Summa: diary (June 22-28, 2024)

Deal with one darkness at a time.
The devil moves in predictable ways.

June 22 (Saturday). 7.30 am: Ambulation. The bright sky began to break. Fast-food outlets were being stacked from refrigerated lorries; the very few cars crawled at slower than the regulatory 20 mph, while pedestrians crossed the roads without looking to left or right, and at right angels, with their backs to the on-coming traffic — as they’ve always done — however fast vehicles are approaching. I’ve never experienced this phenomenon in any other town. People, here, must live a charmed life; I’m surprised the road-casualty statistics aren’t through the roof (or else, spread across the tarmac).

8.00 am: I was first into the cafe and to succumb, helplessly. Taken very occasionally, I feel neither guilt nor shame from the indulgence. This is one of life’s simple but (for me) inordinate pleasures.

9.00 am: A third-gear day of ‘potching’ (as we say in South Wales) around the studio, stocktaking equipment and cables for the explorative projects ahead, and clearing a head space. Since I was running solo this weekend, I also ‘indulged’ my passion for the Forbidden Planet film — about which I’ve written enthusiastically elsewhere and often in the past — in the evening.

At night, in bed, the distant drawl of motorbikes travelling northwards towards Blaina evoked a vivid spatial and visual sensation of winding streets and roads, the starless night, and the sulphur street lamps. (Sound summoned vision.) I saw, for the first time, the science-fiction classic the Forbidden Planet (1956), and heard Bebe and Louis Barron’s at times terrifying electronic soundtrack, one that consisted exclusively of noises made by transient cybernetic circuitry, multiple synchronized tape recorders, and tape-delay processes.

My Music (1961-2010).
Forbidden Planet, theatrical poster, 1956 (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

My benchmark for one of the most horrifying sound every created is Bebe and Louis Barron’s conception of the Monster from the Id’s fearful roar in the Sci-fi classic The Forbidden Planet (1956). I grew up with this film. The terror it evokes is a thing of beauty. I now know that the noise was made just by an oscillator burning out. But that head knowledge doesn’t diminish my emotional experience one iota.

dairy (September 15, 2018 — June 30, 2021).

After lunch, I was in my stride: noises were coerced from all but one device, looped, superimposed, and variously filtered. I heard sounds reminiscent of Bebe and Louis Barron’s (1925–2008, 1920-89) ‘tonalities’ for The Forbidden Planet (1956): the death-rattle of circuits in extremis. 

The Amazing Bending Professor! (2014).
Forbidden Planet, frame from theatrical trailer, 1956 (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

Louis and Bebe Barron’s soundtrack to the Forbidden Planet (1956) made a virtue of this inevitability. The ‘music’ comprises a collage sounds produced by oscillators designed to give up the ghost in the process of generating some of the most disturbing, unearthly, and compelling sounds in cinema history.

Summa: diary (August 19-31, 2022).

June 24 (Monday).

Sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind (Mark 5.15).

8.30 am: Studiology. I returned to where I’d left off last week. The morning’s primary objective was to impose greater control over the Sherman FilterBank 2’s no-input output by the introduction of a 4-channel junction box. To begin, I needed to map the most fruitful paths of sound production. I’m neither convinced by the stability and reliability of devices when they’re pushed beyond their operational norms (which has significant implications in a (notional) live-performance setting); nor that I’ve heard a voice say: ‘This is the way, walk ye in it’ (Isaiah 30.21). Some processes, while fascinating, aren’t always adaptable to a given end. However, I’m open to the possibility that this ‘instrument’ may define its own end, either independently or in conjunction with something else. Curiously, the junction box responds — theremin-like — to the proximity of my hand and touch. I’d become an effector.

1.30 pm: Furtherance. I added two foot pedals to the Sherman unit: one enables me to span the range of specific parameters, and the another to control the volume output. My mind began to reel. Could I contrive a mean by which sounds are cued, or previewed, over headphones prior to becoming audible to a (notional) live audience, but without (and this is the corker) interrupting the flow of transmission from the Sherman Unit? 3.30 pm: I was sufficiently confident about the set-up thus far to remove it from the ‘build table’ to the ‘rig table’. ‘Clear the room!’ When I make this announcement, every other set-up and piece of equipment in the studio is dismantled and put away. The ‘rig table’ must become everything, for now.

