October 14, 2016

8.30 am: A little more tutorial rerouting before re-engaging with my conference paper’s composition.

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The AQA exam board’s decision to axe its A-level art history is at one and the same time alarming and unsurprising. In terms of the number of excellent, free museums and galleries that we have in this country alone, art history is far better resourced than most subjects taught at A-level. Added to this, the availability of an abundance of digital facsimiles of texts, web-based articles, and high-resolution images of artworks on the Internet, suggests that the subject has never been better resourced in the history of its teaching.

However, too few secondary school art teachers have had a sufficient grounding in the subject at university to feel confident about teaching it. (The School of Art insists that all its fine art students encounter art history, deeply. This rare is in art education these days.) Even fewer teachers possess a passion for, and a sense of the importance of, the subject, with which to inspire their pupils. Without the history of art, the practice of art is impoverished.

Perhaps art history is still seen as a bauble of the highbrow, conservative, and monied class; the preserve of a well-educated and acquisitive few. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Art and its history belong to everyone in principle. However, it’s enjoyed by an, albiet large and growing, elite only, in practice. I came from a working-class background. The only art on the walls of my parents’ home were two dismal, oddly cropped, framed reproductions of John Constable’s Hay Wain (1821) and The Cornfield (1826). My Mam purchased the former because its colours matched those of the carpet and three-piece suite:

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The prints were sold by an electrical and domestic appliance shop in Blaina. (Art as a domestic appliance. I like that.) We didn’t have a single art book at home, and my teachers never encouraged pupils to read art books in the school library. But it took only one school trip to the Tate Gallery, when I was seventeen years of age, to open my eyes and seal a commitment to the practice and history of the subject (about which I knew I knew snuff, then). Others, from more extreme positions of art-cultural disenfranchisement, have had their own road to Damascus experience. The art historian Dr Matt Lodder (who specialises in the visual history of tattoos) tweeted recently: ‘A student once told me she became interested in art while she was homeless, and sheltering in galleries to keep warm’. Art is not the most important thing in life. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not very, very important: humanising, uplifting, redemptive in a measure, critical and ‘prophetic’, informing the mind and illumining the heart and soul.

Throughout the morning, I extended the notes, and began edging towards a compositional structure, for the paper. This is art history in the making. This is me, keeping it alive. I’ve always been interested in the idea of art history+. The plus being some other subject or discipline: religion, biblical studies, the history of sound, sound-art practice, music, working class culture, science, and supernaturalism. Art + something else.

Over lunch, I made a small adjustment to the Fender Stratocaster’s output socket. It had got a little ‘tense’ with use:

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Afternoon. On with notes. I interrogated my own work as though I was someone else. That’s an uncomfortable experience, as any PhD Fine Art student will confess.

Evening. I craved the physicality of cables, flight cases, XLR plugs, and metal stands. Yesterday, I discovered an intoxicating sound in one of the print rooms. I made a sample recording of it, in order to hear it more critically over the studio monitor speakers. The object that gave rise to this extraordinary phenomenon can be played like an instrument. I must, now, return to the room and record it again on more sensitive equipment, for longer and in solitude. In the meantime, I set up the modulation system in the studio.

 

 



October 13, 2016

My feet didn’t touch the floor yesterday. It was a heady, head-long, free-fall into MAness, followed by an elongated staff meeting. All good. But no time to reflect. That exercise will have to wait. 8.30 am: Art/Sound (2), set up. The lecture theatre’s new audio-visual system makes light of my preparations. The second lecture felt more confident and assertive. Likely or not, it didn’t sound either better or worse than last week’s delivery. (Performance is a very subjective experience.) I’m back in the groove (IMO):

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10.10 am: The beginning of a day of second and third year painting tutorials. The studio had a good vibe. Dr Forster and I did the rounds, like physicians on a hospital ward:

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What students, even in their second year, fight most is the tyranny of ‘A’-levelism. It’s not the teachers’ fault. Secondary school art is focussed upon examination attainment. The students, for their part, are under pressure to do ‘the right thing’, ‘the acceptable thing’, ‘what teacher thinks best’,  and the type of work that’ll receive the highest grade. This is a difficult mindset to counter. And, so, they enter university fearful of ‘going wrong’ and ‘displeasing the tutor’, and wanting to know ‘What must I do to get a first-class mark?’. In reality, there’s no right or wrong way; there’re only a more or less appropriate ways (plural), which are, in turn, determined by each student’s intentions. What pleases the tutor is the student’s willingness to work hard, exercise (sometimes reckless) courage, respond positively to challenges, show initiative and creative imagination, demonstrate passion and commitment, and bend the rules to breaking point. What must they do to get a first-class mark? Work their socks off, at the very least. In short, it’s attitude not aptitude that impresses and gets results at this stage in their development.

