Month: August 2015

August 28, 2015

8.30 am. Looked into my inbox: things to be done; people to see; a diary to fill. 9.45 am. Eagerly and with expectation, I bounced back into the sound studio to move the new composition forward. I need, today, to discern the logic of its internal construction and the relation of such to both the external form and the source image. Furthermore, I must decide the length of the piece. Some of the sound-file samples, in their graphic presentation, are reminiscent of music notation and Arabic calligraphy:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 10.05.58

Several other considerations addressed themselves to me:

  • the source image is decomposed (it has collapsed in on itself), so I should be careful not to create a too evidently and regularly ordered composition. The essence of the source is fracture;
  • I need to honour the repetition of motifs and the obscuration of some parts of the source due to overlaying and, by contrast, the clarity of other parts where there is no visual information apart from white of the background;
  • nevertheless, I should remember that the sound work has its own identity and logic, and, unlike the source, yearns for resolution.

By lunchtime, I felt that I’d found the centre of the piece and was moving towards its end.

2.00 pm. Back to it:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 10.03.41

I will not be able to conceive how the piece will conclude — the closing passage — until I hear it. An appropriate ending has a certain inevitably about it; it will make itself heard. 3.00 pm. As, indeed, it did. With the overall structure and the parts in place, I was able to tweak their amplitude and equalisation and ensure than the stereo field was filled and balanced. The spine of the composition is a repetitive beat — like the mindless thud of a synthetic bass drum — such as I associate with 90s electronic dance music.

4.00 pm. Small changes lever large improvements. Every so often, I stopped and listened to someone else’s sounds in order to cleanse my ears of a familiarity with my own. 5.20 pm. I cannot bear/hear anymore. My judgement is blunted. Rest.

6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.45 pm. On with the headphones. Quite often, the balance established over the studio monitors can sound somewhat askew when heard directly in the ears. This was case. I made corrective adjustments before reviewing the whole mix on the monitors, once more:


The final mix is arrived at through negotiation and compromise. Next week, I’ll listen to the composition:

  • first, on the studio monitors again;
  • then, on the headphones;
  • then, on my a dismal pair of headphones;
  • then, on the domestic Hi-Fi;
  • then, on my good desktop speakers;
  • then, on my dismal desktop speakers;
  • then, as a MP3 file, on my iPod over earbuds;
  • and, finally, in mono.

When the sound is clear and balanced in all these contexts then, and then only, do I have an acceptable mix.

August 27, 2015

9.00 am. I’d determined to complete ‘The Wounded Heart Ministries’ sound piece over the next few days. After a time away from a piece of work, one should always return, first, to its source. In this case, the collapsed homepage of the website:


I performed again an analytical exercise that I’d undertaken at the outset of the project — to interpret to myself what I am looking at in terms of categories of visual phenomenon for which sound equivalents can be constructed. The sound work is the result of a technological process of translation (variously: image > sound, text > sound, and image > text) undertaken by changing one digital manifestation of the source into another via a common RAW file conversion. In order to realise a compositional translation, I now need to establish visual-sonic analogues, conceptually. What am I looking at?:

  • dense red and black, pale pink and white (background), areas
  • visual information punctuated by spaces
  • repeated motifs: a heart and the site’s title
  • legible text
  • illegible text
  • upper and lower case of fonts
  • cropped text
  • text superimposed upon text, either once or many times
  • text superimposed upon motifs
  • a fractured line
  • at least two distinct layers of information, which conflated following the glitch
  • among the legible text, certain words and phrases draw my attention: ‘DISTRESS’, ‘He allows’, ‘One writer’, ‘A HAND OF DISCIPLINE’, ‘There is no soundness‘, ‘The horrible state’, ‘the heavy hand‘, ‘Unconfessed’, ‘deadly’, and ‘deteriorate’.

Not all the features can be converted into sound analogues. Nevertheless, some of the more formal and structural characteristics can, easily. The textual content could inform such aspects of the artwork as my attitude and choices, and the composition’s spirit or demeanour.

