June 27, 2015

8.30 pm. A night of fractious thoughts and intermittent sleep. In the periods of more productive wakefulness, I reconciled my focal ambitions and commitments in sound art with my shopping list of forthcoming equipment purchases. (When money is tight, spending priorities need to be clearly defined.)  In principle, buy items that:

  • are of the best quality I can afford;
  • I don’t have in any shape or form;
  • are needed in the immediate future;
  • will facilitate either the composition or recording or performance or promotion of my endeavours.

Another idea, this time related to the current sound composition, emerged during the night season. 9.00 am. I acted upon it, inserting a drone derived from an abandoned track. The addition changed the character of the whole considerably. Which is what it required. A creative output that almost works (as in this instance), may as well not work at all. So, there’s nothing lost by undoing it. The insertion provides what, I now perceive, was lacking in the composition yesterday: an energy and sense of urgency.

2.00 pm. An afternoon of outstanding tasks, beginning with a minor paint job:

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Then, a dismantling of Pedalboard 3 in readiness for a new build:

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6.00 pm. I attended the opening of Knowing Place at the Gas Gallery, Aberystwyth. This is getting to be quite the place for artists to be seen:

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I doubt there was a room in Aberystwyth this evening so full of imagination and committed people.

6.45 pm. Closure.



June 26, 2015

7.50 am. A number of emergency admin tasks were undertaken. 9.00 am. Variously, back to yesterday’s sound work and to further ruminations on the new theme for the conference. When confronted with a compositional impasse (as indeed I am), the following 10-point strategy is deployed:

  1. Sleep on it; (only so much can be achieved in one session).
  2. Remove one element; (either temporarily or permanently).
  3. Remove another; (either temporarily or permanently)
  4. Make one element more prominent.
  5. Make the remaining elements do more.
  6. Insert either a new element or one that was excised early on in the compositional process
  7. Compress the composition; (keep it as short as necessary).
  8. Interrogate the composition’s rational; (all of one’s decisions are questionable).
  9. Eradicate the predictable; (formulaism is a manifestation of laziness).
  10. Listen to a very different type of composition by another artist; (attend to the production values, in particular).

11.10 am. I served as a tour guide to our piano tuner, Mr Backhouse. After he’d tweaked our domestic ivories, I escorted him to the two other loci of my life: Holy Trinity Church and the School of Art to do business with their respective baby grands:

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More generally and habitually, in the process of sound composition I:

  1. review the original samples to determine whether they’ve been over-processed. Ideally, the original recordings should remain as true to their source as possible, sonically. (This is a lesson which I’ve learned by example from Pierre Schaeffer‘s principles for musique concrète);
  2. work on the beginning and on the end of the composition alternately to ensure that the logic of the one mirrors that of the other;
  3. divide the whole composition into 20 second sections, and develop each of them in turn and in isolation, and, afterwards, as a continuity;
  4. isolate a track and work as though the whole composition depended upon it;
  5. pay attention to the position of each track within in the stereo field.

4.00 pm. The composition is taking shape, but lacks something — like unsalted food. Sometimes, there’s simply not enough ‘air’ between the layers of sound:

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4.30 pm. I can no longer hear the wind for the breeze. I must do something else, and return to the work tomorrow. Reading:

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7.30 pm. Sourcing equipment purchases.



June 25, 2015

8.05 am. As I was preparing breakfast, the theme of the next sound conference arrived in my head. Such things come, like the biblical thief in the night, at a time you least expect. 8.30 am. I received an email from a PhD student at venerable Scottish university asking whether I’d review a sample of their writing on theology and one of the visual arts. Having written on and practiced the subject, and been an external examiner for, and supervisor of, theses in this interdisciplinary field, I know how hard it is to develop more than competence in that area that lies beyond one’s native training and expertise. I wrote:

What a fascinating project. You’re boldly going where few have gone before. And, no doubt, having undertaken the project, you now understand why. Studying theology in an interdisciplinary context inevitably means that you (and your supervisor) will have one foot on thin ice.

8.50 am. At the School, I posted off the postgraduate monitoring forms. My collection of sci-fi desk toys is now graced by a model Tardis:

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9.30 am. On the walk home (ambulation is a great lubricant for the mind), and following the lead presented by my ‘revelation’ at breakfast, one word pressed itself upon me. I measured its definitional dimensions with my magnum Compact Oxford English Dictionary:

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The word perfectly encapsulates all four parameters of the new theme. A gift! My only uncertainty is whether to use its noun or adjectival form.