June 25 (Tuesday). 6.00 am: Arise. The clearance continued. While waiting for materials to modify the ‘rig table’ to arrive, I updated firmware on devices, and sourcing Friedrich Jürgenson’s Electronic Voice Phenomenon recordings from 1959. I’d referenced EVPs on the Spirit Communication (2023) album, previously. While wrestling with ideas in the early hours of the morning, it struck me that samples from this source could serve as a starting point for (notionally) performative improvisation. I’m someone who requires something to respond to … to interpret. Moreover, when moving into (what is for me) a new domain of sound construction, it’s useful to take along some familiar pieces of furniture from the old ‘house’. Without them, I lose all sense of continuity with my past, creatively speaking. Tradition and innovation go hand-in-hand in my experience of making.

DPD are now economising on their time by no longer ringing the domestic doorbell and waiting for the owner to respond, but simply depositing parcels on the doorstep. (I strongly suspect that ‘proof of delivery’ snaps will become a sub-genre of photography in the future.) 11.00 am: The heavy-duty Velcro (wonderful stuff) having arrived, I set about modifying the ‘rig-table’. 1.00 pm: A Japanese-style curried pot noodle (flown in from Japan with my younger son) that far outstrips the UK variety.

1.30 pm: I commenced construction on the rig, beginning at the power supply: circuit breakers, fuses, and plugboards. Get the health and safety dimension aspect right, then do what you will. I schematized as I proceeded. 4.00 pm: An ambulation.

June 26 (Wednesday). 7.15 am: I accompanied a family member to the hospital in Carmarthen. 10.30 am: Afterwards, I took coffee at the local Conti’s cafe in Lampeter. There used to be a Conti’s in Blaina, Monmouthshire, when I was a child in the 1960s. It was on the corner of High Street and Hope Street, spacious and double-fronted, brightly lit, with a long white marble-top counter, and run by three generations of Italians, who served proper coffee, ice cream, and gelato like they’d enjoyed in ‘the old country’. Lower down the High Street, on the opposite side, was a smaller cafe owned by the Sarachi family. Neither served spaghetti bolognese. Back then, the only spaghetti valley folk countenanced eating came in tomato sauce and out of a can of Heinz. Today’s Conti’s was a place of many mirrors.

On College Street, Lampeter, the Jones brothers’ butchers shop: a magnificent example of flaunted typographic design and strident paint work. ‘You can’t miss it!’

1.30 pm: Studiology. The building of the ‘rig-table’ commenced. Presently conceived, the table has two pathways: the first is for the no-put system that’s centred on the Sherman unit; the second (the something else) will be a found sound system centred on a sample launcher. They’re entirely independent of one another. However, it may be possible for them to share some effectors.

June 27 (Thursday). 7.15 am: A review of the Affirmation loudness profile, in readiness for the album’s release on July 1. 8.00 am: A making of plans, to raise up some effectors above the others on the table and improve cable management. Some sound performers are comfortable working with a rat’s nest of coloured wires connecting myriad little boxes with knobs, switches, and lights. It all looks very visual and sexy. But I can’t work like that. My temperament requires an order out of which apparent chaos can emerge. 9.45 am: I reviewed power supply management and divided the tabletop devices from the external devices (monitor speakers, subwoofer, and mixer) plugboards.

11.30 am: I listened to the Friedrich Jürgenson’s EVP recordings, originally released on a now unobtainable and untraceable CD released on the Parapsychic Acoustic Research Cooperative label. The disc covers a period in his output from 1959 (the year I was born) to 1977 (the year I began art school): It comprises a mere 57 of over 1,000 recordings that he made during his lifetime. One unnamed reviewer captures the essence of Jürgenson’s modus operandi:

Apparently, Mr Jurgenson found that, through gradual experimentation, he was able to effectively capture the voices of the deceased against the background noise of short-wave radio signals. … What makes this disc so ephemeral [sic] is that it is a recording of Mr Jurgenson playing back his tapes, sometimes backwards or at the wrong speed. So you hear radio static, a really creepy voice in Swedish, and then the loud snap of the ‘stop’ button being pushed.

