Summa: diary (August 12-17, 2023)

When was the last time you were content, fulfilled, joyful, happy, healthy, peaceful, certain, optimistic, confident, committed, hopeful, strong, ambitious, alive, loved, in love, known, and yourself?

August 12 (Saturday). 8.00 am: Ambulology:

There’re voices on my social media platforms who’ve, since the period of the pandemic, felt in need of an idea that’s bigger than themselves, along with a clearer sense of purpose and a broader context for their operations. At the same time, they confess to being tired of themselves — their ideas and opinions. Moreover, that sense of isolation and loneliness they’d experienced during the lockdowns hasn’t quite been shaken off. We have each been changed during the last few years, but in ways that aren’t all good. In addition, an awareness of the acceleration and devastation of climate change, war on Europe (with the threat of a potential world war in the wings), the appalling treatment and fate of migrants, the consequences of a inept and corrupt government, and the spiralling cost of living, has further unsettled our equipoise. ‘When will I ever stop feeling this madness?’, one ‘X’-man/woman posted in desperation. In these uncertain times, hope for better days is like the lyre’s one string in G. F. Watts’ painting on that theme.

9.30 am: Studiology. I revised yesterday’s work on ‘Angel Clothed With Clouds’ and explored a 78-rpm public-access recording of a song entitled ‘Angels Guard Thee’, sung in Russian at St Petersburg — a year after the Revolution began — by Maria Michailova (1864-1943), who was a polish opera singer. Harry Grindell Matthews’ wife was also a Polish opera singer. Alas, none of her recordings are available on online collections. ‘Angels Guard Thee’ is, thus, a token approximation for his wife’s endeavours and the considerable impetus she gave to Matthews’ career — should samples of the recording be included in the composition.

G. F. Watts and assistants, Hope (1886) oil on canvas, 14.22 × 11.18 cm (London, Tate Britain) (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) & Benjamin Goddard, ‘Angels Guard Thee’ from Jocelyn (1888), shellac disk, His Master’s Voice (1918) (courtesy of the Internet Archive).

August 14 (Monday). It had been raining, on and off, throughout the night. 8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Studiology. In the conspicuous absence of invention, we lean upon old recipes and tried and test formulae. Whenever I approach a creative problem already knowing how to resolve it, I smell a rat. Walking in my own footprints (let alone someone else’s) is a dispiriting experience. Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, among other platforms, provide a superabundance of abstract painters, usually, who’ve stolen the fruit of another artist’s labour and served-up a third-rate version of the real McCoy. The work displays no evidence of the fight, process of emendation, evolution, and resolution that are the hallmark of authenticity. By contrast, theirs betray an ease of execution and a facile surface likeness only. The paintings are photographed hanging in capacious studios, with their makers — donned in their best bib and tucker — beside them. And these work sells for big bucks; and the artists are feted by thousands of followers and receive more ‘likes’ than you can shake a brush at.

I returned to where I’d left-off with the ‘Angels Guard Thee’ samples, which I’d recomposed on Saturday — now splicing and slicing, editing and bettering, compressing and contracting, in a bid to enhance the concision and punch of the whole.

Syd Barrett’s guitar playing was pre-eminently inventive. Perhaps because he hadn’t conventional dexterity and musical knowledge, other and idiosyncratic stratagems were required. Barrett had studied art in the mid 1960s, first, at Cambridge College of Arts and Technology (now, Anglia Ruskin University) and, afterwards, at Camberwell College of Art, London. Thus, his operational mindset would’ve been to eschew convention, develop innovative solutions, push boundaries, and explore the potentialities of the medium. It’s an attitude that, I suggest, he transferred to guitar playing as a member of Pink Floyd.

Syd Barrett’s mirrored Fender Esquire guitar (mid 1960s) (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

Whenever I pick up an electric guitar, I feel the weight of a tradition of extraordinary musicianship that begins with Charlie Christian, and proceeds through luminaries such as Django Reinhardt, B. B. King, Les Paul, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Jimi Hendrix, John McLaughlin, and Robert Fripp. There is another tradition, too, of experimental guitarists of an earlier and my own generation — including Fred Frith, Derek Bailey, Sonny Sharrock, Bill Orcutt, Nels Cline, Keith Rowe, and Otomo Yoshihide — who’ve ploughed a furrow across the fields of music and noise, largely through the idiom of free improvisation. And it’s in this direction that my own guitar-work leans. Coming to the guitar from a fine art, rather than a music, background, has significant implications for my approach — which I’m barely on the cusp of realising. ‘So, play it like an artist, John!, he yelled, impatiently’

Guitars (left to right): Crimson Stealth RF (Custom), Gibson Les Paul ‘Black Beauty’ Custom, Fender Stratocaster 1962 VOS, and Godin Freeway SA.

