Month: June 2015

June 19, 2015

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


The wait ….


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


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

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


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


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


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

June 18, 2015

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


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


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

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


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

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

June 17, 2015

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


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


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


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


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

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

9.20 pm. The parting light:


June 16, 2015

8.15 am. My Outlook email, etc., is still dead. I’m relying on the webmail version of the same for the time being. I read over my materials for the morning’s PhD viva voce before setting out. On arrival, the room for inquisition was prepared:


Ann Gow (University of Glasgow) arrived at 9.30 am. We had the traditional External/Internal Examiners’ debate for an hour, before the candidate and one of their supervisors were ushered in for the viva proper. We discussed the thesis and its implication for over an hour. A fascinating and engaging insight; one which left us all with much to ponder. A good outcome on many levels. Once the examiners’ reports were written, we said our goodbyes. 1.30 pm. Lunch was provided; this gave me an opportunity to catch up with emails before heading out for the Llanbadarn Campus to view a PhD practice-based research project, staged by one of my tutees:


The only sure way to test an idea is to test an idea. A practical implementation requires commitment, confidence, and shear hard work:


But the returns, for so doing, are tangible: the idea made manifest discloses yet other ideas, together with connections, rationales, encouragements, and interpretations that would otherwise be either unknowable or inaccessible.

3.15 pm. Back at the School, for the remainder of the afternoon, I held an MA art history tutorial followed by an MA fine art tutorial. There are occasions, and today is one, when I feel as though much the same conversation was had with both students. 5.25 pm. Homeward.

7.30 pm. I followed the instructions received from our Information Services department regarding the migration malfunction on my home computers. Fixed. 8.45 pm. Back into the sound studio to explore possible ways of widening the sound field of several monaural tracks.

June 15, 2015

8.30 am. I’m endeavouring to reassert my usual working regime. I begin the week not on top form, but with more reserves and fewer physical incumbrances than I possessed last week. ‘Be grateful, John! Pace is of the essence.’ To begin: the familiar round of administrative vacuuming, and a review of the stocktaking project. Then, on with final preparations for a PhD viva, which I’m attending tomorrow morning:


Presently, the stocktaking is responsive to the following set of interrogations. Which projects:

  1. represent the leading edge of my achievements?
  2. have attracted the most attention or acclaim?
  3. must be left behind in order for me to go forward?
  4. have I found the most satisfying to undertake?
  5. have I found the most satisfying in retrospect?
  6. do I most wish to undertake in the immediate future?

Question 1: seeks to identify those projects which represent the most original, qualitative, and pioneering contribution to their field;

Question 2: seeks to identify those projects which have attracted the most scholarly and public attention and plaudit;

Question 3: seeks to identify those projects which are either completed, or no longer relevant to my present interests, or presently impractical to implement, or of insufficient vision, originality, cohesion, significance, and potential;

Question 4: seeks to identify projects which have had the most subjective significance for me, personally (practically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually) in the doing of them;

Question 5: seeks to identify projects which have had the most subjective significance on their completion and subsequently;

Question 6: is informed by the answers given in response to questions 1 to 5. However, the response also takes into account of a broader context of: a) departmental research imperatives; b) the likelihood of securing funds for any given undertaken; and c) the contribution of other practitioners in fields of study relevant to the project.

Of course, what you end up with is a set of paradoxes, the resolution of which isn’t even worth thinking about. For example: one’s most original project may not be the most lauded, either publicly or academically; or one’s most original and lauded project may have been entirely unsatisfying to produce and, thereafter, a dread to behold (personally). Such is life.

1.30 pm. The morning’s itinerary completed, I returned to the sound studio and processed the Welsh translation of the Second Commandment through Handboard 1, several more times:


During the waiting game (the twenty minutes it takes for the sound to pass through the filters), I reviewed two PhD essays. The first pass sounds like the output of a tinny, tiny analogue radio with a loose wire; the second, like a stomach rumbling (heard from the inside). Others followed. I’m getting close to repeating myself. This implies that an end is in sight. 4.45 pm Modulations complete; essays reviewed; email access disappears following my account’s migration to the university’s Office 365 provision. 5.00 pm. I processed some of the afternoon’s recordings, and inserted them into the ‘Image & Inscription’ session file.

7.30 pm. Evening:


I continued in the same vein until all were installed and tested. The overall mood of the sound is one of threat, aggression, and anxiety. This now needs to be tamed. But before I can go any further, the Welsh and English readings of the text, which will be recorded next Monday, must be incorporated.

