpretative framework that help define and delimit my field of action. I suspect that my mind may not have gravitated towards icons had I not been reminded of an earlier preoccupation while reviewing my undergraduate drawing books. (Again: ‘Preserve and review your earlier studies’.)

John Harvey, 8 × 13 grid for ‘Creed’ (2023); John Harvey, drawings of Russian Orthodox icons, 21 × 17 cm, ‘Working Drawings’, Book 1 (1980) & 4 × 4 grid for ‘The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed’ (c. 1890).

May 9 (Tuesday). The ‘Creed’ grid comprises 13 lines, each of 8 words. The icon is made up of thirteen themes spread over sixteen scenes. (Scenes 13-16 are dedicated to the last four lines of the creed.) Each line of the ‘Creed’ grid is assigned to one of the icon’s themes. Each theme will be articulated using each line’s octave of words. For example, in line 13 these are: ‘acknowledge’, ‘baptism’, ‘remission’, ‘sins’, ‘look’, ‘resurrection’, ‘world’, and ‘amen’.

The upper section of the first scene depicts God enthroned in heaven encircled by an orb (as are the angels who attend him), in the act of creating heaven and earth. In the lower section, he has descended to earth and is shown standing before a mound of vegetation (representing the seed-bearing plants and trees created on the third day) causing Adam to fall into a deep sleep, so that his flesh can be opened and a rib (that’ll become Eve) removed. In the bottom-right hand corner of the image, overlooking the couple, are representatives of the animals that Adam has named. Above them is the yawning maw of a dark cave. At its entrance, a monochromatic dragon-like serpent snarls malevolently. Black flowers despoil the Garden of Eden, in anticipation the blighted earth of thorns and thistles which would ensue the Fall.

Sixteen scenes from the ‘The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed’ (c.1890) egg tempera on wood, 35.5 × 32 × 5.7 cm (courtesy of the Museum of Russian Icons, USA.)

In the Russian Orthodox tradition, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is a prayer sung by the congregation. In its iconic form, the creed is a silent object of contemplation and veneration. My ‘Creed’ [working title] must steer a path between sound and silence, text and image, speaking and seeing.

May 10 (Wednesday). 8.30 am: Studiology. The DJ-desk rig required some additional modulators and a minor rethink. There’re times when the equipment (or instrumentation or materials) hampers creative action. It may be either unwieldy or a distraction. Ideally, the means should be an extension of one’s body, a facilitator of ideas, as well as a site of invention itself.

10.30 am: I took time out with a mug of tea to watch the artist Sarah Poland’s video introduction to her new solo exhibition, entitled Silence: The Metaphor and the Messenger. I was particularly struck by her comment:

When I’m in the process of making a body of work, I write. And writing becomes a part of the process.

The same is true for me. Writing is my tutor, my confidante, a friend to whom I turn when at my wit’s-end, a guide, an Interpreter’s House, and a mirror.

This is the delimiting objective: 16 sound compositions; small (like the icon’s scenes) that’s to say, short; and all the same size (like the icon’s scenes) or duration. For each composition, the image of one of the icon’s scenes will be present before me as a focus for contemplation, direction, and exposition. The lines of the Nicene Creed are part of my memory’s fabric. Line 1/piece 1 (words 1-8):

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.

1.30 pm: An ambulation. 2.15 pm: I commenced the first piece — beginning with the word: ‘God’. For, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ (John 1.1).

May 11 (Thursday). 9.00 am: Studiology. For me, the journey to composition is along the road of improvisation. I embark by exploring the interaction of the sound source with technology, while recording the output. Thereafter, I winnow the capture and extract what might be useful or adapted to the conceptual identity of the piece. Thus, improvisation is a mode of slow composition towards a definite end.

‘God’ now sounds like on-coming thunder; like the distant dull thud of heavy mortar bursting in a war zone.

2.00 pm: A side-ways shift back to ideas suggested by EVPs (as I’d predicted on Monday), but with an instrumental approach. Yesterday evening, I came across Aura Satz’s paper ‘Music of Its Own Accord’, in the ‘Improvision’ edition of Leonardo Music Journal (The MIT Press, vol. 20, 2010). It deals with a phenomenon that I’d encountered when undertaking research on spirit photography, in 2005-6. At spiritualist seances in the nineteenth century, some mediums claimed to materialise musical instruments — such as a guitar and violin — that would levitate and play unaided by a living operative. The eminent scientist William Crookes observed the Scottish physical medium Daniel Dunglas Home summon a disincarnate spirit to play an accordion, while held inside an electrically-charged copper cage. (The electricity was intended to disrupt Home’s psychic ability. However, in Crookes’s opinion, it appeared only to enhance it.) Unlike the EVP, this is a mode of putatively evidential spirit sound that’s musical, acoustic, and performative. An idea is beginning to ferment.

Illustration of Daniel Dunglas Home performing for William Crookes, from Nouvelles Expériences sur la Force Psychique (1878) (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

May 12 (Friday). 7.00 am: An ambulation before breakfast. 9.00 am: Studiology. A battle with sound software passwords. One day, our digital lives will sink beneath the weight of security protocols. 10.30 am: Back to the first piece from ‘Creed’ and the creation of heaven and earth, on the day that astronomers announced the detection of the ‘largest cosmic explosion ever seen‘. ‘One’.

The modified rig is ergonomically efficient, reliably consistent (in a studio setting), extremely broad in terms of its sonic palette, and controllable. In operation, it feels like single instrument made up of many interrelated parts. But this is not a set-up suitable for performance. It’s too complex, multipart, and bulky; and there are too many things that could (and would) go wrong with it. Live delivery would be a rather fraught affair.

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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