February 15, 2018

He shall call upon me, and I will answer him (Psalm 91.15)

8.00 am: A communion. Scenario 1: There was no mobile reception in the hotel. I had to walk to the end of the drive before I could obtain even a precariously weak signal. Did they hear me? ‘Hello!?’ Scenario 2: The phone number was correct; so, either the line was faulty or they weren’t picking up. Scenario 3: All I could get was the engaged tone. The efficacy of prayer is not, likewise, subject to either our location or the signal (spiritual) strength; and God is never too busy or unresponsive. He not only listens but also replies. Yes. There’ve been times when I’ve wondered if there was someone on the other end. There’ve been times, too, when my motives for speaking with him have been wrong; my heart, awry; and my priorities, dishevelled. You can’t have communication without communion. (‘Reform and redial, John!’) God’s answers aren’t always straightforward, though. In other words, they’re not necessarily comprehensible in terms of a simple and absolute ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For example, there’s a ‘yes’ … but not yet; and a ‘no’, for now, that’ll be superseded by a ‘yes’ in the future. Answers to prayer are always contextual and conditional. Sometimes, either we, or our circumstances, or the season, or the prevailing conditions must change before God chooses his moment. But act he will. ‘Gottes Zeit ist die Allerbeste Zeit‘ [‘God’s Time is the Very Best Time’], as J.S. Bach titled one of his cantatas (BWV106). But that time may be a very long time in coming. Which is why trusting God (Psalm 91. 2, 4), and waiting upon him, are of the essence of prayer.

Waiting (in silence):

Yesterday evening, a friend from home (South Wales) phoned to tell me that Linda Thomas had died after a short and aggressive illness. I knew her during my time at Blaenau Gwent Baptist Church, Abertillery, back in the late 1970s. She was a gifted and compassionate peripatetic music teacher, as well as a serious-minded Christian who knew how to let her hair down. I used to rib her mercilessly; and she, me. ‘See you on the far side of the river, “Lindy-Loo”!’:

8.30 pm: Health check. Since the operation, last week, my blood pressure has become unstable due to the effects of the general anaesthetic, which has also got entangled with the background ME. (‘Complications’, as they say.) Added to this, my surgical wound hasn’t sealed entirely. Healing will be a slower process, as a result. So, the arm remains very painful and inefficient. And to think that I have to go through this twice more. During my convalescence, I’ve been working on projects that don’t require too much keyboard manipulation. It’s been an opportunity to finalise the compositions and mix for the I. Nothing. Lack. project.

To that end, I wanted to devise two further and final tracks that explored and applied aspects of the deficits of dementia that hadn’t been addressed by the other components of the suite. Having recorded MacMillan’s recitation of Psalm 23 to cassette tape, I proceeded to physically erase, with glass paper, the magnetic particles that were adhered to it, layer by layer. Following each pass, I digitally transferred the effects of my vandalism. After five applications of the process, the original recording was little more than fierce noise. (I’d deployed a similar strategy to create my Erased Messiah Recording (2016).) The phased passes were then arranged in order, beginning with the most degraded, and proceeding, through a sequence of fades, to a pristine rendering of the original, at the end. In this way, the process is analogous to the effects of dementia on memory, wherein the most recent memories (corresponding to the beginning of the recitation) are erased first (and catastrophically), while the earliest memories (corresponding to the end of the recitation), remain intact:

The second new piece resolved the impasse that I’d been experiencing with the decelerated rendering of MacMillan’s recitation. I constructed a constantly fast moving and animated backing track against which the progressively slowing speech (0  to -250%) could be heard. It was a simple but an effective solution.

11.30 am: After a period of respite and arm exercises I returned to the first of the two additional compositions, which is tentatively entitled ‘ h   T  n y-Th rd P alm’. In my mind’s ear, I recalled the aural image of a medium-wave radio being gradually tuned into a station – the background, crackling and spiting like a detached electricity cable from which thousands of volts oozed. I’ve not considered radio noise since composing my first sound piece, ‘Ion on Iron‘, back in 1977. The first question that this present work addressed was: ‘How do you make a sound that’s simultaneously unpleasant and compelling to the ear?

1.40 pm: After lunch and updating my Instagram account, I rolled up my sleeve and started cutting into multiple and variously distorted tracks, based upon the cassette tape erasures, to create a 1-minute composition. 2.30 pm: A vision:

Mr Malevich and Mr Lissitszky Together Looked Up, 1 & 2

5.10 pm: Mission accomplished (for now); I’ll review this again in the silent light of a new day. I reloaded the deceleration piece and listened once more.

7.30 pm: On with, what’s tentatively entitled, ‘Ps-a–l–m— T—w—e—n––t––y –––– T––––h––––r––––––e­––––––e’. (The decelerating piece.) The first question that this work addressed was: ‘How can I resolve the whole in as few moves as necessary? 8.15 pm: Mission accomplished. That’s two compositions completed in one day. A record (for me). 8.30 pm: I revisited those pieces about which I’d some reservations regarding their final mix. Already, I can feel myself letting go of this project. This is always a sign that an end (a sufficiency) is in sight/sound.

One Response to February 15, 2018

  1. Dafydd says:

    Sounds intreaguing! Hope you fast track to recovery John.

    You remove the layers, I’ve increasingly been thinking about pressure and direction-down

    Bach has it right.

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