At the close of the day, I purchased a refurbished Revox A77 Mk IV tape recorder. Manufactured in 1977 (the year I started at art school), it remains a marvel of mechanical and electronic engineering. Simply the best reel-to-reel made at that time:


9.45 pm. Practise session 2.

June 12, 2015

An attitude of gratitude.

9.00 am. I dreamt that I’d initiated a punishing Exocet missile attack on the National Library of Wales. (Clearly, I have unresolved ‘issues’ with that institution.) A dismal night’s sleep, otherwise. The high-pollen count isn’t helping. The first waking hour of every day this week has been the most challenging. Spot check: blood pressure and heart beat are normal, arms and legs still ache and tingle, mild nausea and focal headaches persist, lassitude and tender glands are diminishing, sinuses a-filling, ears still a-ringing, and eyes now a-burning:


On with a little more postgraduate research monitoring admin at a limping snail’s pace. Having undertaken an initial consideration of the industrial soundscape project, and inquired about relevant sound sources, I’ve put it aside. An idea needs time to ferment. My forthcoming return to the valleys will help bring some aspects of it into focus. And, there are more pressing matters at hand; things that must be either concluded or consolidated. Before lunch —  more stocktaking towards developing a taxonomy of interests and achievements.

2.00 pm. Back into the sound studio to review the recordings that I’d made last week for the ‘Image & Inscription’ composition. While waiting for 14.5 GB of files to transfer to and from a memory stick, I reviewed my stock of artwork slides covering pieces made during my BA and MA studies, and in the period between degrees:


I inserted modulations, derived from Handboards 1 & 2, of the English translation of the Second Commandment into the track mix and aligned them with the source recording:

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 16.43.40

Already, potential is audible. But there’s no indication as to how the composition might proceed. That is how it should be. This stage is merely the underpainting. Periodically, during the afternoon, I’ve noticed an odour in the study that I associate with my grandfather’s house when he was a miner: distinctive and consoling — that of coal dust, which he and his son would bring home on their clothes. An olfactory hallucination, perhaps.

7.30 pm. I micro-aligned the afternoon’s tracks, and proceeded to equalize their volumes and limit their reach to below 0dB. Then, I added the Welsh translation of the biblical text and the modulations of it produced using Handboard 2.

June 11, 2015

8.30 am. A moderately better experience of rising. Today, I did not feel as though I’d left my head on the pillow. 9.15 am. There were a number of admin responsibilities that needed to be pushed towards the finishing line: references, appraisals, responses to queries, and such like. Things get done; they just take longer. I’m punctuating my efforts with only minor dozes this morning.

11.45 am. I reviewed my first engagement with industrial landscape: two small drawings on Perspex, which had been variously incised, drilled, cut into with a circular saw, heated, painted upon, and collaged. They were made at the outset of my first year BA Fine Art studies:



I didn’t return to the subject until the end of my third year. Thereafter, my commitment surfaced only once and during the year following my graduation, in response to a commission by the soon to be opened Big Pit National Coal Museum, Blaenavon. I made a drawing of the pit in situ and in the open air (I had no camera) intermittently over several weeks (due to the rather unfavourable weather conditions):


The commissioners wanted a topographical representation of the pit as it might have looked when it was operational. I complied (much against my better judgement). But the project paid the bills. Thereafter, my interests in the South Wales’ coal industry were expressed only art historically, through the topic of my PhD thesis, second book Image of the Visible, and exhibition Miner Artists, which dealt with colliers who had taken-up drawing, painting, sculpture, and model-making. I’d written about the valleys in the pre-industrial period and its paranormal history in The Appearance of Evil. I last dealt with the post-industrial era fifteen years ago. in a set three collagist drawings:


2.00 pm. I dealt with a flurry of emails concerning a forthcoming viva, before investigating how I could establish an analogue/digital connection between my cassette deck and a MacBook. Unfortunately, the ‘line out’ from the Hi-Fi doesn’t link to the deck. Think again. I fixed a direct line connection between the earphone socket of the deck and the mic input of the MacBook, and recorded on 96000Hz and 32-bit (float). The quality of the recording is better than that of the original playback. I’ll need to consider what I’m hearing this evening, while sourcing sound archives for recordings related to the South Wales coal industry.