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As I was reminded today, there’re still fine art courses our there which teach students virtually nothing, and leave them to their own devices – to either sink or swim. This is unacceptable, unprofessional, and unfair. It’s not only the issue of the student’s fee and what they get in return for it which makes this practice questionable. Artist-teachers have a responsibility to pass on their knowledge and expertise to the next generation. To withhold such is an expression of wanton selfishness and a callous disregard for the future of the discipline.

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Evening. 6.30 pm: Practise Session 1. 7.30 pm. A final admin catch-up session for the weeks teaching (which has been unusually satisfying) and clearing of the desk in readiness for tomorrow.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • A measure of the art student’s integrity and commitment:

The lengths they’ll go to in order to get something right.

The maturity of their response to mishaps and disaster.

The degree to which they don’t need to be taught everything.

  • Professional musicians practise for at least five hours a day, not in order to play better but, rather, to prevent themselves from playing any worse.


October 11, 2016

8.30 am: Off to School. 9.00 am: The first of several MA Fine Art tutorials followed by a BA dissertation tutorial, followed by a period of admin. Next week, I’m away for two days, acting as an External Examiner for another university. Tutorials will need to be rerouted? But to where? 11.10 am: Vocational Practice (2): Dealing with small groups seminars in the context of a rather large group of students. That’s a tricky one.

A return to autumnal splendour:

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Following a spirited and engaged class with the VPers, I headed for my first tutorial with the new MA painters (of which there is an abundance). I’ll be rejoining a conversation with our former third-year painters that was put on pause when they were assessed for their final show, last May–June. With others, an entirely new discussion will be struck up. This will be a great adventure for all of us.

New beginnings:

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Through the bleary and besmirched windows of the West Classroom – a view that reminds me to be thankful. What a place to live and work!:

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3.00 pm: Back at the mothership, I undertook an MA consultation before holding a tutorial with one of PhD Fine Art candidates. They have reached a point of resolution – one that had been long sought after; a resolution that could be found only, rather than received. 4.00 pm: My weekly Personal Tutor drop-in hour. It’s heartening to hear that the first year students are getting to grips (slowly) with the demands placed upon  them … and enjoying it too.

6.30 pm: Another dose of Schama’s The Power of Art. 7.30 pm: There were emails awaiting my attention, correspondence to initiate, and tutorials to confirm before I could yield to the tug of my conference paper notes once again. The conceptual chart of Image and Inscription was, once again, the anchor for my ruminations:

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Some observations and principles derived from today’s engagements:

  • Artworks contain a residue of our personhood.
  • Giving up art is like abandoning a friendship, I’ve been told.
  • Painting is nothing short of a conversation.
  • Complexity in totality: there’s a challenge.
  • Teaching and revelation aren’t the same. Very occasionally (in my experience), the one will lead to the other. More often, students receive the latter in the context of working, rather than during tutelage. Those moments come unbeckoned, when we least expect them and, sometimes, when we least deserve them. Creative grace.
  • One must believe that there is a way to be found; a way that waits to be discovered. In this respect, the best a teacher can do is impart the principles of map reading.

 



October 10, 2016

Over the weekend, The Bible in Translation CD website was completed.

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The intercessions for the Sunday morning service at Holy Trinity Church:

Almighty God. We bless thee for thy law. For we know it to be good, sure, sin revealing, life giving, converting the soul. It is thy wisdom, and a signpost to the grace and truth in Christ. To that better way. We bless thee, too, for thy Holy Spirit. He disposes life, where thy law brought only death; he both convicts and convinces; brings the curse before the cure; the chastening before the pardon; he breaks our hearts, only to comfort them; and guides us not only to the truth but also in it. 

Law and spirit; the holiness of God and the mercy of God. We pray that this double principle may bind thy church: its clergy and laity, its worship and work, preaching and polity, and constitution and character. Make us, together, a people who exude a tangible and responsive joy and hope as grow in our understanding of the riches of thy commandments and grace, and as we draw strength from him whose everlasting arms tenderly undergird our lives. ‘Lord, in thy mercy. Hear our prayer’.