10.30 am. I returned to the sound studio to continue mastering the new album’s tracks:

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Afterwards, I picked up a sample that I’d previously rejected for inclusion on the album. I’m giving it one last chance before consigning it to the Studium site. The recording captures the close of a long and evidently exhausting service of Christian demonic deliverance involving children and adults. In the (vaguely post-coital) aftermath, two girls offer a prayer of thanksgiving, one in English and the other in what may be tongues. Their quiet adoration is set against the distant and ubiquitous presence of ‘worship music’, here abstracted to a plaintive motif. I’m attempting to resolve the composition counterintuitively by superimposing, what I would otherwise consider to be, irreconcilable sound sources.

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7.30 pm. Something is opening up. I’m playing a sample of  the two girls’ voices in a loop against an adult male voice reading a litany of different medical ailments. The contrast between relative stasis and movement, repetition and variation, works well. Noises made by the tape recorder on which the original recordings were made were added to the composition, along with isolated fragments from samples that recall voices embedded in EVPs.



June 24, 2015

I experienced, what was for me, a vivid and reasonably coherent dream last night. It took place in a large, well-lit modernist cafeteria in Berlin. A few people only were eating. I was giving a lecture on post-war art in Germany to a group of students. The crux of my discussion was a comparison between socially-critical paintings by Edward Hopper (who in the context of the dream was a German artist) and photorealist images by one Robert Anson Hans (?), which celebrated his country’s economic rise. The latter’s work looked like this — a mélange of paintings by Gerhard Richter and Ted Serios’ thoughtographs:

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8.30 am. I returned to The Pictorial Bible III and The Aural Bible II series booklet, which will be included on the forthcoming The Bible in Translation sound CD. The text is more or less in the bag. I now need to insert it into the design framework and photograph the recent visual work for inclusion also.

9.45 am. A dental check-up. The wait …

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10.30 am. At the School, I caught up with admin and undertook minor tasks. 11.30 pm. A PhD Fine Art tutorial with Eileen Harrisson:

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Eileen’s activities traverse image making (in stitch), sound collaging, and writing poetry. We explored concepts such as: procedural and methodological analogues between image and sound superimposition; improving poor quality sound recordings; and ‘performing’ poetry using pre-existing voice samples.

1.00 pm. A sound research collaboration meeting with Dr Roberts at our usual watering hole. Sometimes, a good idea comes at the wrong time. This is the case with respect to the proposed theme for the next sound conference. Consequently, we needed to stand further back from our original plan in order to perceive the broader landscape of possibilities. I’m confident that a more appropriate governing principle will emerge, and in due season. And, moreover, the idea that we’re shelving (or the essence of such) will find its place in the new scheme of things, later on. Our responsibility, in the interim, is to keep talking, think intelligently, consult with others, hear the heart, and await the moment of realisation.

3.15 pm. Homebase. I finalised the postgraduate monitoring admin. (Hoorah!), sent off Monday’s recordings to the vinyl pressing company, and addressed incoming emails. 4.15 pm. On, then, with articulating our lunchtime thoughts and further modifying The Bible in Translation catalogue text.

7.30 pm. A letter to write and tracks for the new CD to remaster. I’m still able to tweak them to betterment, and will continue to do so until they peak. I’m applying every ounce of the hard won knowledge and experience that I gained while mastering the first CD. Evening ends:

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June 23, 2015

Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am (Psalm 39.4).

8.00 am. A review of, and response to, my inbox. 8.40 am. Off to the School …

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… for a 9.00 am PhD tutorial with Veronica Calarco. To begin a PhD in Fine Art one must, first, not so much pose a question as determine a problem. The question will arise out of the problem, later in the research:

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10.30 am. Back at homebase, I reviewed emails and tweaked several sound files before returning to the last lap of postgraduate research monitoring, while reviewing tracks for possible inclusion on The Aural Bible II: The Bible in Translation sound CD.

1.40 pm. Into the sound studio to listen to this morning’s tweaking on close-field monitors. One edges the track towards the tipping point of betterment, whereafter it begins to deteriorate in quality. 3.30 pm. A request from the editor of a book  — to which I’m contributing a chapter — asking for higher resolution versions of several illustrations that I’d submitted. Fair enough! Better quality is always worth striving after. 5.15 pm. Dun’em!

7.30 pm. I acted upon that principal in relation to a composition entitled Amen Amen. Discontent with the sound clarity, I extracted the centre channel of the recording’s stereo field. With some moderate equalisation of the same, the overlaid elements of the piece were separated more distinctly and enhanced considerably. I have my back against the wall with this one. The source was recorded, at a distance, on a poor micro-cassette device in the early 80s. One cannot restore what was never encoded. The sound quality is what it is. A recorder captures not only what it’s hearing but also itself: variously, the sensitivity of its microphone and medium, tonal bias, the quality of the drivers, preamps, and sound card, and the intrinsic noise of the device. 8.30 pm. A final review of yesterday’s recordings before their dispatch to the vinyl manufacturer. In the accumulation of small adjusts one can improve the overall effect considerably. I’ve great difficulty judging the comparative loudness of a female voice and male voice when heard together.

9.10 pm. Finally … onto the turntables:

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June 22, 2015

8.15 am. I wrote emails, related to several undertakings this week, and aimed at keeping collaborators and facilitators in the loop. 8.45 am. After a little postgraduate admin and further shameless self promotion on Twitter, I headed for the sound studio to test the equipment that I’ll be using this afternoon to record. My other task this morning was to remix the three circuit bending tracks, collectively titled Open (which I’d composed in 2014), and commute them from my Studium site to the ‘John Harvey’ sound domain:

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I did the same with the TestDrones series, while fielding more postgraduate admin and overdue responses to research correspondence. 12.30 pm. An early lunch.

1.30 pm. A Research Committee, sub-committee meeting to confirm the research postgraduate report forms. Fiddly bits remain. 2.20 pm. Off to the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales to set up my recording equipment in their sound-proof booth:

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Mr Timothy Cutts read the Second Commandment from the Authorised version of the Bible, and Dr Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan, from the William Morgan version. The recordings took only a short time to complete. The booth holds several technological curiosities from the history of sound recording:

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4.15 pm. Home and dry. Now, I need to ensure that the recordings are up to scratch, and also to equalise and compress the capture in readiness for its transfer to vinyl. One of the two recordings needed to be stretched, temporally, in order to be exactly the same length as the other. Thereafter, both recordings were synchronously looped and their stereo field, widened:

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6.20 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. The finalisation of three tracks for transfer: synchronous loop, Welsh voice loop, and English voice loop. 8.00 pm. The schematic for the toggle-switches and potentiometers for the RF Stealth Custom arrived from Crimson Guitars this afternoon …

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… and so did the Revox A77 Mk IV:

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There’s much to learn. When I was 17 years old, manipulating a device like this was second nature to me. Now, I look at it quizzically. It’s as much a piece of engineering as it is of electronics. And, all that tape to spin, spew, and tangle. It’ll be Joe 90 all over again.



June 20, 2015

9.45 am. Emails checked, recent equipment sourcing reviewed, and I was back into the sound studio to re-educate myself in the ways of filters. Mercifully, I have a mind that is well adapted to learning the functions and logic of electronic equipment. It’s also well adapted to forget the same. So I write down a digest of my learning:

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12.00 pm. Korg KP3 mastered, I move on to the Korg Quad. Easy. 2.00 pm. I attached my array of Eventide modulators, first, after and, secondly, before the sampler/looper for a comparative test:

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The effectors aren’t sufficiently controllable as hands-on devices, and their ‘effectiveness’, in terms of a distinct and deep modulation of sound, is disappointing. Moreover, the inclusion of the Eventide modulators over complicates the system in toto, as well as duplicates some of the other effectors’ functions. Only one device is necessary: a one-shot sampler set before the sampler/looper devices.

4.30 pm. A little preparation for the recording of the Welsh and Authorised versions of the Second Commandment at the National Screen and Sound Archive on Monday. 5.15 pm. Close. 7.30 pm. Practice session 2.



June 19, 2015

7.45 am. I addressed a few admini-things before launching into town for an appointment with the dental hygienist at 8.30 am. The new bandstand is now in it’s skeletal form:

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The wait ….

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‘I’ll be a good boy, and floss … a bit’, I promised the hygienist. 9.10 pm. I bumped into Mark Williams, our MP, on the way home. My congratulations on his Pyrrhic victory sounded rather hollow. Back at homebase, I cleaned up the inbox droppings before returning to the sound studio. 10.00 am. To begin, the looper/sampler array was set on the floor. Turnatablism is a very hands-on technique. So, foot controls are an essential:

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Two units, only, will suffice. Now, I have to consider the ergonomics of feet.