7.30 pm. Listening. The discussion with my grandfather took place in a communal area of the hospital, against the crass banality of an insistent TV commentary. Few patients, as I recall, paid any attention to it. I asked him questions to which I already knew the answers; he’d told me these stories years before on numerous occasions. I wanted to hear them again, ‘for the record’. Rarely does he answer without being overwhelmed with emotion. His speech is shallow and choked. As a younger man, Pop’s voice carried against the wind from his backdoor steps to the top of the tip, when he called me down to ‘dinner!’. In looks, he reminded me of Robert de Niro playing an American-Italian mobster:


I suspect that the recording has little potential for development. It’s the disjunction between the TV broadcast and my grandfather’s narrative that is most striking. But this isn’t what I’m looking for. And I won’t know what I’m looking for until I hear it.

In parallel, I sourced the National Museum Wales, British Library, and other public institutions with sound archives. A number are cutting back on staff during this period of austerity.

June 10, 2015

8.45 am. I’m waking feeling more tired than when I went to bed. The lassitude, tingling, and aching persist. Concentration is sporadic. These are familiar symptoms (old adversaries in the war with ME). One must just get on with it. The spirit is still willing. 9.30 am. Back at the bedroom workstation, under the sky, I ruminated further on the concept of a sonorous industrial landscape:


My Belmont Loose Leaf File notes:

Significant concepts arising from yesterday’s reflection: the ruins of sounds; sonic archaeology / an impulse to make something, again, about/from/for South Wales / taking account of the current political and social context / what makes this the right time? / what makes me the right person? / the relationship of the industrial landscape to religion and the supernatural (?) / the ghosts of sound / apparitional sounds / can sounds haunt? / stone tape theory / to extract a sound from an old photograph / how could one re-present the memory of a sound? / c/w thoughtography / to hear once more, after the fact / audible memories / sonic resurrection / the use of extant sound recordings made in SW as the fabric of a reconstruction / a restoration without fragments / the sound of the post-industrial landscape / historic visual representations of SW industry – a noisy subject rendered silent / only textual descriptions at the time could record the clamour / recording the present (those things which are taking place at the moment of recording) / recording the past (those things which have preceded the act of recording) / recording the past as though it was the present / recording the present as though it was the past / reconsider the significance of my aural diary /

1.30 pm. In the course of looking for digital traces of my old school friends, I discovered one who had recently passed away – Lyndon Budd. (Doubtless, a number of others no longer walk the earth.) His father, Martin, was a music teacher at my secondary school, and someone to whom I owe a great deal. He instilled in some of us a love of classical music, and allowed me to join the school orchestra, even though I was, for all practical intents and purposes, a non-musician. Martin valued a student’s enthusiasm and aspiration above that of their ability and experience. Lyndon wasn’t a close friend; but to those for whom he was, the sense of his absence will be acute. In the middle years of life, one’s peers fall from the tree like ripe apples:

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Lyndon Budd, Abertillery Grammar Technical School 1971

After lunch, I continued note making until the waters ran dry. Extracts:

to what extent is my memory of industrial sounds idiosyncratic? / what can other people bring to and take from this experience? / the human desire to return to the past; to hear again / sounds recall kindred sounds /sounds summon associations with objects, places, events, feelings, and states of mind (sound and memory) / vestigial sounds / a broken or incomplete sound / recording the silence where once there was sound / subterranean sounds / supernatural noises associated with coalmining (18th-early 20th century) before mechanisation (noisy machines) / sound as a descriptor of place, space, position, action / sounds of industry recorded in TV and radio documentaries on SW mining / oral history interviews with miners.

7.30 pm. On the February 5, 1989, I interviewed my grandfather, Oliver Rees, while he was a patient at Nantyglo Hospital (where I’d been born). We discussed his life as a collier. This source may be as good as any with which begin a practical engagement with the concept. The cassette recording needs, first, to be converted into an uncompressed digital sound file. Mercifully, I have held onto my Denon D-100 cassette deck for this purpose. The certainly don’t make them like this anymore; if they make them at all, that is.

June 9, 2015

9.30 am. Pulled myself out of bed, limb by limb, tingling and aching from top to toe. 10.15 am. I’ve determined that this will be a productive convalescence. With a Belmont Loose Leaf File on my lap, I sat in my armchair by the bedroom window, looking out over the neighbouring gardens (As a matter of principle, one ought to take time to watch the passage of clouds and the progress of shadows.) More than reasonable ideas often occur to me when I’m poorly. Perhaps things appear clearer the closer one approaches delirium. (This is not a hypothesis I wish to test often.)