10.00 am. I began extracting samples of enlarged areas of the source and translating them into sound files:


12.00 pm. All the new tracks were imported into the track session for the composition.

1.40 pm. One by one, each track was then optimised and given its provisional position within the stereo field of the mix. Once this phase is completed, I can push, pull, move, and duplicate them to fit needs of the whole composition. 2.30 pm. I replaced and re-trussed (twice, in the end) a broken midi cable on Pedalboard II:


3.00 pm. The process of composition begins in earnest. The piece is beginning to find its ‘musical’ feet. By the close of the afternoon, I’d achieved a consolingly satisfactory result.

6.30 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. Onward with the third Abstraction lecture:

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August 26, 2015

Frail as summer’s flower we flourish;
Blows the wind, and it is gone.

(Henry Francis Lyte (1793–1847))

8.45 am. A sombre and reflective walk in the School for a morning of MA interviews and tutorials. 9.00 am. I dispatched an MA reference before inspecting the extensive repainting that is being undertaken around the building. I doubt whether even Michelangelo had such an impressive array of scaffolding with which to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It only takes a lick of paint to reinvigorate the place. The School hasn’t received so much remedial attention since it was first translated from a chemistry to an art department. Painting an art school: what a wonderfully circular concept:



10.00 am. The first of two MA interviews. A significant number of the students we attract have a commitment to place (a concept that is both broader and less defined than landscape). 11.00 am. I had an opportunity to make an inspection of current MA Fine Art activities. Sandra has it all under her thumb, as always. And, she builds her own stretchers too:


12.00 pm. The second MA interview of the day. Some principles and observations derived form this morning’s encounters:

  • our failings in our own eyes and our failings in someone else’s eyes are of an entirely different order. The former is unbearable; the latter, understandable;
  • other people’s failings are forgivable;
  • confidence is, in part, the fruit of another’s confirmation;
  • we are shaped by tragedy, cruelty, unfairness, and despair like sheet-metal by a hammer;
  • art school is a home for misfits.

2.30 pm. Following a late lunch, I set up in the sound studio and recommenced filtered recordings of the Messiah record. The new tracks, made at 33 rpm and 45 rpm, deploy same techniques of equalisation as I used to construct silence in the study entitled SILENCE (2013). While the slower play recordings were being processed, I reviewed ‘The Wounded Heart Ministries’ composition, which I’d begun last month:


6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. On with the third lecture for the Abstraction module. It’s hard to underestimate Cézanne’s achievement and, by the same token, too easy to overestimate the achievements of Braque and Picasso. The seeds of many of Cubism’s significant innovations — multi-point views, perspectival drop, planar overlay and interpenetration, colour palette, and structural organisation — were sown in Cézanne’s late still lifes.

August 25, 2015

This world of ours, and worlds unseen,
And thin the boundary between.

(Josiah Conder (1789-1855))


9.00 am. I began reading of a text sent to me by a PhD theology and religious studies student. in order for me to comment on their discussion about photography in their thesis. (In the background, I played early albums by King Crimson — my prepping for the forthcoming concerts in September.) Extracts from my response:

