Summa: diary (October 1-8, 2023)

October 1-2 (Sunday-Monday). London. A Putney morning, which was spent recovering from yesterday’s celebrations and taking-in a morning service of worship on YouTube. We ate lunch at a local sushi shop before making for Putney Bridge for a walk along the bank of the Thames. The river was high due to the recent supermoon. Boat clubs abound, here.

October 2 (Monday). A Putney morning.

8.30 am: I watched the young, suited commuters leave their flats and head for the station. 9.30 am: I joined them. My ‘commute’ was to Aberystwyth, from East Putney via Vauxhall and Euston. What could possibly go wrong?

At Birmingham International, we were advised to travel on rolling stock that had been made in the 1960s, originally, and (for some reason, therefore) unable to run on the tracks to Aberystwyth. Admittedly, I didn’t see that one coming. As we approached Shrewsbury, passengers travelling beyond that station were herded into attached carriages that could negotiate the westward bound rails. I began reading an autobiography of Jimi Hendrix.

October 3 (Tuesday). Aberystwyth. 6.15 am: 7.45 am: Proof of presence:

8.15 am: A review of the work undertaken last week. 8.45 am: I took-up ‘Always the Same Guitar’ and prepared to complete the first draft mix. Five compositions were processed in the same way. Mixing reveals excess. Elements were pruned. Air began to circulate. Tracks breathed more easily.

It was Groucho Marx’s birthday yesterday. I’ve watched Marx Brothers’ films since a toddler. The visual and scripted jokes still have the capacity to make me crease myself with laughter. Harpo Marx’s playing transfixed me. The moment he touched the strings, his otherwise mobile, wide-eyed, open-face assumed an almost seraphic countenance and pensiveness.

Harpo Marx playing the harp, Vandamm Studio (c.1926) New York Public Library Digital Collection (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

October 4 (Wednesday). 8.30 am: Phlegmy cough n’ snivels. I pushed on with the first draft of the final mix. By lunchtime, all seventeen tracks had been processed. Fusion cuisine: haggis and baked beans:

The second draft (made over headphones) enables me to explore the breadth and balance of the stereo field; tame the upper-end frequencies, where necessary; and ensure that as many frequencies as are present in the source material can be heard. There’s no parallel for this process in analogue painting. Overpainting, is not even a near equivalent. In sound mixing, the constituent elements remain in a relatively fluid and mobile state until they’re solidified in the final mix. All mixes are contingent upon one’s understanding of the work and the quality of one’s listening at the time.

There were things spoken at the Conservative Party Conference by Rushi Sunak and Suella Bravermen that would have made Oswald Mosley and Enoch Powell smile from ear to ear. Penny Mordant gave the type of speech you’d expect to hear from someone who’d forgotten to prepare one.

October 5 (Thursday). 8.30 am: I continued with the second draft of the final mix. Stereophony is a tyranny. My instinct is to convert the monaural tracks into two channels and expand the sound field, left and right. But this instinct has been prejudiced by my lifetime’s exposure to stereo recordings. The impulse must be resisted. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (1966) was recorded and released in mono originally, along with a ‘fake’ stereo mix. The latter provides more space for the album’s complex of instruments and layered sound to breathe. So, one can’t be too principled and reject the possibility of betterment through ‘stereophonication’ (if there is a such a word).

1.30 pm: A foray into town. Where’s the road sign gone? Some souvenir hunter, no doubt. Only a ghostly shadow of the name remains. The plaque has been torn away, and that with violence.

Every so often I change headphones. My monitor headphones’ forte is providing a precise location of the tracks’ samples within the stereo field. Its sound ‘image’ is, however, fairly brittle. My hi-fi headphones given a more full-orbed account of the lower- and mid-range frequencies. A third (and very expensive) pair provides a second opinion on the perspective of the other two. As I moved from one composition to another, the ‘quality assurance’ monitor switched on. Several tracks are too far to the left of the album’s thematic focus on paranormal phenomena. For this reason, they may end up on the cutting-room floor. This is not a matter of the compositions’ integrity but, rather, of their appropriateness within the context of the whole. A hard head and a ruthless streak are required at this stage of the project’s development.