2.00 pm: I returned to ‘Angel Clothed With Cloud’. ‘Attempt something that you’ve never before heard, John!, insisted the inner-tutor’ (Easy for him to say.) One must abandon preconceptions when embarking upon a new artwork, otherwise they’ll become the template for it.

August 15 (Tuesday). 6.15 am: Awake. A dismal night’s sleep. 7.00 am: Exercises and a communion. 8.00 am Studiology. I decided that ‘Signature of Daniel Dunglas Home’, while having some intrinsic merit, was too unlike the others in the suite. I consigned it to the Studium site.

A review of yesterday’s efforts and, then, onwards with ‘Angel Clothed With Cloud’. I tried something that I’d anticipated wouldn’t work, but did. The result sounds nothing like anything I’d heard in my mind’s-ear. Which is all to the good. But I need a holiday. Composition is getting progressively slower. And the barrel’s bottom is now visible. The movement towards finalisation has begun. This will be the final week of work on the project before my summer break.

The last few evenings I’ve been reading again my account of living and working through the COVID-19 pandemic, in the Diary (September 15, 2018 — June 30, 2021). This was, to put it mildly, a strange and fearful time in world history. Globally, nearly seven million people lost their lives to the virus. The diary chronicles the day-to-day adaptation of university education to 100% remote learning (working from home), and the gradual return to normal modes of provision. Staff and students alike returned changed. Together we’d achieved what, a year before this evil broke, would have seemed inconceivable to us.

August 16 (Wednesday). A sounder night’s sleep. Further doctorology, on the telephone at 8.00 am on the dot. (‘Your position is the queue is …. 1’. YES!!!) 8.30 am: Studiology. ‘Angel Clothed With Cloud’ is simplifying and quietening. The focus is now upon an evocation of the electrical light projection and the image of an angel looking down from the cloud onto which it was cast. The composition sounds like an event heard in the distance. The idea of turning a visual event into sound phenomenon has never ceased to intrigue me. By noon, this part of the composition was finished.

Harry Grindell Matthews’ demonstration of his Sky Projector (1926-7).

1.30 pm: Nursery. I visited my GP surgery to undergo a test to diagnose one problem and thus eliminate others. The older you get the wiser you become to the possibility that minor ailments and life-threatening illness may have the same outward manifestation at their outset. Regular check-ups are part of my life’s rhythm. After decades suffering from ME, my immunity is thoroughly compromised. I’m an easy target for viruses and bacteria, and my body’s own assault upon itself.

2.00 pm: I needed to rest my ears from the Paranormal Studies album (as it has come to be known). After tomorrow, the suite will be laid aside for some weeks, so that I can return for the final-phase mix refreshed. I took up the cause of my juvenilia once again (music composed and recorded between 1972 and 1976), making minor adjustments to the loudness and the left and right channel balance of the tracks before uploading them to my Sound site, unpublished.

August 17 (Thursday). An appalling night’s sleep. I awoke in a stupor and feeling the side-effects of the antibiotics that I’ve begun taking. 8.30 am: Studiology, and a review of the last three compositions. 9.30 am: A trip down town to undertake domestics and a little cuttery.

10.45 am: Studiology. Tiredness and unwellness prevailed, so I continued with the juvenilia project — which didn’t require more than half a brain to execute. 1.30 pm: A nap and sleep catch-up. 3.00 pm: Back to it, and to ‘The Singing in the Air: Angels Guard Thee’. I added a babble of clamorous and declamatory speech below the mellifluous angelic song. The source of the former is a field recording taken from the Aural Diary. It captures an evangelistic-preaching meeting that took place on the Promenade at Aberystwyth around 7.00 pm on July 30, 1986. Hearing the juxtaposition of the two voices (one in heaven and one on earth) was a minor epiphany for me.

‘You are there … I am here’.


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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