At a time when our country’s political parties are mired in factionalism, in-fighting, and the cult of personalities, groping towards an uncertain future while reinventing themselves on the hoof, we beseech thee: grant our leaders peculiar clear-sightedness and convictions marinaded with compassion, and our state, stability. Give politicians the integrity to do the right thing rather than the popular thing, to take the difficult rather than the easy path, where necessary, and to choose the way of self-sacrifice rather than of self-service, always. God bless the Queen. May her uprightness, stamina, and godly fear be to her family and people a salutary and winsome example of an unwavering leadership informed by eternal verities. ‘Lord, in thy mercy. Hear our prayer’.

We sense the world’s turbulence: intractable disputes; financial precariousness, remorseless suffering; the loss of lives, lands, identity and community; the failure of governments and nations to secure peace and restoration; unresolvable inequality; and unpunished persecutions of Christians and others. We could recite a litany of worries and woes. Intervene, Lord God. Do what we conspicuously cannot; may ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth’. We remember Allepo and the hurricane-strewn people of Haiti. Grant them the aid they need, and aid workers safety in their operations. ‘Lord, in thy mercy. Hear our prayer’.

Within the small picture of our own lives too, some of us walk in darkness; cope fitfully with chronic illness, irredeemable loss and insatiable grief, confusion and heartache in our families; and live lives on the toppling edge of our ability to provide for ourselves and others. Loving God, make a difference. Turn situations around. Repair the bruised and broken reed. In silence, we name our needs, and those of those known to us, before thee. Lord, comfort the widow, the fatherless, the childless, the grieving parent, the poor, the foreigner in the land, and the outcast. And, help us to do our duty towards them in the spirit of true religion. ‘Lord, in thy mercy. Hear our prayer’.

We remember those who have died in the faith and for the faith. May their virtues increasingly be ours. May we, like them, prove thee to be just, faithful, and true to the end and beyond.

8.30 am: To begin: marshal the week. In times of busyness and complexity, one must take the initiative and bring to order all that’s controllable, while anticipating a response to what is not. This involves either saying ‘no’ to some requests or else deferring other things. 9.30 am: Having set up the week’s teaching (as far as it’s possible so to do), I wrote up notes related to the broader context of research for my Image and Inscription conference paper. The journey took me on a circuitous journey from Cecil B. DeMille’s two films of The Ten Commandments (1923 and 1956), passed Elmer Bernstein’s score for the latter, onto Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto (1818) and Arnold Schoenberg’s monumental 12-tone oratorio Moses und Aron (1932), and ending with El Greco’s Mount Sinai (1570–2):

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Scene from Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1923)

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El Greco, Mount Sinai (1570–2), (courtesy of the Historical Museum of Crete, Iraklion)

Afternoon. I worked while distracted by a punishing focal headache caused by blocked sinuses, caused by a head cold, caught from the Freshers’ last week. In this diary, over the past year or more, I’ve articulated my reflections during the process of composing Image and Inscription. For part of the afternoon, I sifted through its pages in order to extract useable sections. In a condensed form, some of these will contribute to the paper’s substance. Mid afternoon, I began assembling images, and adjusting the format of the PowerPoint. Text and images should grow together: they are a parallel discussion, in my view. Late afternoon, I returned to making notes towards the text.

6.30 pm: Practise Session 1. 7.30 pm: An MA Art History dissertation to second mark.

 



October 6, 2016

8.15 am: Off to School to set up the lecture for the first Art/Sound lecture at 9.00 am. Returning to lecturing after a six month hiatus over the Summer is an unnerving process. It takes time to find the groove – the pace, the timing, the tone, and connection with your audience – again. It’s all theatre.

10.15 am: Dr Forster and I introduced the painting modules to the second year students and settled them into their studio spaces. The third year were dispatched accordingly, at 12.00pm.  The time of pep talks is over. The burden of responsibility largely rests on their shoulders, now:

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Everything I turned my hand leaves an admin slug trail in its wake. In between informal tutorials, disposals of advice, and chivying and chiding, I caught up on registers, uploads to Blackboard, and varieties of correspondence that were so swiftly exchanged, they didn’t have time to impress themselves upon my memory. ‘Did I do …?, I asked myself, repeatedly.

I received a lovely parting gift from one of our retiring MA students. Very me. And much appreciated:

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An afternoon of periodic visits to the studio, to help boot up my third year painters for the week ahead, was interrupted by on-going postgraduate admin and varieties of notification and register updating.

