April 24, 2019

Madeira (April 12–22)
I’d travelled the length, breadth, height, and depth of the island over a period of ten days. I’d been taxied from one notable landmark and beauty spot to another, and moved through mountains and streets on foot, by cable car, and toboggan. Zealous restaurateurs had propositioned me, seeking my patronage. I’d eaten well, acquired a taste for chestnut soup, and discovered the lizards’ charm and an olive tree that’d been brought to Portugal by the Romans three hundred years before Christ. Quite possibly, it was older than those planted in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In the wider world, Notra-Dame burned, twenty-eight German tourists were killed in a coach crash on the island, a journalist was murdered in Northern Ireland, and over three hundred lives had been suddenly extinguished in Sri Lanka.

Figures of a Calvary: Mother of Sorrows (1501-10) oakwood sculpture with traces of polychromy, Sacred Art Museum, Funchal, Madeira

In my inner world, I tossed and turned like a restless sleeper. Decisions and determinations were looked at from all sides, prayed over, and either abandoned or placed in abeyance. I never ask for signs, only wisdom and clarity of thought. I sifted through imagined and impossible scenarios, hoping to be surprised by that love and grace that have been hidden long behind ‘a frowning providence’. I came back to my study poised, ready to face-down doubt and learn to live contentedly without those things which I’m presently denied.

Aberystwyth (Wednesday, April 24)
8.00 am: A communion. I’ve changed; the sense of home has changed. But not synchronically. My settled sense of belonging hasn’t returned with me, yet. There’s a quietness around and about, and a sense of foreboding (like the anticipation of either grief or misfortune) in my bones. No doubt these states of mind will pass once I’ve re-established my routine. So often our feelings and desires are at odds with reality and common sense.

9.00 am: Into the inbox, with the day’s second mug of PG Tips in hand:

I dealt with the emergencies and easy responses first. In negotiating admin, there are two dimensions to consider: quantity and time. You may not have much control over how many things require your attention, but it’s possible to decide how much time you’re willing to apportion to them. Could I substantially empty my inbox by lunchtime? On the menu this morning were postgraduate applications, pastoral matters, exhibitions matters, and assessment confirmations. From now until the middle of June, my feet will not touch the floor.

11.00 am: More tea, and a small piece of 100% dark chocolate (courtesy of my younger son). This is the hard drug of confectionary. Very adult – like chewing tobacco (which I’ve never done) or taking snuff (which I have, once, after delivering a paper at Oxford University):

12.00 pm: I was ready, now, to bite into the more complex, potentially intractable, and emotionally charged emails. (Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew played in the background). By 12.30 pm, responses to my responses had begun to drip into my inbox. There was no end to it.

After lunch, I returned to the studio with fresh ears to hear the final composition on the album. After nearly two weeks’ respite, its limitations and potentialities were conspicuous. Samples that had been muted were reactivated. Others, either deleted or moved. And yet others, titillated by the application of moderate modulation and delay. On the studio floor, in the afternoon gloom, against the dribble and spark of the rain upon the windows, I listened:

There is only so much of a certain type of energy to complete a given project. I’m presently mopping up the gravy where this one is concerned. Once that energy has been exhausted, little of merit and few improvements can be achieved, and carelessness is countenanced. Moreover, the whole begins to sound like a hollow thing. The love has gone. By the close of the afternoon session, ‘God Breathed’ was optimised. To have pursued it further would’ve caused me to re-conceive the piece fundamentally.

7.30 pm: I made rough-cut mixes of all the tracks so that I could begin listening to them in the order they’d be arranged on album, assess their relative volume and loudness levels, and play the compositions on a variety of other sound systems in different rooms.

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