Summa: diary (February 24-29, 2024)

May the bread rise to meet you (JH to SF (amateur artisan baker)).

February 24 (Saturday).

7.30 am: I chased the light through peopleless streets onto the Promenade. Sky and sea, background and foreground, stillness and ferocity, cold and warm greys, met on the horizon. The waves beat proud against the sea wall like an impetuous lover at the door of their beloved. Fluid and vaporous. Fierce and vitalising. The rain on my umbrella sounded like static on the surface of a worn 78-rpm disc.

February 25 (Sunday).

My replies in a X-post exchange about creative insecurity:

The tyranny of the best thing that we’ve ever made.1 All we can do is try and be our best and to do our best, each time we compose. Let others determine the merits of the outcome.2 Our considered opinion regarding what is our best often changes as we mature. Therefore, do not rush to judgement.3

JH to PH, X (February 25, 2024).

An encouraging start to the week. Ed Pinsent’s review: ‘Penallta Colliery and Requiem’, Sound Projector Magazine & Radio Show.

Another (informed) listener’s perspective on the work is always instructive. An author may have an unbalanced estimation of their own work. They can be deluded into believing that it’s either far worse or far better than it really is. Not that the opinion of another is more authoritative than my own. But it can provide a helpful leaven.

February 26 (Monday). 7.45 am: Writing, correspondence, and a review of the week ahead. 9.00 am: Studiology. A review of last week’s work on ‘Affirmation’ [working title]. I returned to the choral samples. The other creative insecurity that I (and a good many other artists suffer, from time to time) is the fear that a work’s authentic emotion will be elusive. It may be conceptually engaging, technically accomplished, replete with new ideas and approaches to composition, and original, but heartless nevertheless. And in the absence of ‘love’, it’s ‘only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal’ (1 Corinthians 13.1).

Right: Bert Isaac, November (1997) mixed media.

1.30 pm: Break out! I visited the School of Art, via the route over the Buarth hill that I used to take most weekdays on my return from lunch at home. The sunlight was pure and the air, on the right side of cold. My purpose was to view the exhibition Time in Space: Bert Isaac (1923-2006). Isaac was from Pontypridd in South Wales. Like many Welsh artists of his and the succeeding generation, he practiced while holding down teaching posts in secondary schools, before finding a ‘situation’ (as they used to say) in higher education. In his latter work (such as November), the represented image (which had characterised his earlier paintings and prints) loses coherence. Finally, the artist had exorcised earlier influences and possessed a voice of his own.

As I walked through the ground floor corridors of the building, I viewed through open doors seminars in progress. At this juncture in my early retirement, the sight is both familiar and remote. The sight of studentless studios still grates on me, however.

February 27, 2024 (Tuesday). Noticeably colder, as I put my feet on the bedroom floor. 7.30 am: A communion. 8.00 am: Writing. 9.00 am: A morning on the archive preparing the photographs for the ‘Pictorial Bible I (1999-2000)’ portfolio. 1.00 pm: Completion.

1.45 pm: I returned to ‘The Son (Creation)’ composition. ‘Clarify and condense; edit excess as you go. Don’t be afraid of simplicity and austerity. Undo and redo; undo and redo’, the inner-tutor instructed. An authentic emotion had begun to coalesce. 4.00 pm: ‘Into the outside’, as I once sang. Plascrug Avenue. ‘Plas’, in English, refers to a large country house or mansion. ‘Crug’ describes a hillock or barrow. Today, there’s neither; the area is an arbored and level flood plain.

7.15 pm: I re-listened to the afternoon’s work. It’s at 75% resolution, to my ears. Afterwards, I modified sound samples that would be needed over the next few days for another composition.

February 28, 2024 (Wednesday). How can my ‘position in the queue is 8’ when I phoned the GP surgery at 8.00 am prompt? No. 8 took an age to deal with, No. 7 was hardly better, and Nos. 6 and 5 mysteriously vanished — having either been miraculously healed or yielded to their complaint while waiting. I took up writing against the backdrop of a bland rhythmic holding loop as my position rating slowly improved. ‘Bring back Vivaldi’s Four Seasons!’ Finally: ‘Good morning! The doctor you require is unavailable today. Try again tomorrow.’

8.45 am: Studiology. A review of yesterday’s composition. As I attended, sounds and images that I’ve come to associate with the war in Ukraine were evoked in my imagination. We don’t have to address the great calamities of the age for them to infiltrate our sensibility. We are in the world, and the world is in us. 10.15 pm: Two crows caw loudly to one another above my window. ‘OK, lads! Turn it down’.

11.00 pm: I visited the artist Susan Forster for coffee and delicious home-made biscuits at her studio.

We ruminated on the nature of objects, ‘things’, and their potency. The most banal, ordinary, and familiar items can assume a disproportionate significance and presence through their association with events, experiences, and people in our lives. Like religious relics, ‘things’ may have been owned or touched by someone whom we’ve loved and lost (for whatever reason). For us (the grieving), they bear the residual imprint of that person — a latent ‘energy’, of sorts. (Sounds, too, can be ‘relics’. But that’s a discussion for another blog.)

Below is a heart-shaped, golden-plated, hinged pendant. It was designed to hold a portrait photograph in each half. From my recollection, the right side once framed a commercial studio miniature of my mother. She had given this piece of jewellery to her mother as a Christmas present in 1949 — the year in which this photograph of my mother was taken in Trafalgar Square, London, on August 24. The pendant came into my mother’s possession on the death of her mother, and into mine on the death of my mother.

My mother never wore it, and I can’t remember my grandmother ever wearing it either. The pendant was kept in my mother’s jewellery box, through which I’d rifle when a child, pick out items, and ask her to tell me the stories attached to them. These days, I unlock the heart, look at the two empty frames (with their appropriately blood-red backcloths), anticipate the reassuring ‘click’ (which I’ve heard since childhood) as I close this abstracted diptych, shut my eyes, and remember them both.

February 29 (Thursday/leap). 8.00 am: ‘Your position in the queue is 2’. YES!!! Writing. 8.30 am: Studiology. I reviewed ‘The Son (Creation)’ and ensured, as far as I can perceive presently, that each element of the composition was optimised and pulling its weight. I, then, returned to ‘The Father (Creation)’ and assessed whether the first composition could be improved by the application of principles and lessons arising from the second. None of the compositions will be finished until the whole suite is complete. Each learns from the community of endeavour. ‘Pare back. Make the composition as short as possible and as long as necessary. Be prepared to excise the fruit of many days’ labour. Be ruthless’, urged the inner-tutor.

1.45 pm: On with ‘Statement III’, which introduces Christ’s Nativity. Looping was introduced, for the first time on this project. I made twenty-five versions of the composition using a straightforward additive technique, different permutations of the word order, with a measure of improvisation thrown in. 5.00 pm: My ears ached.

7.30 pm: I resumed work on the archive.

John Harvey, iKon/iPod: Magnificat (Luke 1.46) (2007) digital media, New Revised Standard Version.

See also: Intersections (archive);  Diary (September 15, 2018 – June 30, 2021)Diary (July 16, 2014 – September 4, 2018); John Harvey (main site); John Harvey: SoundFacebook: The Noises of ArtXInstagram.

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