Evening. On with the CD website construction. (This is tiresome. But necessity makes it bearable.)  On FaceBook, I published two two bodies of work that emerged from a creative engagement with one of my third-year painters in 2014. They explored ideas and processes related to generative drawing, concealment, and duplicity. The works were, in this respect, pedagological tools, foremostly — a way of teaching through doing together:

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October 5, 2016

8.30 am: For all the cut and thrust of the past and next few days, this may yet be the easiest week in the semester to negotiate. Those to come will be characterised by a three consecutive day, 9.00 am – 5.30 pm, teaching fest across the BA, MA, and PhD provision in Fine Art and Art History. It’s never just a question of the time expended; the energy required to sustain an integrity and consistency of delivery can be a colossal drain. For the first hour and a half of the morning, I processed decisions agreed with the MA students yesterday, endeavoured to devise a workable timetable for MA tutorials in the coming weeks, and reviewed and subdivided the sound recordings that I’d made at the School yesterday.

10.15 am: Off to School to, first, test the audiovisual equipment in the lecture theatre in preparation for tomorrow’s first Art/Sound session and, secondly, to hold a PhD Fine Art tutorial, in my capacity as second supervisor on this occasion. 12.00 pm: Then … a dash –in the brittle light of a glorious autumnal day – to the Old College for another PhD Fine Art tutorial, with one of my primary charge:

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After a brief, late lunch, I pressed on with the CD website. I’m now fully in control of it:

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Once the design elements and functionality have been determined, the remainder of the task is merely one of pouring in images and text. In tandem, I completed remixes of the Sound website tracks and conducted correspondence.

Evening. I’d not watched Simon Schama’s series The Power of Art (2006) when it was first broadcast. He’s a consummate historian. For him, art history is the history of art, the art of history, art as history, history as art, art in history, and history in art. 7.30 pm: Back to it! The CD website grinds on to the strains of Bowie’s Scarey Monsters (and Super Creeps) (1980).

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Often, those who solve other people’s problems are conspicuously unable to solve there own. ‘Physician, heal thyself’.
  • ‘Figurative Minimalism’. A thought to conjure with.
  • Who you are — your experiences (good and bad), history, character, values, outlooks, and broader vision of life and the world — contribute to the artwork’s conception and execution as much as do your technical skills, imagination, and aesthetic sensibility. Thus, you must attend to, nurture, mature, and better comprehend your personhood as you would any other dimension of your creativity.
  • Beware of those who think they know something.
  • Your work is not ‘just’ anything. In that ‘just’ — in it’s apparent straightforwardness, ordinariness, or lack of sophistication and ‘deeper meaning’  —  a vast significance and import (that you’ve yet to comprehend) may yet be either buried or compressed.
  • If you’ve no confidence … fake it, until you develop some. If you can convince yourself, you’ll convince others too.
  • Polemic: the greatest painting deals with the least.

 

 



October 4, 2016

6.40 am: First light:

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8.15 am: During a period of meditation a mental image came to me involuntarily: in a darkened room, I saw a narrow, life-size painting representing a lighted candlestick; it was illuminated by a real candlestick, positioned directly before it. They were not identical; the picture was not a mirror. In time, the significance will be disclosed.

9.00 am: The annual walkaround and MA studio space assignment. We are now working at optimum capacity:

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11.10 am: MA Vocational Practice kicked off. This is the largest class to date. We dealt with the elements of higher education and the concept of one-to-one tutorials:

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The group is already beginning to gel. Larger groups tend to be better able an at, and swifter to do, this than smaller ones. In larger companies, individuals aren’t so conspicuous. So they behave more bravely.

I worked the lunch hour catching up on admin, locating students in their spaces, and pastoring. 2.00 pm: I gave an introductory talk to the MA painters, ensemble. Periodically, throughout the afternoon, I recorded sounds around the school: the ambience of the life room, the buzz of failing strip lights, the hum of electrical devices, footsteps on the staircase, and the sound of a screen-printing squeegee being pulled:

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4.00 pm: One inquirer turned up for a personal tutorial. 4.20 pm. A PhD Fine Art tutorial with one of finalising students. 5.15 pm: Zonked!

7.30 pm: I furthered the CD website, while remixing tracks on my Sound site, while levelling my stack of emails, while arranging tomorrow’s affairs.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Art, not your tutor, will change you … but only if you yield to it.
  • The creative journey moves outwards and inwards, simultaneously.
  • At the outset of study, where you are going is of less importance than what you’re taking on the journey.
  • Creativity and timidness cannot coexist.
  • The only pressure you need to be concerned about results from the hand of your supervisor on your back, pushing you forward.
  • Success is not unproblematic either.


