August 8, 2014

I checked the pedalboard’s operations one last time. This, now, will be Pedalboard 4. Like Pedalboard 3, it’s temporary and mutable – able to adapt to the requirements of a particular sound project. Pedalboards 1 and 2 are, in contrast, fixed for the foreseeable future:

Pedalboard 1 (2013): Distortion

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Pedalboard 2 (2014): Modulation

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Pedalboard 3 (2014)

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It’s incumbent upon the sound artist to have knowledge of and authority over not only the aesthetic, theory, conceptualization, and craft of their practice but also the technology. As far as possible, one must learn to be one’s own technician.

The main task of the day was to draw up a plan for a more structured self-education in music theory and practice. In principle, it needs to be realistic, challenging, varied, comprehensive, and fulfilling for head, hands, and heart (together). Ideally, it should also be, in part, something which I can carry around in the mind throughout the day:

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By the end of the afternoon, I had in place an intelligent and progressive regime for practising that can be incorporated into the background of my professional life. I also committed myself to the following sensible and enabling maxims:

  • Remember: the practise is the practice
  • Avoid mindless repetition and unfocussed noodling
  • Attend first to what you cannot do
  • Cultivate attentive listening
  • Study on a daily basis
  • Test yourself
  • Discern underlying principles
  • Practice and theory are like your hands on the guitar; they must operate together, always
  • Be aware of your posture
  • Be suspicious of your strengths
  • Know your ignorance
  • Love the task.

In the evening, I returned to the sound sample of the Japanese high-school orchestra that my younger son had procured for me, finalised the mix down, and composed the cover and artwork notes in readiness for tomorrow’s launch:

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August 7, 2014

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom (Ecclesiastes 9.10). Cognizance of the ultimate deadline sharpens concentration and spurs endeavour.

I continue to work through the agenda of tasks outlined in my studio notebook:

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I eased myself into the day by modifying the text of the John Harvey: Blog site. Afterwards, I returned to my Keeley compressor, which I’d left hissing rebelliously on my pedal board last night. I’d thought the problem was caused by the effector’s proximity to the AC and DC power supplies. However, the remedy lay in the pedal’s situation within the overall array. Once it was placed at the start of the system, the noise vanished (or whatever is the corresponding metaphor in the realm of sound). Now, alas, I can’t compress the output of any pedal placed before it. It’s one of life’s truisms: every solution creates its own problem. But with the compressor feeding a signal into the distortion effectors, a considerable and gritty sustain can be attained. Sometimes a problem yields a potential and, therefore, should not be solved.

I relocated my relatively cheap but entirely adequate Joyo Power Supply 2 under the pedal board, a Wampler buffer at the rear (the final effector in the chain), and set my hands to some proper work: soldering – a hard-, and sometimes painfully-, won skill:

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Thereafter, the call was to arrange the effectors in such a way as to maximize their effectiveness individually and collectively – the ideal of any well-organised community:

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In the evening I reviewed the completed tracks that contribute to The Floating Bible: Miracle of the Risen Word (Recto) suite of sound works. A further 17 tracks are required to fulfil this half of the project:

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I estimate that, in all, four months will have been expended on this two-part piece. The entirety will consist of 52 separate elements, all the same length, and each having taken two or more days to render. Once all the tracks are overlaid, the completed work will last only 7 minutes and 22 seconds. It will have been a great expense of time and effort on my part for a comparatively small outcome. But sometimes it’s not what we require of the art so much as what the art requires of us.

To close the day, I looped a fascinating sound sample of a school orchestra in rehearsal, which my younger son captured on his recent trip to Japan.

August 6, 2014

I finalised the schematic for Handboard 1 and await the arrival of a reverb effector to complete the array:

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Today, the aim has been to test the relevant merits of booster and compression pedals in relation to fuzz and overdrive effectors and volume pedals, and to modify their configuration, where desirable. The pedals are fed into a Fender 100 watt Twin Reverb amplifier. I began with my Lehle Julian parametric controller and Keeley Compressor – one of the very best on the market:

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The ‘attack’ on the latter required a minor tweak.

