January 27, 2018

7.45 am: It was an effort to get out of bed; my body had other ideas. I ate a slice of toast for breakfast. (A treat.) I’m gluten intolerant. (A fallen slate after the storm of ME.) However, if I don’t introduce the offending substance into my system periodically, the body is apt to treat it like a toxin. (A disaster.)

8.45 am: Studyology/studiology. ‘How can I work without inspiration?’, is a question that some students have asked me. I reply: ‘I just start to work, and then the inspiration comes.’ What they mean by ‘inspiration’ is an idea in relation to materials and form. As a practitioner, I’ve never been able to conceive of an intent independently of doing. Creativity, it seems to me, always emerges within a reciprocal relationship between things and thinking. So, as I sit at my desk, now, I’m moving, aligning, and connecting sound samples and words in the hope that, like jigsaw puzzle pieces, some will fit together to form a more complex and coherent whole. The process has never failed me. In reconciling the parts, I’ll be able to perceive patterns and principles that will help me to resolve the whole. I’ll be ‘inspired’, in other words:

The literal meaning of inspiration has a theological root, being derived from the Genesis account of God out-breathing ‘the breath of life’ into Adam (Genesis 2.7). From this a metaphorical sense of the term has developed; and in the course of time inspiration came to imply that created humanity can know divine infusion in the sphere of their own creativity. The ancient Greeks personified the concept of inspiration in the muses. (Visual art never had a muse; it was considered too mundane. Fine artists have always had to make it by their own wits.) I doubt whether many students consciously hold to these views today. (However, some act as though they do; they defer action until for the ingenium touches them.) Nevertheless, I will concede that there are special conditions of creativity, when the whole is perceivable from the very beginning of the process. The work appears to spring upon one – complete and effortlessly – without having traversed the ordinary route of cultivation, development and resolution. It’s as though someone else had made it. On other, rarer, occasions, we find ourselves, momentarily, able to do what we’ve never learned. Clearly, there’s a complex human psychology at work here. You really don’t need to bring the supernatural into it:

Muse tuning two kitharai
Detail of the interior from an Attic white-ground cup (c. 470–460 BCE)
(Courtesy of WikiCommons)

11.30 am: Periodically, I either listened to or played music (for which the Greeks had a muse called Euterpe) in order to refresh my ears after several hours of listening to manic beats, bits, glitches, and scratches. (The work of a mad man.) And so, a quick burst on my ‘banjo’ through a Fender Twin Amp that has never sounded better, thanks to Mr Roland Lumby’s wizard technical intervention some years ago:

11.45 am: ‘Continue‘. Things were, literally, falling into place. Q: How long should a sound work last? A: For a period sufficent to adequately explore the ramifications of the governing ideas. Any other criterion is either arbitrary or indulgent, in my opinion.

1.30 pm: After lunch, I reviewed the morning’s work. Just half-an-hour’s distance from the task can make a world of difference to one’s perception of it on return. A rest is as good as a change. A substrata of sound was beginning to emerge. I manufactured more samples derived from the 0–400% deceleration track, which I hadn’t been able to resolve. Creative cannibalism. Never cast off your rejects too soon.

3.00 pm: Having made good progress on the composition, I addressed the paper again. The presentation’s sound, text, and image need to be developed in parallel at this stage. I reviewed medical papers on the relationship between sound and dementia. I’ve a penchant for Petula Clark singles presently, which provided a rather incongruous background to the topic of my reading. She has Welsh ancestry, and lived in a house next door to Bethany Chapel, which is now ‘buried’ inside Howell’s department store on The Hayes, in Cardiff. My students and I used to tour this architectural gem on our Chapels in Wales module’s field trip:

In Martin O’Kane’s and John Morgan Guy’s (eds.) book Biblical Art in Wales (2010), I wrote:

Bethany (English) Baptist chapel, St Mary’s Street, Cardiff was first founded in 1806 on the site now owned by James Howell’s department store. By 1865 the congregation had risen to over four hundred, which necessitated the construction of the third chapel on the same site. During the 1920s the store was extended and literally absorbed Bethany, so that, today, the chapel and the store occupy the same space. Bethany had, like Jonah, passed into the belly of the whale. But, since 1963 the whale has also been swallowed by Jonah; chapel and store are, now, wrapped up, one within the other. Today, the upper façade of Bethany is invisible from the main street, being masked by the frontage of the store. The lower storey of Bethany’s façade is in the menswear department, and beyond the chapel’s main doors (leading to what were the vestibule and sanctuary) lies the ladies shoe department. The upper gallery of the chapel is, somewhat improprietously, the ladies underwear department. Here, scantily-clad manikins look over the customers from where starched-collared preachers bore down upon the congregation. The pulpit has been exchanged for pullovers, pews for shoes, and Sundays for undies; religion and retail, past and present, God and Mammon cohabit cheerfully, if surreally. 

5.20 pm: Down tools.

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