October 3, 2016

Over the weekend, disc 2 of the double CD was reviewed. One track only needed a sonic massage in order to reduce the excess of upper frequencies that accompanies the hisses and cracks on the roughed-up 78-rpm record composition (Erased Messiah Recording). On Sunday, I attended Holy Trinity Church‘s Harvest thanksgiving lunch at the Buarth Hall:

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7.00 am: A brittle Autumn morning. Quite the best time of the year. 8.30 am: A review of the night’s inbox deposit, before a review of the week ahead, before a review of the day before me. I like to know and be prepared for what is to come. Back, then, to postgraduate admin, to research admin (returning my revisions of the album tracks to the record producers and ensuring that all contributors to the process of manufacture are working to the same timetable), and to research as such — writing up notes of the [SteelWorks] project meetings held during the past few weeks. The latter will prepare the way for a grant application:

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Over and after lunch, I responded to incoming epistolary missiles that were sent in retaliation to those that I’d launched at correspondents this morning. There’s movement on some fronts; plans are proceeding. In between adminy and textual work, I tweaked several tracks on my sound site to redress left/right balances in the light of my recent experiences of mixing. The eye(aɪ)–ear(ɪə(r)) FaceBook page needed a refresh and update, now that there’s the anticipation of events coming up during the next academic year:

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Two things entered under the ‘need to do’ category on my ‘things to do’ list: a dedicated website for The Bible in Translation CD, and a conference paper on the Image and Inscription suite. Both will be begun this week, hopefully.

6.30 pm: Practise Session 1. Followed by an hour watching Louise Theroux’s documentary on Jimmy Savile. ‘Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing’.  We should be cautious of those who flamboyantly flaunt their good works ‘in order be seen of men’. Calculated evil is often cleverly concealed.

7.40 pm: I dived into designing a cover image for the dedicated CD website. Keep it simple for as long as possible. Good ideas are rarely complex at source. In tandem, I continued rebalancing tracks on my Sound site, and bounced back messages to and from anxious students:

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9.30 pm: Much was achieved in one day! Sleep will be sweet.

 

 

 



September 30, 2016

8.00 am: A rainbow graced the sky. A promissory. Now that the cogs of teaching admin were moving, I’ve an opportunity to slip back into research mode. The prima ‘must’ of the day was a return to the CD’s cover artwork. I’ve decided to combine the English and Welsh translation of the CDs title on the font image, rather than as two independent covers, on the front and back respectively. Since the concept of the album is translation, then why not make that demonstrable through the bilingual title of the project? Some realisations are so painfully obvious when they finally arrive. But, more often than not, they land at just at the right time.

The other ‘musts’ of the day were: 1. checking the stereo balance of the Bonus Material tracks on the new monitor set up in my study; 2. reviewing the record company’s first ‘proofs’ of the CD tracks on the domestic hifi; and 3. determining whether a pdf version of the project booklet can be incorporated on one of the CDs, in such as way as to be readable by a computer.

Midday: a final tweak and trussing of PedalBoard IV:

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Thereafter and until lunchtime, I reworked the design of the CD’s ancillary web-based sites, in order to incorporate the logo of the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales:

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Lunchtime. I disposed curricula, updated Blackboard and FaceBook presences for my modules, and sent out emails in anticipation of new beginnings next week.

2.15 pm: A review of the CD proofs. Ah! The rainbow returns:

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Hearing one’s work post production, and cast into the mold of a CD, is a troubling experience — rather like seeing one’s artwork hung on a gallery wall for the first time. The ‘image’ sounds, well … different. For the most part, the difference is in the tonality of the whole and of the high-end frequencies, especially. CD transcription tends to make the sound far more brittle and bright. Listening, in this respect, is like viewing an over-sharpened digital photograph. (I’m not a fan of CD recording technology. It sacrifices too much detail and sonority.) Proofing is a process, however. Usually, the tracks are batted to and fro between artist and producer several times before a satisfactory outcome is achieved.

3.30 pm: I returned to the masters of those tracks that required a little taming. What I need to do in the future is review a version of the final mixdown at CD quality (44.1 kHz/16 bit) before finalisation. (I’m used to hearing the tracks at twice CD resolution. That’s superbly good, sonically. Perceptibly superior.) You live and learn. And I aim to do both, always. Understanding and improvement are a heady cocktail.

In the late afternoon and evening I proceeded through the eleven scenes that comprise Image and Inscription, endeavouring to contain the tonal excesses of several tracks:

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The activity was maintained until I had no further misgivings. 9.30 pm: Complete. Disc 2 awaits me tomorrow. Then, on to Practise Session 2 and a road test of Pedalboard IV.



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