Diary (July 16, 2014–September 4, 2018)

June 12, 2018

7.00 am: I awoke. (I’ve enjoyed my lie-in over the past few days.) Having packed my belongings, I took breakfast:

The landlady told me all about the plans to refurbish the rooms, her regular customers and their unwavering drinking habits (for some, the pub is a second home), and her husband’s battle with severe health problems. She struck me as being a very resourceful woman. 8.20 am: I headed for the railway station to take the train for Cardiff:

The city is far more savvy and prosperous than in those years when I lived here (1981-2, 84-5). I’d not returned since November 29, 2017 (the day when things began to unravel). My suitcase followed me like a faithful dog as I coursed the network of arcades, shopping centres (all of which looked identically soulless), and aisles of the market, took respite in cafes, and wandered without purpose and direction:

I remember too much, too often. The past can rarely be put to right. I contributed to what it was; it, in turn, has made me what I am (for better and for worse). Some ‘ghosts’ no longer haunt me; either I’ve put them to rest, or else they’ve been superceded by others. But the associations of a place contribute greatly to its significance, on a personal level. Memory is melancholy’s breath.

Wah! And about time. A more than half-decent music store had opened on St Mary’s Street. I was like a kid in a toy shop:

1.00 pm: Back at the railway station, I ate a light lunch and prepared for the voyage home:

On route, I caught up with some of the incoming emails and my diary. (I said ‘Hello’ to Shrewsbury.)

It’s too early to process the salutary effects of my away days. Tomorrow will mark the beginning of another year. Nothing else will change. Gradually, new resolutions and awareness will emerge as old and redundant ways of thinking begin to decay. Other features of the landscape will remain unchanged – uncannily so. (The box that was opened cannot be closed. ‘He who has ears to hear’.) The calamities and griefs that are to come, will still advance steadily. And yet hope remaineth, against all reason and better judgement. Having failed to move on, I’m learning to abide contentedly in silence.

5.20 pm: The return:

5.30 pm: An unpacking and preparations for the ‘morrow.


June 11, 2018

8.30 am: Following a hearty breakfast, I caught the X15 bus to Abertillery:

I’d only one objective for the morning: to make an assault on the summit of the Arael Mountain. But first, I trod the old path across the Foundry Bridge to the house at the bottom of the terrace, which had been my childhood home. Revisiting the place is a dispiriting experience. I should cease the ritual:

From there, I descended Station Hill, walked towards the local park, and climbed the slope that opened onto Old Blaina Road. At the tree – that has stood and stood and stood – I asked: ‘Shall we begin talking, now?’ This would be a morning for business of the highest order:

How many times, as younger man, had I walked this road and either ‘spilled my guts’ to God or else auto-ruminated on some great matter that was violently stirring the waters of my life back then? Some issues require specific places at which to be unfurled. This road and the Arael Mountain have been (will always be) ‘sacred’ (set aside) for me in this respect:

The gateway to the Arael is narrow, rocky, and on a steeper incline than any part of the way that lies beyond. It’s the inverse of what one might except. The path, which zig-zags to the top, is far more overgrown and verdant these days. In my teens, I could see clearly the whole length of the valley above the tree tops. Thankfully, the foresters had made several openings upon the far vista. Those rows of terraced houses, huddled together like keys on a typewriter, had a significant influence on my early aesthetic development:

There is a rent in the mountain close to the top caused by geological subsidence. It’s now deeper and more precipitous than I remember it. But there was no other  way up other than to climb across it. I had to take a risk. (Such is life, sometimes.) The summit was exactly as I remembered it: an uneven carpet of grass and ferns sloping upwards to a high horizon. This place is mine – but not in any proprietorial sense. It’s the socket for which I’m the plug. (For the record: this is where I want my ashes scattered):

Instinctively, I followed the sheep paths parallel to the mountain’s edge. In the mythos of this area, malevolent fairies inhabited this terrain. Beware! I lay down, as I always did, with my back to the world, and faced heavenward:

In that moment, little seems to matter, everything seems possible, and nothing else encroaches. There are some problems that I’ve taken to the top of that mountain and left there. Others have returned with me to the foot of the climb. But neither they nor I have come back unaltered. The process of articulation, the one-way discussion, and the unbearably honest and searching examination clarified and distilled the former and consoled and emboldened the latter.

