Summa: diary (July 1-7, 2023)

Remember this! (May 13, 2023).

July 1 (Saturday). 12.30 pm: A long-awaited visit from Andrew Chilton, he’s the non-identical twin brother of the late Stephen Chilton. Stephen was a former School of Art undergraduate and postgraduate student, and remains a friend of mine — albeit, now, in another place. Andrew brought two pairs of his brother’s paintings. One pair will enter the School’s collection and the other will hang on the walls of our house. We had an enriching conversation over lunch, talking about Andrew’s life in New Zealand and our respective memories of Stephen. When Andrew smiled, laughed, and spoke with that winning scourse accent, I felt as though his brother had returned to us, momentarily.

July 3 (Monday). It had been a weekend of determinations and resolutions regarding habits and attitudes of body, mind, heart, and soul. Principles: distractions and disruptions engender a diffusion of thought and action; the more I feed a craving the hungrier it becomes; ‘I beat my body and bring it into submission’ (1 Corinthians 9.27); a discipline is developed progressively, over time, and by repetition (chiefly); practise makes possible.

7.00 am: Awake. 7.30 am: Writing. 8.00 am: A communion. The wind moaned as it passed through the gap in the partially open Velux window. 8.30 am: Admin, a call to the GP surgery to arrange an appointment (‘Your position in the queue is: 8.’), and a review of the week ahead.

9.00 am: Studiology. One of the tasks for this week is to undertake a first-pass mix of the earliest tracks. The process requires a a very different mind set to composition. The objective is to achieve a balance of the parts, so as to enhance the coherence of the whole. 10.45 am: A replacement filling. (It would be far cheaper to have teeth extracted, as and when they fail.) Hanging on the Waiting Room wall is a print of a Matisse cut-out, from the early 1950s. I’ve admired, but never warmed to, this period in his work. The collages possess a lightness and playful exuberance that’s foreign to my temperament.

4.00 pm: Late afternoon, I took-off the ‘cans’ and listened to examples of solo-guitar improvisation from Japan.

July 4 (Tuesday). 7.30 am: Walkabout.

9.00 am: Studiology. ‘Cans’ on. A first-pass mix of ‘Achtung’ [German: ‘danger’]. The title refers to the only comprehensible word in the piece. Or, rather, to two sequential syllables that sound like ‘achtung’. In the culture of Electronic Voice Phenomenon (which the composition addresses) Audients often misinterpret sounds as words in a desperate attempt to secure meaning within the morass of abstract noise.

11.00 am: It’s not expedient to spend too long on any one mix at this stage. Preferably, the experience gained through recalibrating one composition will influence my adjustment of the others. On, then, to ‘Ethnoplasm’. This composition comprises ethnographic field recordings — variously captured on wax cylinder, 78-rpm shellac disc, and magnetic-tape — of trance speech, shamanistic incantation, drumming, and rattling, drawn from Africa, India, South-East Asia, and South America. A heady combination.

1.30 pm: I re-listened to several of the more plaintive compositions before confronting the set of electrical guitar solos that I’d laid down last week. Still, I’ve no idea what to do with them. Possibly, they’ll form a streamed adjunct to the principal Aural Bible VII CD/streamed release. I do know that the sonorities of an electric guitar don’t fit those of the compositions (as I presently understand them): which are decidedly acoustic in nature.

July 5 (Wednesday). 6.30 am: Awoke. The temperature has dropped significantly. An anticipation of Autumn.

9.00 am: Studiology. I reviewed several of the solos and, then, undertook a first-pass mix of ‘How to Be Saved (If You Are Not)’. 12.00 pm: A jaunt to the National Library of Wales for an over-coffee discussion with Dr Dafydd Roberts about our respective current sound projects. He’s one of only a few friends with whom I can talk about equipment without sounding like a tiresome geek.

2.00 pm: I pressed on with first-pass mix of two other tracks. The sum of many small incremental changes may be one huge improvement. At the close of the afternoon, the singular and linear guitar solos provided a welcome contrast to the atomised character of the other compositions.

