Diary (July 16, 2014–September 4, 2018)

August 25, 2014


Notes: What is success? And how do we evaluate it?

In relation to the maker: Success may be the measure of personal satisfaction: being the fulfillment of aspirations; the degree of motivation; and the artefact’s capacity to inspire positive feelings and emotions and a sense of engagement and achievement during the process of ideation and creation, and/or at its completion.

In relation to the artefact: Success may be the measure of the its intrinsic quality and ambition: being the degree of aesthetic resolution, conceptual integrity, depth of ideation, clarity of intent and communicability, skillfulness of execution; and the artefact’s ability to transcend either the maker’s prior limitations or the boundaries of its associated subject, medium, and conceptual framework;

In relation to the public and the maker’s peers: Success may be the measure of the artefact’s effect: being its capacity to influence other makers and their work, bring about intellectual, cultural, or social change, capture the public imagination, and to endure; and the degree of recognition and acclaim (critical and monetary) bestowed upon it.

An artefact (whether visual, sonorous, or textual) is seldom an unmitigated success. Success assumes one the following conditions.

The artefact is:
your best but not satisfying;
your best but not efficacious;
satisfying but not your best;
satisfying but not efficacious;
efficacious but not your best;
efficacious but not satisfying;
your best but neither satisfying nor efficacious;
satisfying but neither your best nor efficacious;
efficacious but neither your best nor satisfying;
your best and satisfying but not efficacious;
your best and efficacious but not satisfying; your best, satisfying, and efficacious.

In this scheme of things, an artefact may be judged a failure when it is neither your best, nor satisfying, nor efficacious. Sometimes, an artefact’s effectualness either ensues or diminishes years after its making.

Following this rumination, I completed my response to the draft chapters of the PhD Art History (which I’d begun on Saturday), mixed down Matt. 20.12, and began processing files for Matt. 20.13:


Today, the primary task is to forward the current Art/Sound; the secondary task is to further develop Handboard 2, and restructure Pedalboard 4 to serve as Handboard 3 also; the tertiary task is to fix several glitches with my analogue-digital interface; and the quaternary task is sound file processing.

I have a plan-chest draw full of power supply units. This is half of them:


I fixed one glitch by downloading a new driver Apogee Duet to work on Maverick X and wrestled with the other, with only partial and fugitive success, over lunch.

Back to the lecture …


With the help of a user tutorial on YouTube, I got my head around the outstanding glitch and learned a great deal in the process about both mixer routing in general and paying close attention to instructions in particular.

By the beginning of the evening, a provisional set up for Handboards 1-3 had been determined:


After guitar practice 1, I re-engaged the Art/Sound lecture in second gear — devoting session 3 of the day to an image search for abstract paintings from early-20th century America, and mapping out text sections for further elaboration.

After practice 1 … the ‘night watch’. I reviewed images of PhD Fine Art work for a telephone tutorial with an external student tomorrow afternoon:







August 23, 2014

Bank Holiday weekend. The day kicked off with a review of this week’s diary entries and blog. (Just checking!) On, then, to review six chapters of a draft art history PhD:


In the background, I looked over (‘heard over’ (?) — which is not the same as ‘listened to’), ambiently, the verso section of The Floating Bible sound art project while processing the remaining words from Matthew, chapter 20 and verse 11:


It’s entirely practicable to undertake at least four independent tasks during a single session of work, if they’re arranged in a hierarchy. In my scheme of things: the primary task is always that which demands the most attention, concentrated effort, and the greatest consistency of energy and application; the secondary and tertiary tasks are co-equals, and require a moderate degree of concentration, energy, and application, but only when attended to; while the quatemary task makes no demands — it remains on the periphery of one’s consciousness  (as present as absent) — drawing one’s attention occasionally. Of course, it’s impossible to respond to all four tasks simultaneously. My habit is to move from one to another. In so doing, I return to each task refreshed.

