July 28, 2015

Things change — and, if for the better — then let them (email, 28 07 15).

9.00 am. A time of reckoning before making a response to one reference request and various queries and negotiations. 10.00 am. I revised and finalised yesterday evening’s text on the Image & Inscription project. Of this sound work, much could be said. But sufficiency and economy are the watchwords. More needed to be removed and added to the account than I’d anticipated. As I wrote, emails about the open-studio event trafficked back and forth. The two copies of a vinyl record, made from the recordings that I’d captured on 22 June at the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, arrived:

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Each record has only three short tracks: one of the Second Commandment spoken in Welsh, another of the same, in English, and yet another of the two translations running in parallel. These will be manipulated on DJ decks during the open-studio event.

1.40 pm. More of the same. The sense of sufficiency is now evident. If you can explain something clearly to someone else, then you probably understand what you’re doing. It’s been sad to hear the news that the University of South Wales is closing its Caerleon campus. In the days of Gwent College of Higher Education, of which my art school was a reluctant part, the campus halls of residence were open to arts students, of which I was one:

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4.30 pm. The publicity page for Image & Inscription was finished:

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Thereafter, I communicated the particulars of the conspectus to the School and National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales. This outline took as long as it needed to complete but longer than I had time to devote to it. ‘Pedal faster!’

7.30 pm. Some family fun setting up a new router. Our latest service provider doesn’t route its response to queries via Thiruvananthapuram, or whatever. Polite to a fault though Indian call centres are, they do tend to hold to the script too tightly. When needed, a little lateral thinking gets you further, faster. 8.45 pm. Ward rounds. I made an email response to an ailing PhD student who’s currently laid up in one of the loveliest parts of England, and messaged another who’s on the road to recovery further along the same coastline.



July 27, 2015

Walk a little faster (Orny Jahveh)

9.00 am. I checked my analogue mail at the School before shuffling into town to work through a list of errands and personal commissions, such as transferring information from one SIM card to another at the EE shop (which I’ve never noticed before). I was helped by an able in-store assistant and an operative at a call centre in India. (The boundaries of shops are permeable these days.) ‘Is this for your mobile?’, they asked. ‘No’. I very rarely use one’, I replied. ‘And, I don’t drive either’, I thought. They must’ve considered me to be a time traveller … from the past. 10.30 pm. At my desk back at homebase, I cleared my ‘do to’ A-list (max priority) of outstanding postgraduate admin, attended to several equipment resourcing matters, and refilled and prioritized my now empty ‘to do’ list (with realistic deadlines attached).

1.40 pm. Now equipped with Polyfilla, I return to Saturday’s abandoned, domestic DIY challenge:

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2.10 pm. Back to the sound art cluster of projects. Plans are afoot for an open studio at the Drwm, National Library of Wales, to coincide with Freshers’ Week. At the event, I’ll be composing the Image & Superscription sound project. The initial publicity was released on the John Harvey website:

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6.20 Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. On, now, with the extended publicity text. This will not go public until the dates of the open studio are finalised, and closer to the event.

 

 



July 25, 2015

9.30 am. A balmy promenade, It’s an enormous privilege to live here:

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On to the Farmers’ [mini]Market for fresh vegetables:

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10.30 pm. Into the sound studio to consider afresh the new composition, and to refine a technique of creating believable transitions between discontinuous samples of musical phrases. Perceptual acuity — in particular, the ability hear, understanding, and replicate the precise nature of a note’s decay and the temporal intervals between notes — is of the essence at this stage.

1.30 pm. A little father and son DIY, foiled only by duff, crumbly walls and the absence of Polyfilla. We’ll be back! 3.00 pm. The more dependable, immaterial reality of digitization. Sometimes, in composition (whether audio or visual), one can labour for hours without achieving anything, while at other times, things fall into place with the ease of Lego bricks. The former condition is, I believe, but the tilling of the soil before the harvest. Effort is never wasted. My source samples are taken from three tracks on the original album, none of which are in the same key. In the absence of this basis of continuity I’m cast upon other means: the establishment of a dominant mood, a structured repetition of motifs, and a key note to which all others return.