October 6 (Friday).London.

I released Music Medial Practice: seven evocations — an adjunct EP to the forthcoming Paranormal Studies album. It was made for my elder son, to commemorate two recent and significant events in his life.

9.30 am: Off to London, again, for a different sort of family celebration. The train was cancelled due to a tree on the line. There’s this mythological train that got from A to B without incident. We travelled from Aberystwyth to Machynlleth by coach. Thereafter, the journey was straightforward. 2.06 pm: Euston.

3.30 pm: At Tate Modern, they now have toddlers’ play area where they can build things out of soft house bricks — no doubt a less than oblique reference to Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII (1966), which is in their collection. I usually visit the Tate to see special exhibitions. Today, I reacquainted myself with the general collections and engaged three of the ‘Artists’ Rooms’, dedicated to Joan Mitchell, Agnes Martin, and Gerhardt Richter, respectively. For me, these artists represent the last Golden Age of painting.

On the lower section of Martin’s Faraway Love (1999) there’s a small ‘scar’ caused by the wooden-end of her brush accidentally catching the canvas surface. I’ve no doubt she noticed it. But Martin didn’t seek to remedy the error — which could’ve been easily done. The mark was a part of the painting’s evolution and resolution. Richter’s works were a response to John Cage’s interest in silence and ambient sound. The analogy between the visual and the sonic was palpable and intelligent.

There’s a mode of inclusive curation that aims to engage a broad audience by posing the sort of questions (to which there’s neither and right or wrong answer) that you might ask of GCSE students: ‘How do the different shades of green make you feel? And ‘How many ways can you paint in colour?’ They didn’t merit my consideration. When I first visited galleries, in the late 1970s, I knew that I was not so much excluded as an outsider. However, I also knew that I could become an insider if I acquired the requisite knowledge, and began asking my own (as opposed to received) questions of the work in front of me. Encountering art was difficult; and that made it all the more rewarding.

7.30 pm: We sat at the side of the Thames, opposite St Paul’s Cathedral, as evening resolved into night, waiting for our elder son and his wife to descend the Millennium Bridge and discover us as they passed. ‘Surprise!’ He was not expecting us. We walked towards Borough Market where we enjoyed a celebratory family meal.

October 7 (Saturday). A Hackney morning.

I spent it on the balcony watching the slow-cinema of life passing either side of the canal, and barges negotiate the lock. Bikers and runners stopped and talked enthusiastically; planes travelling to and from Heathrow roared overhead.

After lunch — taken plein-air on the balcony — we walked to the Olympic Park. It’s an impressive example of a brown-field development: Great Britain’s last gasp of vision and self-confidence before it descended into xenophobia, failure, small-mindedness, and corruption. Today, the Olympics would’ve been cancelled, no doubt, and the money redirected towards providing numerous small swimming pools and running tracks (that ought to have been built anyway … and still won’t) throughout England and North Wales.

In the evening, we delivered on my elder son’s surprise party. Maintaining the pretence that we were going somewhere other than the place we ended up had been stressful. The relief was almost as welcome as the look of joy and confusion on his face as he met with old friends from school and university, at the bar. I’ve spent a good part of my life avoiding events like this. The loud music, and the as loud holler of a great number of people trying to make themselves heard over it, were mutually and unnecessarily self-defeating. I feared for my ears and vocal chords.

October 8 (Sunday). 12.00 pm: From Hackney Wick to Highbury & Islington by Overground.

There, we enjoyed a final family meal at a Malaysian restaurant, before taking the journey home. My first experience of Rose Milk. It looked like a medicine I was given as a child, and tasted like liquid Turkish Delight. The Beef Rendang was, likewise, delicious. 9/10.

2.35 pm: We began what could’ve been a fraught and frustrating journey home from Euston. Against all expectations, it wasn’t. We arrived on time.

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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