I’ve committed myself to using the markup feature on my word processing software when reviewing a student’s written work:


The upside of this approach is that I can mark and review within in the same on-screen domains as the other three tasks, which are often digital in format. I work with a double-screen display; this allows me to view two projects at once, and to maximize or minimize windows as I move between tasks. And, the downside? I’ll spend even longer in front of a computer screen than I do already.  As it is, at the end of a day my eyeballs are fried.

On to more manly work after lunch: the conversion of a pedal board into a handboard. Screwdriver at the ready:


And, violà!:


Handboard 2 is born. It has two integral, 6-gang plug boards and an AC/DC power supply, and sits on a Roland PDS-10 stand. I’ll test launch the rig tomorrow afternoon.

Mid afternoon. Back to the PhD draft review and the final processing of Matt. 20.11:


By 5.00 pm, I’d attended to three quarters of the draft and readied the Matt. 20. 11 track for a mix down, first thing Monday morning. The working day is done.

Now, is there anything special on TV tonight?

August 22, 2014

There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a Pilgrim.

(John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, part 2, 1678)

So, I press on. I’ve been exercised by my comment that: ‘tweakable guitar pedals … [yield] more potential at one’s fingertips than at one’s toes’ (Diary, August 20, 2014). It’s possible to separate an effector from its on/off button by assigning the function of the latter to a switch board, operable by foot. In this configuration, the effector can be mounted at table-top height, on a hand board, so that the guitarist is able to adjust its parameter ‘pots’ and switches manually, while still playing (more or less):


Back to the Art/Sound module and on to the lecture about abstraction, jazz, and improvisation. On this occasion, I’m developing the PowerPoint slides and inserting the slide markers into the text as I write. It’s a more organic and swifter way of going about things. Principle: never stop interrogating the modus operandi; there’s always a more intelligent and efficient way of completing a task:


Mid morning, I began preparing files for the Matthew 20.11 track in tandem with writing, and returned to both activities after lunch. It’s my habit to conduct the same activity over only two sessions in the day. The third session is set aside for a contrasting pursuit. For example, if I’m engaged in a theoretical or textual project in the morning and afternoon, I’ll try and do something practical in the evening. The division of my working day is ‘on this wise’ (as they say in the King James bible): 8.30 am – 1.00pm, 1.30 – 5.30 pm, and 7.30-9.30 pm. However, increasingly, I’m forced to carve out a fourth session from 10.30 pm  to 1.00 am. That’s fourteen hours a day, maximum. My usual work expenditure is 11.5 hours per day for 5 days of the week and a further 9.5 hours on a Saturday (both in term and ‘holiday’ time). That’s 67 hours in total. This doesn’t include a further 17 hours of guitar practise a week, which are research related. However, I’m paid to work only half that number of hours. Small wonder that so many established academics are either seeking to change their career or retire early, or dying before their time as result of stress-related illness and sheer frustration.

Mid afternoon. I attended the hospital for an X-ray appointment. It’s the best experience one can hope for in a health care institution: pain free (unless you’re in for a mammogram) and thoroughly interesting. All that kit, alarming radiation, shimmering lasers, sparkling blue lights, conduit, and buttons. I may have embarrassed myself by asking too many technical questions about X-ray photography. If you don’t ask … :


I enjoyed a fascinating if sobering afternoon searching for early representations of the transatlantic slave trade and African-American culture to illustrate the influence of ‘black music’ on the development of  jazz.

After the evening meal … :


… I searched further for images and field recordings of ‘negro spirituals’ and work songs. The first African American ever recorded was George W Johnson, in 1891. He performed a derogatory song called ‘The Whistling Coon’ written by Sam Devere — a black minstrel (that is to say, a white man who’d been ‘blacked up’):

Oh I’ve seen in my time some very funny folks
But the funniest of all I know
Is a coloured individual as sure as you’re alive
As black as any black crow
You can talk until you’re tired but you’ll never get a word
From this very funny queer old coon
He’s a knock-kneed, double-jointed hunky-punky mook
but he’s happy when he whistles in tune.

Small wonder the citizens of Ferguson, St Louis are so angry.

