Summa: diary (August 5-11, 2023)

To call myself a musician would give rise to expectations that I cannot presently fulfil.

August 5 (Saturday). 7.15 am: A downpour on my ambulatory ambitions. Proof of presence (then and now):

Mark Williams, farewell caricature on my graduation, Faculty of Art & Design, Gwent College of Higher Education, Newport, Monmouthshire (June 1981) & ‘normal’ photograph (7.25 am).

August 6 (Feast of the Transfiguration). 3.30 pm: We took my younger son and his partner to see the kite-feeding session at Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre, near Aberystwyth.

August 7 (Monday). 7.30 am: Writing. 8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Studiology. Over the weekend, my reservations about ‘The Portrait of Daniel Dunglas Home’ had strengthened. It oughtn’t to be included on the album. The composition possesses two irredeemable weaknesses: first, the manifestation of the concept and process isn’t sufficiently allied to the character and claims of the person portrayed in the photograph; secondly, it doesn’t advance my earlier engagements the data-bending process. As a consequence, I consigned the track to my Studium site — being:

an aural depository comprising samples, exercises, illustrations, drafts of, studies for, residues from, and isolated components related to past and current sound-art projects.

After lunch, I returned to ‘Angel in the Clouds’ — the composition based upon Harry Grindell Matthews and some of his inventions. In particular, I intend to concentrate on his powerful portable projector (which enabled him to cast an image of an angel onto a cloud), invisible ‘death ray’ (which, he claimed, ‘can destroy an army, paralyse a fleet and rule the air’), and the ‘Luminaphone’ (a three-octave photo-electric device for creating pitched tones).

I’m drawn to artists who worked in the margins of their field and had a very small audience, or were undiscovered in their lifetime, or preferred not to be discovered, or were found only to be lost again. Connie Converse was such a one. Her story (or what’s legible) offers some salient lessons: she archived and annotated her work so that it could, one day, come to light; quality is no guarantor of recognition; success and praise aren’t what every artist aims for (There’re other motivations to persevere.); the artist’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing are an intrinsic part of not only their work but also the trajectory of their career.

August 8 (Tuesday). 8.00 am: I continued yesterday’s format revisions of the Diary (September 15, 2018 – June 30, 2021). Software updates had enabled large-size images to leak into the page margins. 9.00 am: I’ve begun reading Daniel Dunglas Home’s autobiography (the first of many), Incidents in My Life (1873). Today, I thumbed my way through the text searching for descriptions of self-playing accordions. My intention is to record a reading of these passages with a view of incorporating a modified version of the same into one of the compositions. There’re so still much sonic potential in the witness testimonies about Home’s automatic instruments.

11.00 am: Needing to rest my ears and mind from composition, and taking my tune from Connie Converse’s example, I turned to an unreleased EP of music and sound compositions called ‘Sacred Songs & Solos: Combined’. (The title is derived from Dwight Moody’s and Ira Sankey’s evangelical hymnal, first published in 1870.) The works comprise two religious duets for guitar and vocals and the remainder, compositions and improvisations for solo guitar and synthesiser. They were conceived between 1976 and 1977, when I was a spotty and greasy 17 year old with enormous spectacles (as was the fashion of the day). Today, I made minor adjustments to the tracks’ volume and stereo field. The original recordings were made on either a cassette-tape recorder, using a rudimentary microphone, and a reel-to-reel tape recorder using direct-input injection. The album is likely to remain a private affair.

After lunch, I added my — now discomposed, rearranged, indecipherable — reading of the Home texts to the ‘Crookes Cage’ composition. I’ll let it sit for a few days before making a judgement. Then, it was back to ”O, Thou Disembodied Spirits’.

9.00 pm: The natural world presented a phenomenon that was entirely new to me: a light pillar. It’s a vertical halo produced by light reflecting off thousands of ice crystals in the atmosphere. I recalled searchlights used in World War II to track enemy bombers, the pillar of fire that went before the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 13), and Matthews’ sky projector.

Light pillar, Aberystwyth (courtesy of Jacqueline Harvey) & Paul Hardy, ‘The Pillar of Fire’, steel-plate engraving, The Art Bible (1896) (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

August 8 (Wednesday). 8.00 am: Writing. 9.00 am: Studiology and a review of yesterday’s undertakings. The new additions and modifications were taking root: they sounded as though they belonged, now. Adjustments continued. ‘Every little bit helps’, as they say. On, then, with ‘How to Be Saved (If You are Not)’. Clarifications.

