Month: July 2015

July 16, 2015

8.45 am. Inbox inquiries investigated. 9.15 pm. The digital proofs for my chapter on the Evan Roberts wax cylinder have arrived from The Courtauld Institute of Art. Very elegant:

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The morning was set apart for a review of prospective grant applications. Now begins the process of identifying collaborators, maintaining contact with funders, and refining prospective projects in negotiation with both. What I would like to do and what they’d like me to do; what can be done and what should be done; and what would be interesting to do and what others are willing to fund, aren’t necessarily the same thing. The focus, today, is on defining the scholarly enterprise: the driving questions and problematics, the contexts of operation, the interdisciplinary and collaborative potential. I wrote a salutary note to myself, to the effect: ‘Beware making a science of that which is not’:


1.40 pm. Got physical. Back in the sound studio, I addressed the power allocation for the new subwoofers. My uncle Owen was a colliery electrician. He and my father taught me the principles of domestic wiring, fuses, voltage, resistance, and amperage. Both of them are in my thoughts every time I change a plug. I’ve become aware of a subtle alteration in my attitude to the studio. It now feels compromised by its dual identity as the context for making both visual and sonic images. My instinct is to remove all the paraphernalia of my visual practice, in order to open up a space for the other activity to fill completely and committedly.

Now, then …


…  how to distribute and retain a stereo signal over three amplifier/speakers. Periodically, I diagrammatised the sound/landscape concept. The schematics are beginning to resemble those that I’ve drawn for my pedalboard and handboard effectors. These are ideas in search of a circuit:


6.30 pm. Practise session 1.

7.30 pm. Once again, the instruction book that came with one of the new subwoofers was errant. (The diagram was misleading and unrealisable.) But the manufacturer provides the correct configuration on their website. (It pays to get a second opinion … even if it’s from the same ‘doctor’). However, in order to complete the connection, I need to purchase a pair of matching ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ Neutrik adapters: male to male, and female to female. Who on earth sexualised plugs and sockets in the first place? On, then, with tweaking the small subwoofer’s phase alignment. I can now make all the doors on the top floor vibrate at 40Hz.

9.30 pm. Practise session 2.

July 15, 2015

8.30 am. The walk to the School for a morning of PhD and MA tutorials. As I moved from hour to hour, I travelled from a borehole project in Kenya, to ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland, to the English countryside, and, finally, to the sublime landscapes of the Mid West. As a teacher, one can encounter in the course of a day an extraordinary and exhilarating diversity of subject, approach, personality, and perception. What these students have in common, however, is a maturity of commitment and insightfulness that impresses to the same degree.

2.00 pm. Mr Croft drove Dr Webster, Dr Cruise, and I to the campus, where we robed — courtesy of the long-established, distinguished, and not a little Dickensian sounding J. Wipple & Co. — and sauntered self-consciously to the Great Hall, looking like escapees from a Tudor costume drama:


Our Ceremony was, so we were told, the largest (and no doubt the longest) in the university’s history. It was heartening to see the ground floor awash with fine artists, art historians, historians, and educators all awaiting official validation:


There is a measure of predictability that becomes, and is of the essence of, ritual. But that doesn’t undermine the significance of an occasion that’s sober and celebratory in equal measure. To become a graduate is no mean achievement. (As ‘midwife’ to some of those students, I can vouch for that.) I have three degrees, but graduated in absentia for each. My undergraduate peers in Fine Art decided, en masse, that we’d attend the ceremony only if we could dress in a smock and beret. The authorities would have none of it.

As staff, we are there to cheer on our team, principally:


But it did go on, so. For two hours! ‘I’ll count the spotlights again, to pass the time’:


By the end, I was clapped-out and dehydrated.

All of our leavers will be substituted by a new third year in September, but none of them will be replaced:


Some will return as MA students, others will remain in close contact, and yet others will surface again only when they need a reference. That’s fine. As staff, like parents, to all we say: ‘You’ll always find a home, an ear, and support’ at the School of art, whenever you need it’.