August 21, 2014

‘Resist routine’. The advice came to me as though from someone or somewhere else. Obediently (I always take such interventions seriously), I abandoned my plan to commence the next Art/Sound lecture and, instead, developed the new blog further and began another track contributing to The Floating Bible sound artwork. Routine and habit are not synonymous in my scheme of things. I firmly believe in the latter. Routine is unwavering and predictable, and may over time become unthinking, dull, and an end in itself. Habit is by its nature regular too. But, for me, it is also a manifestation of self-disciple, and an active principle: a constant, conscious, structured, and an intelligent movement towards the realization of definable goals.

The courier delivered the new pedalboard mid morning. I’ll adapt it to function as Handboard 2 in the next few days:


By the early afternoon, I’d made sufficient progress on the blog and track to consider adding a third arm to my activities, namely sourcing a electronics technician who can modify a ring modulator effector to accommodate an expression pedal. I’m also the tea-maid for the day, serving our fabulous bathroom mechanics, Penny and John, on a twice-daily basis:


In the evening, I completed the ‘My Diaries’ blog and finalised the individual word elements for the Matt. 20.11 track. During the ‘the night watch’ (the period between 11.00 pm and 2.00 am, I mixed down the track and published both it and the blog.

August 20, 2014


I awoke at 4.00 am with the odd sensation that I was joining a conversation with myself that had been going on in my head even as I slept. The upshot of the discussion was a plan: an answer to a problem that had perplexed me for several months, and during these last few days especially. It described with great clarity all the projects that I should undertake in the next five years, including books to be written, a conference to be convened, exhibitions and performances to be staged, equipment to be built, and a new routine for work. The experience was — what mystics, prophets, and poets such as Thomas Hardy refer to as — a moment of vision:

That mirror 
Works well in these night hours of ache; 
Why in that mirror 
Are tincts we never see ourselves once take 
When the world is awake?

I got to my study at 4.45 am and quickly wrote down as much as I could remember, just in case a ‘person from Porlock’ interrupted and I, like Coleridge, forgot some part.*

Emails dispatched, I got back to the spirit and technology lecture:


Almost every day, I receive an email from Academia.edu indicating  that someone, for some reason, is researching me on Google. ‘Searches’ come from ‘all over the shop’, as my dad used to say — UK, USA, Canada, Australia, the Philippines, India, and countries that I, in turn, have to search for on the world map. The site is an excellent shop window for scholars who wish to get noticed. And who can afford not to be in this fatuous age, where spurious assertions about measurable public impact are increasingly regarded as a reliable index of research excellence.  One of my own subjects is fine art. So called because it was believed to call forth and refine the viewer’s taste, judgement (perceptual and moral), intellect, and imagination. I somehow doubt it. In any case, how would one either test that claim or observe the process and quantify the fruit of such amelioration. ‘Blummin’ bonkers mun’, as we’re apt to remark in South Wales at moments of unresolvable cognitive dissonance:

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 12.18.17

Over lunch, I took apart Pedalboard 4 and listened to an internet tutorial on the WMD Geiger Counter, the continued presence of which on Pedalboard 1 still hangs in the balance. Like most, highly tweakable guitar pedals (including the mighty MoogerFoogers), it yields more potential at one’s fingertips than at one’s toes. I really would prefer an ElectroHarmonix Big Muff Pi on the board. It’s fuzziness is a feature of my ‘signature’ guitar sound, such as it is:


After lunch, I tested the slide transformations and transitions of the spirit and technology PowerPoint and made final adjustments to the text.

The new bathroom tiles were unboxed. There are two batches. The white of the one on the left is subtly darker than the colour of the other. (‘Dark white’ — that’s resonant!) So, they can’t be intermixed. This is a full-colour photograph of the comparison:


Following my  early evening practise, I fitted the Big Muff onto Pedalboard 1, to assuage my curiosity, and embarked up the design for Handboard 2. This will require a fresh consideration of the existing hand board’s array in relation to the one that is to come. The second board will be the first manifestation and practical outworking of the new ‘vision’ for equipment. Before the late evening practise, I wrote notes towards a blog about the nature and function of this and my previous diaries. The story begins in 1971 and in a Letts Schoolboys Diary for that year … :




* The ‘vision’ was not induced by imbibing hallucinogenic substances of any kind.