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5.00 pm. Shut down. 6.30 pm. An evening with the family.

 

 

 



July 24, 2015

9.00 am. A dismal night’s sleep. Therefore, I eased myself into the morning’s work by, first, reviewing yesterday evening’s harvest of samples from the ‘singing nun’ sources. I’ve assiduously avoided using sections of tracks that include singing. Under the condition imposed by my alterations to the original recording, Debbie Reynolds’ voice, while sober and plaintive, sounds like a walrus crooning in the shower. Vocalisation betrays the processes governing the recomposition; one can hear the inversion of the sound envelop and the ‘slowed downness’ too readily. 11.00 am. I actually took a tea break for twenty minutes, in the old fashioned sense of drinking without also working.

Some regulative maxims:

  • Act. The alternative is to prevaricate.
  • When you know not what to do, know what you don’t do, and do what you don’t know.
  • Keep pace with your own ideas.
  • Be aware of what others are doing as a matter of habit.
  • Obscurity may be the consequence of one’s failure to be the right person in the right place at the right time.
  • Hold your intent in an open hand. What actually happens when you let go could be more interesting.
  • There’s a world of difference between not being popular and being unpopular.

11.30 am. I’ve now called the piece I Saw Her Soul Fly Across the Clouds. The phrase, taken from Deckers’ song Dominique Luc, was inscribed on her and Pécher’s joint gravestone. In this way, the absence of Decker’s words from the musical content is compensated, tokenly, by the title, and the composition, likewise, stands as a memorial:

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My initial feeling on beginning any new artwork is, more often than not, that it’ll not rise above mediocrity. But insecurity can be a goad to endeavour and a bulwark against complacency. By the close of the morning, the spark of a compositional idea had become a smoldering ember.

1.40 pm. A hit and run job at the School before returning home to respond to some emerging and pressing admin requests. 2.10 pm. A change of gear. Back to lecture composition for the Abstraction module, and into the realm of theology and art:

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6.20 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. Constructing a PowerPoint presentation is so much easier now than when I first started lecturing. Then, you spent hours in libraries searching for illustrations in often heavy books, marking up the pages, photographing them on a retort stand, before sending them off for processing and waiting for a week in the hope that all were taken on the correct exposure. On arrival, they were inserted into plastic envelopes and decanted into a carousel every time the lecture was given, wherein one or more slide would jam and bring proceedings to a halt:

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When the School of Art was the Department of Visual Art, situated on Llanbadarn Road, we had an entire room set apart for a substantial collection of slides, postcards, and prints of artworks:

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My alma mater, at Newport, Gwent, had such an extensive library of slides as to justify employing a full time librarian to maintain it.

8.40 pm. A change of orientation was needed: I carried on from where I left off this morning with the I Saw Her Soul Fly Across the Clouds project for an hour. For many years I’ve been intrigued by the musical structure of Eric Satie’s The Death of Socrate (1917-18). The sung melodic line is hardly repeated from beginning to end, while the orchestral or piano accompaniment repeats motifs and phrases throughout. It’s the action of these contrary principles, the one upon the other, that invests the composition with momentum and cohesion in tension. What other ways are there of sustaining a non-repeating melodic line over a significant arc of time while retaining a sense of progression, development, and unity throughout the composition? This may be an inquiry that I’ll explore further with I Saw Her Soul.



July 23, 2015

9.00 am. I extracted further, short, and loopable samples from The Wounded Heart Ministries sound source, disinfected my inbox, and settled to the first lecture. When writing a lecture for verbatim delivery, I try to envision myself speaking the lines. Otherwise, the text sounds too bookish and austere. In this sense, the text is equivalent to the actor’s script. There’s a low ratio of text to illustration. This is deliberate. Ideas need to be constantly grounded in images (to which, IMO, art history should always return the listener/reader). So, I use pictures (and sounds, sometimes) liberally, but purposefully:

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One’s own experience of lecturing is always the best tutor. What has either bored or enthralled me in the lectures that I’ve heard? What was memorable, and what made it so? At what points did I lose interest in the lecture? Who was to blame: the lecturer or me? (We are all prone to lazy inattention. We each have a responsibility to actively work at a lecture. It’s not a passive experience.) How did the lecture’s connect with who and where I was? And, how did the lecturer address ideas that were either bigger than, or outside of, and illuminative of, art? (That’s always been my intent.)