  • I wondered whether their had been consideration of Barthes’ theory within thanatological/theological studies.
  • There are two genre of postmortem photography that play into (and muddy) Barthes’ response to images of the dead. First, spirit photography claims to capture the apparitional essence of the dead empirically. These images move beyond the notion of the photograph as indexical referent for, and token of, the once living. Instead, they putatively show an ‘object’ which is itself an indexical referent … but to the still ‘living’, beyond death.
  • The other genre is more earthbound: photographs of corpses that are ‘animated’ in the photographic studio to give the illusion of being alive. (A ‘still life’ in other terms.) Infants, adults, and soldiers killed on the battlefield, were dressed, propped-up, and photographed alongside their living, grieving relatives. In these examples, the coding is utterly confused: the rendered ‘object’ is dead but appears not to be; and the ‘living’ dead is understood, by the bereaved, to be both fictively living and actually dead simultaneously in the photograph.
  • One of the problems I have with Barthes’ theory (much as I admire and am grateful for it) is that he is not looking at the primary site of the emanation (the negative) but, rather, the secondary manifestation of such (the print). In other words, it’s a mediated rather than a direct index of the once present before the lens. Unlike an icon, therefore.
  • A discussion of the Turin Shroud as an ostensible emanation of referent may be worthwhile exploring in the context of the traditions of icons. There is a tradition of painterly copying of the shroud, in which the finished painting was pressed against the shroud so that, it was believed, the holiness of the relic (the original) would transfer to the painting (the copy). Analogically, the shroud was the negative and the painting, the print.
  • Moreover, the photographic print need not (in the manner of the negative) be unique. It could be one of many identical transfers from the negative. You may wish to look at Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936) in this respect. Benjamin writes of the loss of the aura of art through its mechanical reproduction. For him, the aura represents the originality and authenticity of a work of art that has not been reproduced. There are, I suggest, parallels between this notion of the ‘aura’ and Barthes’ concept of the ‘punctum’.
  • Idea: the bread and wine used to celebrate Holy Communion stands in the same relationship to the elements that Christ used to inaugurate the sacrament at the Last Supper as do prints to the negative. Whether one could argue the elements stand in the same relation to Christ’s body as does the negative to the photographed subject may require some theological contortion.
  • You might also want to look at artefacts associated with death and bereavement from the pre-photographic age (paintings, small sculptures, amulets, death masks etc.) Nigel Llewellyn’s The Art of Death: Visual Culture in the English Death Ritual, c.1500-1800 (1991) provides an excellent overview of the topic. Personally, I suspect that the bereaved experienced something equivalent to the ‘punctum’ in relation to these objects.
  • Have you ever watched Stephen Poliakoff’s TV drama Shooting the Past (1999)? It’s a remarkable ‘essay’ on the unique power and significance of photography.

2.00 pm. I continued making recordings from the partially erased 78 rpm of the Messiah, while battling with three Macs in order to establish a Bluetooth file-share connection between the trio. The aim of today’s recording session was to record using low-pass, mid-pass, and high-pass filters in order to isolate specific frequency ranges:


4.00 pm. I received an ‘Important Information’ email from the university’s Human Resources department regarding Professor David Trotter, who died yesterday aged 58:


He received his Chair and became Head of Department in 1993, two years before I did the same. I last talked to him 17 May this year at one of our lunches, which we’d enjoyed together, intermittently, for short of a decade. On these occasions, we would moan about the university and the state of higher education, laugh raucously, and put the world to rights. We had entirely different temperaments, world views, and little understanding of each other’s disciplines. But we got on famously. He was a man who spoke his mind and didn’t care who was listening, or about the consequences.  While David was a fighter and forthright, he was always reasoned in his opinion. You could disagree with him, but you couldn’t doubt his sincerity and sound motive. He was a man of integrity with a well-defined sense of injustice, who didn’t suffer fools, and could sniff out stupidity and fakery at 10,000 metres. The university has lost one of its best.

6.30 pm. Practise session 1.  7.30 pm. I began putting together the third of the new lectures for the Abstraction module. The theme returns me to the aspects of the topic for my undergraduate thesis: Picasso: A Simultaneity of Points of View (1981).

August 24, 2015

8.15 am. Today it’s reported that so-called Islamic State militants have blown-up Palmyra’s 2,000 year old temple of Baalshamin. The group has already destroyed several ancient sites in Iraq, some of which were among the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. Such atrocities are motivated by a desire to purge the regions that they’ve captured of the vestiges of idolatrous religion. Christianity, I’m ashamed to say, has dirtied its hands with such practices on numerous occasions throughout its history. For example, in the sixteenth century, Protestant iconoclastic riots broke-out in Britain and those European countries in which the new movement had taken root; individuals attacked, mutilated, overlaid, and destroyed many religious images in Catholic churches, abbeys, and monasteries.