August 19, 2014


I attended to financial matters arising from yesterday’s discussions with ‘MAD’ Martin before embarking on the spirit and technology lecture for the Art/Sound module. ‘The beginning is a very delicate time’ (David Lynch, Dune (1981)).

You can’t purchase a copy of The Portsmouth Sinfonia’s first studio album, released in 1970, either for love or money. I have the original pressing on a now scratched and static-laden vinyl record. (It was played to death.) Unfortunately, the YouTube releases are taken from a source that’s in a similarly desultory condition. The recording deserves to be remastered as a CD. The orchestra was formed by a group of students at Portsmouth School of Art under the oversight of the English composer Gavin Bryars. He selected not the most competent musicians but anyone — regardless of talent, instrumental ability, or experience — who had the requisite enthusiasm. They endeavoured to play as well as they could, which was often very badly. The orchestra included Brian Eno:


I took lunch at Figaro’s with my colleague Dafydd Roberts. He, too, suffers from an addiction to expensive metal boxes bedecked with little lights, knobs, and switches and (like me) has a long-suffering wife. I invited him home to ‘play’. Dafydd once had his sonic endeavours aired on the John Peel Show:


I know of no one else who shares my enthusiasm for feedback, harsh noise, and the intrinsic beauty of a square wave signal. You do need at least one person in this world who’s confident that you aren’t one connection short of a circuit (in this respect, at least).

Having introduced Dafydd to my ‘toys’ and let him loose on them, I returned to financial matters and the spirit and technology lecture, and began assembling relevant slides from my conference papers on this topic:


The construction of the new bathroom is developing apace. The walls tiles will be brought in from the cold and scrutinized tomorrow:




At evening, after practise, in the studio,  I had a final twiddle of my Jomox T-Resonator before it is dispatched to a new home. Then I returned to Pedalboard 1. I’m unconvinced about the bit crusher’s place on the board. The most acceptable distortion that I can coax out of it sounds like I’m playing the guitar through an off-station, short-wave transistor radio. The effector will have to make a very persuasive case in order to stay there.  9.45 pm: my final hour of practise:



August 18, 2014

A new week; a new day. I enjoy waking to the rain splattering like pebbledash against the Velux windows. The sound is strangely consoling; it transforms a house into a shelter:


To begin, I cleared the backlog of emails requiring my immediate attention, reviewed my tutorial schedule for the next fortnight, responded to a draft dissertation submission, and resolved conflicting medical appointments due over the next two weeks by telephone. If Vivaldi could have received a royalty every time The Four Seasons is played while the caller is left on-hold, he wouldn’t have died impoverished. I dislike hearing music that ends as abruptly as it begins, in one ear only, and through a device with an exceedingly narrow-band frequency range. What’s wrong with silence? Or, better: Why doesn’t a sound artist compose ‘on-hold music’ that constructively responds to these limitations?:


Then, on to the meat of the day’s work: the next two Art/Sound lectures — one on spirit and technology and the other on jazz and abstraction. It’s an excuse, if one were needed, for a week of ambient listening to terrifying Electronic Voice Phenomena and albums by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Ornette Coleman.

At 11.00 am, I was called to the School for an impromptu MA Fine Art interview with an applicant who had arrived on time but a day early. After lunch, I visited Martin at the Old College to discuss the prospective value of the university pension scheme. The local part of his email address is ‘MAD’. ‘Mad Martin’ was the epithet given to the English Romantic painter John Martin due to the extravagance of his vision.  The unquestionably sane ‘MAD’ Martin’s prophecies about the future of pensions are no less apocalyptic:


In the afternoon, I inserted illustration tags into, and completed the PowerPoint for, last week’s lecture text and began mapping out the spirit and technology lecture in readiness for tomorrow morning.

