October 20, 2014

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8.30 am. The morning light arises noticeably later as each week passes. Having organised my tutorials for the week and rewrote module material, I finalised the sound files for Matt. 20.25 and publicized the track. Then, I amalgamated all the tracks from Matt. 19.29b to Matt 20.25 into the full recto version. All that remains is for the recto and verso tracks to be combined, and the composition — which began in April — will be complete. This work has had the slowest gestation of any I’ve embarked upon. It consists of 57 tracks made up of 1,289 spoken words, each stretched (by ‘hand’) to 7 minutes and 22 seconds in length.

10.30 am. I drew up the post-publicity for Saturday’s modest excursion into circuit bending. Self-promotion (which one must necessarily engage if there is no one else to do it for you) is an integral part of the creative process: ‘No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick’ (Lk. 11.33). One must ‘get it out there’ by some means or other. I updated my website with an more expansive account of the exercise, and began three sound pieces based upon material recorded on Saturday.

2.00 pm. I continued with the development of the sound pieces while fielding emails.

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5.00 pm. The compositions were mixed down and made ready for publication to my Studium site:

  1. Exposed to the air or to view; not covered
  2. She was put in a cubicle with the curtains left open
  3. His eyes were open but he could see nothing

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6.00 pm. Practice session 1. 7.15 pm. The ritual mark-up of the Art/Sound lecture — an activity that extended into ‘the night watch’. 9.40 pm. Practice session 2. A productive day — albeit majoring in minors, perhaps. I ended it by consolidating a blog on my circuit-bending spree.



October 18, 2014

8.30 pm. Set up. The rig was assembled in under an hour. Power up. Handboard 1 made an unfamiliar noise, like a clicking pulse, with no obvious culprit. There’s an inevitable terror associated with using a complex electronic network: the prospect of experiencing some unaccountable and unforeseen glitch in the system at the eleventh hour. In the professional sphere of music, the problem would be cheerfully handed over to the sound engineer. In the sphere of sound art, the artist is often the technician too. Having checked the network (I have a procedure for rationally isolating faults), I deduced that the phaser/flanger at the beginning of the chain was errant. Once removed, the network was quieted. Thereafter, hums were quelled, unity gain established throughout the system, and a test recording made. ‘The readiness is all’:

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11.00 am-1.00 pm. Throughout the the morning, Open-Day visitors were drawn to the ‘peculiar noise’ (as I heard it described) and into a conversation about my equally strange behaviour: poking fingers into the guts of portable audio devices (which had clearly see better days) and, like some sadistic torturer, prodding them with electrical probes in order to elicit a shriek. Some explanation of my indulgence was necessary, one which took in the history of sound art from 1913 onwards, and the crucial part that painters had played in its evolution:

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2.00 pm. After lunch, I was in my stride: noises were coerced from all but one device, looped, superimposed, and variously filtered. I heard sounds that evoked some of Louis and Bebe Barron’s ‘tonalities’ for The Forbidden Planet (1956): the death rattle of circuits in extremis:

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3.40 pm. The audio capture will probably not yield any compositional material. That was not the intention. Nevertheless, the outcome may be sufficiently engaging to merit a sonic montage, as a token and document of the day’s efforts. 4.00 pm. Power down. Set down.

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6.00 pm. An evening with the family.



October 17, 2014

8.30 am. I uploaded yesterday’s diary, posted emails, and began the last of the individual tracks contributing to The Floating Bible project: Matt. 20.25:

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9.30 am. Today I prepared for the circuit bending demonstration tomorrow. While the technique is straightforward, the framework of performance and delivery is not. The name of the game is ‘hazard’, for several reasons. The circuit board is:

  • vulnerable. Having been removed from the protective case, its components and wires are apt to work loose or break;
  • unstable. The process of short-circuiting sometimes involves routing the full 3- volt DC current used to power the device through components that may not be designed to accommodate that charge.  As a consequence, they either weaken or burn out;
  • unknown. There is no guarantee that any productive sound will emerge from the process of probing the circuit board;
  • inconstant. There is no guarantee that, once located, a productive sound can be found again (even when the same two nodes are connected) or sound again, as it did previously.

