Summa: diary (May 11-17, 2024)

May 11 (Saturday). 7.30 am: Ambulation.

8.15 am: I need a tee-shirt that says: ‘I MISSED THE NORTHERN LIGHTS OVER ABERYSTWYTH LAST NIGHT BECAUSE I FORGOT ALL ABOUT THEM’. My friend ‘Manda — who’s the town’s honorary roving-reporter, and always on the story — and her husband hadn’t. The closest that I got to photographing coloured lights above my head was at the supermarket self-service checkout this morning.

9.00 am: Studiology. The morning was committed to further fourth phase mix-downs. In so doing, I came under a conviction that ‘Plate VII: The Holy Spirit’ should be entirely re-conceived. There was nothing to lose; the existing version passed the quality bar. But a new rendering, based on an compositional idea that draws on the spoken materials underscoring the totality of the suite, could be more relevant. I developed a number of samples derived from such in readiness for Monday morning. 3.30 pm: A little tidying, a little packing away of studio equipment, and a little corresponding with friends.

10.30 pm: No sign of the phenomenon ‘that has gripped the nation’ tonight. In the darkness, the Promenade and town lose many of their spatial markers. Distance bleeds into blackness. The lights of Moon, street lamps, and homes are mirrored by the sea and harbour waters, extending the surface world below the waterline. Sounds appear more proximate and subdued. Time proceeds at a different pace. ‘I could be here, now, forty years ago’, I garbled incoherently in my head. This is a ‘magic’ time of transformation. A time for slow-walking lovers (hand-in-hand), stolen kisses, and confessions of ardour.

May 13 (Monday). 6.30 am: Exercises. 7.30 am: Studiology. After a day away from composition and a little re-equalisation, the earlier version of ‘Plate VII: The Holy Spirit’ never sounded so complete. A dilemma. I determined to work Saturday’s samples and see what ensued. I’m thinking of Pentecost and of speaking in other tongues (Acts 2.1-4). 12.30 pm: Two lines of spoken sound were prepared. They didn’t yet constitute a fully-fledged composition, however. Although, the sounds are complete in themselves. Is this a coda ‘The Holy Spirit’, then? Or, perhaps, it’s the end section of ‘Statement VII’ — seeing that both are about the spoken word. Or, is it too late to add anything either to ‘Statement VII’ or ‘Plate VII’? This scenario will be familiar to anyone who has painted an unpopulated landscape, and decided to insert a figure as an afterthought. It rarely succeeds in integrating with the background. The figure needed to be there from outset of composition.

Giotto de Bondone, Pentecost (c. 1310-18) tempera on panel, The National Gallery, London (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

May 14 (Tuesday). 6.45 am: Rise. 7.30 am: A communion. 8.00 am: Studiology. I returned to ‘Plate I’ to begin a final phase mix-down of all eight compositions, My head is too much in future projects to remain in the current one. I’ve outgrown it. A project may become part of your past endeavours even before it has been finalised and released. In being one step ahead of myself, a sense of urgency and forward momentum is maintained. With each successive phase of mixing, better solutions have presented themselves. I’m also undoing poor decisions made during previous mixes, and continuing to put new ideas to the test. But an end is in sight/hearing. Time invested in improving something is never ill-spent. In the end, I must acquit myself of this project to the best of not only my own but also anyone else’s abilities. This is the compact that I make with myself.

12.00 pm: ‘Plate VII’. The contours of the spline curves, which enable the decibel levels to be adjusted on the Digital Audio Workstation, produce sometimes very sensual and feminine lines, reminiscent of those in drawings of the nude by Picasso and Matisse. 2.30 pm: ‘Plate VIII’ complete, I began to make mix-downs of all sixteen tracks in readiness for mastering tomorrow.

May 15 (Wednesday). 6.00 am: Arise. 6.45 am: Writing. 7.30 am: Studiology. The finalisation of the ‘Statements I-VIII’ masters. I’m now tired of hearing the tracks. I’ve no longer objectivity. At this stage, however, the decisions are mercifully more mechanical and procedural than aesthetic. Crucially, the ‘apparent’ and ‘actual’ loudness of each needs to be equalised. This requires the operation of a combination of empirical measuring and subjective evaluation, and takes an age. Which is why, by the time the album is released, I’ll not want to listen to it for at least a month. Thereafter, I’ll hear it as though someone else had composed it.