After dinner and an hour’s guitar practise, I moved to the studio. A cable had been misplaced on Pedalboard 4, with the result …  The sound of silence from a 100w amplifier when there should be a glorious chiming chord is enough to enfeeble even the burliest Swedish Death Metal player:


I made several modifications to Pedalboard 4, removing the RAT distortion effector and replacing it with the MoogerFooger Drive unit and expression pedal:


During the final part of the evening, I set up Pedalboard 1 with a view to exploring the individual and collective potential of the effectors systematically over the next few days. Monday ends, as does every weekday, with a further hour’s guitar practise. I’m in C Major for the next week. The nights are drawing in:




August 16, 2014

At 9.00 am, we took the number 125 bus from Old Street to Marylebone Station (I can’t remember how many squares it would take to make this move on a Monopoly board) to begin our journey home. (In view of the railway repairs forecast for our usual route from Euston, this was the best option):


At the station, we bought M&S food to fortify ourselves on the crowded train to Birmingham Moore Street Station. There weren’t any tables in the carriages, so in order to work we balanced our respective laptops on our laps – an arrangement that the device (in spite of the nomenclature) clearly isn’t designed to accommodate satisfactorily. I returned to and completed the Art/Sound lecture:


We arrived at Birmingham Moore Street station just after 12.00 pm and headed across the city to Birmingham New Street station, running over the feet, or else bumping the legs, of elderly people with my trolley as we gathered pace. (Sorry!) We arrived with 4 minutes to spare before the Aberystwyth train arrived and promptly departed. (This is too close a call for my personality type.) Ah! A table to work on. Come back Arriva Trains Wales, some things are forgiven.

The train was held up at Newtown due to a ‘on-going trespass incident’ on the line ahead:


As it turned out, someone had threatened to throw themselves off a bridge and onto the road, rather than the line. We were advised that ‘control’ (whoever they are) were endeavouring to hail buses to transport all 180 passengers to Machynlleth. Unfortunately, there were too few vehicles available for hire. Apparently, the train company had encountered a similar scenario two weeks ago. Evidently, lessons had not been learned. There was still no plan B to hand. Arriva Trains Wales! I take back my words. We arrived in Aberystwyth at 5.35 pm, over two hours late. A refund is in order.

An evening with the family.


August 15, 2014

We were on the road again by 9.00 am and anticipating the Matisse: The Cut-Outs and Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art exhibitions at the Tate Modern:



My appreciation for the gallery is growing. Nevertheless, the interior still looks as though it could be Darth Vader’s larger bathroom:


Responses (from ‘The Black Notebook’ (Jan. 2, 2008 – , 168-9 )):


  • M interpreted Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1 using 5 colours.
  • The cuts outs have been dealt a serious disservice by the calendar and greetings card industry. They have repeatedly over-exposed a select few images of the work and thereby made them disproportionately important in the public imagination.
  • M composed the cut outs from back to front; from ground to figure. I never realized that before. But one can see it.
  • Things that I particularly like: The Bees (1948), Venus (1952), and Chinese Fish (1951). The latter anticipates the work of the British Pop artist Anthony Donaldson.
  • Some of the cuts-outs from the 1950s are reminiscent of Stuart Davis’s paintings in the 1940s. [Davis was exposed to the work of M in 1913.] A case of reciprocal influence, perhaps.
  • I’m drawn to the pinholes in the paper, where M secured the cut-outs to the support.
  • The Snail (1953) has never looked so good. It could’ve been made yesterday. In my opinion, it’s the best work in show. Coincidentally (?), it’s the most abstract. I’m always impressed by the way M positioned the black rectangle in the top half of the painting. The shape threatens to decentre the picture but is kept firmly in-check, like a moon caught within the gravitational field of the green, oblong earth beneath it.