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Because I’m adapting electrical devices to functions that they aren’t supposed to serve, the system throws up a good deal of earth-loop hum (a 50Hz frequency that can drive a sound artist to distraction), which has to be lifted at source. 2.00 pm. Then, a power supply connection failed; then, the Sony Walkman failed; and, then, the transistor radio failed. Better now than tomorrow. They were all, bar one, fixable. However, the broken device encouraged me to try a new technique: applying a current directly to the circuit board’s nodes, rather than via the normal DC input. Other, useable, and unforeseen/heard noises resulted. Principle: a failure may give rise to an opportunity that would not otherwise have been grasped had it been a success:

The system network:

Circuit board handboards (Oct 2014)

Having thoroughly tested the equipment, it remained for me to box it up ready for transport:

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6.15 pm. Practice session 1. 7.15 pm. I began setting up the handboards at the School. I’ll now be able to install the whole rig, section by section, in the single gallery tomorrow morning. The School’s ‘ghosts’ didn’t show or murmur, yet again. They’re a dead loss.

9.40 pm. Practice session 2.



October 16, 2014

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8.15 am. I set out for the School of Art at exactly the same time as I left home to catch a bus to my secondary school. ‘A pattern for life’, as they say. 9.00 am. The second Art/Sound lecture of the week. I feel as though we’ve covered a great deal of ground, and yet there is much more to come:

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10.15 am. My weekly walk to the Old College. On this occasion, it was via the charity shops; I went in search of an old analogue radio and cheap children’s toys that go ‘beep’ and ‘mmmm’, etc — cadavers for my circuit bending practice.  11.00 am, and the beginning of my third-year painting tutorial schedule. Some lessons, observations, and opinions:

  • Students need to develop a sober estimation of their own work. Some either right-off their achievements in a too cavalier manner or else laud them to the heavens, unjustifiably.
  • There is a great deal of difference between an intent and an idea. An intent may get you no further than the next step in the process of creative endeavour; whereas an idea encompasses and directs the totality of the endeavour.
  • I expect only three things of students and their work: integrity, quality, and authenticity. This is the baseline of my personal expectation too.
  • Some students a very concerned about what friends will think about their work — the subject matter, especially. (That thought never occurred to me when I was an art student.) The uncertainty fosters a restrictive conservatism and a desire to please. Why to they crave acceptance?
  • Heed the work! It wants to tell you something.
  • Students need to drill deep in one spot. Only then are the likely to strike oil.
  • ‘Experimentation’ (and the term is rarely used in its proper scientific sense) in relation to either paint, technique, or subject matter, can degenerate into a time-filling activism. One doesn’t need to know, or to acquire dexterity in, so many things at once; one needs only enough to make a single painting, in the first instance.

One student discovered a rather poorly rendered, desultory, and discarded painting made by another student, and whitewashed over it. In so doing, they transformed it into an acceptable picture. Who, now, is the work’s ‘author’: the one who began or the one who completed it?:

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Likewise, who deserves the acclaim: the person who conceived of an idea but did little with it, or the person who acquired that idea and ran with it? (I’m thinking of Hoffman’s invention of the drip-painting technique and Pollock’s deployment of the same.)

4.00 pm. A group tutorial with second year painters in which the topics of discussion were working methodology, peer criticism, and a work ethic. They’re a sensible lot, although some appear bemused by my approach.

6.15 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. The morning’s podcast didn’t record successfully. I’ll need to give the lecture once again, and probably to an empty lecture theatre. I went back in the studio to prepare circuit bendable devices for action:

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October 15, 2014

8.30 am. I closed the ledger on an outstanding financial project before heading for the School. Autumn days are not to be trusted:

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They may begin well enough, but often end in a downpour. (The metaphors proliferate.) It was a fierce morning of one-to-one MA and PhD tutorials — tiring and exhilarating in equal measure. I felt on form (in my own eyes … which may mean nothing). I’m impressed by my students’ honesty and earnestness. The best aren’t those who seem most confident, but the ones who, though plagued with self-doubt and self-recrimination, refuse to yield to their limitations. I firmly believe that persistence and perseverance is of greater importance than talent in securing success.

