August 28, 2020

‘Can noise, too, be a teacher pointing to Silence that is the ground of all? Is noise also (like everything else that exists) a spoke leading to the hub that is the Centre of us all?’ (Martin Laird, The Sunlit Absence (2011))

Yet do I remember the time past (Psalm 143.5).

WFH: DAY 123. 8.30 am: A communion. 9.00 am: In the studio, at the composition and mixing desk, I essayed ‘The Singing in the Air’. The task was to make a draft edit of a sample that will contribute to a notional whole. Headphones are like a face mask for the ears: after an hour, discomfort prevails. I bacon-sliced the track. ‘Be brutal, rigorous, and dispassionate, John!’, he enjoined. Heartlessness is one of my specialties.

10.30 am: Tea was delivered. A moment’s respite. A reflection on sacrifice and loss (courtesy of Professor Cruise’s Facebook post) 1 (Present): Henry Purcell’s plaint from The Fairy Queen (1692):

O, let me forever weep, My eyes no more shall welcome sleep. I’ll hide me from the sight of day, And sigh my soul away. He’s gone, his loss deplore, And I shall never see him more.

Back to the composition. In my mind’s-ear, I heard something approaching a cross between Byrd, Palestrina, and Ligeti. (This was taking an age.) 11.30 am: I’d extracted what I considered usable sub-samples from the source. There was a section that sounded like an ‘Amen’. It provided a quietly climatic resolution to an otherwise unsettling unfolding of chordal changes. Sometimes, as in this case, the beginning and ending of a piece present themselves simultaneously. Thereafter, I have to work a passage from the one to the other.

2.00 pm: Before lunch, I’d begun the process of teasing together sub-samples. Each had to be honed. It was liking putting together the fragments of a broken pot that never had a fixed, intact identity. ‘Remember to make room for silence, John’, he urged. That silence — which is either in between, or in anticipation of, or at the close of sounds. I listened for the breath that underlay the developing composition — the pace at which the sub-samples inhaled and exhaled. A consistent rate of change had to be maintained throughout.

3.00 pm: A break. A reflection on sacrifice and loss 2 (Retrospective): Gentle Giant’s Think of Me with Kindness from Octopus (1972):

There, memories are sorrow, when there’s no tomorrow. Sleep while the sweet sorrow wakes my daydream; Sleep while you think of me with kindness, please remember former days. Sweet the song that once we sang, the silent parting ways.

A little reading:

3.15 pm: ‘Proceed!’ 4.30 pm: An outing. Apparition in the cemetery:

5.30 pm: A reflection on sacrifice and loss 3 (Prospective):

It had taken all day, thus far, to compose twenty-four seconds of sound (‘Part A’). And I was still tweaking. I pushed on with ‘Part B’ of the phrase, moving closer and closer to the final ‘Amen’. 6.00 pm: ‘Enough, already!’ My ears could no longer perceive the composition’s undercurrent. I listened to other pieces from the suite instead.

7.45 pm: I returned to ‘Part B’ for the remainder of the evening.

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