Month: June 2018

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 5.00 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 lockdown. 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 stony 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 [working title] 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 café. 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 had 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 non-viable 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) aqueousness 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 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-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