2.30 pm: I took lunch with an old school friend. We’d not seem one another since 1975, I suspect. He’d remained in the area; there was no reason to leave. The roll was called: friends who had died prematurely, or retired early due to poor health, or ndeveloped type 1 or 2 diabetes, or divorced, or disappeared without trace, or kept their distance for no discernible reason:

6.00 pm: Having ridden a bone shaker of a bus to Newport, via everywhere imaginable on route, I ate with a friend from my undergraduate days at Newport art school. Our conversations habitually cover art, art education (bad mostly), theology, Christian experience, the dangers of religious subjectivism, the possibility of delusionalism, the nature of friendship, and the pitfalls of loneliness. He listens like a woman. A rare quality in a bloke. 9.30 pm: He drove me back to Llanhilleth.



June 10, 2018

Moving from what ‘is’ to what ‘was’. 

Saturday. The morning began at 8.30 am with an early appointment at Dickie Snips, the purchase of a rail ticket, and a visit to the chemist. The weather was uncomfortably humid. The remainder of the day had me sweating over a nuclear explosion. I constructed a composite overlay made up of three different expansions derived from the source. I would dearly love to play this through my 1000-watt PA. But would anyone or anything survive? This was a dangerous sound. Its fearfulness resides not so much in the volume and loudness (either actual or implied) as in the fullness of the sonorities.

The available recordings and reconstructions of nuclear detonations exhibit a ‘crack’ (like a rifle shot) coinciding with the initial flash. Because sound waves travel through the air far more slowly than do light waves (761.2 mph, in comparison to 186,000 mps), the visual and sonic phenomena associated with the blast are always desynchronous. My ‘crack’ was supplied by the original recording of the tone-arm being dropped onto the surface of the vinyl:

Today. I walked into town, early, to make the most of the sunshine before my rail journey to South Wales and home. (True home: the point of origin, the context of my formation and, I hope, the place where I’ll be laid to rest.) As on every such occasion, my expedition began at a local watering hole. The second breakfast. I’m letting myself go (following advice given by some concerned friends).

In the past, the opportunity to adjust my focus, put aside the trails and unresolved dilemmas of the here and now, and recuperate, just for a few days, has been powerfully medicinal. I’ll be sharing fellowship with friends associated with my secondary school days, various experimental bands that I’d played in during my teens, and art school education at Newport. One’s best friends always endure, however infrequent the contact.

11.30 am: Off! I’d be travelling from Aberystwyth to Shrewbury to Cardiff to Llanhilleth. I was consciously living this experience moment by moment; nothing would be wasted or overlooked. 11.35 am: A tea and KitKat. (This was riotous living.) My thoughts were ahead of me.

As this Diary draws to a close, following what will be over four years of entries, I’ll need to write an overview of its achievements, rationale, insights, and benefits, before deciding whether to continue the exercise in a somewhat different form. To this end, I began rereading my writings from the period beginning mid August 2017 to the end of January 2018. I was looking for answers. In doing so, I counselled myself. This had been one of the happiest and, yet, most painful and challenging periods of my recent life. I’ve no regrets, whatsoever. Never was I more alive. The friend that I made of myself back then has remained loyal. He and I may have had a falling out on occasion, but we’ve endured the rough and tumble and grown to accept one another’s shortcomings. 1.40 pm: I caught an earlier (delayed) train to Cardiff at Shrewsbury. Cardiff:

The 4.26 pm train to Llanhilleth was filled with shoppers returning to the valleys. On arrival, I discovered that my room at the hotel wasn’t yet prepared. (There’d been staff shortages today.) I took the opportunity to walk around the town as the evening sun declined, searching for the vestiges of National Coal Board architecture. I’ve passed this building on the ‘Llanhilleth Turn’ ever since I can remember. It’s an unassuming and functionally austere redbrick construction with an elegant Art-Deco inspired tower at the rear:

On my return to the hotel, the Abertillery-bound bus came into sight. I hopped on and headed for an eatery there:

My returns home are coloured by confused emotions. I’m drawn here like some spirit revenant doomed to haunt their old stomping ground. Perhaps I’m searching for something that’s no longer present – desperate for a depth of place that none other offers. In my day, Sunday evenings in town were hushed and reverential. Chapel and church folk were at services of worship. Those not so inclined, in front of their TVs watching Stars on Sunday. (Shortly after I was converted, I wrote a song, called ‘Miriam Poole’, which referenced that irony.)  Pubs were ‘dry’, then. This evening they blazed music, while overweight young men propped up the door frames and squat under the window ledges, a beer in one hand and a ‘fag’ in the other. I ate bangers and mash. (Clearly, I’m a man without culinary discernment.)

Back at the hotel, I found myself in the same room as on the last stay. The decor was unchanged:

I rested. Below my window I could hear the throaty cackle of middle-aged women who’d smoked a fair few in their time, and men whose laugh reminded me of my father. ‘I’m not wearing any knickers!’, one senior woman shouted. What does one do with such information? Should I risk meeting the natives? What would have become of me had I not escaped the valleys? The thought ought to drive me to my knees in thanksgiving.

8.30 pm: After a shower, I took a walk up the road towards the mountains behind the hotel (which was now in Karaoke mode):

All the garages and lamp-posts were painted different colours of green, to blend in with the trees:

By the time I’d returned to the hotel, those that had been tipsy when I’d left were, now, well and truly established. I find the descent into drunkenness uncomfortable to witness. I felt and looked like an outsider: as conspicuous as the ‘man with no name’ entering the bar in Sergio Leone’s A Fist Full of Dollars (1964). ‘Is he the accountant?’, shouted one customer to the bartender. I didn’t look back; my guns weren’t yet loaded.



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.




June 7, 2018

7.45 am: A communion. 8.15 am: A readying for a busy day of teaching and admin ahead. Yesterday (a Diary sabbath), I began work on the composition(s) about racism. As a way into the biblical text, I read through Martin Luther King Jr’s famous ‘I have a dream …’ speech, which he delivered at the The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963 –  just over a year before Scourby made his recording of the scriptures. The speech contains a number of allusions to biblical texts. I determined to remake some of King’s pronouncements by collaging together the same words spoken by Scourby. In this way, just as the Bible had been incorporated into his speech, his speech would, henceforth, be incorporated into the Bible:

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Civil Rights leaders
Martin Luther King Jr, Whitney Young, and James Farmer (courtesy of WikiCommons)

9.00 am: I awaited a Skype call that didn’t materialise (which isn’t quite the right word for something so patently immaterial). The second call at, 10.00 am from China (5.00 pm), did however:

10.20 am: Off to the Old College for what will be my regular Thursday, postgraduate teaching day over the Summer period. The weather was invigorating; the sun transformed everything over which its poured its goodness:

The day began with two PhD Fine Art tutorials. The latter mutated into an indoor picnic and a discussion about the student’s latest exploits abroad. A good morning: trajectories were established; opportunities, realised; and new undertakings, resolved. There’re times when the ‘spirit’ of illumination graces a tutorial in an exceptional way.

2.00 pm: A cancelled tutorial permitted me to venture onto the Promenade and rub shoulders (but not too closely) with the tourists. The beach bathing brigade were out in force:

3.00 pm: The remainder of the afternoon was devoted to my MA students, who were working on their September exhibition. They’re facing the toughest part of the degree so far; it’ll sort out the women from the girls. In principle, each has to:

  • Identify the most conspicuous virtues of the first exhibition’s work and enhance them.
  • By the same token, weed out whatever encumbered or limited the earlier work.
  • Establish a set of objectives that, while tied to those of the first exhibition, exceed them in clarity and ambition.
  • Refine and tighten the conceptual underpinning of the work.
  • Refine the technical and methodological underpinning of the work.
  • Interrogate everything (again). Accept nothing as read.
  • Work increasingly independently, and trust their own judgement far more.