11.00 am: At the Arts Centre for a coffee, conversation, and gallery tour with the artist (and Centre employee) Saoirse Morgan. Angharad Pearce JonesIMPACTArdrawiad struck me as a disciplined, well-conceived, coherent, and discomforting show made of steel. Metaphors without semantic fixity. (Meaning is sometimes better felt than known.) Was this a place for interrogating refugee and asylum seekers — the UK’s so-called ‘hostile environment’, made manifest?

Angharad Pearce Jones, CCTV image from installation at IMPACTArdrawiad, Aberystwyth Arts Centre.

12.00 pm: Back at the studio, I took up where I left off. For the remainder of the afternoon, I reviewed, teased, rectified, and better- integrated myriad parts, so that they sat more comfortably within the overall mix. Betterment was achieved. Much of the sound material that I use in my work is limited in quality: with a narrow frequency range, significant compression, and low resolution. Eking out sounds that are comprehensible, listenable, and imbued with sonorities that they don’t possess at source, has been one of the greatest challenges of composition.

August 10 (Thursday). 5.00 am: While lying still in bed, knowing that I’d never return to sleep, I considered the concept of the archive. I’ve done so before, on a number of occasions. Today, however, it presented itself with particular force and clarity. Ever since my Foundation Course in 1977, I’ve kept an index and a photographic record of my visual artworks. Not because I assume the work to be of significance to anyone other than myself but, rather, to map my development and account for my labours. Self-curation is a powerful instinct in me. These days, the impetus, also, is to ensure that the visual, sonic, and textual work will endure when I no longer can. Thus, the archive is evidence that I once lived in this world.

Slide transparencies of visual artwork (1977-99) & Index of Work (1977-83).

6.30 am: Writing. 9.00 am: Studiology. A review of yesterday’s tinkering before taking-up ‘The Singing in the Air: Cherubim Hymn’ once again. The sound file was played through a variety of spacial-reverberation algorithms in mono and stereo. Next, ‘The Singing in the Air: הָלַל’ was pressed through the same mangle, with the addition of ‘voices’ above and below the source pitch. 1.30 pm: Several of the modified versions were synchronised with, and overlaid upon, the source file. The result was a form of ecstatic utterance: Babel and Pentecost in a single breath.

Last year, I made a set of four photomontages of a counterfactual landscape that combined elements of West Kennet Long Barrow, Avebury and Aberystwyth. They conflated my memory and the mood of the former (a year earlier) with present-day weather conditions experienced at the latter. Neither place looks like its representation. The hills and rocks are macro-photographs of a piece of flint from the area surrounding the Long Barrow. It struck me, only recently, that the manner in which the images were put together, and the process of transformation by which one thing becomes something else entirely, were a visual equivalent for the ways in which I collage and construct sound compositions. Similarly, my sonic ‘landscapes’ are — in my mind’s-ear — conceived in black and white.

John Harvey, Unsettled I & II (2022) photomontage, Aberystwyth/West Kennet Long Barrow, Avebury, England (July 28, 2021).
John Harvey, Unsettled III & IV (2022) photomontage, Aberystwyth/West Kennet Long Barrow, Avebury, England (July 28, 2021).
Flint fragment taken from West Kennet Long Barrow, Avebury, England.

August 11 (Friday). 8.00 am: Studiology. One composition remains to be begun and another, completed. Today I began a review of the second-phase pass over the current seventeen track-mixes for the album and the Medial Music Practice EP. The field of the subject has been covered, not comprehensively (that would be unnecessary and unwieldy) but sufficiently. My instincts are already moving towards the next project.

1.15 pm: In the meantime, I pressed on with ‘Angel Clothed With Cloud’. 1.30 pm: On the wind, I heard: in the far distance, the toot of the Rhiedol Railway steam train as it prepared to leave for Devil’s Bridge; in the middle distance, the phased approach of cars entering the town via Llanbadarn Road, the grizzled burr of motorbikes and scooters burning a path towards the south-east, and the intermittent clack of a hammer, as workman returned from lunch to continue building a neighbour’s’ extension; close-by, the wind flapping the studio’s Velux window’s blind (like a sail), and crow call; and, within me, a low-level swoosh of white noise and high-frequency sine wave — the hallmarks of tinnitus — through which I hear everything.

The angel’s lost wings.

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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