April 20, 2018

8.00 am: A communion. On Discipline: Some years ago, I served as an External Examiner at a northern university for a PhD Fine Art submission by a young Taiwanese Buddhist student. I describe her thus, because her beliefs were integral to her practice. This principle was admirable – an ideal – in my way of looking at things. One of her research aims was to develop a sure-fired means of drawing a perfect circle, freehand, with invisible ink. In order to do so, the student submitted themselves to a rigorous regime of yogic exercises, meditation, a caffeine- and alcohol-free and vegan diet (which, for three months, consisted only of leaves and water), and up to 5,000 prostrations a day over three years. She achieved her goal admirably, again and again and again. The candidate had placed her body, mind, spirit, and lifestyle in subjection to the will, in order for the art to take place. She passed the examination, and I took away lessons that’ve remained with me.

8.30 am: I want to return to swimming in order to develop a regime of holistic physical exercise. But, to do so (having been out of the pool for over a decade), I will need lessons to get me back into my stride (or is that ‘my stroke’). There’s a waiting list for one-to-one tuition, locally; so, this is likely to be a Summer enterprise.

9.00 am: Studiology. The stretched files for my chorale were ready for inserting into the DAW. I processed them on one computer and returned to ‘Saul>Paul’, on another. Once one of the beat tracks that I’d developed yesterday evening was inserted, the rhythms implicit within the spoken text samples were vivified, and fell into what felt like their pre-ordained positions on the spine:

11.00 am: Jiggling. It takes time to recognise other than the obvious possibilities of placing the dynamic stresses of the spoken word either before, on, or after the beat. My experience of playing percussion for the Nantyglo Comprehensive School Orchestra and North Gwent Youth Orchestra, as a teenager, had tuned my sensibility for the task. Some samples stubbornly refused to ‘sit down’. ‘And slaughter against’, was one of the most unruly. There were other samples, however, that worked well wherever you put them. It takes an age to draft just ten seconds of composition. 12.55 pm: I’d complete the first draft of the first section. A good morning’s work.

1.40 pm: I power-walked half way up Penglais Hill, as the (what I call, ‘Bermuda Triangle’) sea mist began to creep over the town. Even on a warm day, this vapour is deathly cold. I re-joined my old GP practice, feeling like the prodigal son returned:

2.10 pm: The second section deals with Saul’s/Paul’s road to Damascus experience: the conversion. Perhaps this should move at a faster and more intense pace. But, first, the texts had to be dissected into smaller, mobile components. 3.15 pm: There were two scratch loops that I’d generated last night that, entirely fortuitously (although I’m questioning the arbitrariness of all coincidences these days), were exactly the same length, so that they could be either synchronised or placed out of phase with each other.

7.30 pm: I assembled four recordings in the session file:

They capture two people (female and male), speaking on two occasions. The female voice is reading two texts, one on each recording, the male voice is narrating his experiences on a journey, as they took place, and a personal confession, again, one on each recording. The content of what was spoken is only of relevance to the speakers and my compositional decisions regarding the emotional tone of the work. Of signal importance, here, is that we hear them talking together at length – an opportunity they were not able to take in real life. The composition is divided into four parts: ‘Jayess’, ‘Io’, ‘Aitchay’, and ‘Enn’. (The number is significant.) They’re, collectively, an encrypted reference to the identities of the speakers. The mood of the composition is, variously, one of yearning, heartbreak, and a sublime mystery. While the content of the speech is rendered indecipherable by the ×20 stretch, the distinction between the female and male voices is retained, as well as certain characteristics of their voices when heard at normal speed.

When I first heard the four tracks played together, I knew immediately that the composition was complete, in this sense that nothing needed to be added to it and nothing should be taken away (other than its length); it’s over three hours long, presently. All the work required was for me to balance the tracks’ volumes and spread them across the stereo field. The composition recalls the slow ascending and descending glissandos heard in my rendering of Marcel Duchamp’s Erratum Musical (1913/2014), and the autobiographical underpinning of The Remnant that Remaineth (2017). Tomorrow, I’ll reduce the total length and subdivide the whole into four parts. To do so, I need a rationale.

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