Summa: diary (January 7-12, 2024)

January 7 (Sunday). 12.15 pm and 3.00 pm: Ambulations. A frost-coated municipal cemetery. The intermittent bayou on Plascrug Avenue has returned after several years absence. The area is situated on the flood plane; the land is waterlogged presently. This spectacle was a source of particular consolation during periods of lockdown.

January 8 (Monday). In the early hours of the morning, I was awakened by a sound coming from outside. It resembled the spin cycle of a washing machine — but much louder, and lower in pitch — and appeared to be mobile. As I got to the back door, I could see a flashing white light projected onto the window blinds. Either the local council were undertaking road maintenance at this unusual hour or the neighbourhood had been visited by a UFO. The latter explanation seemed more plausible.

A bristlingly-cold morning. A double pullover day. 8.15 am: A communion. 8.45 am: Matters arising from last week’s admin. (Sigh!) 10.30 am: I prepared a sound track in response to an open call for submissions towards an ambient compilation album. Monetisation is the call of the hour. 11.30 am: Time out to correspond with an ailing friend who I’d first met in when I lived in Cardiff (1982-3). 12.00 pm: Taxing (again). (Sigh!)

1.30 pm: A visit from the artist Susan Forster. (Hooray!) 3.00 pm: ‘Oh no! Not the biennial bowel-screening kit (again). (Sigh!) Back to hubris, promotional trumpet blowing, and learning the ropes of how proper musicians and composers distribute ‘their sh*t’.

January 9 (Tuesday). 8.15 am: A communion, remembrance, and a conscious determination to be braver. A splendid day. 9.00 am: Tax ‘n accrued interest on bank accounts. (Always a pleasure.) Music composers have licencing agencies that enable them to register every piece of work that they’ve recorded for the purpose of receiving royalties. Visual artists don’t have a cognate mechanism. It would be useful, not least for securing copyright fees for the use of images. Sometimes, as a sector, we fail to be as organised and business-like as we could. I began developing a register for every sound composition I’ve released.

1.45 pm: An afternoon of facial identification, hunt the final P45 and salary slips, scanning, and tax-return finalisation. I’d like to see AI software do all this. (Bring it on … please!) 7.00 pm: An evening on the sound composition register.

Phill Niblock passed away a few days ago at 90 years of age. He began his career as a photographer and film-maker, before extending into so-called experimental music. His hallmark was a a long-form, micro-tone, minimalist drone — ‘as ignorable as it is listenable’ (to quote Brian Eno’s definition of ambient music.) The compositions recall a condition somewhere between the stasis of a photograph and an extremely slow-motion film. I listened to/acknowledged Niblock’s work throughout the morning. My own sound composition has engaged the drone genre periodically in the past: The Floating Bible: Miracle of the Risen Word (2015); Strictly No Admittance (2015); The Remnant that Remaineth (Exodus 26.12) (2017); and Nomine Numine (2017).

January 10 (Wednesday). 7.30 am:

7.45 am: Studiology. Writing. There has been, I read, a movement away from digital and towards analogue forms of visual art production. The provision of drawing, painting, and printmaking classes has burgeoned, along with the sale of film-based cameras. Young people in particular have, understandably, become distrustful of digital technology — its intrusiveness, distractions, obscenities, automation, banality, and ease of outcome — preferring modes of making that are private; safe; under their control; and more challenging, rewarding, and emotionally satisfying. This is not some kind of Luddite revival but, rather, a realisation that, for all their many virtues, digital modes cannot either satisfy or embody every creative instinct and intent.

10.00 am: I cast my eye around at the still too many enterprises to be completed and steep learning curves, essayed. The remainder of the morning was taken up with the sound composition register and restoring old and deleted files on one of my computers. Is anything really deleted in the end. After lunch, I returned to updating professional profiles and made a few tentative connections between fundamental devices in the studio. An evening on the register and personal correspondence.

January 11 (Thursday). 8.00 am: Studyology. One of my correspondents lives in South Wales. I’ve not seen him in over 30 years, and only recently resumed contact. We first met during my time in Cardiff, in 1982. Thus we have access to some of the same memories of that period. Although, as he wrote, it’s surprising what one forgets until someone reminds you.

8.30 am: ‘Oh, what a beautiful mornin’ / Oh, what a beautiful day.’ Although I strongly suspect that everything will not go my way today. (‘Does it ever, John!’, my muse interjected.)

All the sounds of the earth are like music.

This line in the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s song, from Oklahoma (1943), curiously anticipates an idea that was central to the aesthetic of the composer John Cage. Music, he argued, was not only the sounds produced by musical instruments but also those made by other manufactured artefacts and the natural world.

9.00 am: Writing and furthering the register, warmed by successive cups of tea. By lunchtime, all sound compositions from 2012 to the present were accounted for. 1.45 pm: Back to the Malchus’ Ear [working title] project. The story is included in both the synoptic gospels and the gospel of John. In losing his right ear, the victim would have temporally (until healed) lost 10-15 dB of sound amplification on that side of his head. I suffer from a hearing deficit that effects my left ear predominantly. The loss is likely to have been caused by an undiagnosed bacterial infection in my sinuses some years back. Ageing has also taken its toll. I anticipate that the project will sit at the intersection of biblical studies, sound studies, otology, and autobiographical experience.

January 12 (Friday). 8.00 am. Studyology. Writing. 9.30 am: News of a hate crime that had recently, and unbeknown to me, taken place not far from where I live, came via my daughter-in-law who’s in Japan presently. (I know. I know.) Incidents such as this are shameful, indecent, and horrifying. In a cosmopolitan university town like Aberystwyth, expressions of intolerance to ‘outsiders’ are mercifully rare. Which is why it’s so startling and big news locally when they do occur.

I took up where I left off yesterday evening, rationalising the four biblical accounts of the context surrounding Malchus’ amputation.

11.15 am: I explored sine wave frequencies (used in hearing tests, along with white noise) in the range of 15–17 kHz, which defines the lower and upper limits of adult hearing, and the science behind binaural hearing in relation to stereophony. My ‘working assumption’ (as Rishi Sunak referred uncommitedly to the possible date of the next General Election) is that Malcus didn’t suffer any reduction in his rightside auditory range. Slowly, visual (see: Summa: diary (December 14-19, 2023)), textual, and sonic information will coalesce and form the basis of concepts, methods, and processes of composition. I’m preparing the soil and planting the seeds.

1.45 pm: I’d addressed ways of discussing paintings in terms of their implied sound content in my book The Bible as Visual Culture: when text becomes image (2013), and my chapter ‘”The Hearing Ear and the Seeing Eye”: Transformative listening to the biblical image’ in Sheona Beaumont’s and Madeliene Thiele’s (eds) Transforming Christian Thought in the Visual Arts (2021). These texts were an opening gambit in terms of a methodological approach to amplifying the silence in biblical art. The objective is to extend this work more broadly, deeply … and loudly.

4.00 pm: The Friday afternoon ambulation.

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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