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

June 26, 2018


6.15 am: ‘Good morning, John!’ Ablutions:

7.30 am: A communion. 8.15 am: Pressing on! All three of the final compositions for ‘The Talking Bible’ were now in progress. I returned to ‘One Day’ to finalise the process of word/phrase extraction before the collaging phase could begin. The current high pollen count presents a challenge that I could well do without. First, I played ‘hunt the minor prophet’. Looking for Amos:

10.20 am: The extraction was complete. I’d accrued a great many words.

Discouragements come like wasps through an open window in the summer: they can’t be either stopped or ignored. To a large part, what determines our response to the curved-balls that life throws at us is our experience of, and reaction to, difficulties in the past. With hindsight, some discouragements were mere phantoms of problems, others were genuinely headaches but taught us a great deal about either ourselves or the nature of problem solving. Few were insuperable. And hardly any did us lasting harm.

10.45 am:  Before returning to ‘Write Up the Vision …’ I wanted to experience the outcome of assembling the words that I’d extracted to form Martin Luther King Jr’s most famous dictum: ‘I have a dream’:

I was hooked. However, the construction of the sequences was problematic. Some words at source elide with one another to such an extent that its impossible to remove, say, an ‘an’ from a phrase and for it to be still intelligible in isolation. Single syllable words are best harvested from the beginning of sentences. The discontinuities in the vocal inflexion and dynamics, due to the words having been assembled together outside of their original context, enhanced the musicality and strangeness of Scourby’s delivery. This was a bonus. I’d noticed a similar phenomenon in relation to automated train announcements:

By 5.00 pm, I’d constructed the principal quotations by King using Scourby:

7.30 pm: Ironing kit put away, I regularised the word sequences, equalised sample volumes, and adjusted overall EQ. I’d got further with this than I’d expected, today. How these would be used in the context of a composition was anyone’s guess. Which is how I liked it. I couldn’t, then, lean upon a past model. New solutions were required.

June 25, 2018

Reach out!

Sunday. Following church and a lunch consisting of warmed-up leftovers, I headed to that part of the beach which is between the pier and the harbour wall. The sunlight reminded me of San Francisco. I’m sentimental about this part of the town; it summons some very happy memories:

I wanted to test the performance of two Røde microphones and their respective windshields while recording the lapping of water at the shoreline. My latest ‘toy’ is a miniature shotgun microphone designed specifically for video work. It’s unidirectional and monophonic. It’ll be incorporated into a portable iPhone/iPod based recording system for use when I’m in the move. This needs to be as versatile and easy to set up and operate as a digital camera: a practical means of audiography:

Before returning to town, I visited my habitual watering-hole. (I needed some perspective and hot chocolate.)

After dinner, I watched a pop-corn movie while simultaneously holding a WhatsApp conversation with my younger son about its merits and failings. As the evening light declined, my eyes and heart turned upwards to him who ‘is a very present help in time of trouble’:

Monday: 6.45 am: A little house work before a communion at 7.30 am. 8.15 am: A review of the week ahead, diarism, computer repairs, holiday notifications, and medical appointments. 9.45 am: I reviewed the grant application that I’d substantially completed on Saturday. 10.40 am: The Aural Bible III projects on my John Harvey: Sound website required further text to situate the works within the broader context of the project and to explain the biblical referents. In the background, I listened to the final masters of Nomine Numine.

I’d received some useful and immediate feedback in the morning on the draft submission of the grant application. The necessary extensions were drawn-up in response.

3.15 pm: Nomine Numine was published. I wrote in the notes to the composition:

The quartet felt as though it had been composed by a creative intelligence that lay outside of me. At the same time, it was clearly my work: the hymns had many hallmarks that were evident in some of my other, more deliberate compositions. The quartet expresses something of the intensity, happiness, consolation, desolation, and strangeness that was felt when the providence of God and paths of two people intertwined in a remarkable way.

The work baffles and intimidates me. I feel as though it has something to tell me … something that I’m not yet capable of understanding.

5.15 pm: I was on dinner duty:

7.30 pm: I continued writing additional text for the compositions while entering into correspondence with the convenors of the Visual Theology I conference. My paper is tentatively titled ‘”The Hearing Ear and the Seeing Eye”: Transformative Listening to the Biblical Image’.