What a happy-sad day:


July 14, 2015

8.45 am. So much spam passes through the university’s email filter these days. 9.00 am. I reviewed an MA art history draft chapter submission. 11.00 am. The glued pieces of the 78-rpm record have held together well. My thoughts now turn to how each of the original three fragments can be played independently of the whole. 11.20 pm. The new book comes into focus this morning. As I continued with the draft proposal, an awareness grew that it could serve as the agenda for the conference too. Thereafter, I worked on both proposals in parallel. Once these were reconciled, one with the other, a conceptual clarity and cohesion — which had hitherto evaded me — began to emerge. I’ve often found that working on two or more related things either simultaneously or in parallel can be much more productive than dealing with them serially.

2.00 pm. The courier delivered two heavy subwoofers to my door before lunch. An unpacking and inspection were in order:


The smaller, Genelec 7050B, will provide a bass extension to my studio monitor active speakers; the larger, QSC K-Sub, will do the same for the performance PA system. Some study and tweaking is required in order to integrate the new devices into the existing sound setups and to accommodate the acoustics of the studio.

2.30 pm. I returned to the parallel proposals. A shape and a content began to emerge. One just has to just keep chipping away the excess to reveal the form. I worked backwards from the known and articulable to the, as yet, unknown and unanswerable —  questions related to the reasons for, significance and relevance of, and methodology underlying, the conference/book per se.

7.30 pm. I began installing the smaller of the two subwoofers. The instruction book looks like an airline emergency guide:


No sooner you begin rewiring one set of devices than there is, almost inevitably, a knock-on effect that requires a major reconsideration of the whole studio network. In this case, how to safely extend an additional power supply across the room to the large subwoofer. (In my scheme of things, and quite properly, all power outlets emerge from a single wall socket, at source, through a power conditioner, and on to every piece of mains-supplied equipment. This way, the risks of an earth-loop, a power surge, and electrocution are minimised.) Bring it on!

9.22 pm. Sundown:


July 13, 2015

8.30 am. I reviewed my inbox before a time of reflection. 9.00 am. I responded to my review and arranged postgraduate tutorial times. 9.45 am. The process of modulating from one research project to another, with every intent of coming to rest on one, continues. My resolve is to dedicate a part of every day this week to each in order:

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11.20 pm. I received a phone call from the Paul Mellon Centre with answers to queries that I’d forwarded regarding their Digital Projects Grants initiative. The funding opportunity is new and, as such, open to being shaped by whatever applications are received this year. (This information could not have been discerned from their website. It pays to talk to someone in charge.) Consequently, I’ll be making my pitch for a project which will examine sonic interpretations of, and responses to, industrial Welsh landscape images from 1750s to 1950s. Something like that. 11.40 pm. On with establishing definitional boundaries for the conference concept. As I suspected, several of the projects within the cluster naturally collapse into one another once the serious work begins. For example, the unlisted adjunct series ‘Noise PROJECTions’ will become the overarching title of a conference series, of which ‘Sound Spirit Memory Place’ will be the first. The book project could, then, be a product of this conference, and also include related parts of the earlier ‘The Noises of Art‘. Moreover, the grant, residencies, and sound/landscape projects would, in turn, constitute my own contribution to, and articulation of, the themes of the new conference. This scheme of things appears economic, cohesive, rational, and doable.

1.30 pm. Off to the department for an afternoon of MA Fine Art tutorials covering, variously, photography, audiography, drawing, and something which may be undefining itself from the condition of painting. Judith’s temporary studio:


Tali’s temporary painting:


Some principles and observations:

  • Woe betide any artist to whom misfortune never visits. It brings in its wake opportunities, potentialities, and ideas that might not otherwise present themselves.
  • An accident may be fortuitous; acting upon it is always deliberate.
  • Don’t look so far down the road that you fail to see the hallowed ground beneath your feet.
  • Our virtues will be our undoing.
  • You’ll need to weigh the anchor from the seabed of tradition if you’ve any hope of getting underway.
  • Learn to play, learn from play, learn by play.