1.30 pm. If a piece of equipment isn’t used regularly, I forget how to program it. My large instruction manual is now had my elbow. My collection of manuals and instruction books for gear exceeds five full files:

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3.30 pm. The Crimson RF Stealth Custom returns, fitted with an active pickup and new electronics, and repainted. She’ll be test driven over the weekend:

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4.15 pm. Having programmed the sampler/looper boards, a schematic of the whole system is in order. Diagrams help me to think clearly:

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In this layout, I’ve inserted a notional post-sampler/looper effects unit. Thus, I’ll be able to modify sounds both prior to and after they’ve been sampled and looped. The only absence in the system, presently, is some form of hand sampler (which would be installed in front of  the sampler/looper) capable of extracting and preserving ‘dry’ snatches of output directly from the decks. The Korg KP3 and Quad Pad touchpad modulators now require attention. So much to (re)learn. 5.25 pm. Shut down!



June 18, 2015

8.00 am. An administrative prune before a walk to the School, now entering its Mary Celeste period. Other than a presence of a few Life-Long Learning courses, special events, postgraduates, secretaries, technicians, an ever watchful porter, and periginating academics, the building will be largely void of life and activity for the next few months. 9.00 am. The first MA Fine Art tutorial of the morning with a student who’s moving towards their second exhibition, in September. Trumping the first exhibition is not an objective declared in the module outline, but it’s always the determination of the conscientious art student. Tali’s chair:

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10.00 am. A PhD Fine Art tutorial. Beginning a practice-based PhD requires considerable courage, self confidence, and an ability to trust that the process will take care of you. It’s a time to be brazen, for daring to do, defying one’s own expectations, and bungee jumping without a wire (as it were). Sarah’s workspace:

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11.00 am. Mr Croft and I interviewed a prospective MA Fine Art student. Mature applicants bring a wealth of life experience to the table. 12.00 pm. A reunion with a student, currently on temporary withdrawal, after nearly a year’s absence. They’ve endured trials that would make most of us buckle under and throw in the towel. This one’s made of sterner stuff. 1.00 pm. The second MA Fine Art tutorial of the day. We had a sober discussion about the relationship of the artwork to the space it occupies. The context of display is rarely ideal. But it’s the manner in which the artist negotiates the compromise — in such a way as to secure an outcome that is better than their anticipated ideal — which proves their metal. Problems are prompts to betterment.

2.00 pm. An afternoon of various postgraduate admin task. 3.30 pm. A break/a difference: I resolved the ergonomic problem I’d set myself yesterday using an existing stand. Now the modulation touchpads are within easy reach. The decks, also, have been rotated in order to keep the tone arm away from my hand movements. (This is a common practice among DJs.):

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3.45 pm. Back to it. An end is in sight. Postgraduate reports are almost there.

6.20 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. On with it. Queries, reminders, and beseeching pour from my outbox. Words like ‘stone’ and ‘blood’ come to mind when it comes to extracting reports from folk. 9.00 pm. Time for a little more work on the modulation touchpads and an integrated sampler/looper. Immediately, on testing the system, something remarkable emerged.



June 17, 2015

8.15 am. I dealt with the remaining inbox missives, followed up matters arising from a failed courier pick up, and sourced sound equipment. 9.00 am. Sound studio prep day. Having processed the English and Welsh versions of the Second Commandment, the two handboards needed to be disassembled and packed away, the double DJ deck and mixer taken out for an inaugural spin, and the studio’s cable routing, rationalised:

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10.00 am. Courier hiccups have been resolved. The putting away of things is taking longer than anticipated. A superfluity of PSUs:

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1.50 pm. Pedalboard 3 (designed for the New Song project (currently in abeyance)) is on the table. It will cleaned and thoroughly tested, along with the studio base mixer stack:

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3.30 pm. All check! Next, the turntables and mixer were assembled and connected:

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I ensure that both tables are absolutely horizontal in all directions and that their tone arms are properly aligned. Thereafter, decisions are made regarding which modulation and looping devices are to be integrated.

7.30 pm. I added and tested a Korg Kaos Quad filter and Boomerang III sampler/looper pedal (foot operated) into the mixer’s send and receive circuit. The ergonomics of positioning filters and the like within arm’s length of the decks and mixer requires some attention. Ideally, they should sit above and a little behind the level of the decks. Solution: ‘Stand buy for action!’, as they say in Stringray.

9.20 pm. The parting light:

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