Summa: diary (June 24-30, 2023)

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand. And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? (Matthew 12.25-26).

June 24 (Feast of St John). Well! What a to-do.

I imagined Prigozhin remonstrating with Putin, like some villain with the protagonist in a superhero film, yelling: ‘You made me like this!’ I imagined the Wagner mercenary group playing ‘Die Walküre’ [Ride of the Valkyries] on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, Apocalypse Now style, as they drove along the M4 towards Moscow. (But was all this just theatre, in the end?) I follow world events on Twitter and website news feeds from the BBC, Al Jazerra, Reuters, and Channel 4. It’s a way of cross-checking for bias and exploring alternative perspectives. No guarantor that the truth will be established, of course. But it’s as good a means as any of filtering-out misleading ‘facts’.

Today I reviewed my Twitter presence. The task, along with an interrogation of all my social-media activities, had been slated as objective no. 7 on my ‘The Life to Come’ itinerary. Twitter is, for me at least, by far the best platform for professional exposure and networking. Presently, I’m not investing either sufficient time or strategic intelligence to enable the site to work in my favour.

June 26 (Monday). 6.30 am: Awake. 7.00 am: Admin, and a review of the week ahead. 7.30 am: A communion. 8.00 am: Writing. 9.30 am: Studiology. A review of last week’s sound compositions. To ‘How to Be Saved (And Not Know it)’ I added a sample (taken from a recording from the Aural Diary archives) of a drumming band that I’d heard during the Columbus Day Parade on 5th Avenue, New York, in 2003. The drumming provided a necessary forward movement and a cohesive element. I’ve not deployed a found-sound drum sample since composing ‘Preach to the Beat‘, on the Bible in Translation (2016) album.

1.30 pm: The artist Saoirse Morgan kindly loaned me one of her melodeons. This will be included on several compositions, as one of the two types of instrument (the other being an acoustic guitar) ‘played’ by disincarnate spirits at 19th-century musical seances.

The instrument has a human quality. The bellows are the lungs; the melodeon breathes as its expands and contracts. It took time to master its not inconsiderable volume and, with that, the undertones and overtones of individual and pairs of notes. In my mind’s ear, I heard Pauline Oliveros’, Stuart Dempster’s, and Panaiotis’ Deep Listening (1989).

June 27 (Tuesday). 6.15 am: Wake. 6.45 am: Exercises. 7.15 am: Writing. 7.45 am: A communion. It was overcast. Occasionally, rain clicked and sputtered — like a sparking electrical socket — on the study’s Velux window. ‘How will you enter this day, John?’, asked the voice in my head. (But whose voice is it?) My response always begins in the body, acknowledging its deficits and decline; anticipating the possibility of tensions, miscommunications, and oversights on my part; hoping that today will be like no other; looking for a step forward (if only in understanding); trusting my instinct and that the endeavour is still worthwhile; desiring to keep faith with myself, my obligations, and my determinations; wishing to talk with someone wiser; working to think new thoughts; needing to be bolder and bold-over.

9.00 am: Studiology. A review of yesterday’s efforts. The melodean-based piece I’d drafted reminded me of Christopher Hobbs’ McCrimmon Will Never Return‘ (1971-2). It was included among tracks comprising the second release on Brian Eno’s Obscure Records label, in 1975. The album was enormously influential on my development as an artist. It introduced me to system-generated composition, simple and transparent ideas, and ways in which found-sound and text could be allied to, and inform, artistic structure. The system underlying ‘McCrimmon’, Hobbs explained in the liner notes:

stems from a temporary interest in Piobaireachd (Pibroch), the most highly developed form of Scottish bagpipe music. The melody of the title has several variants, which are played simultaneously on 4 reed organs. The tempo is sufficiently slow that the characteristic skirls or flourishes in the music become audible as individual notes.

Christopher Hobbs in Ensemble Pieces (London: Obscure Records, 1975).

I used to compose on a Bontempi reed organ in the early 1970s, before I gravitated to guitar. For this reason, principally, I connected with Hobbs’ composition immediately. My own Argyleshire Gathering (2013) EP is based upon piobaireachd too. I heard this form played at the Oban Highland Games.