7.15 pm: Admin catch up. Again, it was bitty but necessary stuff.




June 5, 2018

7.00 am: That first thing in the morning look of querulous, glazed desperation, when I stare uncomprehending into the bathroom mirror, feeling and looking a decade older and waiting for my brain to stir:

7.30 pm: ‘Slacking, John!’ There’s a wave of tiredness that hits after the assessments are over. The body and mind crave a holiday. At such a time, one’s efforts need to be redoubled. ‘Surf the wave! Come on, you waster, get to it! Make something of your life … today … NOW!’ He’s a stern and brutal taskmaster, that boy. 8.15 pm: A communion. 9.00 am: Into the Inbox and on with responses to my PhD monitoring queries. In the background: Henry Purcell’s Bonduca or the British Heroine (1647). Wil ‘the carpet’ was outside my study and studio completing the final landing. He’d made great strides yesterday: three storeys in one day.

10.00 am: Back to ‘Saul>Paul’, and further adjustments to the relative volumes of the samples. It’s not a matter of establishing a unity of loudness. I’m using amplitude to interpret dynamic emphases in the spoken text. The ‘Blind’ suite has few types of element, by design. Therefore, each has to be exploited to the full. Making the most of the least is one of the defining characteristics of a discipline. I work best when the constraints are greatest. In the absence of restraints, either implicit in or suggested by the source material, I cultivate limitations and impose them on my practice. This is of the essence of self-discipline:

12.00 pm: I was half-way through the composition. My ears were ‘tired’ of hearing. I made ready for a trip to the School and a pastoral tutorial at 12.30 pm.

1.30 pm: Following lunch, I moved on to the third section of ‘Saul>Paul’. This was such slow work. Painstaking calibrations. I was still contemplating whether the composition could be half the length (comprising the first and second sections only). They encapsulate the narrative of Saul’s intent to persecute the Christians, and his blinding, encounter with Christ, and conversion on the road to Damascus. (This is the scene that’s invariably depicted in Western European art.):

Caspar Diziani, The Conversion of St Paul, Santa Giustina, Padua (courtesy of WikiCommons)

4.00 pm: I took time out to review a job description. Academic posts have a bewildering and intimidating complexity these days. ‘Only Superman/Superwoman need apply!’. Afterwards, I made a cursory exploration of the issues of racism and segregation in the Bible, in advance of the next suite or composition. It’s a huge topic. Presently, I need to establish key texts only.

7.30 pm: Bits derived from many aspects of my life preoccupied my evening. How to deal with the humdrum? Look! From the studio window, in the distance, the sea reflected white as the sun bowed towards it. Throughout the house, small wonders of light and shade played on the white walls and through glass – an ephemeral phantasmagoria:

How does one forget? It’s a dreadful process. Two scenarios: 1. You want forget what has been either distressing or traumatic; 2. You need to forget what don’t want to forget. At various times in my life, I’ve faced the challenge of both. Sometimes, I forget things because either they aren’t memorable, or I wasn’t paying them enough attention, or else the memory of other things crowded them out. Other things, I’ve unconsciously misremembered (misrepresented the facts to myself in the retelling) in order to cope. The passage of time, too, has blurred the detail and stifled the intensity. That’s been a mercy.




June 4, 2018

I recorded an aural letter to myself at Llanbadarn Church, while pausing on a run, yesterday. I suspect that it’ll be the first of many. It’s an intensely private mode of free-form self-reflection –  a sonic snapshot of the heart and mind – and of conversing with those who’re in absentia. 