June 22, 2018

Thursday, 7.00 am: Morning:

As I was about my ablutions, I caught a radio article that discussed the problem of grade inflation at UK universities. In essence, too many first-class degrees are being awarded. The rise in number has been coterminous with the period since students began to be charged tuition fees. (‘Money is the root of all kinds of evil.’) Students want ‘bang for their bucks’. Now, that’s a principle of which I approve. However, they cannot buy attainment; it has to be earned. A good degree is awarded rather than sold. At the School of Art, a first-class mark, whether it be given for attainment in an individual module or for the degree overall, signifies excellence. And excellence is relatively rare. So ought to be its recognition, therefore. Today, both universities and schools are under pressure to call silver, gold and bronze, silver. When I was a student, departments could go for years without ever awarding a first.

Another ‘issue’ (read ‘problem’) facing universities, which was brought to light at a meeting I attended yesterday, related to the relationship between staff and their research students. It can get too cozy. Some PhD candidates are apt to form an emotional bond with their supervisor. It can lead to a sense of dependency and exclusivity, such that the they’ll not countenance being taught by anyone else. Moreover, the supervisor risks losing their critical distance and capacity to say the difficult thing, when needed. Of course, friendships frequently emerge during what can be a protracted period of intense and searching one-to-one tutorials, during which both parties necessarily yield a great deal about one another. (This is particularly so in the field of creative-art research.)  It’s not a marriage, but it is a mutual commitment to a successful outcome.

9.00 am. The house is silent and I’m alone. Now I can sing, dance, and play the guitar very loud for the next few days. Most importantly, I can begin and end recording the backing tracks for ‘Write Up the Vision …’.

Friday, 8.00 am: Having made trial of the acoustic and recording set-up yesterday, and given initial consideration to my grant application, I was now in a position to begin recording proper (once the various, tedious updates were installed). Time moves more irregularly when you are living on your own. But I’m a creature of habit, and maintain the intervals for meals and tea breaks with tiresome regularity. Very British. Very me. No one has ever been able to rescue this boy from that habit.

One of the components (likely or not the tube-based preamp) in the set-up was picking up a radio broadcast. The seagulls were unusually lively in the morning, too. And, all of a sudden, the traffic sounds seemed louder. (‘Close the Velux vent, John!’) 10.00 am: OK. I decided to go for it:

I needed to ensure that the speed of writing remained reasonably constant throughout the process. To this end, I deployed a visual metronome running at 66 bpm. On with Chapter 1 and verse 5, Take 1. Each verse would be recorded as a separate file. Each letter of each word would be written separately and distinctly, following God’s instruction to the prophet to inscribe the message plainly, so it it could be read easily and swiftly. The first take had too much ‘barky’ dog in the background, bitty bumps caused by the movement of furniture on the table, and distracting mechanical sounds made my the process of writing. Isolation was called for. In the end, I removed the stethomicrophone and lavalier microphone, and repositioned the contact microphone towards the end of the pencil. The latter doesn’t pick-up any acoustic information in the environment, only the vibrations of the pencil’s carbon tip on the paper – which is all I wanted. (Simplify. Simplify!) Take 2.

Over lunch and a bowl of noodles (a treat), I was struck with the realisation that there were two other compositions that could be components of The Aural Bible III project: The Remnant That Remaineth (Brophy and Harvey, 2017) and my recent ‘astro-musical’ piece, which I’ve renamed When the Morning Stars Sang Together. (The title is taken from Job, Chapter 28, verse 7.). Along with the unpublished Nomine Numine, the three pieces share a drone-based structure:

For the first part of the afternoon, I updated the website presentations for the two works. The text would need some adjustment too. (A job for next week.) A review of the on-going reconstruction of this website was also undertaken. It’s getting there. 3.45 pm: I bounced to the School, to check my mail and take in the sunshine:

4.30 pm: Home. I wasn’t getting very far with my sound writing. However, the execution would take far less time than the set-up and experimentation had done. It was on its way. I reviewed a remix of The Remnant that Remaineth before dinner. The original rendering felt a little too tentative. There’s an air of confident defiance about it now. And I hear details to which I was previously oblivious.

June 20, 2018

5.30 am: Up! I could wrestle with my night’s bouts of sleeplessness no more. 5.45 am: I reckoned on the business of the next few days. By the close of this day, I hope to have extracted the relevant words and phrases from the Scourby recording and begun uploading the material for Nomine Numine. The latter composition is the second response to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales’ memory archive event, and the second part of my The Aural Bible III project:

The final part of the project will be the CD that’s presently under preparation. Tomorrow, I’ll begin recording the ‘Write Up the Vision …’ text. I’ll have the house to myself until Monday, and the requisite quiet for acoustic recording (seagulls, lawnmowers, ‘supernatural’ trumpets, and raindrops permitting). 7.30 am: Breakfast and communion.

