Summa: diary (April 10-19, 2024)

Some (by choice) live a double life, secretly. Others (of necessity) live another life inside their life, openly.

April 10 (Wednesday). 8.30 am: A Putney morning; English ‘sakura’. 9.30 am: I began the most perilous stretch of the journey: London to Aberystwyth. Possible train cancellations between Wellington and Shrewsbury and between Machynlleth and home (due to flooding on the line) were before me. After three weeks of travelling on Japanese trains that operated like clockwork, it all came as a bit of a shock, but not as a surprise.

On the train to Aberystwyth, a young man boarded already conducting business by phone. He continued to do so for a further 20 minutes, and then periodically thereafter. He’d one of those penetrating voices that everyone in the carriage could hear. Oh! How I miss the Bullet Train and the Japanese’s sensitivity to personal privacy and the aural comfort of fellow passengers. ‘Hi! Is that Jackie? It’s James’. My colleague Geoff …’. ‘Hi James. It’s John. Would you mind if I work on a sound composition during the journey? If you can turn this train into a mobile office, then, I’ve the right to make it a roving studio’. Why should my ears have to listen to another person’s professional wranglings any more than my lungs be forced to inhale their cigarette smoke?

None of the anticipated rail problems materialised. The landscape between Machynlleth and Borth evidenced the recent inundation.  Arrived at Aberystwyth, 20 minutes behind schedule.

April 11 (Thurdsay). Welsh ‘sakura’.

I was up at 7.00 am. Jet-lag had once again overlooked me. I began illustrating ‘Notes on Japan I (March 16-28, 2024)’ and ‘Notes on Japan II (March 28-April 10, 2024)’ with visual and sonic illustrations. In the background, I put away the accoutrements of my recent adventure.

3.45 pm: A trip into town to buy eggs and attend an emergency appointment with the ophthalmologist about my ailing vision. The scans presented a profile of healthy eyeballs: no evidence of glaucoma, macular degeneration, detached retina, cataracts, and uveitis. While reassuring, this diagnosis didn’t interpret the underlying cause of the photophobia, blurrying, and hazy vision that I’d been experiencing. Curiously, my prescription for both eyes had dropped by -0.25 of one dioptre (reading) and -1.00 dioptre (distant vision) since the she’d last measured me, about a month before my Japan trip. This is one type of mystery with which I’m not comfortable living. I’ve booked a further eye test for Wednesday of next week. Cost? Nothing. Which will flabbergast my American and South-East Asian readers. In Japan, I was cautioned by the receptionist at an ER unit that I’d be charged £500 for a consultation with an on-call doctor. Praise be the NHS!

April 12 (Friday). 7.00 am: Proof of presence.

7.45 am: I concluded and published part one of the travel blog, and set about finalising the second. 10.15 am: Emergency GP appointment. ‘It’s not due to a heart attack or a minor stroke or a brain tumour’, said the doctor. To be honest, none of those possibilities had ever entered my head. However, my high blood pressure (for which I take medication) may be either the culprit or a contributor. It has been very difficult to keep it under control. (My ideal is 120/80) The condition was diagnosed as essential hypertension: that’s to say, one that doesn’t arise from either a poor diet, or being overweight, or lack of exercise, or excess of alcohol (I’m teetotal), or drug abuse (unless you count 95% dark chocolate). Likely or not, it’s a genetic disposition. The doctor advised me to monitor my systolic/diastolic readings for a week. Cost? Nothing. And I say again: praise be the NHS!

April 13 (Saturday). 8.30 am: Awake. (‘You lazybones!’) 9.45 am: I’d missed my promenading. Even on a sullen day like today, the sea acts upon me restoratively. ‘The Hut’ — my favourite watering-hole — was open for the reckless and indulgent, of whom I was one.

11.00 am: I returned to the sound samples that I’d recorded in Japan, and began preparing them for inclusion in the Aural Diary archive as Japan (March 20-April 7, 2024) My criteria for recording and retaining a sound are: either the sound must be definitive of the acoustic character of a place, person, or thing, or else of personal (and often idiosyncratic) significance in relation a specific experience, time and place and, above all, must be sonically engaging.

In 1988, I captured Buddhist monks singing hymns at a temple in Singapore. It was afternoon and raining heavily outside. (The monsoon had begun.) I and many others in the courtyard peered into the darkness; the priests were silhouetted against the strong light entering through an opening at the far end of hall. This first encounter with the devotion and music of a religion utterly remote from my own inspired a momentary return to sound composition. This was the only time I’ve made sound compositions about a place, in that place, using the acoustic resources native to the place. The fruit the experience was later released as the SG​:​03​.​5​-​15​.​88 EP. Twenty years passed before I worked again with sound.

April 15 (Monday). 7.00 am: Awake. Reassert the routine. 7.30 am: Exercises and a communion. 8.30 am: Studiology. A final review of the latest Aural Diary addition and an overview of the week ahead. The wind blew cold around my windows. 9.30 am: I returned to the ‘Affirmation’ suite and the ‘Fourth Panel: The Son (Crucifixion)’ composition. I’d left off, prior to my holiday, at the sound of an earthquake appropriately, given my recent non-experience of several that’d occurred during my visit to Japan. On, then, to evoke the sound of the curtain being rent at the Second Temple, and add the deposition theme at the close. 12.30 pm: ‘It is finished’. (For now, at least.) I reacquainted myself with the structure of the whole suite.

Next: the ‘Fifth Panel: The Son (Resurrection, Ascension, and Glorification)’ and ‘Statement V’.