6.00 am: A poor night’s sleep. Morning:

Floor exercises. 7.30 pm: A communion. 8.15 am: Admin. I made the decision to ‘defriend’ students on my FaceBook and Messenger accounts. This was an act neither of hostility nor a slight. Rather, it’s in order to ensure that all have equitable access to me. Not every student uses these platforms. Furthermore, conversations of an academic nature require a ‘paper trail’ these days, and email is by far the best way to keep track of it. I also appreciate being able to separate my personal/private and professional/academic identities. There’s a danger of becoming an ‘open all hours’ shop, and of shrinking to the size of the job. From this weekend onwards, too, I’ll not be answering student or administrative emails from 5 pm on a Friday until 9.00 am on a Monday. This has become a fairly widespread practice in UK universities. I’m trying to redeem my ‘other’ life, by many and small means.

9.00 am: Wil ‘the carpet’ arrived to lay a new surface from the top to the bottom of the house. I poured tutorial times into this week’s dairy, before looking at the incoming responses to my PhD monitoring requests. 11.10 am: He accidentally cut through a cable to the alarm system. As a result, the house sounded like a high-security prison on lock down. The alarm man were called. Wil carried on banging grip-type stables into the floor against the howling backdrop. Not a morning for sound composition, then:

As I write, the death of another member of Holy Trinity Church was announced. Words like ‘flies’ and ‘dropping’ came to mind. This will be a further blow to an already discouraged congregation. The older folk feel these losses most acutely. They’re losing friends of many years standing. As well as reckoning upon their own departure:

12.23 pm: Wil ‘the electric’ arrived to fix the broken alarm system. Now there were two Wils downstairs making noises. (‘Where there’s a Wil there’s a wail’.)

1.20 pm: After lunch, I popped over to the School (which is only 7 minutes away) to pick up a further monitoring form and parcels. Back at homebase, I pressed on. This was repetitive work that didn’t require either creativity or imagination. 5.15 pm: I made preparations for dinner:

7.30 pm: I couldn’t do much more with the monitoring until I’d received responses to my follow-up emails. My website’s annual MOT was due. I looked through it, page by page, in order to ascertain the problems that’d accrued as a result of serial updates, for the most part. There was a student reference and some church business to deal with, too, before I could sign off for the night.

There’re times when you when you must do something unthinkably desperate, painful, and hard for the highest good of another. (The sacrifice is a testament to the commitment.) There’re times when you should play your cards close to the chest. (Don’t let on!) There’re times when the lines of confidences become tangled and insecure. (Put the phone down!) There’re times when messages get muddled. (Stop corresponding, and wait for the fog to lift.) There’re times when one’s best intentions are thwarted and goodwill is in short supply. (Remain silent!) There’re times when the battle and the personal cost prove to be too great. (Retreat and bind up your wounds!) There’re times when no solution presents itself. (Draw a line under the problem, for now.) There’re times when you should admit defeat; for there’s a limit to how long you can struggle. (There’s no virtue in endurance, if the psychological damage sustained proves too great and irreparable.)

What do I fear most? I’ve pondered that question often over the past few years. I know now, without a shadow of a doubt?




Nil ardui est*


*  For Amy Seed


June 2, 2018

7.15 am: A communion. 8.00 am: Drizzle prevailed. Overcast days carry with them an inertia that one must consciously fight against. In order to break with its gravitational pull, I launched myself into immediate and straightforward tasks (such as tidying up), then, more demanding tasks (such as curing a gain problem on my Røde i-XY microphone), and, finally, creative endeavours – for which there would be no immediate or guaranteed solution. (That’s all part of the fun.)

Now that the last composition was complete, I was in a position to review the ‘Blind’ in toto, beginning with ‘Spittle and Ground’. (It sounded like a anxious and stoney heart.) In the context of the whole, yesterday’s composition, which comprises only the abstract sounds of scratches, tone-arm drops, and so forth, made perfect sense. It’s the counterpoise to the track, entitled ‘Blind’; this consists of a voice alone. Some of the compositions need more work in the light of the others. That was to be expected. Overall, they represent a coherent set. I enjoyed listening to them. And that counts for a great deal in my books. Presently, ‘Slow Blind’ [working title] has no place in the suite. It’s engaging, but the sound profile doesn’t fit. Out!