8.30 am: On with the extraction, and a review of the two suites from the third part of the series – generating new graphics and adjusting the descriptive texts along the way.

11.00 am: I walked up Penglais Hill to the Institute of Arts and Humanities meeting room to confirm the PhD monitoring reports. This was my last examination board of the academic year. (Big ‘sigh!’) I learn a great deal on these occasions. Our bunch come out of the wash very well:

After lunch, I extended and modified the text for Nomine Numine in preparation for upload and release over the next few days. The two parts of The Aural Bible III project need to be in the public domain in advance of the submission of a grant application to fund the production of the new CD. My intent was to upload both the sound files and text and then live with it for a few days before publication. One ought not rush to release. The problem with uploading large files to a streaming site is one the size limitation. The four parts that comprise Nomine Numine needed to be rendered at 48000Hz and 16 bit. The reduction in definition robbed the sound profile of some of the bass and mid-range frequencies. (The ‘image’ felt flatter.) These were restored by a little intelligent mastering:

7.30 pm: I returned to the text for I. Nothing. Lack. As it stood, the description felt bloated. I’d made a more concise stab at it for the forthcoming issue of the Aberystwyth Ego. The copy would serve as my guide. In the background, I reconfigured my social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, principally); some of the privacy settings and filters had come unstuck and required attention. Recent updates have undone some of my previous decisions. (Apologies to all who have been effected as a consequence.) I also needed a quote for the production of the new CD. Letters were dispatched.

June 19, 2018

7.45 am: A communion. 8.30 am: This week my postgraduate teaching was assigned to today. At the Old College: the residue of a either wedding or a Christening (including ‘The Arm’):

9.00 am: The first of the day’s MA tutorials. 9.30 am: My second appointment needed to be postponed to the end of the day. The occasion gave me an opportunity to catch up on the day’s admin at a local café. 10.00 am: Onward and backward to the mothership. There’re times when we must take time to talk together as staff about the vicissitudes and uncertainties of our lives. After all is said and done, we’re only human.

10.30 am: My email deposit oozed postgraduate admin. Some magisterial Jean-Baptise Lully in the background, to ease the passage. (Music is my caffeine.) 11.15 am: That set to order, I began the annual sift and jettison of paper and files that wouldn’t be needed on the journey into the next academic year. I enjoy casting off. (Practical housekeeping.) I was drawn into the Discourse: Reynolds to Rego exhibition in the School’s double gallery; the first of many trips, I’m sure, to enjoy the modernist prints especially:

After lunch, I held an informal discussion with a PhD Fine Art inquirer:

For the remainder of the afternoon, I conducted MA fine art tutorials at the School and Old College until 4.45 pm.

7.15 am: An evening of bitty tasks: emails, website revitalisation, computer problems, and further extractions from the Scourby recording. One day I’m going to play the discs from Genesis to Revelation.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s encounters:

  • To fail is to understand the nature of success.
  • No one can have given you the answer, because only you can formulate the question.
  • What is it about a black and white photograph that appears to cast the subject into a past that belies its historical moment?
  • We teach out of who we are, so that the student can be who they are.
  • Let the snow fall and lie, before treading through it.
  • You’ve been floating upon the pond, now go to the well and draw water from deep within it.
  • Sometimes a tutor, sometimes a ‘priest’.
  • It would be like cooking and never eating your own meals.
  • Confront the unknown.
  • If you have a sense of direction, don’t assume that you know your destination also.

June 18, 2018

Grief leaves us in darkness (Address, funeral service of Jean Curwen (June 18, 2018)).

7.45 am: Breakfast:

8.30 am: Two objectives today: 1. To make progress on the ‘That One Day’ composition; and 2. To compress and subdivide the length of ‘Wisdom is Better …’ . I began with the latter. This would be the simpler technical operation but the harder conceptual strategy to resolve. The length of the whole (the superimposition of all the sides of all the albums) stands at 48 minutes. This is disproportionally large in relation to the other works on the CD. I don’t want to impute to the composition the status of being the major work on the album. Q: What would be the rationale for shortening the source material? This has to arise out of the structure and divisions of either Bible or the mode of recording. It cannot be arbitrary. No solution was forthcoming. Often, the regulating idea arises when I’m attending to another composition. So …

10.30 am: I addressed the day’s first objective instead, for now. Looking for an ‘are’:

There was no way of hurrying this. I had to listen to a great deal of recorded text before discovering which chapter of the book I was in. The quest amounts to locating a second within up to 40 minutes of text.

