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First Piece: Abort Nerves

from R R B V E Ǝ T N Ƨ O A [album] by John Harvey



Some of sound samples used in this composition are heavily corrupted by scratches and cracks. When looped and mapped onto the acoustic drawing of the broken fragment, they generate percussive rhythms that resemble African drumming. The association is fortuitous but not arbitrary. On the day of the cylinder’s recording, an African man spoke at the morning service in Tabernacle, Hirwaun, Mid Glamorgan. According to D. M. Philips, Roberts’s biographer, the man ‘related how he had come to England to be trained for missionary work … [T]he Welsh Revival caught him, and now he was resolved to … go back to preach to his own nation the eternal gospel.’ During the period from 1904 to the end of that decade, more progress was made by indigenous and foreign missionaries in Africa, than at any other time hitherto. So much so, there was talk of a ‘Welsh revival in Africa’.

Many African languages are tonal (or what might be termed ‘sing song’). Roberts’ oration, too, had pronounced tonal characteristics and patterns, which one can hear even more clearly when the recording is either looped or reversed. His speech melody, together with the choir’s hymn singing, provide much of the musical material for the eleven re-compositions.

The spirit of ‘First Piece: Abort Nerves’ is defiant and triumphalist, expressing Roberts’s and his followers’ confidence in the ascendency and progress of the revival. Likewise, the insistent ‘snare drum’ sound strikes a militaristic and assertive tone – as they fight against the forces of darkness and the enemies of God. The choir sounds-out a warrior-like anthem, while Roberts proclaims slogans that have little continuity and, sometimes, even less semantic sense. This, too, was the character of his preaching, not only on the cylinder but also from the pulpit. Throughout the composition, Roberts and the choir are engaged in a call and response reciprocation, which ends with the revivalist issuing a challenge to the listeners to examine their faith. Finally, the choir’s staged laughter turns into a frenetic and disturbing outburst of religious enthusiasm, such as was common at revival meetings.

Choir: [unintelligible] [4 times]
The Lamb that givest all away. [reverse] [2 times]
[unintelligible] [4 times]
The Lamb that givest all away. [reverse] [2 times]

Glory! [4 times]
[unintelligible] [4 times]
The Lamb that givest all away. [reverse] [2 times]

ER: All eternity will not suffice. [4 times]

Choir: Glory! [4 times]
[unintelligible] [4 times]

ER: Sing it again that you believe. [2 times]

Choir: O the Lamb, the bleeding Lamb. [reverse]

ER: God took up his cause.

Choir: O the Lamb, the bleeding Lamb.

ER: Man cannot do less.
A way to what?
A way to what?
To everything except destruction.
Do you believe that?

Choir: We do!

ER: Do you believe that?

Choir: We do!
Glory! [4 times]
[unintelligible] [4 times]

ER: A way to all eternity.

Choir: The Lamb that givest all away.

ER/Choir: We do believe that!

Choir: The Lamb on Calvary.

ER: A way will not suffice.

Choir: Ha-ha-ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha-ha!

ER: What do you believe?

Choir: Ha-ha-ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha-ha! ...


from R R B V E Ǝ T N Ƨ O A [album], released July 12, 2015


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John Harvey Ceredigion, UK

I’m a practitioner and historian of sound art and visual art, and Emeritus Professor of Art at the School of Art, Aberystwyth University, UK. My research field is the sonic and visual culture of religion. I explore the sonic articulations of the Christian religion by engaging visual, textual, and audible sources, theological and cultural ideas, and systemic and audiovisualogical processes. ... more

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