Summa: diary (May 18-24, 2024)

Discipline. Distance, Detachment. Dispassion.

May 18 (Saturday). 7.30 am: Proof of presence.

8.00 am: Ambulation across the Promenade. A dark bird flew parallel to the shoreline, and close the waves; a young girl drew back hastily from the fast incoming tide; that apple and walnut flapjack I like was back on sale at The Hut; and the salt-wind frosted map of the bay confronted its misty reality.

9.30 am: Studiology. A final revision of ‘Statement I’ (the opening track) and ‘Statement VII’ (the penultimate track). As my Gran used to say: ‘If you polish the thing too much, it’ll wear away’. There’s much wisdom and application in that. The over-refinement of a work may erase its vitality. I’ve flattened too many compositions with my finicky indulgence in the past. Often, it’s those small inconsistencies that humanise. 12.00 pm: An initial run through of the relative loudness of tracks, as they’re heard at -50 dB, on the streaming website. The tracks now sound effortless, which implies that they’re internally resolved. The transition from ‘Statement’ to ‘Panel’ to ‘Statement’, and so on (which I could not have appreciated up until now), proceeds fluidly. ‘I like it!’, to quote King Crimson’s ‘Indiscipline’ (1981). (That track taught a 21-year old version of myself a great deal about the pitfalls and ideals, subjectivity and objectivity, involved in evaluating one’s own work (as well as affairs of the heart).)

May 19 (Sunday). 9.30 am: Ambulation. The sea fog had returned. At the Municipal Cemetery: a quietening. There are graves at which I invariably pause. These are people whom I’d known; some I admired, others perplexed, and all died long before their time (as they say). Although, our time is whatever we’re given. We shall all die. The question is not so much when as in what order.

May 20 (Monday). Gobowen/Oswestry. 5.45 am: I arose from a dream that had been dismal more in mood than in content. It took over an hour to shake-off a profound sense of foreboding and agitation – as though I was anticipating some very bad news. 7.00 am: The railway station was being washed down as I arrived. Sunlit splendour. 7.30 am: Travelling towards the contested borderlands for an appointment.

10.45 am: I’d never been to Gobowen before; only heard its name called out on the station PA as the first of many stops between Shrewsbury and Holyhead. Confident and strident typographical signage: ‘Say it like you mean it!’

1.45 pm: Waiting. Observing. Reading. Family and friends sitting, anticipating, drinking and eating, trying to distract themselves. Patients in wheelchairs and on gurneys, moving from public to private spaces, and from wards bays to theatre, and back again.

Monitors and machines bleep and buzz; nurses and doctors interrogate, explain, and ask patients to verify who they are, repeatedly (until they can no longer trust the recollection of their name and date of birth).


6.00 pm: Oswestry. I’d never been here before. The town hasn’t had a railway station for some time. There’s some hope, locally, that a branch line may be re-established in the future. After dinner, I walked around the area close to the hotel, and was immediately charmed. The place has a spirit, and I made a connection. In the Middle Ages, Oswestry flip-flopped between being English and Welsh. Its Welsh name was Croesoswallt [Oswald’s Cross]. Some of the street and place names retain their Welsh origin. This is a historically and culturally liminal town, like my home county of Monmouth – at one and the same time both in and neither Wales and England (on the administrative map, at least). Eluding definition, placement, and attachment. I’ve always found this idea peculiarly appealing.

In the eighteenth century, English traders on the Shropshire side of the Welsh Marches learnt some Welsh into order to do business with their monoglot counterparts over the border. The national boundaries of language are permeable.

May 21 (Tuesday). It had been a warm night. The electric fan (which resembled a radio telescope) slowly oscillating back and fore in the dark sounded like the waves of the tide riding the shoreline. It entered my dreamscape as a sound composition of some merit. But one that evaporated into silence as soon as I awoke, much to my consternation.

8.00 am: In search of flowers of gratitude.

8.30 am: Over a hearty breakfast, I pondered why only girls could do Domestic Science when I was in Secondary Schools, and the boys were fated to develop ‘manly skills’ in woodwork and metalwork instead. Two things I recall making (badly) were, first, an iron poker — at a time when most families had switched from coal fires to bar fires and central heating. And secondly, a wooden rack for woodworking chisels. The project was sufficiently self-referential to merit categorisation as a conceptual artwork, in the tradition of Robert Morris’s Box with the Sound of its Own Making (1961).

10.30 am: From Oswestry to Shrewsbury railway station by car, where I caught the train back to Aberystwyth.

May 22 (Wednesday). 7.00 am: Arise. 7.30 am: Writing. 9.00 am: Studiology. A final review of ‘Statement VIII: The Church’. I wanted to take a second run at this composition before closing the book. By lunchtime, I realised that nothing of any interest — which would otherwise warrant persevering — had emerged. (I’ve a good nose for likely duds.) 1.45 pm: I commenced uploading the loudness-revised statements and compositions to my online sound website. Afterwards, the negotiations — +2 dB or – 2dB — began. This will take a day and a half, on past experience, and much hair tearing.

 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew against that house, and it fell — and great was its fall.

Matthew 7.27.

After a day of rumours and growing speculation, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, announced that a General Election would be held on July 4. The countries of the UK breathed a collective sigh of relief.

May 23 (Thursday). 8.30 am: Writing. 9.00 am: Studiology. A second listen-through of the album tracks in order, paying particular attention to their relative loudness and any internal disparities within each track’s overall volume. The statements and compositions are beginning to bed down. Higher-pitched sounds ‘appear’ louder than lower-pitched ones, of the same volume (or decibel level); a single voice cuts-through more forcibly than a complex of voices, of the same volume; likewise, irregular tones push forward of static tones of the same volume. There’s a vague and very imprecise analogy to be drawn with the ways colours of equal saturation and tone, but different hues, interact with one another.

2.00 pm: Can any track be bettered? I can let go of the project only when my answer is a uncompromising ‘no!’ While not a perfectionist (an outlook that provides safe haven for prevaricators and those who can’t finish anything), I refuse to release anything that will make me wince when I either hear or see or read it. I make enough mistakes in public inadvertently without having to contrive more. And so I keep pushing, and listening to what the tracks tell me they need in order to find rest. 4.15 pm: Not content to leave it alone, I picked up again the alternative version of ‘Statement VIII: The Church’. I shan’t rest until I’m convinced that the first version is the most appropriate one. 5.00 pm: Nailed it! The alternative won out.

May 24 (Friday). 8.00 am: Studiology. I pressed on to complete the new ‘Statement VIII’. 11.30 am: I ‘attended’ the funeral of the Rev Ian Girling, which was live streamed from Christ Church, Weston-Super-Mare. Ian was a former Vicar of my former church at Aberystwyth. I’ve known a number of intellectually capable clerics and ministers who were adept at preaching, good leaders, and administratively savvy. But very few who were unusually gifted pastorally, empathetic, attentive listeners, and both wise and practical in their counsel. Ian was such a one.

2.00 pm: The statement completed, I uploaded both it and the revised composition pieces to the website, and listened once again. 3.30 pm: I let go.

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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