Summa: diary (October 9-14, 2023)

‘Eyeless in Gaza’ (John Milton, Samson Agonistes, 1671).
The land of gloom and deep darkness, the land of gloom and chaos, where light is like darkness‘ (Job 10.22).

October 9 (Monday). 6.15 am: Awake. 7.00 am: Writing. 8.00 am: Studiology. A review of the second-draft mix, over, first, the Focal (Alpha 65) monitoring system and, secondly, on the large studio Genelec monitor speakers. Each pair is a different distance apart and from my ears. Once the third-phase mix (which I began today) is complete, each track will be uploaded to the site used to stream them, in order to hear how a listener will perceive them. The mix occupied most of the day.

11.15 am: Off to the GP surgery for a touch of ‘jabbery’: a combo (one in each arm) of the flu and COVID-19 vaccinations. Doubtless one of them will have me laid out on the settee by 7.00 pm this evening. The nurses and doctors ran the session like a military operation. They’ve a long campaign ahead.

2.30 pm: I reviewed a draft research proposal sent by one of my former students. 4.00 pm. My upper-arms ached. I pushed on.

October 10 (Tuesday). 5.00 am: In the dream, I’d completed clearing out my work space in the upmost room of a building that conflated the School of Art and the Old College at my university, descended the stairs, and exited onto the street at the end of the working day. The town possessed some of Aberystwyth’s landmarks, but was altogether bigger. I wondered whether it was too late to take either a bus or a train home to my parents in South Wales for a long weekend. They’d have been delighted by my surprise visit, and I missed them dearly. On waking, that subtle grief — which is tinctured by melancholy and nostalgia — lingered like a sweet odour.

6.00 am: Writing, rumination, and ‘the remembrance of things past’.

8.15 am: Studiology. The processing of the third-phase mix was gaining momentum. 9.30 am: I walked for twenty minutes through Llanbadarn Village, via the churchyard, for a tea and consultation with a former student whom I’d not seen since their Graduation ceremony in June. Our discussions always range wide and deep.

12.00 pm: Home and the studio, once more. Listening to the mixes on different monitor systems has been an ear-opener. Problems (which may have been inaudible on one system) and their solutions are made conspicuously evident on another. Occasionally, both pairs of monitors on front of the desk are in operation together — thus combining their strengths. Several of the tracks fell into place almost immediately; others had to be cajoled, piece by piece. 7.30 pm: I reviewed the tracks that I’d uploaded to my John Harvey: Sound site on my PC speakers in the study. It’s the cheapest system I possess, and one on which I play a variety of different music genres. If the mix sounds resolved in this context, then, I’m content.

October 11 (Wednesday). 6.15 am: It’d been raining for at least two hours already.

6.30 am: Writing, introspection, and a consideration of those tasks and projects that lay beyond the completion of the Paranormal Studies album. There’s a piece of advice that a sage, senior colleague gave me (when I was a junior) regarding the development of an academic profile: ‘Don’t do too much of the same thing for too long’. In other words, it oughtn’t to be all articles, all chapters, all conference papers, all books, all exhibitions, all sound releases, all of the time. Diversification.

‘From what did I retired?’ is a question to which I return, periodically. Quite apart from the blatantly obvious — a full-time academic post at a UK university — I withdrew from a punishing and an untenable workload, the routine of the academic year (and, with it, the want of new challenges), the dissipation of thought and energy over too many areas of responsibility, and a growing disillusionment with the direction that higher education was heading. I’d cause to look up the School of Art website during the morning. The academic and teaching staff profile is almost unrecognisable; so many new and younger (and female) staff. A new era.

8.15 am: Studiology. The perplexities of a mix may indicate a fundamental compositional deficiency. Mixing, for me, is the final stage of composition, rather than a post-production process. Mixing = editing. 11.30 pm: All the third-phase mixes were uploaded to the sound site for review. Throughout the day, I battled to hear the tracks on the speakers against rattle of rain on the windows.

At the end of the morning, I broke into a recalcitrant composition that was too dense, sonically, and picked away at it until 4.00 pm. Thereafter, I walked into an autumnal, cloud-laden town, returning via Plascrug Avenue and Llanbadarn Road, where I picked-up a horse chestnut from beneath the ‘magic’ tree (as my children used to call it).

October 12 (Thursday). 5.45 am, and tea:

6.15 am: Writing. 8.00 am: Studiology. My elder son, who’s an intellectual-copyright lawyer, sent me an article about Lego’s defence of its copyright on a brick-interpretation of the Second Beit Hamikdash, or Israel’s Second Holy Temple. The company’s claim is founded on the originality of the supporting scholarship, which is derived from the Old Testament and Jewish Bible and other historical sources describing the structure’s architectural features. Lego as biblical research.

Back to mixing and editing, and on with fourth-phase mix. Each third-phase mix track in turn was reviewed. At this stage, the aim is to address muddiness or lack of ‘sparkle’, aberrant spikes, unpreposessing low tones, and insufficient loudness. At the same time, its crucial to preserve the sonic essence of the source material — which is often lo-fi in character. For example,the composition entitled ‘Ethnoplasm’, which derives its material from ethnographic recordings of trance utterance and tongues speaking, chiefly, was made on a wax cylinder, originally; the completed track must sound as though it represents some strange, lost find from the early twentieth century. I love not only the Velvet Underground’s music but also the quality of the group’s early recordings — which was poor by the professional standards of the day: crude stereophany, hissy, boxy, minimal production, and often played too loud for the studio mixing desk to capture without distortion. But that sonority suited the songs’ themes of degradation, death, and dissolution. Form followed content.

The Velvet Underground & Nico, publicity photograph (n. d.) (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

October 13 (Friday). 6.15 am: Awake and tea. 6.45 am: Writing. 8.15 am: Studiology. I completed the fourth-phase mix and prepared the revised tracks to be uploaded to the John Harvey: Sound site. Before nailing down ‘Cherubin Hymns’, I explored the possibility of placing the recording alongside real world sounds. It rarely happens that a composition can be broken into so late in the day — as this one was no exception. It was already complete unto itself, requiring neither substraction, nor addition, nor complementarity.

Finally, the vexed process of equalising all seventeen (presently) tracks — representing over an hour’s worth of material — in terms of relative loudness. In my experience, the solution lies in the ear and experience, rather than a software program alone. The task will require a great deal of listening, over and over again, during which time I shall cease to recognise any virtue in what I’ve made. This always happens. Familiarity breeds contempt.

4.00 pm: An ambulation. A number of artists who I know, or whose posts I’ve read, are experiencing a profound sense of futility, presently. The cause is complex: a combination of post-pandemic malaise, the cost of living, underfunding, and the distressing circumstances that our world finds itself in. Making artwork seems trivial in comparison to the bigger issues of life and survival. Some have lost studios and exhibition opportunities (as galleries either fold or tighten their belts), and with that sales and audiences; others no longer have venues at which to perform or sufficient income to travel to events; and still others have become so stupefied by the dreadfulness of it all as to be unable to create.

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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