9.00 am. A busy day ahead. Two primary calls: foremostly, a review of MA and PhD written submissions (with Bach’s Art of the Fugue in the background) and a peer review of a journal essay article; secondarily, the adaptation of my 78-rpm gramophone record polishing technique to a conceptual end:


For sometime, I’ve wanted to make small-scale and immediate sound pieces — the equivalent of self-contained drawings. The disc on the studio table is a Zonophone double-sided gramophone record, made in England between 1915 and 1926. The recording is part of Handel’s Messiah (1741), sung, with an instrumental accompaniment, by the bass Foster Richardson:

781950-medium (1)

Records of this period were made of shellac (a natural resin and polymer), and notoriously brittle. However, as I’ve discovered, the surface of the disc is extremely resilient. (Historically, shellac has been used as a hard-wearing wood varnish, among other things.) The conceptual intent of this ‘drawing’ is to erase the Messiah by punishing the disc’s surface with coarse sandpaper. Curiously, after the first abrasion, the record sounded even better than it did prior to the attack. Even after ten successive, and fairly aggressive, rubs, the recording was still very present. (Clearly, this was not going to be as straightforward as erasing a cassette or reel-to reel tape.)  Robert Rauschenberg’s erasure one of Willem de Kooning’s works, Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953), doesn’t remove the initial artist’s marks entirely. There is a vestigial presence. The design for de Kooning’s original drawing was known only to the two artists; Handle’s oratorio, in contrast, is widely known. My problem in erasing such a popular ‘image’ this that even the slightest hint of a residue is too much. Just a few audible cues are enough for me to reconstruct the whole tune in my head:


In theory, I needed only to obliterate the intaglio of the surface, and the sound encoded sound would disappear along with it. However, I hadn’t reckoned on either how deep the groove was cut or how far down into the trough the sound vibrations had been inscribed.

1.45 pm. Having completed my objectives for the morning, I pressed on with the peer review. Occasionally, I made forays to the sound studio to continue the process of erasure. After each attempt, the record is ‘proofed’ — by being played. I anticipate that there’ll come a point when the process of erasure will have to cease if the record is to remain playable. (Remove the groove entirely, and the stylus will skid from the outer to the inner circumference unimpeded.) 4.00 pm. After 17-discrete abrasions, pareto optimal was reached. 5.15 pm. The conclusion of the peer review was reached.

6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.40 pm. I made the first of a number of recordings of the now severely compromised gramophone record:


The first set of recordings was made at 78 rpm, 45 rpm, and 33 1/3 rpm with the record played forward (as normal). The second set was made at those speeds in reverse. Both sets were then repeated with a slightly enhanced equalisation and with the record deck’s anti-skid mechanism activated. This improved the overall sound quality and tracking significantly. I now have a new sound artefact that’s reminiscent more of bacon frying in hot fat than the Messiah.

From one perspective, the attempted erasure of the Messiah (an icon of Christian music) is an act of iconoclasm not unlike the physical abrasions, defacing, and corruptions exercised by some sixteenth-century Protestant reformers on images of Christ.

9.30 pm. Practise session 2.

August 22, 2015

9.15 am. After further Facebookery, I returned to pedalling. Effectors were added and removed, Velcroed and reordered. Their interaction is analogous to a family of self-centred children. Ideally, each of them wants to be first in line and, when they don’t, some them make a noise about it. Placement is always a negotiation and a compromise. Other pedals are quiet, but dull the tone of the output signal — wherever they are placed. Such are necessarily omitted … however useful they might otherwise be. Nevertheless, the final board now comprises a fairly wide range of sound twisters, shakers, and shovers. Sufficient:


4.45 pm. For the record: the addition of a buffer unit either in between the looper and the Nova System or after the Nova System and before the amp introduced a loud click whenever a pedal button was pressed. (This is a DC impedance issue, I suspect.) The only buffer present is that which is integral to the Boss TU2 tuner pedal. The Moogfooger Drive pedal (post fuzz) and one GigFx pedal placed in series directly after another undermined the overall fulsomeness of the tone. On, then, with the ‘trussing’, cable rationalisation, and a final test through a variety of amplifiers.