My morning and afternoon were focussed upon further developing the medoleon-based compositions.

June 28 (Wednesday). 9.00 am Studiology. Today is the 63rd anniversary of the colliery disaster at Six Bells, Abertillery (where I was brought up). An explosion of carbon monoxide gas killed 45 coalminers. On the 25th anniversary of the tragedy, the miner-artist John ‘Chopper’ Davies’ was at home in Nantyglo, Monmouth, drawing the underground workings from memory, at precisely the time …

John Harvey, Miner-Artists: The Art of Welsh Coalminers (Aberystwyth: National Library of Wales, 2000) 25.
John ‘Chopper’ Davies, Untitled (1985) wax crayon on paper, 18.2 × 23.5 cm & detail.

11.00 am: An Arts Centre conversazione with Dr Christopher Webster. We’d not talked like this for many years. He’s the one person with whom I can discuss religion, the paranormal, and art, and know that I’m fully understood.

The day was otherwise occupied processing yesterday’s recordings and extracts of melodeon playing in preparation for a composition about Daniel Douglas Home’s self-playing accordion. There’s witness testimony to the investigations of his mediumship. It provides a helpful guide to discerning the compositions’ characteristics:

We heard distinct and separate notes sounded in succession, and then a simple air was played. As such a result could only have been produced by the various keys of the instrument being acted upon in harmonious succession.

June 29 (Thursday). 7.00 am: Morning glory.

9.00 am: Studiology. Today was focussed on the melodeon-based compositions: two version of ‘Spiritual Airs of a Strange and Fantastic Character’; and another, entitled ‘Crookes Cage’. The former’s title is derived from an account given by someone who’d witnessed Daniel Dunglas Home’s ‘automatic’ accordion. The latter’s title describes the electrified cage or screen that the scientist William Crookes placed around Home’s accordion in an experiment designed to prevent the instrument from being influenced by an external electrical current. (A poor-man’s Faraday cage, if you will.)

I sent a draft of the first version of ‘Spiritual Airs’ to the person who’d loaned me the melodeon. For many years, I’ve been blessed with a handful of folk, whose judgement I respect, willing and able to audit my sound work-in-progress and offer a tactful and an informed response. She described the piece as follows:

It’s the sound of the wind over the reeds, especially when [the recording of the accordion being played] has been slowed down so much. You can hear the quavering, shimmering oscillation of those reeds.

Uncharacteristically I, on reading the comment, visualised wind moving reeds growing by a river bank. In one sense, the ‘wind’s’ breath — flowing across and vibrating the accordions’ reeds — is the instrument’s ‘spirit’: ‘and thou hearest the sound thereof’ (John 3.8).

Late afternoon, I returned to the solo guitar project. While I’m not yet entirely persuaded by its merits, the output maintains my attention sufficiently to suggest that the journey is worth taking.

June 30 (Friday). 8.30 am: Studiology. A review of yesterday’s ‘droppings’ (to which the constructivist Malcolm Hughes compared artists’ endless expulsion of outputs). One sound sample needed its volume sculpted. Only small adjustments were necessary, but they took an inordinate length of time to finalise. 12.30 pm: Four hours later, the task was finished to the best of my abilities (for now, at least). I returned to ‘Crookes Cage’ until lunchtime.

1.30 pm: For the first time since the project began, I listed the compositions that had been either conceived, or begun, or were in the process of being completed. I suspect that ‘Creed’ [working title] may be either a project in its own right or part of a release centred on the Bible and its articulations.

In the course of my background research today, I came across a group of paintings entitled ‘Spirit of the Vale of Neath’ (1816), by the English topographical artist Thomas Hornor. They were new to me. He’d painted the early industrial landscape of South Wales around this time. His watercolour entitled ‘Rolling Mills’ (1819) is the most well known. I know nothing about the former artworks. But I’m hooked.

At this juncture in the compositional process, I want to return to, and reacquaint myself with, the earliest pieces in order to move them one step further towards a final mixdown.

To the memory of my mother (died: June 30, 1987).

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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