The Aural Bible series deals with the Judaeo-Christian scriptures as the written, spoken, and heard word. It explores the cultural articulations and adaptations of the Bible within the Protestant tradition, especially. This is with a view to engaging a critical, responsive, and interpretive intervention with aspects of its sound culture.


2018

Nomine Numine

The composition is the second response to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales’ event entitled ‘Explore your Archive: Memory Archive’ (November 22, 2017). In contrast to the initial release, ‘I. Nothing. Lack.’ (2018), ‘Nomine Numine’ is not an attempt to sonify the effects of dementia. However, it does deploy one of the salient characteristics associated with the illness – a slowing of speech. This is to the end of reflecting upon, soberly, and celebrating the themes of friendship and providence. The source material is derived from my own sound archive, called the Aural Diary.

‘Nomine Numine’ is a quartet of hymns for four voices. The title conjoins two Latin words: ‘Nomine’ (name) and ‘Numine’ (variously used within the context of the Christian Church to denote providence, the divine will, and the power of God). ‘Name’ refers to the forenames of the two vocalists on the album. Their designations are the feminine and masculine equivalent of each other. In effect, they share the same name. ‘Numine’ evokes a sense of the foreordination, timeliness, and spiritual care that characterised the manner in which those vocalists had found one another.

The project is a collaboration between Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and the School of Art, Aberystwyth University. The streamable album is released by Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, and available at: sound.johnharvey.org.uk

 

    


When the Morning Stars Sang Together (Job 38.7)

Job’s reference to ‘the morning stars’ may, some commentators believe, refer to the stars visible on the morning of creation. Others interpret them as being a metaphor for angels. My adaptation of the Jobian image is poetic rather than theological. I envisioned a choir of stars singing praise to their maker – a Judaic take on the musica universalis or Harmony of the Spheres, if you will. What would they’ve sounded like? Biblical astronomy has no term corresponding to ‘planet’. There are only stars, Sun, Moon, and Earth. Venus and Saturn are referred to in the Old Testament, but as stars. Therefore, in answering my question using planets, I was not straining the biblical vision (or audition) too greatly. But this was an intent that arose only after the composition had been completed.

Rather than mimic the source sounds, I turned to the most well-known and much-loved sonification of the celestial spheres: Gustav Holst’s suite, ‘The Planets’ (1914–16). My soundtrack (for want of a better word) derives from a recording of the music made in 1926. The suite’s movements, one for every planet (with the exception of the Earth) in the, then, known solar system, were stacked (superimposed) and mixed-down together. I extracted a small sample from the aggregate, which was, then, cleaned up, re-equalised, converted into a stereo signal and, finally, stretched twenty times its original length.

The project is a collaboration between The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales and the School of Art, Aberystwyth University. The streamable album is released by The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, and available at: sound.johnharvey.org.uk

 

 


I. Nothing. Lack (Psalm 23)

The suite of compositions arose from a trial project that explored the potential for sound to make the conditions of dementia audible. This was with a view to developing a more ambitious response to the idea in the future. My inquiry began as a modest contribution to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales’ ‘Explore Your Archive: Memory Archive’ event (November 22, 2017). This aimed to examine memory in relation to dementia. Accordingly, my sound-artwork addressed the themes of remembering and forgetting, principally.

In ‘I. Nothing. Lack.’, the deficits of dementia inform the processes by which the source material, derived from cassette-tape recordings of a quartet of sermons on Psalm 23, was reconfigured. The sermons had been delivered by the Rev. J. Douglas MacMillan (1933–91) – a minister in the Free Church of Scotland and former highland shepherd – on four consecutive mornings in August 1979, at Bethel Welsh Baptist Church, Aberystwyth. On the November 24, 2017, thirty-eight years later, the technological memory of his preaching was recalled in the place wherein it had been first formed.

The project is a collaboration between Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and the School of Art, Aberystwyth University. The streamable album is released by Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, and available at: sound.johnharvey.org.uk

 

    


2017

The Remnant that Remaineth (Exodus 26​.​12)

‘The Remnant that Remaineth’ is the second in an occasional series of sonic encounters with abstract painting.

Siân Brophy introduced herself to me in 2017, out of the blue, around the time that she had begun her ‘Numinous Series’ of paintings. This was to be no chance encounter. To my mind, her paintings are spiritual and metaphysical metaphors for two mysteries, the one almost wholly occluded by the other. They are, too, the residual afterimage of a profoundly ‘visionary’ encounter with something, or someone, ‘ineffably sublime’ (to quote George J. Elvey’s hymn).

In her writings, she has spoken of the artworks as a ‘curtain’. More particularly, within the Christian framework that she now occupies, they summon a veil. In the Israelites’ places of worship – the Tabernacle and Temple of Solomon – a veil (Hebrew: יְרִיעָה [curtain]) separated two other mysteries, the one more sacred than the other: the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The image of that veil (Greek: καταπέτασμα [veil or curtain]) is turned metaphor by the writer to the Hebrews to convey the unmediated access that believers have to God as a consequence of Christ’s atoning sacrifice (Hebrews 10.20). They can now pass ‘through’ (Greek: διά). The same word is used in Christ’s maxim: ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle’ (Matthew 19.24).