On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Nicene Creed

2.00 pm: A review of the first three compositions. Unity, consistency, and variety underlied them all. This was what I was aiming at. ‘Trumpets! I can hear trumpets’.*

April 16 (Tuesday). 6.15 am: Awake. My normal routine has reasserted itself. 7.00 am: A communion, followed by a review of general health indicators (weight and BMI), and new muscle-tone exercises. (Chair yoga.) For one week, I’m also monitoring my intake of food and drink. 8.15 am: Correspondence. 8.30 am: Studiology. ‘Sound trumpets!’, Shakespeare proclaimed. This instrument (or the evocation of such) first made an appearance in The Aural Bible series in ‘Scene 7: The Decalogue (Exodus 20.1-20)’ from the ‘Image and Inscription’ suite of 2016. There, it mimicked the sound of a ceremonial ram’s horn that was heard on Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. In the present work, the trumpet doesn’t denote any reference to such in the text of either the creed or the Bible. Rather, its sound serves as a somber and unostentatious voluntary that announce Christ’s transition from death to life at the resurrection.

10.30 am: I sped-walk to the village of Llanbadarn Fawr for a tea and chin-wag with one of my former PhD Fine Art tutees. We’d not seen one another in quite a while. A vigorous exchange of new news ensued.

1.45 pm: Back at the desk. I continued making ‘bricks’ that’ll be assembled as a compositional ‘wall’. As yet, I don’t comprehend either the shape or orientation of that structure. They’ll emerge in the process of construction. 7.30 pm: A review of the Art Practice Archive’s development.

April 17 (Wednesday). 7.00-8.30 am: Awake; a communion; and exercises. How hard it is to live inside our own bodies, sometimes. 8.45 am: Studiology. The inner-tutor was at my desk before me this morning. ‘Forget the tripartite structure suggested by “resurrection, ascension, and glorification”; this is not program music. Aim to render the emotional resonance of these events, in toto, instead’. (He had a point.). ‘Nothing triumphalistic, mind you. Contemplative. Just contemplative’.

9.45 am: Off to town for a follow-up eye test. Subjectively, there has been a noticeable improvement in my vision over the last week. Yesterday was the first day since my time in Hiroshima when I could bear the outdoor light without squinting. Objectively, the eyes remain as healthy as they can be for my age. The eye-pressure measuring device produces strangely robotic noises. Is it having a conversation with itself?

10.30 am: I reviewed the morning’s work. The composition has simplicity and resolution. It cannot be improved upon as it stands, presently. The rig was booted-up, and I commenced work on ‘Statement V’ — which will precede the composition.

April 18 (Thursday). 6.30-8.15 am: Awake. Medical matters. A communion. 8.15 am: Studiology: ‘Statement V’; a making of more ‘bricks’. Every composition in any medium is underpinned by a set of strictures which are revealed (or, better, discovered) in the process of building. They determine what can and cannot be done; provide the rules of the game, as it were; and determine the aesthetic boundaries, shape, and development of the structure.

11.00 am: A hairdressing appointment. Overheard: ‘That product ruined my hair. Couldn’t do a thing with it afterwards. Completely ruined my holiday’. Clearly, this was someone who had either a low tolerance threshold or lived a charmed life hitherto. 11.45 am: Back at the desk to: discriminate between major and minor weaknesses; add and subtract; shift and shunt; emphasise and subdue; and learn to, as Samuel Beckett once said, ‘listen to the silences’ (the spaces between sounds, in my case).

7.30 pm: An evening immersed in biblical studies.

April 19 (Friday). 6.30-7.45 am: Awake. A communion. Medical matters. 7.45 am: Writing and waiting on hold. As Quentin Tatarantino considers what will be the subject of his 10th and final film before retiring from movie making, I’ve wondered how many creative projects in a particular medium any artist really needs to undertake in their lifetime. Some artists achieve peak performance halfway through their career; thereafter, the work declines into mediocrity and repetition. Tarantino clearly wants to quite while he’s ahead. But there’re yet other artists who come into their own only either in late career or later in life. I’ve known mature students who, having enjoyed success in one occupation, ‘retired’ into art practice or art history and blossomed. It’s never too late, as they say.

9.00 am: The opticians (once more). On this occasion, I was there to choose new frames. ‘What kind of statement do you wish to make with your glasses?’, the assistant enquired. ‘Apart from:”Look at me! I’ve got defective eyes”, you mean?’, I responded (unhelpfully). ‘Actually, I want to look cool, sexy, more intelligent, and not as old as I really am’. My amended statement was met with a polite smile. (‘Not all the frames in all the world could make … etc.’, I imagined her thinking.) The shop’s card reading terminal had malfunctioned, terminally. ‘Cash only, I’m afraid’. It was Japan all over again.

10.00 am: Studiology. I reviewed ‘Statement V’ and ‘Fifth Panel: The Son (Resurrection, Ascension, and Glorification)’. I tweaked the former before moving on to the ‘Sixth Panel: The Son (Return and Judgement)’.

He shall come again in glory to judge the quick and the dead, and his kingdom shall have no end.

Nicene Creed

Anticipation and fulfillment; glory and terror; redemption and apocalypse; life and death; time and eternity. There’re times when, prior to embarking upon a new composition, I listen to another artist’s work. Often they’re practitioners whose approach to making sounds is very different to my own. (In other ways, we’re not so far apart. Some common ground is essential.) They open my ears to other possibilities. In the background: ‘Improvised Music from Japan with Toshimara Nakamura’. Toshimara came to Aberystwyth in March 2019 to perform at the Listen to the Voice of Fire event. To my ear, his music has grown out of the sound culture of the Japan’s cityscapes. He’s one of the finest no-input mixing exponents in the field of noise music.

* Robert Fripp, ‘Under Heavy Manners’, Under Heavy Manners/God Save the Queen (1980).

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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