1.40 pm. Music is one such idea. It’s an adaptable analogical foil for visual art, one that, along with architecture, I’ll be drawing upon often on this module. To write a module is to tell a story. Each lecture, like a chapter, advances the plot. (Why can’t art history be a good yarn?) And, as in a book that you can’t put down, there needs to be the occasional plot twist, an unexpected encounter, a strange beginning or ending, a cliffhanger, a non sequitur, and a shocking revelation.

6.20 pm Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. Attention needed to be paid to two back-burner projects: the My Heart is Broken in Three disc and the ‘singing nun’ [working title] track. The latter is based upon sections of instrumental music sampled from the 33 rpm soundtrack of the film The Singing Nun (1966). The samples have been recorded directly from the deck, in reverse, at low speed, and with the pitch dropped significantly:

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The extraordinary melancholy of the recomposition struck me immediately and forcibly. The strings, heard against the click and hiss caused by a combination of static, mould, and scratches on the vinyl, sound like those of an underpowered Mellotron (the first playable sampling device). The sadness of the music is not out of keeping with the circumstances surrounding the life of French nun Jeanne Deckers (1933-85), on whose early experiences the film is very loosely based. She and her partner, Annie Pécher (both Roman Catholics), committed suicide together in a response to financial difficulties which Decker incurred following the decline of her musical career. Deckers sang to the accompaniment of a guitar. For this reason, I have in mind writing an extended electric guitar solo to accompany the recomposition, samples towards which I’m presently deriving from the soundtrack (which will be out of copyright next year).

Curiously, I’d chosen The Singing Nun soundtrack from the family’s collection of vinyls merely to test the setup of my two DJ decks, and on the surmise that the album was least likely to render anything useable. Well, there you go …

 



July 22, 2015

8.30 am. Heavy weather; bearing down:

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9.00 am. A morning of postgraduate tutorials. Some principles and observations:

  • Do the most difficult thing in the hardest manner for the best reasons.
  • Be always planning, promoting, communicating, and reflecting.
  • Talk to yourself, either out loud or in writing.
  • Cleaning the studio clears the mind.
  • A bad idea is sometimes a good idea at the wrong time.
  • Fear repetition more than failure.
  • Truffles grow best in dung.

An art school without students is like a body without a soul. Their absence (for the most part) is a little unnerving at times:

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11.00 am. A tutorial cancellation bought me time to clear my room of what was no longer needed on voyage. I rummaged through desk draws that had not been opened in over a year. Evidently, their contents were already redundant. 12.00 pm. My final tutorial for the morning, followed by an advisory session with a go-ahead recent fine art graduate. It was heartening to hear of the Ceredigion Art Trail‘s ambitions.

1.40 pm. Email catch up. 2.00 pm. A review and tinker with the first essay on the composition for The Wounded Heart Ministries. It sounds better than it did yesterday. Why is that? Have my ears become better attuned? Do I come to it with a different temper? The change can be only in myself:

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2.20 pm. On with the new Abstraction art history module. I’ve seven lectures and four seminars to compose before the beginning of Semester 1. Music maestro, please!: Some suitably abstract sound work by the Fluxus member Yasunao ToneMusica Iconologos. The album notes appear to be the cack-handed translation of a Japanese text. Or else, they’re appallingly written; or else, I’m more than usually dense today. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating engagement with the concept of what a picture might sound like. I should revise the last lecture of the module to include an overview of digital abstract art. The module needs to be bang up-to-date. Can I, then, justify not including a discussion on abstract art and sound? A second Art/Sound module dealing with sound art practice during the last decade is required to palliate my enthusiasm.