3.00 pm. I returned from a late lunch, in a rush, in a car, in the rain:

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3.30 pm. An exam board to confirm the MA Dissertation marks was convened. My colleagues have a commitment to the education and improvement of their students and a professionalism in the discharge of their responsibilities that are second to none. I’m proud to be counted among them:

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6.30 pm. Practice session 1. In the evening, I did the manly thing and took up my soldering iron to prepare several DC connections to devices that I’ll be using in the Open Day demonstration. Manual work has an integrity quite distinct from that of purely intellectual activity. It appeals to something far more fundamental in my nature:

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9.40 pm. Practice session 2. 10.45 pm. During the ‘night watch’, I updated my website ‘news’ section, mixed down and publicized Matt. 20.24 (one of the best in the batch), Tweeted publicity, and began an extended blog on circuit bending.

This has been a routine but nonetheless rich and elevating day. In collaboration with my students, they and I have gained some small but secure and rewarding perceptions. And insight never comes when you whistle, and only occasionally while you wait.



October 14, 2014

8.30am. I walked down Llanbadarn Road and up Trinity Road to the School, and set up the equipment for the Art/Sound workshop:

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The session was of the informative and elucidatory type — hardly riveting, but entirely necessary. The academic and presentational demands made my the module submission are fairly stiff. And why not. What point is there in asking students to do what they knows they can do? Overcoming our limitations and extending our grasp beyond our reach are principles foundational to the notion of personal endeavour. 11.00 am. The MA Vocational Practice group undertook a complex role-play debate, and managed themselves in an exemplary fashion.

After lunch — a search for postgraduates via the stiflingly hot corridor (traversed by heating pipes) at the back of the School. It’s an uncomfortable passage to walk; the walls seem to press inwards, as though threatening to crush:

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I held tutorials with two MA Fine Art students before phoning our latest PhD Fine Art recruit, who lives in an idyll beyond the bounds of Wales. The three are at different points on the same path heading in the same direction but to different destinations.

6.30 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. I replied to the emails, made a number of adjustments to the PowerPoint of the next Art/Sound lecture, marked up the text, and began processing files for Matt. 20. 24: the penultimate verse, and a relatively short one at that.

9.40 pm. Practice session 2. 10.40 pm. ‘The night watch’. I completed the mark up and made headway with the processing:

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October 13, 2014

9.00 am. There was a backlog of postgraduate administration, marking, and reading to deal with before my day’s assignments could come into focus. However well one’s time is managed (a subject about which I’ll be speaking to the second year students at the close of the afternoon), the legitimate and pressing demands of others sometimes prevail, and eat into those periods of the day set aside for equally urgent matters and projects. ‘The best laid plans of mice and men go astray’, as they say. Establishing priorities is relatively straightforward; creating a hierarchy of priorities is much harder; and deciding between equal priorities is more often a moral issue — a choice between one’s own and another’s needs and best interests.

By 12.00 pm, I was back on track and pressing on with a short introductory text about circuit bending, ostensibly for Saturday’s university Open Day but with an application to a sound art practice-based module — currently under construction — too. After lunch, I probed several circuit boards in search of fierce, edgy, and noxious noises. The endeavour requires patience, steady hands, and a great deal of optimism:

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4.30 pm. At the School, I set up the projector for my 5.10 pm lecture and helped out with some administrative chore related to postgraduate ‘dispersion’ statistics. I wouldn’t chaff at the task of assembling statistics if I thought that there’d be some tangible return in terms of an intelligible, informative, and useful application of the data. There rarely is. Bureaucracy is a hungry beast that must be fed, constantly, with numbers and pie charts, graphs and projections. The lecture appeared to go down well, and I’m sure they appreciated, if nothing else, my effort to finish the class 15 minutes before time. (A working example of ideal time management, of course.) At 5.45 pm, the desire to return home, rest, and eat overrides all academic considerations.

