Summa: diary (December 14-19, 2023)

December 14 (Thursday). 9.00 am: Studiology. The new pedalboard array is now installed on the studio floor. Quite apart from ensuring that its component units are connected to one another, the mixer, and the power regulator correctly, the challenge is to establish an optimum ergonomic. That’s to say, a distribution of the units in such a way as to permit my feet to touch their switches, relatively effortlessly.

10.00 am: Various administrations and desktop tidy-ups. Afterwards, I picked-up a project-idea that has been in my ‘pending’ file for over a year, waiting for the right moment. It concerns the narrative of Christ’s arrest and the incident when the Apostle Peter took out his sword and smote the right ear of Malchus, the high-priest’s servant. In one of the Gospel accounts Christ healed him, presumably by reattaching the severed body part (Luke 22.50-51). This was the last miracle Christ performed before the Resurrection. The afterlife of this narrative brings together the visual (through its representation in art) and the acoustic — insomuch the assault was upon the victim’s capacity to hear. Hearing featured prominently in Christ’s teaching: ‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear’ (Matthew 11.15). Thus, to remove an ear was, metaphorically speaking, to impair spiritual perception. I know of no representation of this incident in music.

Master of the Evora Altarpiece, The Arrest of Christ (c.1500) Museu de Évora, Portugal (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

2.00 pm: After a hurried shopping expedition to town, I scoped the pictorial iconography of the theme. The research will not only underpin any sound composition that may emerge from the text, but also orientate my mind towards a method of integrating text, image, and sound relevant to the bible and sound book, to which I shall return shortly.

December 15 (Friday). 9.00 am: Following an early-morning consultation at the local hospital (three streets away) I returned to the ‘Malchus’ Ear’ [working title] project. In the background, I discussed the layout of and timescale for the new website with its developer. The first objective is to create a database of art works representative of the ‘Malchus incident’, as it’s sometimes referred to, spanning the period from the 12th century to the present. Unsurprisingly, given the brevity of the incident, the iconographic variations are limited and fairly consistent over time.

December 17-18 (Saturday-Sunday). Christmas arboreality. A slow growth amid myriad other preparations for the festive season. I enjoy both the religious and familial expressions of Yuletide — the anticipation, celebration, and languorous aftermath (especially).

The town was unusually full of shoppers on Saturday, but festively thin. It doesn’t feel like, as And Williams sang throughout my childhood, ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. The background of war and its associated atrocities (which, strangely, we find more offensive and upsetting than large-scale famines that claim far more lives), the plight of refugees, and the want and suffering of UK residents as the cost of living continues to bite hard, has dampened our spirits perhaps.

The ‘good news of great joy’ that the angels announced to the shepherd regarding a birth that had taken place that very day in Bethlehem (6 miles south of Jerusalem) came at a bad time too. (Luke 2.10). (Bethlehem is in Palestine, on the West Bank.) Back then, all of Palestine (most of Israel, now) suffered under a sometimes brutal Roman occupation. It was a period of planned uprisings and revolts on the part of the Jews against the foreign domination, in the hope that God would be on their side and send a conquering messiah to lead them. The Nativity narrative also includes the incident known as ‘the massacre of the innocents’, when Herod the Great (c. 72 BCE – c. 4 BCE), the Roman Jewish client king of the Herodian Kingdom of Judea, ordered the execution of all male children under 2 years of age in the vicinity of Bethlehem, in the hope of killing the Christ child thereby (Matthew 2.16-18). And so it goes on.

Peter Paul Rubens, The Massacre of the Innocents (c.1611-12) oil on oak panel, Art Gallery of Ontario (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

December 18 (Monday). 8.00 am: A review of the week up unto 19th. My days will be focussed on designing furnishings for the new ‘John Harvey: Archive of Visual Art Practice’ website, testing the new pedalboard array, and determining my priorities and projects immediately following the Christmas holiday period.

The initial test of the array: SILENCE. ‘Try switching the mixer on, John!’ I bounced between studio and study, computers and pedalboards, endeavouring to forward several tasks in parallel. 3.00 pm: The pedalboard array was fully functional. Thereafter, I completed several icon-image designs for the ‘Portfolio’ page of the new website.

December 19 (Tuesday). 8.30 am: A fractured day in prospect, I redoubled my focus and energy during those times when I was at my desk. Back to the ‘Portfolio’ icons. The clickon link icon for the ‘Current Work, 2024 to date’ section is a dark-grey square. While a temporary in-fill, it looks remarkably like one of my paintings from The Pictorial Bible III period (2013-14).

While reviewing The Pictorial Bible II archives, I came across a CD that I’d produced to accompany the exhibition catalogue. It included an audio track I made sixteen years ago (Sample 1: ‘Graven Image I (The Second Commandment))’, for engravor and synthetic drawbar organ (2007)), along with a textual-visual description of the compositional process. The sample was conceived to illustrate a reference to my text-sound conversion endeavours, rather than as an release in its own right. One for John Harvey: Studium, then.

12.45 pm: Off to the local crematorium Kath Williams’ funeral. She was 95 years old. I’d known her for a number of years in the context of a church to which I’d belonged. Kath was gracious, full of faith, wise, and grounded. But she didn’t suffer fools gladly, and could see through the pompous and the pretender as though they were made of crystalware. Like our late Queen, she represented a generation who placed public service and the needs of their neighbour before personal interest and comfort.

I can’t visit crematoria without being reminded of the furnaces at Nazi extermination camps during the Second World War. It’s an unbreakable assocation, in my mind. Glitzy LCD TV screen announcements jar with the solemnity of the occasion. ‘Now Showing!’, as it were. Aside the path leading to and from the chapel is a postbox for ‘Letters to loved ones’. ‘Who collects them? Where do they get sent?’ How much is a 1st-class stamp to the afterlife? Do recipients ever reply in kind?’ My mind was reeling.

Thank you to all my readers and commentators for your support and encouragement over his last year.

THERE WILL BE A SUMMA: DIARY SABBATICAL UNTIL JANUARY 6, 2024.

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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