Recently, the vague notion of a soundscape based upon the industry and landscape of South Wales has drawn my attention. My commitment to the study of these subjects has been dormant for a number of years. Therefore, the insistence of this idea has surprised me. I’ve not sought it; it has found me. And, I’ve learned to always answer a knock on the door. So …

In between bouts of dosing, I set my mind to consider sounds that I associate with my boyhood in Blaina. During the school holidays in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I spent Tuesday and Thursday of every week there at my grandparents’ home. My grandfather, Oliver Rees (centre, below), was Overman at Beynon’s Colliery, situated close-by:


He was my passport to most every area of the pit, including the canary aviary, the pony paddock, and, best of all, the electricians’ workshop. It smelt of scorched-grease, copper, and sweat, and was filled with heavy rubber-insulated cables that sprawled like sleeping anacondas across the floor, spring-loaded push-buttons the size of a man’s palm, and large, oily ball-bearings stacked like doughnuts. In the afternoon, I’d play on the grassed-over tips that overlooked the colliery, while listening very deliberately to its sonorities:


In my Belmont Loose Leaf File notes, I recalled:

for me, the significance of landscape is principally that of a place where I’ve either live or come from (the sense of home) / returning to and representing the SW industrial landscape in sound only — a sonic painting (?) / remember the noises of the pit: high-pressure steam escaping; deep-toned hooters; whistles with an unwavering pitch; the clank of a train of coal trucks as it were pulled taut and out of the colliery by a steam engine; a hammer beating on a metal sheet (always far off); the vibration of coal-laden lorries on the main road; the crank of a changing gear; the squawk of crows and the chatter of starlings / quiet landscapes elsewhere were barren of event — incomplete / how have these sounds been recorded in the literature of the SW coal industry? / do sounds have their ruins? / is a sonic archaeology possible? / what sounds from that period have been recorded? (the audiographic photograph) / how does one capture what can no longer be heard? / an aural history (listened to), rather than an oral history (spoken about).

1.40 pm. After lunch, and following bed rest, I digitized, excised, enlarged, and enhanced sections of the far and near distance of family photographs depicting the tips on which I’d sat and listened as a boy. The source is several B-size prints of ‘snaps’ taken of my mother and her friends in Blaina, on ‘the moss’ — a grassed-over tip above my grandparents’ house — in 1947. To me, these fragments are as extraordinary as any deep-space image of a distant galaxy; in some respects, the reality that gave rise to them is just as remote and unreachable. These incidentals are, here, converted into the primary content of the image:


They are aspects of the landscape that were included in the photograph only because they were there:


Doubtless, the photographer was oblivious to them at the moment the shutter opened:


A section of the thin, parched grass at my mother’s feet, just as I would experience it twenty years later, and remember it today:


7.30 pm. Rest and reckoning.

June 8, 2015

8.30 am. A little admin to begin. I often start Monday mornings by engaging a particularly irksome task, on principle. It helps to get me into first gear, immediately. 9.00 am. The beginning of preparations for the Abstraction: Practice, Theory and History, 1913 to the Present module, which will be delivered in the new academic year. First: the PowerPoint template is conceived (to the strains of Michael Tippett’s Concerto for Double Strings (1938-9). Once the module’s visual identity is established, its conceptual content follows more readily, I find:

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10.15 am. To the School …


… where I’d received a postcard (apposite in the light of this morning’s work) from a former student:


10.30 am. I composed a feedback email to a PhD Fine Art student, to follow up a phone tutorial we’d had last week. Sometimes, better ideas for discussion occur to both the tutee and the tutor later, and on reflection. A momentary period of dizziness had me speeding for homebase. My blood pressure is borderline normal to low (which is very low by my standards), my respiration is impaired, head and limbs aches, ears are ringing, eyes are bleary, and energy levels, dismal. It feels like a viral onslaught. But, then again, so do my recurrent bouts of ME and allergic responses. Time will tell. To bed, until lunchtime.

After lunch and more bed (sleep was evasive), I sat in front of my computer … dazed and blank. Nothing was going to happen. I’ve only small bouts of concentration to spend at present; and these were better invested in reading, making notes, and dozing in my rocking chair, under the Velux, in the sunlight:

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7.30 pm. An evening of physical repose and spiritual exercise.