7.30 pm. I caught up on admin and with emails, most of which (I’m convinced) would not have arrived had I sat in front of my computer all afternoon. 8.30 pm. The broken 78-rpm that I’d purchased on Saturday has suffered a further, minor mishap. I mishandled one of the three pieces and it broke into several more. (Shellac records are so human: fragile, prone to fracture, and in need of delicate handling.) Tutored by YouTube expertise, I super-glued the parts back together again. Try doing this to a CD:


What good will this misfortune yield?

July 11, 2015

9.10 am. A stroll to this week’s Farmers’ Mini-Market — a scaled-down version of the fortnightly fayre. On walking to Lidl, I set myself an exercise: Purchase the first 78-rpm record you alight upon, and make something from it. Craft had none; The Furniture Cave, only a small number to hand.  The assistant pulled out a dusty pile from underneath a table. As he did, the upmost record slid off and broke into three large pieces on impact with the stone floor. (I’ve met with this scenario before. The Evan Roberts wax cylinder, on which my R R B V E Ǝ T N Ƨ O A is based, met with a similar fate after it had been rediscovered.)  In terms of my intent, the shattered disc represented the first that I alighted upon. (Sometimes the artefact self-selects.) Once established, the rules of the game must be adhered to — no matter how inconvenient that may turn out to be. The record was still in its paper sleeve, so all the pieces were contained. Now, here’s the intriguing part: the title of the song on the B side is My Heart is Broken in Three. This is a gift. One must always honour such fortuitous coincidences:


The 10 inch disc, released in 1956, is on the London American Recordings, a subsidiary of London Records, which was a branch of Decca Records:

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The artiste, Slim Whitman, was a popular folk and country singer, also renowned for his yodelling. My instinct is not glue the record back together, but, rather, to explore the artefact in its fractured state. (Broken things beckon to me.) This is something which I was unable to do — in a physical (as distinct from a digital) sense — with the wax cylinder.

2.00 pm. Housework beckoned too: bathroom, linen room, floors, surfaces, chrome, mirrors, dusting, mopping, vacuuming, scrubbing, etc. I cleansed the way:


4.00 pm.  Cold places, like cold people, are often avoided. Great resolve was required to confront the guck and residue that had accumulated inside the fridge. Which member of the family thought that they could cryogenically suspend left-over potatoes? I spruced up the door a treat; the interior is a job for the morrow:


5.20 pm. Clocked out.

July 10, 2015

8.45 am. I set up tutorials for the week to come and, while my iMac struggled (uncharacteristically) to install updates, I cleared my worktops of accumulated paperwork and redundant pieces of equipment, and listed my current and forthcoming research projects. I can no more prioritise projects that are intimately related to, and dependent upon, each other than ask the planets to orbit the sun one at a time. 10.40 am. Off to the School to conduct, with Dr Pierse, a BA Fine Art interview.

It’s been heartening to hear news of several former BA Fine Art student doing well in the professional world at a competitive level: Helen Blake and BP Portrait Award hardy annual, Edward Sutcliffe.

11.30 am. A walk to town via Park Avenue (looking like a Parisienne boulevard on such a day as this) …


… past the recently refurbished Art Deco building (formerly Burton’s Store)  …


… and into the shops to replenish my stationary. 12.30 pm. I rejuvenated my set of propelling pencils and finalised my real-world desktops. These are not deferral activities. All things that need to be done have to be done at sometime.

2.00 pm. I worked through my list of projects, examining each one in turn and in rotation. The more I did so, the more they interconnected — in my mind at least — and the more each one moved forward it its direction:


Henceforth, a foundation and a timetable for each will need to be established.

6.20 pm. Further ironing; further Star Trek films. 7.15 pm. I committed myself to pruning, deleting, renaming, relocating, and otherwise reordering the subfolders of my art practice and art history folders. As one’s mind becomes clearer about certain matters, then certain other matters require further clarification.

July 9, 2015

Wisdom in the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding … Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established (Prov. 4. 7, 26).

