August 17, 2020

‘Be still, my soul’ (Kathrina von Schelgel (1855)).

WFH: DAY 114. Last week’s ‘staycation’ was occupied with reading and ruminating, for the most part. I’d wanted to: pause and, for the first time, consider the events since March with hindsight; catch up with my studies in the fields of theology and the psychology of religion; question fundamentals and assumptions; review the ‘pilgrimage’ from past to present; auto-fault find; assess my work commitments (creative and academic), for now and the next year; and let my mind wander, ‘where it will go’ (to adapt a Beatles’ lyric). It was quite a shakedown.

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: A burgeoning inbox. When on leave, I maintain one squinting eye on its communications, just in case matters of import requiring an immediate response arise. During these increasingly bleak, unsettling, and disjointed days, in particular, it’s impossible to remain coolly detached from appeals for guidance and intervention. Some emails take far less time to answer than anticipated; others appear straightforward but are actually ponderously complicated, with many ramifications. First off, I dealt with a few easy-peasy requests before jumping-in at the deep end. (In the background: Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Apocalypse (1974).)

11.00 am: ‘More tea please!’ The morning was set aside for teaching, assessment, and admissions admin. We proceed against the backdrop of thousands of university applicants still uncertain of where (if anywhere) they’ll land next month. This generation already faces an enormous challenge with regard to job opportunities in the immediate future, as the depth of the recession becomes more apparent. Sadly, mental health problems and suicides among young adults will no doubt increase as a result. The world is experiencing a systems failure on both a micro and a macro level. This is a period of transition. Ineffectual, unwise, and careless governments; mendacious, lazy, and power-hungry leaders; and greedy, irresponsible, and inconsiderate corporations will all pass. However, we cannot return to how things were. Not least because we’re no longer the same as we were before the terrors fell.

1.40 pm: After lunch I listened, pensively, to the compositions in progress. All the while I’m asking myself: ‘What can be abbreviated, removed, compressed, emphasized, softened, and made subtler?’ There’s a discernible presence of sonic continuity, which augur’s well for establishing a unity among the otherwise discrete components of the suite. At the same time, I’m attending to the balance between sound and musicality (abstraction and figuration). The latter arises out of my manipulation of the former; it’s, almost, fortuitous:

3.00 pm: I took time out, over a cold drink, to watch a YouTube video entitled: Blank Tape: Electronic Cassette Culture. It’s heartening to see the new generation of experimental music makers resurrecting this old medium, and with due attention to how its idiosyncratic deficits and characteristics can be creatively exploited. (Limitations, in technology as in life, can sometimes be turned to an advantage.) A cassette is a design classic, in my opinion: a beautiful object — to behold and to hold — that’s part medium and part mechanism. My first player/recorder was a variant of the Sanyo Cassette tape Auto-Stop System, Model M 2000G (1963):

Between the years 1973 and 1976, the bands I belonged to transferred the final mix of their albums, recorded on reel-to-reel tape, to cassettes, usually in a limited edition of no more than five (three of which were for members of the band). I made the album covers using paper, felt-tip pens, glue, Letraset, and photo cut-ups, none of which (unsurprisingly) have survived. What, in my youth, was a production and distribution necessity, born of the reality that no one would ever give a bunch of school kids a recording contract, is now a preferred mode of operation. Today, the artist can have complete control of their music, from recording to marketing to remuneration.

3.30 pm: ‘What next?’ I gravitated to accounts from Jones’s collection that presented a very different sonic challenge to those I’d already dealt with. I plumbed for the visions of aerial battles, accounts about which circulated in Wales and England from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.

7.30 pm: I returned to the source texts in order to begin my consideration. In the back of my mind an idea had begun to ferment: the prospective composition might just lend itself to an improvisational mode, using samplers.

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