12.00 pm: A partially successful (and, therefore, mostly unsuccessful) foray into towns in search of XL eggs and white sourdough bread. 12.30 pm: I rarely use compression and global dynamic applications to resolve the production of the whole track. An improvements to one part can undo the success of another. Therefore, each element must be ‘tuned’ individually. As in chemical and digital photography, ‘dodging’ and ‘burning’ sounds are best undertaken sparingly and discretely. Even now, at this late hour, as I let go of the compositions, particular elements are mutating still. Some parts of a composition require inordinate attention.

I’ve been too long in (necessary) isolation, working exclusively on one project — which is the only way that it’ll get finished anytime soon. Only then will I breathe again.

May 16 (Thursday). 6.30 am: Arise. 7.30 am: Now all sixteen tracks — statements and panels — were prepared for loudness equalisation and, finally, upload to the John Harvey: Sound site tomorrow. In tandem, I’m thinking into the void that is the next stage of development. Certain determinations, however, already present themselves. Composition must give way self-education and learning new means and processes. The encircling boundaries — both technical and conceptual — of one’s practice ought always to be expanding outwards. The ambition to (at the very least) construct a rig that’s compact enough to be portable, still tugs at my elbow. Toshimaru Nakamura, the Tokyo-based no-input mixing musician, has no car; his performance equipment must be carried on public transport. That limitation imposes upon his practice a discipline that, in turn, offers ideas and opportunities for action that might not otherwise be available to him.

I learn more about a project, its construction, and the principles of production the closer I get to finalisation. This is an axiom of my practice. 12.00 pm: Reshaping the sound of the wind through the trees at the garden of Golgotha, where Christ was entombed and, later, resurrected (Matthew 27. 57-61; Luke 24.1-12). I can hear it only with my eyes closed. It has been a morning for quietening. 1.00 pm: Lunch. Oodles of noodles, with additional chicken curry powder and the hottest chili sauce.

2.15 pm: XL-egg and bread successfully procured on the second excursion to town, I continued making concluding adjustments to the tracks.

May 17 (Friday). The Roman Catholic Church has released an updated criteria for assessing the legitimacy of claims regarding supernatural phenomena. The authentication of visions of the Christ and the Virgin Mary, prophetic messages, and varieties of miracle, is always a matter more of faith than of verifiable fact. Even when there are many witness to, and putative photographic evidence of, the supposed event — such as the Marian apparition at Our Lady of Heliopolis Co-Cathedral, Cairo, in 1968 — there’s always the possibility of mass hysteria and fakery. Curiously, descriptions of the Mother of Christ invariably evoke her representation in Western Christian art. This is the interpetative tradition that informs the witnesses’ imagination. (I deal with this topic in my book: Photography and Spirit (2007).)

Marian apparition, Our Lady of Heliopolis Co-Cathedral, Cairo, Egypt (1968) (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

8.00 am: Studiology. The morning was spent matching the loudness of, first, the set of eight compositions and, then, the set of eight statements and, afterwards, both sets interleaved. I find this stage of post production as demanding as it is frustrating. There are many different characters of sonority and volume differentials to reconcile. In the end — while having made several test equalisations using a ‘batch process’ application — a manual, relational, track-by-track-by-ear approach invariably proves to be the more fruitful. Each track has a bespoke solution. 11.00 am: Over a mug of tea, I listened to another artist’s sound mix, both to learn and refresh my ears.

2.00 pm: A jaunt into town to retrieve my modified new spectacles, which lenses are now sans amber cast. Perfecto! On the way home I passed the pub on the corner of Pound Place, where an amateur rock group were rehearsing upstairs. Cheap and cheerful instruments, tinny amplification, and a drummer who was less than metronomic. Nevertheless, their reckless enthusiasm lifted my heart and brought me into remembrance of those years when I too made such a marvellous din, instead of revising for important exams. I reaped what I sowed.

2.45 pm: I’d picked up a pace. The principles of adjustment, having been discerned, could be applied straightforwardly. Tomorrow, I’ll make minor adjustments.

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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