6.30 pm. Practice session 1.

7.00 pm. I completed and formatted the text for circuit bending project, added additional slides for tomorrow’s Art/Sound Workshop, and revised the project outline for the 11.00 MA Vocational Practice class. Delivering a class ill-prepared is still, for me, a fearful prospect:

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9.40 pm. Practice session 2.

To bed.

 

 

 



October 11, 2014

9.45 pm. The studio and the study needed a dust and a vacuum. In preparing the work environment, I’m conscious that the inner man is also being put to order. And the manner in which we acquit ourselves of ‘the trivial round and common task’ is a measure of our integrity: ‘He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much’ (Lk. 16.10). I fail the test so often:

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Electronic sound devices (of which I’ve a not inconsiderable number) emit an electro-static charge that attracts a great deal of dust. On a recent tour of the BBC radio studios at Salford, I asked how often the equipment was cleaned. ‘Everyday’!, was the reply. I cannot compete.

2.00 pm. I began setting up filter devices to effect the output from a circuit bending exercise that I hope to demonstrate at the university Open Day on the 18 October. I’ve not practiced the technique since I was 16 years old. I stumbled upon the potential by accident while attempting to fix a portable radio. (Today, it’s a sub-genre of what is called ‘noise music’.) For anyone who could not afford a synthesizer in the mid 1970s (and that was most people), the squelches, screeches, and hums produced by connecting circuits that ordinarily aren’t was the only way to achieve an engaging and usable electronic sound. The approach is not without its hazards; frequently the adapted devices short circuit permanently, or else components on the circuit board burn out.

I worked up a draft of the publicity material and icons for the demonstration:

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By 5.00 pm, I’d set-up the more sophisticated and expensive end of the rig that’ll be using in the project, and prepared a number of redundant or failing electronic devices for probing, tomorrow.

An evening with the family:

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October 10, 2014

8.45 am. I return to studio work and to several works in progress from The Bible in Translation project beginning with the ‘New Songs’, a suite of ‘soundtexts’ based upon psalms that were sung to the accompaniment of stringed instruments. (I’m intent on completing Matt. 20.23 by the close of the day too):

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The suite is still sour. The problem: there are 26 letters in the Roman alphabet but only 25 notes in two successive chromatic octaves. A single chromatic octave has 12 notes. But two successive octaves have only 25 notes, because the last note of the first octave and the first note of the last octave are shared. Consequently, the former cannot be codified in terms of the latter without compromise and, as such, there’s no possibility of reconciling the two systems. It has been a frustrating impasse.

If a problem cannot be resolved as it stands … what to do? Consider:

  • the nature of the problem, and of the impossibility it appears to present.
  • whether the true problem is, instead, one’s understanding of the apparent problem.
  • whether the apparent problem can be understood in other terms.

In this case, I began by interrogating my rationale. Why did I want to map the alphabet (which represents a fixed component in the project’s system) onto a two octave chromatic run? For one, a sequence of notes following one after another corresponds to the like progression of letters in an alphabet. Therefore, that component in the system must also remain fixed. But, there are scales besides the chromatic. Since the mapping process does not insist upon the use of that particular scale, this component in the system is flexible.  Once I’d realized that there was room in the system to manoeuvre, an alternative solution presented itself:

E-minor pentatonic scale: E G A C D. E-Major pentatonic scale: E F# G# B C#

The E-minor pentatonic scale (consisting of five notes) fits into a 26-letter alphabet five times, with one remainder: an ‘E’; the first note of the next pentatone and the same note — five pentatones higher — as the initial note in the scalar sequence:

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Theologically, this is advantageous. The consanguinity of the concepts of first and last in biblical thought is significant. Christ referred to himself in those terms: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’ (Rev.  33.13). The appellation refers to the initial and closing letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It’s like saying, Christ is the A and Z of the Roman alphabet. So, it was important that the principle of first and last being different yet essentially the same was honoured, analogically, in the start and finish of the musical-scale sequence. Ethnomusicologists suggest that, in all likelihood, pentatonic and heptatonic scales (consisting of 6 notes) governed the composition of Hebrew music at the time the psalms were written.