All my lectures are, first, drafted in notes (on graph paper, appropriately, for this module), and in pencil, section by section. Each section is, then, worked up as a verbatim text (around 4,500 words) in parallel with the PowerPoint presentation — which I regard as 50% of the whole:

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This method ensures that content depth and the narrative flow go hand in hand. A fruitful afternoon, and I’m warming to my subject. But I’ll need all day tomorrow to break the back of the lecture and get into my stride.

7.30 pm. My other life: the Holy Trinity Church Committee meeting.

 



July 21, 2015

9.00 am. I prefer the number of unanswered emails in my inbox to be in single figures. Anymore than that, and I get the jitters. Some inquiries arrive via FaceBook too, usually from former students either touting for references (as they should) or wanting to test out an idea or plan on me (which they can). 10.30 am. The Wounded Heart Ministries piece is still bouncing down the runway. I’m turning for tutelage to the efforts of practitioners less than half my age . In principle, if (in the delicate middle years of life) you want to avoid becoming a dinosaur, then it’s imperative to cultivate a broad radar. As a matter of policy, I look at/listen to creative endeavours that I may not necessarily like, but which, nevertheless, challenges, and helps me to understand, the approach that I take. (My students are often my tutors in this respect.) Interesting things can be found in the most unlikely places (as well as on YouTube, course).

My reservations about the examples of sound databending that I’ve encountered are:

  • the sounds are over processed, tamed, and made pleasant to the ear. Whereas, the raw sound of databending can be aggressive, noisy, monophonic, compressed, and dangerous — reminiscent of the spit and cackle of extremely high voltages
  • there’s too little dynamic variation. Often a particular sound occupies the whole piece and is repeated without modification. I like drone music. But the best examples are nuanced and subtle in their mutation
  • there’s too little compositional rigour, structural logic, and conceptual intent

In short, some expressions of the genre are indulgent; the makers are content to remain at the level of process, rather than aspire to a higher intent or ambition. The works are insufficiently ‘art’; insufficiently difficult to do and to engage. 12.45 pm. By lunchtime, I’d inserted all the tracks into a mixing session. Now begins the scrutiny and the cull.

2.00 pm. Beware hypocrisy! What higher intent does the process serve in my work? What does the sound profile communicate about the source? How does the ‘distructure’, un-composition, and overlayering of the collapsed webpage inform the sound work’s realisation of the same?

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3.30 pm. Having extracted something useable from my sound material, and begun stacking tracks, I manufactured further sound files from the source image. As before, I bounced images into texts into sound and into images again. However, today I extended the technique by enlarging sections of large files and of small files (by pixelating screenshots), and, correspondingly, enlarging the sound files derived thereby by slowing them down:

4a

 

4c

6.30 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. A review of notes covering all major projects.



July 20, 2015

8.30 am. Over the weekend, several correspondence that required some serious attention had accrued. (The size of an email bears no relationship to either its import or demands.) 11.00 am. I pressed on with my practice-based work index. I copied and PDFed indices, which I’d already compiled up to 2007. I’ve kept an accurate list of my visual artworks ever since I first began my Foundation Studies course in September 1977:

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The list begins with the first weekend project (a self portrait) and ends with a trio of canvasses that were indicative of the shape of things to come … for any very long time:

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John Harvey, Off (1978), acrylic on canvas, 60 × 60 cm

The projects we undertook were prescribed, unlike anything I’d encountered at ‘O’ and ‘A’ level (mercifully), and object based: chairs draped in polythene, a studio hung with shiny black plastic and tinfoil (into which I introduced a pane of Flemish glass), knitted wool, basketry, salads, paint boxes, life studies, landscape studies, perspective exercises, and views from the window at the art school’s annex on Emlyn Street, Newport (now demolished):

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The ‘object’ has remained fundamental to my work: be that a text or a found sound. I need something to interpret.

1.40 pm. I retrieved sound equipment from the School, which I’d been using to provide ad hoc and rudimentary tutorials on sound production, in readiness for my annual inventory of stock. 2.00 pm. The Pictorial Bible III: The Bible in Translation visual artworks were typed up as an index:

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4.30 pm. I’ve already made photographs of a number of the works. These now need to be reassessed and modified for tone and colour, principally.