My sonic response to Siân’s painting involved, first, converting a digital image of her work into a sound output, using a rudimentary data-bending technique. From this, I extracted material with which to construct a set of chordal drones. In this way, she, through her work, makes a direct and collaborative contribution to the sound composition, albeit under my supervision. The drones’ sonorities were subsequently enlarged, both harmonically and spatially. Thereafter, I superimposed them, in acknowledgement of the manner by which Siân has overlaid the thin veils of pigment on her canvases. Thus, the completed composition is not only a sonic response to the painting but also a sonification of the painting by the painting.

The project is a collaboration between The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales and the School of Art, Aberystwyth University. The streamable album is released by Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, and available at: sound.johnharvey.org.uk

 

   


2016

The Bible in Translation / Y Beibl Mewn Cyfieithiad

 

The works that comprise The Bible in Translation are designedly interpretive and responsive. Broadly speaking, they represent a hermeneutic enquiry that seeks to sympathically elucidate the sources’ semantic content, refocus the evident content, and reveal its subcutaneous significances. In so doing, the compositions intensify, identify, and clarify ideas contained therein, so that the original material may speak of more than its intended meaning. This is not with a view to evaluating, theorizing, or arriving at any conclusions (however they may be construed). Rather, the aim, in part, has been to develop a body of creative engagements with the Bible and its sonic cultures that might inform those disciplines, such as biblical studies and religious studies, which are dedicated to a systematic and deductive analysis.

Disc 1
Image and Inscription is a response to the narrative presented in Exodus 19.1–34.45. It relates the Israelites’ arrival at Mount Sinai amid thunder, lightning, darkness, and earthquakes; the establishment of God’s covenant with his people; his delivery of the Decalogue, laws and ordinances, and repeated prohibition against image making; the Israelites’ fashioning and idolatrous worship of the golden calf; their repentance and God’s punishment of the sin; Moses’ and the elders’ visions of, and encounter with, God; the patriarch’s prolonger confrontation with him on the mount; and, finally, Moses’ radiant return to the people.

Disc 2
The works on the second disc were composed and recorded between 2010 and 2015. Like Image and Inscription, they are settings of written and spoken biblical texts. However, the material for the compositions is far broader, encompassing also aural recordings of scripture reading, teaching, preaching, ministry, radio interviews, music, and the paraphernalia of worship. The endeavour has been to collaborate with and redirect the material to create sound works that remain faithful to the source while extending the boundaries of its original intent.

The Bible in Translation project extends beyond the bounds of this album in four ways. The first is a 57-part sound suite entitled The Floating Bible: Miracle of the Risen Word. Seven hours long, the composition could not be contained within the frame of the double CD. The second is an exhibition of 23 paintings, drawings, and digital works – collectively entitled The Bible in Translation and the third project in The Pictorial Bible series – was first held at the School of Art Galleries, Aberystwyth University (February 16–March 20, 2015). In terms of ideation, process, and method, the exhibition is the visual analogue of the sound works. Thirdly, there is an album of bonus material. And, finally, there is a website describing the rationale for each sound work. (See ‘Guide to compositions’, below.)

The project is a collaboration between The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales and the School of Art, Aberystwyth University. The 2CD album is released by, and available from, the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.

National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, 2016. GENCD8003

The album was made possible with funding from the Arts Council of Wales.

Sound clips

CD insert

Guide to compositions

      


2015

R R B V E Ǝ T N Ƨ O A

 

In 2003, a wax cylinder containing a unique recording of a short speech by Evan Roberts, the charismatic figurehead of the Welsh religious revival of 1904-5, was deposited at the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, Aberystwyth. The cylinder had been broken into eleven extant pieces. After a painstaking restoration by an American dentist, it was able to be played during the centenary of the revival. Against the insistent noise of surface clicks and crackles and the rhythm of the stylus as it ploughs through the spinning furrows, the febrile voices of Roberts and a small choir of male singers are discernable. A digitized version of the recording was prepared by a sound studio in Pasadena, California and the British Library, London.

R R B V E Ǝ T N Ƨ O A is the first release in The Aural Bible series. It is a sonic art intervention into, and engagement with, this sound document. The work (divided into twelve pieces) further extends the process by which Roberts’ voice has been subjected to audio recording and playback technologies. The wax cylinder’s sound is re-recorded, recomposed, rearticulated, sampled, and transcribed. In this way, the audio material is fractured once again. The project is a collaboration between The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales and the School of Art, Aberystwyth University. The CD album is released by, and available from, the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.

National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, 2015. GENCD8002

The album was made possible with funding from the Arts Council of Wales.

Sound clips

CD insert

Transcripts of compositions

Aural-Bible-I_logo1   NSSAW   ACW logo white on black portrait

 

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