2.00 pm: I attended the funeral of Jean Curwen, a member of Holy Trinity Church. I’ve lost count of the number of services that I’ve attended during the last few months. We’ve lost eight members during that time. Her husband and surviving daughter delivered a very considered and constrained eulogy. Jean was of a generation which prized courtesy, politeness, restraint, and modesty:

2.45 pm: On with the word extraction and fielding emails as a distraction. I was half way through the process. By the close of the evening session, I hoped to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Reflecting on the first of the day’s objectives again: I should consider permutations of speed.

7.10 pm: I ploughed on through Exodus, Leviticus, and Proverbs. When I arrived at Isaiah, I just dropped the tone arm on the record and hit Chapter 17, verse 51 first time. The law of averages, I guess:

June 16, 2018

6.00 am: As I woke, I heard the news that a fire of some proportion had swept through Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Building. This had happened, to a lesser extent, four years earlier. Sometimes lightning does strike in the same place twice. There were no casualties, again. And that’s a great mercy. (This was not another Grenfell Tower.) I can’t imagine how the staff and students of the School of Art would feel if the Edward Davies Building suffered the same fate. Grand old art schools are a second home to those who study and teach in them. They’re only bricks and mortar (and extraordinary design, in the case of Mackintosh’s architecture), but they ennoble us and inspire great affection. Like every influence for good upon our lives, we grieve its passing. Let’s hope that this phoenix will rise once more.

9.00 am: I returned to the composition on racism (that’s now tentatively entitled ‘That One Day’) and began extracting words and phrases spoken by Scourby on the recording that corresponded with those that Martin Luther King Jr spoke in his ‘I have a dream’ speech. This would be a painfully slow process. Needs must, however:

After lunch, I went into town for my Saturday afternoon’s repose and to pick up supplies from one of the local supermarket. It rained en route. The cafes were filled with tourists sheltering from the downpour. With a decaf latte to hand (this was an experimental venture), I returned to my ‘Diary of Departures’. It’s has been my confidante of late.

3.00 pm: Back in the studio, I reviewed the source texts for my word search, and tried to rationalise the number of biblical books that I’d need to access. Monday’s studio work is now before me. These have not been sufficiently productive days. I’ve felt tired. The pace of construction and conceptualisation has been too slow; although, all the new compositions are moving in the right direction. I accept such times as inevitable and, sometimes, necessary. 5.20 pm: An end of things.

June 15, 2018

Occasionally, truly good things deteriorate into an irredeemably and inconsolably appalling mess, through no fault of our own. This is human entropy in action.

7.45 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Studiology. Back to ‘Wisdom is Better …’, and the construction of an afterimage (an echo) of the initial ‘crack’. The echo was sampled from the tail-end of the ‘crack’ and, then, hyper-stretched in order to create a bridge (a reverberant pause) between the detonation and subsequent evolution of the explosion. This opening section is a representation (a reconstruction) of a sound, as were the trumpets in ‘Image and Inscription’. But it’s, simultaneously, an abstract noise. I’m back in the territory of that composition, but without a guiding text and narrative structure. My major work (setting aside exploratory sound pieces) is interpretative. An objective source (a ‘figurative’ referent) has been a requirement – something to work with and against.

After lunch, I, rather aimlessly, manufactured sound elements that might be included in the composition. Until a structural map is developed, I’ll be thrashing around in the water like this for a good while yet. I must wait for the penny to drop. Only the mood of the piece is certain at the moment. I winnowed my file folders, developed the final samples, and disposed of the residue. This was not a productive day. From the outset, I suspected as much.

7.30 pm: In search of structure. There were five nuclear tests held during July 1964, under the auspices of the USA, UK, and Russia. They represent a set and division (unity, commonality, separation, and distinction). That was enough to begin – to segregate the whole:

June 14, 2018

8.00 am: A communion. 8.45 am: Thursday is my postgraduate day over the Summer period. To begin: administrations. 10.00 am: Studiology. A review. The composition entitled ‘Saul>Paul’ will henceforth be called ‘Saul and I’. The ‘Write Up the Vision …’ composition will use, as the support for writing, the paper sleeves in which the records are inserted. ‘Nomine Numine’ may be released independently of The Talking Bible suite, rather than as part of a double CD. These were among the ‘revelations’ that came to me in the early hours of June 13 (when many things besides, changed). Back to my nuclear explosion, and the development of an appropriate reverberation for the initial ‘crack’. Q: How far am I away from the explosion?:

The recording for ‘Write Up the Vision …’ will take place at the end of the next week. Then I’ll be home alone for a long weekend, and the house will otherwise be still and quiet. When conducting acoustic recordings, the environment needs to be just right.