8.45 am. I wielded a death blow to my inbox before walking to the School to prepare (as supervisor) for a PhD Art History viva voce. (The content of the thesis covered much else beside art history, including theology, philosophy, and ecclesiology.) My tutee arrived early for a pre-viva pep talk. (This is the equivalent of the ring-side discussion between boxer and their trainer before the first round. ‘Watch his left hook!’) It would be a lie to say that I’m not a little nervous on these occasions. Both the tutee and the tutor are under scrutiny. The examination went swimmingly. The external and internal examiners probed deeply and meaningfully. As supervisor, I’m present, but my lips are zipped. This can be frustrating, particularly when the discussion touches upon my own passions. The candidate gave a full and reasoned response to the interrogation, and acquitted themselves admirably. Another School of Art success story.

1.00 pm. The External Examiner, the Reverend Professor Jeff Astley, and I had lunch together. We had much in common to fuel a mutually supportive conversation. And it’s always helpful to receive the wisdom of an older academic. 2.30 pm. After several days of an overcast sky and occasional torrents, brightness and blueness have returned:


Admin required some attention. 3.40 pm. Pondering the path of my feet, I returned, briefly, to ‘stocktaking’, and inserting ideas, recognitions, and awareness that had been stimulated by this morning’s viva voce. (Which is why we should also, as a matter of habit, listen to others talking to others about their work.)

3.45 pm. I came back to the project cluster concept that I’d begun yesterday. The schematic presently looks like this:


Already, themes common to all four main manifestations of the core idea are emerging. The anticipation is that each manifestation will lend energy, ideas, and clarity to the others. Now, each has to be worked up to not only focally but also intra-dependently of the others.

6.10 pm. The sunlight burns, redemptively:


6.00 pm. ‘Iron on!’ (to the backdrop of Star Trek IV). My ironing, like my present wrapping, sucks:


7.30 pm. I made further treated recordings from my 33-rpm vinyl source while working my way through a pdf of the Revox A77 manual. The tape recorder is not so much played as driven. The operation is refreshingly physical; this is a machine rather than a device:


The ‘operating instructions’ (c.1977) are far better written and illustrated than many examples of the genre today. Clearly, those who wrote the document also read it. I’m ready, now, or a full test-run over the weekend.

9.30 pm. More ironing. (A man’s work is never done!)

July 8, 2015

9.00 am. Last night, I completed watching a film documentary on the recently departed blues singer and guitarist B B King, entitled The life of Riley (2012). In order to promote his recordings (which might otherwise have sunk without a trace), he would perform his music 365 days a year. Now that’s how you generate ‘impact’, so called.

After scrutinising incoming mail and dealing with purchase admin, I devoted the morning to a range of interrelated projects (the book, a conference, a grant application, and the developing pre- and post-industrial soundscape project). They’ve a common core of preoccupations: sound, recording, landscape, supernaturalism, history, and memory. Henceforth, the projects need to consciously interpenetrate; they must each be a discrete manifestation of the unifying concept. Back to my notebooks:


1.30 pm. I reviewed the master made of the latest composition. The main vocal line needed a little more sparkle and presence. It’s surprising what you hear when you’ve given your ear a rest. 2.00 pm. I set out a framework for the project cluster and initiated contact with several agencies related to such. When one first describes a proposal to someone else, often new ideas occur and existing ones are immediately clarified. Which is why we should talk about our work to others, as a matter of habit. Not in a self-regarding way, but in order to test the clarity, cogency, and persuasiveness of our ideas. Likewise, we should be available to listen to others talk about theirs.

7.15 pm. A further review of the new composition, tweaking voice tracks within 1dB of the current settings. They were small but significant adjustments that simultaneously drew together and more clearly separated the tracks:


9.15 pm. Ironing a plenty to be dispatched. I watched my Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin live at Montreux Jazz Festival DVD to ease the tedium.

July 7, 2015

9.00 am. System boot-up. I needed to hear the composition’s mix on a different sound system before proceeding with finalisation. So, I moved from sound studio to study, and furthered the mixing process on my desktop and computer speakers:


Ideally, the mix has to sound intelligible on the best and worst of equipment. The final mix takes an age; I reckon on it. With regard to the overall balance and the distribution of the constituent tracks, there are no absolute solutions, only regulating principles:

  • Remove superfluous tracks. (Some may have been there from the beginning of the compositional process, but they’re no longer either audible against the background of the other tracks or, otherwise, necessary.)
  • Arrange the amplitude of each track according to its intended prominence within the whole composition. (One can think of the sound field in terms of the Renaissance perspectival box: it has a central axis, zones left and right of it, and a notional series of receding planes parallel to the ‘picture plane’. Each track is arranged to occupy a specific location within the box.)
  • Ensure that all tracks, regardless of their respective amplitude, are clearly audible and, thus, contributing to the whole.
  • Ensure that their respective amplitudes remain in the same relationship to one another when the composition is played at either loud or soft volume.
  • Ensure that the full stereo field is occupied and balanced: centre, left to centre, and centre to right.