6.30 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. An unpacking and putting away of studio equipment. 8.00 pm. Back to modifying photographs of the PBIII work.

10.40 pm. ‘The Nightwatch’. I made a tentative start on reviewing the material that I’d produced for The Wounded Heart Ministries on Friday and Saturday, and began setting it within a more conscious compositional framework.

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July 18, 2015

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9.45 am. Part of me always preferred the unprojected slide of the artwork. It’s smaller, more intense, portable, and reproducible. Granted, it sacrifices many of the attributes of the original — surface, scale, physical depth, and subtleties that are better felt experientially than seen — and it has a shorter shelf life than the original. Today’s technology of digital capture and copy permits a rendering of the artwork that can be manipulated in all its aspects, multiplied and carried to anywhere on the globe instantly, and (with the intervention of digital migration techniques), enjoy a long life. Neither the slide nor the digital image are facsimiles. Rather, they’re tokens of, and approximations to, the original. Surrogates.

I’ve made only three digital artworks. The first is iKon/iPod: Magnificat (2007):

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In the booklet accompanying The Pictorial Bible II: Seal Up the Vision and Prophecy, I wrote:

The iPod is a small portable media device. Some models are capable of storing and playing music and video, and displaying photographs and text files. As such they combine the utility of the icon miniature and portuary. The first series of images designed to be viewed on the media player similarly amalgamate the visual and the textual. The source material is taken from the Magnificat, the Latin version and vernacular translation of the Song of Mary, her doxological response to the angel Gabriel’s prophecy regarding the son she would conceive (Luke 1: 46–55). The opening words ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord’ provide the conceptual process for the images. The word ‘Lord’ is literally enlarged up to 1000 per cent. Sections of the word’s letters and the ground on which they are printed are then abstracted. The backlit illumination of the screen inevitably gives rise to an association with stained glass, the typifying colours of which inform the palette for the works … As with One Jot or One Tittle (and following Gutenberg’s principles), the series of works uses new technology to democratize Scripture, enabling copies of the original to be downloaded freely from an Internet website.

I predict that, in the future, far more of my visual work will be conceived and executed digitally.

11.30 pm. Having spent much of the week ruminating on the sound/landscape project(s), I decided not to do so again today. Rather, I pushed on with three other determinations. To: 1. update my catalogue/index of visual artworks and establish which have yet to be photographed, digitally; 2. undertake further explorations of databending in relation to The Wounded Heart Ministries source; and 3. reconfigure the studio for sound practice only.

1.30 pm. Now that there’s a subwoofer incorporated into my mixing array, I’m better able to assess the bass values of the new Sicknesses, Weaknesses, Diseases of All Kinds track. 2.00 pm. I returned to the metadata expression of the TWHM image, converted it into a PDF format, and then into an audio file. Again, the result was an almost uniform brown noise. However, when that noise was converted back into an image file, the transform engaged my attention immediatly:

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I heightened the contrast of the image alarmingly, saved it as a Photoshop RAW format, and re-imported the file into Audition. The sonic results were more granular and bitcrushed in character. (Low grade, high contrast photocopies would serve this process well.) My ideal for this mode of processing is to move cyclically through image > text > sound > text > image, while capturing the outputs at each stage. The TextEdit metadata rendering of one of the sounds derived from the source image reads:

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However, the visual and sonic manifestations of the over 1,000 pages of metadata were, again, disappointing. But when the above screenshot, showing one section of metadata, was imported as ‘Raw Data’ into Audition, the output sounded astonishing. The following is the graphic display and a sonic extract from The Wounded Heart Ministries metadata screenshot:

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I prefer the sonic palette consequent upon this way of working; it’s less synthetic/midi-esque than that produced by commercial image-sound conversion software. The pitch and timbre recall the old telephone-based modem, when you sensed that you were hearing, in the gurgle, chirp, and stutter, the sound of binary in motion.

3.00 pm. I began processing the source image using the following sequence:

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4.00 pm. After which, I converted the source TIFF into a sound file, made a screenshot of of its graphic display, and converted that, in turn, into sound — a recursive image, of sorts.

The time has come to assemble parts of my sonic capture over the last few days, in order to begin the process of sound composition. My model will be the source image and, in particular, the structural ‘logic’ that arose when the layers of the website’s homepage collapsed upon themselves.

5.00 pm. An end to endeavour. 6.00 pm. An evening with the family.



July 17, 2015

8.45 am. I need more information about a prospective residency (this morning’s task) before I go any further with the application. Nevertheless, in the interim, I can proceed to conceptualise the project (and its adjuncts). The residency may be somewhat wide of the mark of my own interests. But the opportunity provides a framework in which to think more clearly about what is at the heart of my concern.

This morning’s notes about the sound/landscape project from ‘The Belmont Loose Leaf File’ (13 May 2015 – ), 15-16:

what do I want to contribute to the [South Wales] community? / what would they get out of this project? / could local museums in the former industrial areas be involved? / how do I incorporate the area’s religious and supernatural history? / derelict chapels / performance and presentational aspect / how is sound technology deployed in industrial archaeology? / … the possibility of time travel  / find extant sound recordings of local industries / use of Lidar / how do I connect with those living in the valleys today? / project not about preservation but about realisation and reconstruction / articulating vestigial presence / a sound’s relationship to a tangible object / fantasising the possibility of returning to the past through the sensation of sound / about metaphor not representation; evocation not illustration / could the community make recordings: oral history, sounds of places? / (an upload site, perhaps (?)) / questions related to the community of the locality and the community of scholarship and artistic / distinct but interrelated / this project is broader than images of industry alone / it’s a subset of the whole 

11.30 pm. I honed in on one aspect of the project: image to sound conversion. There’s a variety of software to enable tablet artwork and scanned images to be converted into sound and vice versa, such as Photosounder, as well as the potentially more useful Virtual ANS (a simulation of the Russian synthesizer ANS — a photoelectronic microtonal and spectral musical instrument developed by the Russian engineer Evgeny Murzin (1914–1970) in the period from 1938 to 1958):

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12.20 pm. I put a toe in the water of databending (the digital equivalent for the analogue practice of circuit bending.) The technique involves manipulating one media format (such text or image) using software designed for an entirely different media format (such as sound).

1.45 pm. I set up an experiment (in the proper sense of that word) using a visual source which I happened upon several months ago. It’s the glitched homepage of an American fundamentalist website entitled The Wounded Heart Ministries (accessed: February 2015):

The Wounded Heart Ministries (2015)

The page’s digital ‘wounds’ — like the tripartite calamity that befell the My Heart is Broken in Three 78 rpm record — is another case of form fortuitously following content. First, I opened the image’s PNG file in the Mac TextEdit application, and then saved it as an XMP file, which converts the image into readable metadata:

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Secondly, I extracted the data from this file and pasted it to a Word DOCX file, wherein it occupied over 5,000 pages. Thirdly, each of the text format files was imported in Adobe Audition CS6 (a sound software) as ‘Raw Data’ at 8,000 Hz and 16 bit depth. The resultant conversion sounded like brown noise. This was neither an interesting nor a usable outcome. Fourthly, I imported the PNG file into Audition directly, in the same way. On this occasion there was a little more variety in sound character of the transform, sufficient to merit further investigation. Fifthly, I saved the image file as JPEG, GIF and TIFF formats, respectively, and converted each into a sound file. The latter yielded the most engaging results. Finally, I imported the TIFF version in a variety of audio sample types and format settings:

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The following audio extract is taken from the fifth The Wounded Heart Ministries transform:

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7.00 pm. I took the fifth version of the image > sound transform and reversed the process using Photoshop CS6, again importing the file as ‘Raw Data’:

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It’s possible to alter the exposure, contrast, sharpness or blurriness, and lightness of the image and thereby effect changes when the file is re-coded as audio content. However, the process doesn’t operate on the principle of analogical correspondence. Indeed, quite the opposite. For example, softening the image produces a sharper and more brittle sound. But, the reverse is not true. ‘Fascinating!’, as Mr Spock would say:

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9.30 pm. Practice session 2.



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