June 8, 2018

6.00 am: A poor night’s sleep. I got to work early, caught up with emails, and levelled my Inbox to ‘0’. Several ideas related to the ‘Wisdom is Better Than Weapons of War’ composition came to me while I’d tossed and turned; so my struggles weren’t wasted. I’d act upon them today. 8.30 am: Off to School. It was an utterly bland day, without feature or recommendation. That annual Summer ‘quiet’ had descended upon the Edward Davies Building. The ‘kids’ had left home and the busyness was over. I missed them already.

9.00 am: A student and I laboured to make a Skype connection (the one that we’d missed yesterday). Both of us were impotent in the face of a capricious internet, wifi, computer, or software – either one or the other, or, perhaps, all of them in collusion. 9.15 am: No more messages were being exchanged. Had we given up? Was the one imagining the other crying into their tea? Silence can be uninterpretable. So many possibilities. Having ‘banished’ all students from my FaceBook account, FaceTime was no longer a possible back-up. (Sigh!) ‘Oh gosh! Would we have to resort to the telephone, now?’ Eventually emails (another last resort) were traded. We planned to delete one another as contacts on Skype (an uncomfortable metaphor in the context of recent history) and resend friendly invitations. No success, still. We’ll try again next week. Perplexed and dismayed:

10.00 am: Back at homebase, I acted upon my sleepness-night-ruminations. Could I make the action of a tone-arm being being dropped onto a record sound like a nuclear bomb going off? Over the air, from a great distance away, I could hear the plaintive sound of a trumpet and a tuba being played, and the cheer of an appreciative audience. (I recalled Sgt Pepper.) The outside world was noisy today:

Various computers had, unilaterally, decided to undergo a significant update. In the interim, I conducted a word search for ‘race’ and ‘tribe’ in the Bible. In the four verses that mention ‘race’, it refers to athletics rather than to either colour or ethnicity. ‘Tribe’ (which has nothing to do with race, colour, or ethnicity) is the dominant term of contrast; it refers to a distinct people or social group. ‘People’ and ‘nation’ are chief among the other discriminations.

Afterwards, I began working-up samples of highly-overdriven noise (think of a Saturn V rocket on full thrust), derived from the opening moments of the whole-Bible overlay that I’d made some months back, for the ‘Wisdom is Better …’ composition. I’ve no idea whether or how they’ll be used. And I’m not interested in knowing, presently. Creative solutions are rarely linear and predicatble. I was ‘playing’ on the canvas; seeing whether any of the paint stuck:

I began processing the sound of the ‘bump’ of the stylus when dropped onto the vinyl disc from 2 cm above. Having slowed-down the recording by factors of up to 700 %, I played it back over the monitors and subwoofer. ‘My goodness!’ (Or less polite sentiments to that effect). I’d got it in one on this occasion:

But immediately it struck me that I’d never heard the sound of a nuclear bomb on detonation. My sonic image of the event was constructed entirely from cinematic (and, therefore, fictive) interpretations of the explosion. There are several reconstructions of actual test sounds available on the Internet. I didn’t want to emulate them. The characteristics of my ‘big bang’ were dictated to by the source material and the process. (This has been one of the abiding rigours of my discipline in sound and visual practice.) However, I was astonished at just how authentic my own interpretation of the phenomenon sounded. Everything that could rattle or vibrate in the studio … did. Truly terrifying! I knew that I’d found the opening to the composition and the aesthetic territory that it was moving into. (The part dictates the whole dictates the part.):

Castle Romeo nuclear test, Bikini Atoll, March 27, 1954
(courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

I played the clip of David Lynch’s imagining of the Trinity nuclear test, at Whitesands, New Mexico on July 16, 1947, from Episode 8 of Twin Peaks: The Return (2017). (This is one of the most astonishing moments in television history: original, frighteningly beautiful, ambitious, and stunningly executed.) Lynch doesn’t render the sound of the explosion. Instead, he articulates its emotional impact through music, using Krysztof Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1960). Could the whole of the spoken Bible be conceived as the fall out from that initial explosion, in my composition?

7.30 pm: I put polish to the final PhD monitoring reports, and wrote up notes in preparation for the validation committee on June 13.