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In this exercise, I’m exploring every permutation of their order, beginning with:

tuner > booster > compressor > fuzz > overdrive

After lunch, I attended to my raft of social media, blog, and web sites, updating and filling out information and establishing further interconnections between them. Such are the necessities of getting oneself ‘out there’:

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The wallpaper on a corridor in my house has been stripped, revealing the names of previous decorators going back to 1957. It’s the practice, still, for painter-decorators and their apprentices to sign the plaster walls and then obscure their identity with their workmanship. There is a lesson in that:

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August 5, 2014

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I returned to Handboard 1, with schematics and instructions for the effectors at my elbow. After adjusting the patch chords connecting the MoogFooger filters, I fed a compressed electric guitar signal through the system beginning at the Lehle Sunday Driver (which boosts and buffers the output from the pickups up to line level) and ending at the Sherman/Rodec Restyler filter:

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This effector squishes, gurgles, chirps and chops the sound, and regulates its attack and decay, EQ, and frequency dynamics. The device was originally designed with the needs of DJs in my mind, so the controls are very visual, tactile, and intuitive. A joy to twiddle.

Then, onto the OTO Biscuit — a beautiful and intelligently designed bit crusher that can create the sonic equivalent of sandpaper from anything passed through it:

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I added the Sherman FilterBank 2 to the equipment to the board’s ensemble. The filter is, by any definition of the word, a synthesizer sans oscillators:

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The manufacturer claims that it has more electronic components than a Minimoog. I can well believe it. For the best part of the afternoon I fed a square wave generated by a Skychord Sleepdrone 6 through the FilterBank 2 and explored its control parameters, one by one:

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Allied to a reverb and a delay unit, the device is capable of evoking a rather chilling fabric of noise reminiscent of Bebe and Louis Barron’s soundtrack for The Forbidden Planet (1956) .

In the evening, I disassembled Pedalboard 4 in readiness for a rebuild over the next few days. What do I not need on the floor? In the realm of the effector, economy = efficiency:

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August 4, 2014

This week (while on my holiday) I’m investigating some specific technical aspects related to my sound rig and guitar practice:

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I began by establishing a correct posture for guitar and pedal board playing, adapting the Alexander Technique (which I studied several years ago). It’s my custom to play while seated, so that I can have both feet free for ‘pedalling’. A solution presents itself only when all functions of the player’s activities are taken into consideration together, and simultaneously operational:

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The first step was to place the problem in an extreme position: I positioned the guitar very high on my torso. But the Les Paul (shown on the left) cut under my right breast due to the sharp angle joining the side and back profiles of its body. In principle, the guitar’s body and the player’s body should touch snuggly. So, I stepped back from the extreme and extended the guitar strap from 90 to 101 cm in length. The guitar was then sufficiently elevated upon my chest but not so low as to obstruct movement in my upper thighs. Furthermore, its neck was fully and comfortably accessible, and I was able to manoeuvre both hands without exceeding an obtuse angle at the wrists.

The height of my seat was set at 62 cm from the floor, enabling me to remain poised, counter the weight of the guitar pulling me forward, and have full articulation of the feet and lower legs on and above the pedal board. I can now counter the discomfiture that I’ve been experiencing in public performance:

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In the evening, I reconfigured and explored the effectors on Handboard 1, which I constructed in July. The board’s potential for guitar filtering and the production of intrinsic sounds is enormous. And therein is the problem: How does one map and preserve the settings in such a way as to make them reproducible, time and time again? For therein is the art. My strategy is to experiment with each effector in isolation, beginning with the ElecroHarmonix Flanger Hoax. The device is capable of much more than the manufacturer intended.

July 16, 2014 (Graduation Day, Ceremony 6)

Graduation is always a bitter/sweet experience. One has to say goodbye to students at that point in their development when they’ve become most self-aware and integrated. It has been a privilege to teach and know so many of them. Each one is irreplaceable. I anticipate that they’ll all go on to find a meaningful place in this world, and some will achieve significance in the chosen field:

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The congregation, Ceremony 6, Graduation Day, Aberystwyth University, July 16, 2014

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The stage and processers, Ceremony 6, Graduation Day, Aberystwyth University, July 16, 2014

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The Magnificent Four. From the left: Professor Robert Meyrick (Head of School), Dr Colin Cruise, Mr Paul Croft, and Dr Christopher Webster van Tonder, Ceremony 6, Graduation Day, Aberystwyth University, July 16, 2014

 

 

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The School of Art, Aberystwyth University’s BA, MA, and PhD Graduands. Ceremony 6, Graduation Day, Aberystwyth University, July 16, 2014

 

 

 

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