The next two compositions for The Talking Bible CD will deal with, first, race riots and civil rights, and, second, war and nuclear testing – being the other major world events that took place in July 1964, the period during which Scourby recorded the Bible:

President Lyndon B. Johnson signing Civil Rights Acts (July 2, 1964) (courtesy of WikiCommons)

In the background, I fielded inquiries via Messenger from one of my sons about what I’d like for my forthcoming birthday. I’m easy to shop for. My requirements tend to orbit around electrical devices, recording equipment, cables, software programmes, books, DVDs, CDs, and ultra-adult dark chocolate. I’ve no enthusiasm for clothes (other than that they be monochrome, patternless, and a classic cut), little interest in food (other than healthy eating), and no capacity for alcohol and good coffee (due to my dippy immune system).  Mind you, if you’re offering me either an upmarket ginger beer or dandelion and burdock, then … .

1.30 pm: After a light lunch, I headed into town. Sunshine prevailed. A treat at a local and off-frequented cafe. Many ‘ghosts’ were there. [It’s nearly a month since then. How long will yesterday’s email sit unnoticed in their inbox, I wondered?.]:

I’m looking forward to my few days away, shortly. At my time in life, you need to take stock often. If you aren’t careful, you can cast off too much too soon and take on what’s unnecessary and burdensome. The town was bristling with ‘outsiders’. They’ve taken over where the students left off:

2.30 pm: Back at homebase, I began to level the spoken samples for ‘Saul>Paul’. It’s slow and tedious work, but the necessary first step towards balancing the outputs of all the composition’s components.

5.20 pm: ‘Log Out John Harvey’.





June 1, 2018

7.00 am: A communion. Semester 2/Term 3 ends tomorrow. June 1 marks the annual inauguration of a different type of energy and intensity of operation. Everyday from now until the beginning of the new academic year must count. Over the next three and half months, some projects will be completed and others, initiated in readiness for the year ahead. The past is behind me; move forward. 8.30 am: Admin: a putting to bed of last semester’s residues. A nonviable admin request from beyond the School entered my domain, disturbing the peace. Good management has the foresight and awareness to anticipate the crunch times of the workforce. Deadlines are set accordingly. The request didn’t manifest those virtues.

9.30 am: Studiology.  ‘Now where was I?’: A review of ‘Born Blind’. Not good! Bad, even. The passage of time sharpens the ‘sh*t’. One has to have a strict quality control. The work needs to be, at the very least, very good in order to pass muster. Was it necessary to include this composition in the ‘Blind’ suite? (The passage of time also refines ruthlessness.) Only if it can make a contribution to the whole that is distinct from the other components. ‘Saul>Paul’, conversely, is audacious and engaging – a long narrative. (Perhaps, too long.) It demands much of the listener. The DAW’s graphic looks like the circuitry profile of an electric pianoforte:

10.30 am: What to do with ‘Born Blind’? It struck me, reading back over my diary notes, that I’d began a second stab at the composition around mid May. But where was the file folder? I assumed that it’d been accidentally erased. However, there was an illustration of the DAW graphic for the composition in one of the entries; this would serve as a guide to what had been made previously. The least I could do was try and reconstruct the lost work before making a decision whether to pursue further a second attempt at composition. I began with the ‘beat’ track and worked my way forward, scratch by scratch:

‘But you can’t go back, John!’ They were right. Since my first attempt at the second solution, I’d accrued new experiences, insights, and sensibilities. Inevitably, these played into my apprehension of, and response to, the original problem and the, then, perceived response. This principal has a broader application to life, too. The ‘reconstruction’ began to mutate. A third solution and a better way began to present itself. I blessed the moment that the file folder had been accidentally deleted. There are times when something needs to be lost in order for it to be rediscovered. This principal, also, has a broader application to life.