How does one know when the composition is finished? When:

  • each sample’s potential has been maximized in terms of both its contribution to the whole and sonic quality;
  • the internal logic of the composition’s structure and progression has been resolved;
  • sonic homogeneity (a sense of organic wholeness) has been achieved;
  • nothing can be either added or subtracted without detracting from that whole;
  • one can listen to the track again and again without wincing at any point.

1.30 pm. I returned the sound studio to scrutinize the composition under headphones. (Now, I listened to the detail.) After ten mixdowns — parento optimum. ‘Weaknesses, Sicknesses, Diseases of All Kinds’ is complete:


This is not the final stage, however. The track will need to be mastered in order to bring it in line with the sonic character of the other compositions in the suite of works, collectively entitled Free Delivery (Deliverance) End-Time Deliverance Ministry.

3.30 pm. ‘Image & Inscription’, is the final composition to be undertaken for the new CD. Until the vinyl pressings of the voice recordings are delivered, I cannot move further with it. Until then, I begin sampling extracts from old 33-rpm and 78-rpm records with a religious theme:


I’ve no idea how these will be deployed, eventually. So often, for me, the artwork’s concept and the procedure is discovered through hearing and manipulating the materials.

7.00 pm. I continued with the recordings, capturing untreated and modulated versions of the same tracks. Once completed, these will be stored until such time as either a governing idea emerges or a entirely different set of samples converges upon them. Presently, the recordings sound like a Mellotron having a beautiful nightmare:


July 6, 2015

8.45 am. I cleared my inbox, arranged tutorials for the next few weeks, and paused to reflect upon the coming day. 9.15 pm. The new set of sound samples, which I’d gleaned on Saturday, were re-equalized for clarity and sifted for component parts that could be incorporated into the composition. The extractions are very small, and chosen on the basis of their musicality and potential for being looped. Once inserted, an entirely new dimension of coherence opened up. In retrospect, the logic of the inclusion was self-evident; one of those ‘of course’ moments. The composition now has a second speaking voice and fragments of acoustic guitar playing:


12.30 pm. Dr Roberts, my accomplice in electronic noisiness, came for lunch and a discussion of mutual interests. 1.30 pm. Afterwards, he demonstrated his new box of tricks — a modular analogue/digital synthesiser:



We’ve entirely contrary approaches to sound composition, even though we are fully agreed on what makes for a satisfactory outcome. He modifies waveforms generated by oscillators, whereas I use found sound sources exclusively. He moves towards a sound; I move away from one. Collaboration requires a measure of difference between the participants. Without it, the one does not extend the potential of the other. The principle is the same as that which undergirds colour complementarity, wherein the juxtaposition of two colours enhances the strength and contrast of each. We closed the afternoon with a reflection on the nature of ‘performance’ in relation to our respective practices. For my part, I’m not in favour of audience-directed activity; that is to say, where the practitioner feels an obligation to either entertain or else be interesting, engaging, and successful in the construction and presentation of the composition in public. However, I would countenance an open-access practice, wherein the sound artist permits others to observe, and listen-in on, the process of composition — just as a painter might countenance someone looking over their shoulder while they paint.

3.45 pm. A putting away of equipment; a reflection upon the afternoon’s business, and  a little email catch-up.

7.00 pm. Further chapter queries were addressed. Thereafter, I returned to the composition. Will my impression of the new additions be as favourable as it was this morning? …


… Indeed. The whole now sounds vaguely like something that The Velvet Underground might have laid down. I didn’t determine this quality; it arises from the interaction of the component samples. This is very satisfying. I’m determined to finalise the composition, tomorrow.