To my mind the recordings aren’t persuasive. However, my interest is in what they purport to capture, along with the peculiar aesthetic of the sound. The tracks exhibit, variously, lo-fi white-noise soaked monaural radio broadcasts of popular, folk, jazz, and classical music with a stern Germanic voice heard faintly in the background; off-station noise, against which the hum of the tape-recording machine’s motor, unsettling bangs, and animal-like screams are prominent; and the sound of disquietening reverberant spaces (like empty rooms) within which something dreadful was happening. I’m intrigued by Jürgenson’s manipulation of the recording medium to reveal the voices of the dead. I suspect that this approach reflects his training as a painter and film director. He could think outside the box.

And, so, the Einspielungen [working title] (the German word for ‘recordings’, with which Jürgenson titled his own) project began. It’s not directed towards the development of an album, principally, but, rather, to a way of working improvisationally, within constraints. 4.00 pm: Proof of presence. (Mirror.)

June 28 (Friday). 6.00 am: Arise, and an review of news media reaction to the Biden v Trump debate. This is not an age of rhetoricians — leaders who can navigate long-form, informed, and persuasive political discourse. Michael Foot, who was Leader of the Labour Party (1980-83) and MP for my home constituency of Blaenau Gwent (1983-97), possessed a considerable facility for engaging oratory. Opponents could applaud his delivery even as they denounced his opinions. Tony Benn was cut from the same cloth, in this respect. They were born to politics, passionate about truth and injustice, and placed their party before themselves and the country before their party. Nobody talked about charisma in those days. That expectation began to assume inordinate importance only when Margaret Thatcher had a ‘make-over’ to look and sound more authoritative and genial on TV. The media has a great deal to answer for with respect to deforming the values and priorities of our democracy.

7.30 am: Studiology. A ‘desktop’ clearance of files, folders, and shortcuts related to past projects and creating others for the new project. Back to the rig. Yesterday afternoon’s test revealed an imbalance between the left and right channel inputs of the mixer of around -3 to -6 dB. Some sound engineers consider the asymmetry to be an inevitable consequence of differentials in the resistance and capacitance of the devices and cables chained together along the signal path. Sonically, the variance isn’t noticeable. Visually, it bugs me. Two solutions present themselves: first, inert the Left output into one channel on the mixer and the Right output into another, and compensate manually; secondly, feed the outputs into a pre-mixer with two independent channels, and adjust the signals for balance prior to entering the main mixer.

10.00 am: On the learning curve with several pieces of equipment that I’ve not deployed for some time. 11.00 am: I returned to the an examination of the Jürgenson recordings. The aim on this occasion is too more thoroughly comprehend what I was listening to, with the objective of replicating the sound phenomenon in the weeks ahead. I’d attempted the same for the composition entitled ‘John!’, on the Spirit Communication album (2023). By this means, pre-fabricated samples of ‘hoax’ EVPs could become the basis of the improvisations.

2.30 pm: Off to town to send-off my electoral postal vote, recieve a mop mow, and inquire about a repeat prescription, for which I’d recieved no text reminder (due to a sytem failure). My local pharmacy has over 15,000 users and disposes over 2,500 medications each week, I was told. So, its understandable that they drop the ball sometimes. On my return, I tested out a new pair of bone conduction headphones. I’d first come across the technology while having an indepth ear examination. The experience of hearing through the the temporal bone alone is bewildering:

They transmit sound directly to the inner ear through vibrations on the skull, bypassing the outer and middle ear. This design allows users to remain aware of their surroundings, making them a good choice for activities like running or cycling outdoors. They can also benefit individuals with certain types of hearing loss, especially conductive hearing loss. 

SoundCore website.

In memoriam: On this day in 1960, 45 coalminers were killed in an underground explosion at Six Bells Colliery, Abertillery, Monmouthshire.

‘Six Bells Abertillery’ (c.1900-10) Martin Ridley Collection (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

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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