2.00 pm: Q: Could a composition be interpretive of a biblical text, without including it? In other words, could this piece be an entirely abstract rendering of the narrative. If so, then, this would be the composition’s distinctive contribution to the suite. The compositional materials were derived from the surface noises, scratches, and mechanical impact of the stylus on the disc that bore the recording of the text. 4.00 pm: Looped examples of such were overlaid:

The composition was, in effect, and orchestration of textures: a gritty granularity, coupled with a slippery-slurpy (for want of a better term) acqueousness that summoned up associations with the earth and spit that Christ combined to make the clay that he used to anoint the blind man’s eyes. The composition’s title would need to be changed – in order to make that connection evident – to something like ‘Spittle and Ground’. To conclude the afternoon’s session, I played ‘Enn’ from the Nomine Numine suite in order to revitalise my ears and commemorate the day.

7.30 pm: In the evening, I settled to mix the day’s work. Q: How long should the composition be? If it’s as long as it took Scourby to read the entire biblical narrative of the healing of the man born blind (an entire chapter), it’ll be too long. If it’s as short as the essential account of the narrative, it’ll be too short. If, and until, a different rationale occurs to me, the length would be set an an auditory optimum of 3 minutes and 36 seconds. Thereafter, I fine-tuned the length of each loop to 0: 07.200, and confirmed and locked track alignments. (Some things you assume are locked, aren’t in reality.):

Outdoors, the birds sang as they settled to sleep, the traffic passed along Llanbadarn Road, and children conversed in a garden afar off. A good day’s work.




May 31, 2018

When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death: Thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers (‘Te Deum’, The Book of Common Prayer (1559))

7.15 am: A communion. The study was still very warm first thing in the morning. The last of the taught course modules (BA and MA) had been marked. The first of two board meetings would be held today, to confirm the results for undergraduate and postgraduate fine art. Once that was concluded, I’d return to finalise the PhD monitoring procedure. Another bitty job. Too many parts to coalesce; too many ‘stakeholders’ (dreadful term) to marshal.

10.30 am: Preparations completed, I headed for the School and the board meeting:

All the marks were confirmed and a review of student experience given by the External Examiner. It’s useful to listen to an external perspective. He was very positive and supportive. One of the principal problems students have in conducting their studies is organising time. You can teach time management, but you can’t implement it for them. One of the skills that they’ll need to get a handle on before moving into the ‘wicked world of work’ is that of balancing competing priorities. As staff, this is a daily preoccupation. Unfortunately, tasks don’t enter our lives, like the beads on a Rosary, one at the time, but like buckshot – in a cluster, all at once, and dispersed across a broad area.

12.15 pm: I came home for an early lunch and to catch up on emails before the afternoon’s funeral. On arrival: a funereal cone, captured in a full-colour photograph. Appearances can be deceptive:

Mourners entered. Some were girded up by their faith and assured that this wasn’t the end, while others were either stoic or desperately casting around for consolation and meaning. (Note to self: ‘Choose your funeral hymns and Bible readings soon.’)

2.45 pm: Homebase, and on with PhD monitoring reviews. A bitty afternoon: things to file, sign off, prepare for either disposal or dispersal, and stare at with a heavy heart. I was in a  strange mood. While the past is inviolate, it’s possible to reinvent the future: to abandon one vision, and set of expectations and hopes, and to replace them with others. The present is but the tipping point between was what was and what is to come.

7.30 pm: I walked into the studio, not to do anything but, rather, to reacquaint myself  with the room and its equipment, the projects underway, and the ideas and processes to which I’d return, now that the lion’s share of assessing was behind me. This would be a full and full-on Summer with regards to research:

My planned trip away (which I’ve taken every year for the past three) marks the transition between the end of the final semester and the beginning of Summer. It’s an opportunity to get away from everything and every one here, and to reconnect with the friends and places associated with my childhood, there.

I want to see some of my PhD and MA painters next week, in order to begin the notional ‘semester three’. Notifications dispatched. A tiredness, that I’ve been suppressing for the past month, was catching up on me. It’s been a long, tumultuous, complex, and challenging period – an Everest of a climb in respect to teaching.  Personally, during the period since this time last year my heart, soul, mind, and body have known unprecedented upheavals, for which I’ve been profoundly grateful. I would not change any part of it.



The ‘Diary of Departures’ explained a great deal