  • Things that I particularly like: Cow and Violin (1913) for its rather cack-handed synthesis of Cubism and realism, Black Quadrilateral (n.d.), Black Square (1915), Red Square (1915), Black Square (1929), the Alpha (1923) architekton, Woman with Rake (1930-2). (Diebenkorn must have seen this; the background colours and geometric proportions anticipate those of his own landscapes), Suprematist Cross (1923).
  • Exhibition board: ‘Malevich dated the Black Square to 1913, though it was almost certainly painted in June 1915. The discrepancy was due to his belief that the date should be for the original idea for the painting rather than its creation’. This notion anticipates Sol Le Witt’s own prioritization and positioning of idea over and before making by half a century.
  • BS (1913) was not exhibited until the 1980s. Extraordinary! But I saw photographs of it in the late 1970s.
  • M: ‘The artist can be a creator only when the forms of the picture have nothing to do with nature’ (1915). What would Malevich have thought of Matisse’s cut-outs, I wonder, with all their references to natural forms? (The Snail partially excepted, of course.)
  • Matysukin: theories on the relationship of sound and colour.
  • M’s White on White is notable by its absence. Was it destroyed?

Malevich had to return to figuration during the Stalinist era when abstraction was branded elitest. The research ethos in British universities is a more benign form of the same totalitarian censorship. Today, the discourse is couched in terms of public accessibility and impact rather than of the Communist dictum ‘art for the masses’.

We walked along the Embankment towards London Bridge via the back alleys around the old London Prison, and took lunch in the grounds of Southwark Cathedral where Shakespeare’s brother is buried. I lit a candle there:


Borough Market (which I discovered last year), situated opposite the Cathedral, offers the finest range of good quality, regionally produced food that I’ve ever encountered. The market is crossed and flanked by railway bridges; the enclosed area resonates with the rumble of trains (like constant thunder) passing overhead:


We returned to the hotel in order to recompose ourselves and put in an hour’s work.

Late afternoon, we visited Covent Garden and ate dinner at the covered market. Then, onto Whitehall and the Trafalgar Studios (splendidly converted from a cinema) to see Richard III, with Martin Freeman (Dr Watson in Sherlock) in the lead role. Freeman had incorporated some of Hitler’s traits and ticks into his realization of this psychotic and despotic ‘little man’. The play was set in 1970s Britain during the ‘Winter of discontent’, as it was aptly called, of Thatcher’s ‘la Terreur’:


The performance was electric in every sense of that word. The influence of David Lynch’s design for the Red Room in Twin Peaks, and his metaphors for paranormal presence, were evident influences upon the set design:


Bed beckoned.


August 14, 2014

The morning began with a flurry activity of the non-hectic kind in preparation for a two-day trip to London and a cultural binge with my wife. Low, smokey grey clouds of vapour and a curtain of rain erased the mountain tops between Borth and Machynlleth:


We took a somewhat circuitous journey on a long and rather unstable train via Wolverhampton and Stafford on this occasion. It got us to the capitol half-an-hour earlier than usual. En route, I pushed on with the Art/Sound lecture, stopping only for my mandatory, over priced, but otherwise acceptable cardboard cup of tea from the trolley:


After arriving at Old Street tube station, we walked the first section of City Road, lost the route, and shuffled around several blocks in the pouring rain before discovering the Premier Inn. It’s reassuringly like every other hotel under that banner, with cheery and helpful staff (no irony is intended), and a room that always looks like the last one you occupied, and as though no one has ever before slept in it:


There was, too, the same vacuous print hung over the desk, in an entirely arbitrary diptych formation, which, once seen, you never notice again for the remainder of your stay. It’s a fascinating phenomenon: peripheral art:


After a brief respite, we travelled to Oxford Circus before making a pilgrimage to Denmark Street (England’s Tin-Pan Alley in the halcyon 1960s) to eye forlornly shop after shop of contemporary and vintage electric guitars. One day … :

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It poured with rain again as we emerged onto Charing Cross Road; so my wife and I headed for the family’s habitual Chinese eatery on Gerrard Street. Afterwards, we took in a film, Lilting, at the Curzon, Shaftesbury Avenue:


It’s a necessarily slow-burning narrative that deals with a variety of interrelated portraits about acceptance and reconciliation, loss and grief, and estrangement and isolation: