September 21, 2017

8.15 am: A communion. 9.00 am: A refurbishment of my study chair was initiated. It’s twenty years old, and by now I’ve now worn out the seat. Back to the studio with fresh ears, and to ‘The Silences’ composition. I adjusted the timescale for the introduction and departure of the various looped samples to align them with the minute and half-minute measures on the DAW’s x-axis. In other words, I conscripted my tools to be responsible for certain creative decisions on my behalf. Speaking of which … What did my Oblique Strategies card advise today?:

So, I slowed down the pace of composition considerably, giving attention to the sound at intervals of 10, 15, and 30 seconds. (I’ll be deploying the strategies in my postgraduate fine art teaching during the coming year.) Not every piece of advice is useable. But even those that aren’t suggest a ‘shadow’ or inverse approach that just might be. However, in this case, the card mediated sage and timely wisdom, as from a trustworthy tutor. It’s the sort of advice that my former tutor Keith Arnatt would give me in response to one of my many quandaries as an undergraduate. His instructions, however abstract they sounded initially, never failed to be relevant.

‘Of what are you fearful, John?’:

  • Repeating myself
  • The quiet passage
  • The too gentle climax
  • Being at the mercy of the process
  • Not being able to take the work beyond the threshold of 90% resolution
  • Not realising the implications of the composition
  • Not being able to fully grasp the shape of a large-scale composition
  • Failing to identify and nail the governing mood or ‘tone’ of a composition
  • Insufficient contrasts
  • Overcooking the composition
  • That my best is not good enough

These are the demons that whisper in my ear. They’ve done so (on a wide range of topics) since I was a student; they’ll do so until I burn out. I’m no better than my students in these respects: dogged by doubt, unseated by uncertainty, and unnerved by the unknown. We are treasures in earthen vessels, at best.

12.00 pm: Slowing the pace of work yielded appreciable improvements. I rested my ears, and undertook postgraduate admin. 12.30 pm: A final round of listen-throughs (on the ‘cans’ and then on the studio monitors) at above average volume. I wanted to hear the details. 1.40 pm: After lunch, I implemented small but significant improvements arising from the review of the work. There are a few seconds of complete silence after the final fade but before the track concludes that are the most crucial in the whole composition. It’s the first occasion since the beginning of work that the listener has had to rest their ears and reflect upon what has gone before. Familiarity was beginning to breed contentment. Not good. So, on to something else. I’d listen again to the whole, tomorrow.

2.30 pm: I anticipate that the combined length of the four compositions comprising the suite will be coextensive with the longest sermon, which is almost one hour and nineteen minutes in duration. There was no justification for editing out 20 minutes worth of material (the length of the composition) from the whole. After all, what would I leave out and why? The most reasonable solution was to divide the whole into fours parts, each 19 minutes and 45 seconds long, and fold the parts upon themselves.

3.30 pm: I power-walked up Penglais Hill to attend a briefing/postmortem on the Institute of Arts and Humanities performance at the last NSS and in relation to other league tables – which has been excellent. One day, I’ll have the freedom to speak my mind about what has become of Higher Education in the UK over the last decade. The last of the summer’s sunlight was a welcome salve:

7.30 pm: A change of orientation: intercessions needed to be composed in preparation of Sunday morning’s service of Holy Communion.

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