So, what appeared to be an impossible problem, on closer consideration, yielded not only a solution, but one that was far more appropriate to the source material. But, as I’ve said before: ‘It’s one of life’s truisms: every solution creates its own problem’ (August 7, 2014). The full five-plus-one note pentatonic sequence exceeds the note range of a 22-fret guitar (on which ‘New Songs’ will be played). Therefore, I’ll need to use a pitch-shifting effector on the pedalboard in order to play two pentatones below the lowest ‘E’ on the instrument.

1.30 pm. Over lunch, I put away studio equipment before codifying the alphabet in relation to the pentatonic minor and major scales:

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6.15 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. I attended the opening of The Chinese Student Exchange Exhibition (organised by Paul Croft) and Impress Print Workshop, Brisbane (organised by Judy Macklin) at the School:

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It was was one of the best attended openings of the year so far.  The two shows, together, presented an extraordinary compendium of the myriad manifestations of printmaking (and other mediums beside). Art should replace politics as the engine of entente:

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9.30 pm. I didn’t fulfil my ambition to complete the sound processing of Matt. 20.23, having underestimated the time it would take and overestimated my determination. A fatal combination. Tomorrow, then.



October 9, 2014

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The thunderstorm retraced its steps, landward, during the night. Sleep was intermittent as a consequence. 8.15 am. To the School and the, now, routine set up for the Art/Sound lecture. Today, I was taken by surprise. The sound system worked a treat, but several links to images embedded in the PowerPoint presentation had broken (but were fixable in time for the delivery). I suspect that the problem was created during a synchronisation procedure via Google Drive. You’re looking for traffic coming from one direction and the vehicle hits you from the other.

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10.15 pm. The storm at the seafront was ferocious last night, the students tell me. The turbulent tide and high breakers were its only residue. The remainder of the morning and afternoon was devoted to second-year painting students, who are working on the ‘sense of place’ project. It appears to be a beguiling simple proposition, until the realisation dawns that we are asking them to paint what cannot be seen. Everyone I taught this morning is approaching a problem, semi-abstractly. (I sense in my bones that abstraction is gradually returning to the centre of visual discourse.) Some lessons, observations, and opinions:

  • Students pay inordinate attention to the judgements of their peers.
  • Students should listen to the dictates of their own hearts more often.
  • Mind maps should be outlawed. It’s one of the last vestiges of the A-level mentality that they relinquish. The method encourages prevarication and the illusion of ‘doing something’.
  • The student’s zones of confidence and comfort are congruent. To move beyond the boundary of the one is to transgress that of the other.
  • Students often want to leap from step A to step E without first working through B, C, and D. These three are the most crucial and demanding phases in the methodological process which, if engaged intelligently, will necessarily determine the outcome of step E. ‘Look after the pennies … ‘, in other words.
  • The tyranny of the ‘final work’ is great and cruel.

I’d never before realised that the statues of Messrs Thomas Edward Ellis and Henry Austin, installed at either end of the Quad, are made of plaster rather than metal. (I’m reminded of the metaphor: ‘feet of clay’.). What else in the university is counterfeit?:

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2.00 pm. An afternoon of the same. The students at the end of the day confront a tired tutor; nevertheless, they benefit from the distilled fruit of the all my earlier encounters and conversations. I encourage students to make an audio recording their tutorials. Few do, and not consistently. My instinct is that students remember very little of the discussion. Perhaps they recall only what was relevant. But, then again, perhaps they don’t recall all of only what was relevant.

The office/basecamp:

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6.00 pm. Practice session 1. In the evening session, Tuesday’s Workshop 1 material was completed and today’s Art/Sound session uploaded (in spite of an achingly slow broadband speed).

9.40 pm. Practice session 2.

 



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