11.30 pm: At the School I held a ‘pep’ talk with one of our former PhD students. 12.15 pm: I walked down the avenue (resplendent at this time of the year), and into town for lunch with one of our current PhD students. There’re among several members of the postgraduate cohort whom I consult in order to discern the needs of the hour and the possibilities of what could and should be done in the future. A veritable weather vane.

1.30 pm: Back to the mothership:

2.00 pm: The afternoon’s MA fine art teaching began with a Skype tutorial:

3.00 pm: Then, it was off to the Old College for the remainder of the afternoon, beginning at the old chemistry lab on the east side of the building. 5.15 pm: Job done!:

7.15 pm: I caught up on emails and responded to my ‘webmaster’s’ update on the MOT of the sites. He’s a fast and efficient worker.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s encounters and ruminations:

  • If you’ve risked openness and been exposed, your instinct will be to hide more deeply within than ever before.
  • Those who’re most apt to judge you are often least able to see inconsistencies in themselves.
  • You’re not as good as you think you are. Neither are you as bad as you think you are.
  • Why do we habitually return to the snares from which we’ve been released?
  • Awkwardness is better than estrangement.
  • A hard heart can serve as a shield to the spirit. It’s a defensive weapon of last resort.
  • Either you take control of the situation or the situation takes control of you.
  • Beware of them who think they know.

June 13, 2018

And then you wake up the next morning and realise that it’s all over.

Another poor night’s sleep. Sections of the ‘Blind’ suite looped in my head. As I rolled from the left to the right of the bed, I remembered the dream poem ‘O Jericho‘. ‘Why this again?’, I questioned. With the recollection came a fearful determination to built the ‘wall’ higher and deeper. At my desk in the morning, I reviewed the account of the poem, which I’d written about in this Diary. Here’s the oddest thing: the moment that I typed the word ‘Jericho’ into the Diary’s search engine, I heard (what I thought was) several trumpets sounding in unison. They came unannounced, and were clear and very present. (A mildly alarming experience.) The music appeared to emanate from within the studio, where I was working, and more particularly out of the monitor speakers in front of me (which were switched off). No equipment other than my laptop was powered. The melodic line comprised two tones, ‘G’ and ‘C’ (an octave below), in two pairs of quavers (‘G’), followed by a crochet (‘C’) and, finally, another crotchet (‘G’). Stranger still, about the same time, one family member was awoken by a loud ‘boom’. But I’d heard nothing of the sort:

James Tissot, The Seven Trumpets of Jericho (c.1896–92)

How does one interpret such a phenomenon? While I have a supernaturalist outlook on life, I’m not so naïve as to believe that all such anomalies (however biblical their allusive credentials) have a divine origin and purpose. I’d fabricated the sound of Old Testament trumpets for ‘The Decalogue’ section of the ‘Image and Inscription‘ suite. So my brain was already adept at imagining both the sonorities of the instrument and a simple melodic line. But why had I heard it just at the moment of typing the name of the city that was most famously associated with the instrument? Was ‘Jericho’ a mental trigger, perhaps? And why did it come to me on this most ‘auspicious’ day? Talk about an unexpected gift.

Let’s assume, for argument sake, that the trumpets’ sound was God given. What, then, was its significance? Surely not to encourage me to take down the ‘wall’. That would make no sense in relation to either the enterprise in itself (I’m persuaded that the ‘wall’ had to be set up) or my waking impetus to make it more secure. God doesn’t send mixed or confusing messages. My conclusion: this was either a delusion, or an illusion, or a confusion. An intriguing and inexplicable coincidence. Nothing more.

9.00 am: My PhD student had solved last week’s Skype debacle. We we able to talk and secure a (hopefully) helpful tutorial:

10.00 am: I convened a postgraduate committee meeting to ratify the submissions for the PhD monitoring round. Thank goodness that’s over for another year. 11.00 am: The final board meeting, at which all third year and MA mark were discussed and confirmed. Business was completed by noon. Afterwards, we toasted and said the first of our farewells to Professor Cruise, who’ll be retiring next month. He’ll be missed, dearly:

12.15 pm: I completed my final administrations for the assessment period before returning home.

2.00 pm: I’d determined to take the afternoon at a more leisurely pace (a treat to myself), and the whole evening off (unthinkable). I watched Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941). Remarkable!