A question that I’ve discussed with several of my contemporaries in art over the years: When is an enterprise pointless? When its:

  • needless. You’ve done it before, and better;
  • senseless. No good thing will come it;
  • worthless. It lacks either ambition, or originality, or integrity;
  • unrealistic. It would require an investment of either time, or energy, or resources that you don’t possess presently;
  • aimless. It lacks direction and a destination;
  • hopeless. It requires either skill, or knowledge, or experience, or a disposition that you don’t possess presently;
  • inappropriate. It would be better undertaken by someone else;
  • unfulfilling. It doesn’t engage your heart and mind;
  • unhealthy. I may prove to be either deleterious to your physical or mental wellbeing, or a cause of endless grief.

There’re times when we feel that an enterprise is pointless. Subjective and unreliable impressions usually arise when we’re either exhausted by the effort or discouraged by our lack of achievement and want of feedback. Which is why having something approaching an objective criteria is so important. ‘All art is quite useless’, wrote Oscar Wilde in his Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). However, our lives (as artists and audience) would be impoverished immeasurably without it.

July 6 (Thursday). 8.00 am: Writing. 8.30 am: Studiology. A review of yesterday’s achievements. 10.00 am: A brief exchange with a university colleague. He wrote: ‘I always admire your distillation of process and … clean-line approach’ to sound composition. I replied:

My present approach to sound art is an application of an earlier approach to visual-art practice, which I was taught as an undergraduate student. I was fortunate to come under the tutelage of several systems and constructivist artists. They introduced me to the notion that art could be a rational practice: one that proceeded from a definite idea that, in turn, determined the process of the execution that, in turn, directed the trajectory that, in turn, decided the outcome, of the work. You, by contrast, are a discursive type, and arrive at a solution by, necessarily, beating around the bush. (In other words: Whatever works for you!)

Facebook Messenger (10.07 am, July 6, 2023).

11.20 am: Several low-flying jet aircraft passed over the house, making a ‘helluva-din’, while birds pecked loudly on the roof of my dorm window and rain fell hard upon the Velux. (Sigh!) ‘When you pick up the guitar, John, do so as an artist rather than as a musician’, the voice whispered encouragingly. Sound advice. There’s a track on Nico’s Chelsea Girl (1967) (which references Andy Warhol’s film of almost the same name) entitled ‘It was a Pleasure Then’. It features two other members of The Velvet Underground: John Cale (on viola) and Lou Reed (on guitar), who both co-wrote the composition. Unlike Cale, Reed was not a trained virtuoso. Nevertheless, here, he plays the guitar within the bounds of his limitations with extraordinary imagination and terrifying potency — as might an artist who’d picked up the instrument for the first time. I continue to learn from it.

Throughout the afternoon I manufactured samples for the ‘Always the Same Guitar’ composition. It’s informed by accounts of self-playing acoustic guitars (and other instruments) at seances in the second-half of the twentieth century. The composition also includes an accordion. One witness recalled hearing and seeing accordion at a seance held by Daniel Dunglas Home: ‘On any particular air being called for it is played, sometimes beautifully, sometimes in a very fitful uneven manner’. Thus fitfulness and unevenness would characterise the instrumentation of my piece.

July 7 (Friday). 7.00 am: A fitful night. I pine for my youth, when I could sleep continually from bedtime to breakfast. 8.00 am: Admin. 9.00 am: Studiology. I’d restrung the Wechter acoustic guitar in preparation for the morning’s recording session. 10.15 am: A trip to the School of Art to deliver the pair of Stephen Chilton paintings that his family has bequeathed to the collections. I heard voices in conversation reverberate beyond the staircase, but saw no one.

10.30 am: Acoustics. In search of a ‘fitful uneven’ sound. ‘Always the Same Guitar’ is, it turns out, is a duet for accordion and guitar. Who’d have guessed? A composition will determine its own instrumentation, structure, and content, once it has gathered momentum. In the background of my activities, I’ve heard of, and from, those who’ve either had to or are about to pass through deep waters. So often, calamity, loss, sickness, pain, shame, and desolation enter our lives suddenly, uninvited, and unannounced.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed