August 9, 2018

There are events in my life that I don’t understand. But I’ve learned to accept them for what they are, and to be grateful for the joys and consolations that they brought with them.

8.00 am: A communion. 8.45 am: Off to School to begin a day of teaching and consultations. 9.15 am: I dealt with the physical post, email, and admin. Always tackle the most unsavoury messages first. Things can only get better after that:

9.40 am: Off to the Old College for a PhD Fine Art tutorial, and a lovely cup of tea and some fruit from a student who always exhibits exemplary hospitality. (A Lidl’s kiwi on this occasion. Quality stuff.)

The council workers were out in force, repainting the road markings on Terrace Road. I adore the sumptuousness of the thick and densely coloured paint, poured on hot and steaming, and cooling and drying in minutes. Painting as process:

The tidiness and orderliness of the artist’s studio reflects the values and preoccupations of the work produced therein:

Some of the MA students are still on vacation. So I made the most of their absence, and secreted myself away in order to deal with further incoming mail. 12.00 am: Back to the School to attend to admin, before a lunchtime meeting with the School’s subject representative from the university library. We righted the educational world.

2.00 pm: Further catch up, followed by an MA inquirer’s consultation at my local watering hole:

4.00 pm: Two further MA tutorials at the Old College:

7.30 pm: After a day discussing the work of others, I was desperate to get back to my own. I reviewed yesterday’s insertions. I’m unsure about the beginning – not the components but, rather, their organisation. Too self conscious and deliberate, perhaps. (One for the ‘morrow.) Several of the turntable samples were dropped into the mix, just to see how they’d either stand out or integrate:

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • A failure of confidence can beset an artist at any point in their career. No amount of prior success, experience, facility, and encouragement from others can offset it. This sense of unworthiness will pass eventually, just as surely as it will return again one day.
  • The best students that I’ve ever taught, like the best professional artists, have the most mature critical capacity. They’re able to discern the problems and the principles underlying their work, devise imaginative solutions, and work long and intelligently to apply them. The work that they exhibit is never slick and quick, easy, or vapid.
  • Working hard and working well aren’t synonymous. You can work hard – put in many hours and slog by the sweat of your brow – without achieving anything of worth. This may be because it’s undertaken uncritically, unadvisedly, and without either sufficient preparation or adequate competence. Working well implies a strategic, intelligent, and cognitive approach to conception and production. Allied to a capacity for hard work, a student possessed with these aptitudes can move mountains.
  • It’s not the praise you receive that matters most but, rather, the one who is giving it. The integrity and usefulness of professional acclamation rests upon the wisdom, experience, status, and honesty of the critic. FaceBook ‘likes’ and Instagram ‘love hearts’ will tend to flatter rather than illuminate you.
  • What’s needed is a philosophy of university education. Students should be encouraged to see the interconnectedness of disciplines and subjects. A library is the hub of a university in this respect. Through its books, journals, and on-line provision, you can experience the whole of academia.
  • Expect university to be, on the one hand, hard, harsh, demanding, frustrating, bewildering, and tirering, and, on the other hand, rewarding, challenging, fulfilling, enabling, fascinating, and elevating. Those hands must be clasped together.

An evening passed to the west:

 

 

 



August 8, 2018

Tears sealed in a clear glass jar and cast into the sea: transparent fluids of different densities, one within another

Last night, as I fell towards sleep, Kate Bush’s The Man With the Child in His Eyes haunted my internal sound world. Does the memory throw up such things arbitrarily? Or is the mind talking to consciousness – endeavouring to either understand or express a felt response to matters of the heart and soul that cannot otherwise be processed or articulated internally?

5.30 am:

When, during the early hours of the morning, sleep eludes me, I either lie on the study floor or sit in my rocking chair, in the hope that a different environment may send me back into Morpheus’ arms:

8.00 am: A communion. 8.45 am: Admin. 9.45 am: Studiology and a review of yesterday’s work. Johnny Cash’s ‘The Man Comes Around‘ (2002) (which I referred in yesterday’s entry) is bookended by readings from ‘The Revelation of St John the Divine’. In this way, Cash divides the source text from the imaginative and expository application of such (the song), in between. I wondered whether this might be a solution to one of my compositional dilemmas. I’ve wanted to include the biblical verse on which ‘Write the Vision … ‘ is based while, at the same time, containing it. In this way, the conceptual integrity of the piece (an articulation of the source text using only the sound of writing) would be maintained, and also explained. Cash’s reading from the Bible is curious. It sounds as though he’d captured his voice using a lo-fi medium, like a mono cassette recorder, in a non-studio setting. Moreover, there’s a distinct scratching sound in the background (perhaps caused by some mechanical binding within the recording machine), not unlike that made by my pencil on the paper support as I wrote.

I digitised the Habakkuk verse, re-equalised the capture so as to reflect some of the same sonorities as Cash’s recording, and divided it into two parts:

Once inserted into the DAW’s session, I underwrote the sample with a repeating scratch, derived from the acoustic writing recording, following the example of the Cash extract. The idea worked well. How strange that this solution should’ve arisen from a casual act of listening to music during a car ride home. (It’s in the wider sphere of life that answers to the questions of art are frequently found. The reverse is also true.)

After lunch, I began dividing up the first part of the Habakkuk recording in order to better accommodate the speech to the beat of the scratch sample. 3.30 pm: Then, I returned to the turntables to generate a final layer of samples using one deck only. This operation required precise control. But, first, I limbered up with an improvisation that, unexpectedly, suggested yet unconsidered possibilities. (Sometimes, you just need to lose control in order to find a way.):

 

7.30 pm: I sifted through the files I’d made, and extracted useable samples for the next layer of composition. My concern, presently, is that the composition is too flat, dynamically. It needs to climax … but not at the end of the piece (which is represented by the thunderous section). A sound composition of this type finds it’s shape in the process of being put together – just as does an abstract painting, where there’s no pre-ordained system or structure; just as our life does, if it’s lived with an open hand.

An evening passed to the west:

 

 

 

 



August 7, 2018

Hope not for what cannot.

9.00 am: A brief survey of my personal website following its rebuild on the foundations of a new and more sophisticated template. When the final twenty-six posts of this blog have been published on the present site (sometime in early September), the Diary will/may re-emerge, at some juncture, within a new subdomain. This’ll be at the following address: http://intersections.johnharvey.org.uk/diary/, within the framework of the recently commuted John Harvey: Intersections of Sound, Image, Word, and Life blog. There’re still access ‘issues’ to resolve. (If you can’t yet see these pages, contact me following the advice given on the information page that you’ll receive.) 9.30 am: Email catch up. On our way home in the car yesterday, we listened to my elder son’s music playlist: an eclectic mix of Abba, Johnny Cash (‘The Man Comes Around‘)), Neil Diamond, David Bowie, Gerry Rafferty (‘Stuck in the Middle with You‘ and ‘Right Down the Line‘ (I can no longer listen to the former without also visualising the torture scene from Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.)), and Nick Cave (‘Into My Arms‘). As I broke up the dry and compacted soil of admin, I replayed some of them.

10.30 am: Studiology. I reviewed the work undertaken last week for the ‘Write the Vision … ‘ composition, before returning to the VirtualDJ rig to finalise extracting sound samples by this means:

For an hour, I puzzled over why my Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) wasn’t receiving a recordable signal. It was only at the point of preparing for an alternative, and entirely unsatisfactory, approach to encoding the source that I realised the sub-mixer hadn’t been turned on. Sometimes you have to reach the end of the road before you rediscover your sense of direction. Onwards …

After lunch, I continued manipulating material for a further ten minutes. And, sometimes too, it’s only when you think that you’ve exhausted all the possibilities that something unexpected occurs. I continued, therefore, for a while longer. The files were then sifted on the DAW. There were nuggets amid the coal dust:

A jet aircraft passed over head, its engines, in conjunction with the Doppler effect, followed the same arc of tonalities as the sample that I’d just extracted. Wonderful! By mid afternoon, I’d found sufficient material to be going on with. Over 90% of the samples end up on the cutting-room floor. One must sow much to reap little in this work.

It’s less a lack of resources and technical facility than of imagination that keeps us from realising something worthwhile. With sufficient imagination and staying power, almost anything is possible. Towards the end of the afternoon session, I prepared the batch of samples for stretching. I wasn’t not assuming an outcome, but my imagination suggested that there may be fruit ripe to pick from this tree.

I was tagged by a FaceBook friend to a YouTube upload of sound effects from the Original Star Trek series. I’ve loved and admired these noises since I was very young. No doubt they fed my developing sensibility for soundscapes and electrical blip and bleeps. Some things don’t change; they just get clearer.  The effects sounded plausible, intriguing in and of themselves, and, in design, like the precise sonic analogue of the switches and flashing lights on the Enterprise’s control panels.

Star Trek (courtesy of WikiMedia Commons)

7.30 pm: Back to the stretching exercises, as it were. A good harvest. It remained to hear whether these new sounds would both mesh with, and sufficiently contrast, with those that already comprised the composition. Attentive and critical listening was required:

An evening passed to the west:

 

 

 



August 6, 2018

You may have to choose between two types of sorrow. 
If you can’t be happy, be busy.

9.30 am: An away day. We took our visitor to the National Botanical Gardens at Carmarthen. This was a first visit for all the others in the group too. It’s not the Eden Project, Cornwall. Nevertheless, the Great Glasshouse, by Norman Forster and Partners (the highlight of the trip) is an elegant realisation of a simple building structure turned architecture. It sits upon the landscape like a downed flying saucer. My mind also returned to the hill in the Teletubbies series:

Touch is another way of seeing. Physical contact is a mode of metaphysical communion. This is as true in our relationship to inanimate things as it is between family, friends, and lovers. The boundary between object and observer, one and another, is breached:

Greenhouses can be places of contemplation. There were moments of reverie this morning, as I contemplated the virtues and deficits of taking one of two contrary courses of action in a month or so:

We saw captive owls in action, explored within the walled garden, distinguished rubbarb from chard, and picnicked under the shade:

Cabbage white butterflies have been in abundance this summer.

On our return home, we stopped off at Aberaeron, to walk the harbour wall:

 

 



August 5, 2018

Sunday. Morning Prayer:

I was responsible for the readings (Ephesians 4.1-16):

 

After the service, we had a birthday celebration for our congregation’s two latest nonagenarians. Trinity folk can last a very long time. They make middle-aged members, like me, feel positively youthful.

After lunch, we took our visitor to Nant yr Arian to see the Red Kites being fed. There was a wake of several hundred slowly soaring over the lake. I’m not a bird watcher, but this was a sight of quiet grandeur that couldn’t fail to impress.

From there, via Borth, we made for Ynylas Beach. ‘Mr Whippy!’ (My enthusiasms are sometimes uncontainable.) I fulfilled my ambition (which had been frustrated in London, last week) at the end of our stay:

This is one of the loveliest beaches that I’ve ever walked upon. It looks out towards the Irish Sea and Aberdovey, over the estuary. The tide was retreating when we arrived. It has a gentle ebb and flow. Beguiling. Feminine. My younger son asked me to join in a game of Frissbie. ‘I can’t see the point of receiving something only to immediately throw it away!’ ‘Not everything in life needs to be a philosophical issue, Dad!’ He was right. But so was I:

 

 

 



August 4, 2018

An end to ends.
I pray prayers that I never thought I would.
And with a constancy and intensity that unnerves me.
They’re against all reason, hope, and expectation,
for things that are irretrievably and longtime past, sometimes.
By whom are these petitions inspired and upheld?
And to what end?

A framed photograph fell from the wall of the dining room and shattered. It happened sometime between yesterday and this morning. But no one in the house heard the crash. A quiet end, without witnesses. Always on these occasions, a significance seems to lurk in the wings: a lesson, a forewarning, a metaphor:

7.15 am: Breakfast:

A morning of tutorial arrangements, church matters, and house readying in preparations for a visitor. The air today was fresher; gone were the glowering clouds that seemed to seal in the humidity like a lid on a simmering saucepan.

Optimism and a sense of well-being can rise like a cooling breeze out of nowhere during the hottest part of the day. It may ride upon either a gesture of true friendship, or an encouraging word spoken in season, or the sympathy of a kindred heart.

If only the detritus of one’s life could be disposed with the same nonchalance and finality as empty boxes and bits of broken and disused household items. In this context, I find casting-off therapeutic. We accrue far too much of too little importance, materially. Rigorous editing is required every so often.

4.15 pm: Done!

 

 



August 3, 2018

YES

8.00 am: A late wake. 9.00 am: A communion. 9.30 am: Studiology:

Back to the thunder samples. Weather conditions are sometimes regarded as external correlatives for God’s presence and judgment in the Bible. Thunder and lightening were conspicuous among the natural phenomenon that attended Moses’ encounter with him on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19). (I dealt with this feature in ‘Image and Inscription’.) Judgements are one of the central themes of the source text for ‘Write the Vision … ‘. Will this section be at either the beginning or the end of the composition? I suspect the latter; these are the sounds of a storm passing away. Thunder marks and measures the lateral distance of the sky, like no other natural phenomenon. You hear its breadth. Like the nuclear explosion that opens ‘Wisdom is Better than Weapons of War’, the sounds are mimetic. However, while I wish to evoke characteristic sonorities of thunder, I don’t want to mask the reality of the sound’s manufacture – on a pair of turntables. The section will last just over one minute. It’s conception and construction took over 420 minutes:

Following lunch and a jaunt to the School – in the punishing humidity – to retrieve parcels, I reviewed those sections of the composition that’d been already drafted. ‘Do they belong together?’ Very likely. ‘In what way?’, is a much larger question. My approach is to always keep moving the furniture around the room until the bits fit. In the background, the mass-band of the tree surgeons and lawnmower division had struck up in the neighbourhood. If the studio window was closed, I’d have sweated n’ baked. (‘Ho hum!’, he mused, adding further noise.):

 

On my journey home, yesterday, I played Scott Walker’s and Sunn O (an experimental Metal band)’s Soused (2014). Walker was, in the 1960s, a hansom pop crooner who, in later life, reinvented himself as an avant-garde singer/songwriter. His most recent work is difficult, demanding, uncompromising, and sometimes downright frightening. Whenever I need to be challenged to rid myself of the safe, obvious, polite, and seductive solution, it’s to his work that I turn.

By the middle of the afternoon, the samples had each found a place within the developing composition. I had a beginning and an end to the work (possibly). It remained for me to generate additional samples using the VirtualDJ rig. The other burning question was this: Should Scourby’s reading of the title’s verse be included? Or, should the composition restrict it’s means to the sound of the writing only? The decision hinged on how conditional I’d allow the text to be in terms of the scope of compositional possibilities available. ‘Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables’ (Habakkuk 2.2) could have the rigour and determinacy of conceptualist statements by artists like Robert Barry and Lawrence Weiner. For example, the latter’s SOME LIMESTONE SOME SANDSTONE ENCLOSED FOR SOME REASON (1993). A case of only, and nothing more.

7.30 pm: Onto the virtual rig:

I puzzled over the failure of the MacBook Pro to recognise the A/D interface. When in doubt (or at the end of one’s tether) reinstall the software. ‘YES!!” Then … how do I get the MacBook to record the output of the VirtualDJ rather than the A/D interface? ‘AHH!!’ Then ‘Ah! Dual ‘booth’ mode. Of course’. Digital routing is not for the fainthearted. Gain and balance adjusted, fingers oiled and flexed, I was ready to rock.

 

 



August 2, 2018

There’re occasions when one awakens to the realisation that some of life’s longstanding and unresolved problems cannot (and, perhaps, shouldn’t) be tolerated any longer. They’ve become too intractactable, painful, and injurious. One must call time, once and for all. To do so requires a heroic and dispassionate act of decisiveness, and a plan of action that can’t be rescinded (3.20 am).

7.00 am: I awoke, but remained still for some time. Following breakfast, and having packed my rucksack, I headed towards Brixton tube station for the last time:

From there I travelled to Covent Garden, collected my thoughts at a cafe, and located several shops that I’d need to visit following my haircut appointment on Bedford Street. I rarely have my greying crown put to right outside Aberystwyth. This was a treat.

The temperature was set to rise to 30ºc. This risked jeapordising my dippy hypothalamus. So, I left the sweltering city and the welter of international tourist parties earlier than planned:

My early-morning resolution will have implications across the board of my responsibilities, activities, and proclivities. The awareness didn’t come as a bolt out of the blue but, rather, gently, like the sun emerging from behind a bright cloud. To begin a plan of action is one thing; to maintain it, quite another. The endeavour will require a combination of subjugation, resignation, and acceptance, alongside a further disciplining of thought, emotion, will, and body. Some things will need to be done while other things, undone. A ruthless assertion of what is right over what is desirable, and of duty over need, are required. I’ll be declaring war on myself. But the onslaught must be motivated by self-love and the betterment of others. Self-loathing simply wont do.

As the train moved further away from the city, the temperatures moderated:

At this season, all carriages of the Aberystwyth train proceed to the final destination. There’s no mind-bending rationalisation of which two will split-off at Machynlleth. Are they the last pair as the train stands on the platform at Birmingham International, or the last at Shrewsbury? The train enters the station in the opposite direction to which it leaves. Regulars know this by instinct. Newbies are utterly perplexed.

2.15 pm: I attended to emails and began setting out my teaching and admin diary for the week ahead. I read through my private and occasional dairy. There’re problems discussed that are no closer to resolution today than they were three months ago. 5.20 pm: Arrived.

7.40 pm: After dinner, an unpacking.



August 1, 2018

‘G-Day’. 6.30 am: I was woken by the noise of the rubbish lorry chundering down the road while bundling wheelie-bins into its rear-end, the vehicles’ compressors hissing like a cat in a tight situation. At least one of the flight paths to Heathrow Airport passes over the house, and there’s a railway track for goods and passenger trains at the rear. (‘Hey-ho! This is the metropolis, John’.):

9.15 am: The bad lads moved out and towards Tate Britain, Pimlico, to see the All Too Human and Aftermath exhibitions:

The former’s thesis regarding a stylistic continuity, chain of influence, and tradition of realism extending from Soutine and Sickert through Bomberg, to Auerbach, Freud, Bacon, and beyond was familiar to me. Nevertheless, it was instructive to see it played out on the walls. If you’re a figurative painter, this exhibition is a ‘must see’. There was a series of studies by Henry Tonks, in the latter, that illustrated the appalling injuries suffered by soilders on the front line during the the First World War. Tonks was trained as a surgeon before becoming an artist. His studies made a, no doubt unintended, connection with the ravaged and deformed faces in many of Bacon’s portraits, on show in the other exhibition.

11.15 pm: On, then, to Oxford Circus for a spot of manly shopping and lunch, before moving on to Tate Britain, where we took sustenance (yet again) in the ‘Members Room’. It has an admirable view over the Thames:

The Shape of Light exhibition addressed the question of whether photography can be abstract (like painting and sculpture). In so doing, it helpfully problematised the definition and limits of abstraction in relation to all visual modes. Provisionally, my view is this: Photography abstracts most successfully when it isolates particular phenomena from the welter of incidents that comprise perceived reality. Abstraction as extraction, in other words. (‘I wish you could’ve seen this one, Buddy!’)

4.15 pm: We needed a change of our pace and orientation. The river called to us. It was too nice a day not to swan its length from St Katherine’s pier to Westminster Pier on a cruise:

From Westminister we walked towards Wardour Street, passed the now shrouded Big Ben, Downing Street, and Leicester Square. In an otherwise undistinguished Chinese restraunt we shared a meal, the quality of which raised our eyebrows. This establishment will be added to our list of eateries to revisit.

Onwards, afterwards, to Waterloo, where we walked along the South Bank and I exercised a rare act of spontaneity: I bought an ice cream. (Never let it be said that the Harvey Boys don’t know how to let their hair down. Ideally, I’d have preferred a ‘99’. (Mr Whippy … that sort of thing.) But the queue at the ice cream van was too long. I was forced up-market:

7.15 pm: Son and father went their separate ways for the next few hours. I caught up on my life at a watering hole in Waterloo Station. This had been a rich day in so many ways. Gratitude!



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