The pedalboard’s interaction both with the guitar and the amplifier is as important as its internal coherence and quality. (As in life, integrity is not only intrinsic to the individual but also relational.):


5.20 pm. Enough!  7.30 pm. An evening with the family.

August 21, 2015

9.00 am. After a little Facebookery, I pressed towards the final lap of this week’s lecture writing marathon. Planarity, frontality, gamelan, and Chinese tearooms were the watchwords for the morning’s work. 10.00 am. A phone call to Martin Owen — a whizzo electronics engineer who repairs, modifies, and makes effects pedals. He has been fixing a broken DC input on one of my effectors. We discussed the possibility of modifying a fuzz pedal to permit a wet (treated) and dry (untreated) signal to be combined in different ratios via an expression pedal. (No manufacturer produces such a thing.)

1.40 pm. A tinker in the workshop on Pedalboard IV:


2.10 pm. The sourcing and processing of videos and sound clips, which are embedded in the PowerPoint, adds time to the preparations:

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 22.54.20

Nevertheless, their inclusion is absolutely necessary. They help expand the range of cultural illustrations and provide a contrast to my endless bleating. 5.15 pm. The lecture was finished. Next week: Cubism.

7.30 pm. A significant rethink of Pedalboard IV, with the inclusion of three Gig-Fx pedals and a rerouting of the input signal across the first third of the network:


August 20, 2015

9.00 am. Over the past week, I’ve been drawn to a very specific visual phenomenon that I recognise in the weave of amplifier fabric and the knotting of the studio carpet, and the ‘static’ of my own databending images:




I see in them, too, variously the surface of a well-worn shellac record, the white noise of an analogue TV screen, shimmering information, trillions of stars — more numerous than the grains of sand on all the beaches of the world.

9.30 am. On with this week’s lecture and into Late Monet, Whistler’s Nocturnes, Debussy’s Nocturne, and Japonisme.

1.40 pm. I made a snap decision to assemble Pedalboard IV — which I intend to use in the context of my practice sessions, chiefly. It will be equipped with an array of modulation efforts (neatly housed in the T C Electronic Nova System), wah-wah and volume pedals, drive, boost, and distortion pedals, and a midi controller. Very economic, if a little heavy. The build began:


2.00 pm. I continued with the lecture through the afternoon, punctuated by distracting walks to the studio to consider the construction of the new pedalboard. This will be a relatively straightforward assembly. By the close of the afternoon, I’d completed two thirds of the lecture.

7.30 pm. I took on the pedalboard like to a Christmas turkey waiting to be trussed. An inspired moment in betwixt cabling and Velcroing: sanding the surface of a 78 rpm record:


This is a trial process which, if successful, will be used to prepare a neutral background on which each of the trio of fragments comprising the My Heart is Broken in Three record will be glued and made playable again.

August 19, 2015

8.30 pm. I overslept! I actually overslept! I never oversleep! If I’d been an undergraduate, I’d have missed the beginning of a 9.00 am lecture. Shamefacedness would be my complexion for the remainder of the day, I determined. Good job my first appointment wasn’t before 9.30 am — an off-campus, pastoralesque tutorial. 11.00 am. I held an MA inquirer’s discussion. It was sad to hear that the art provision at University of Wales Trinity St David is to close — both the BA and the MA studies. Henceforth, the university’s operations in this discipline will be based in Swansea only. 12.00 pm. I enjoyed a fruitful and genuinely inspiring MA Fine Art tutorial with one of Dr Pierse’s tutees. There are painters who make me want to paint. This was one.

Some principles and observations derived from the morning’s engagements:

  • We perish for want of just one good idea.
  • We perish from a surfeit of good ideas.
  • Good ideas come to us either too soon, at the right time, or too late.
  • Technical and methodical dexterity, an enthusiasm for and sensitivity to materials, an informed awareness of the context of our operations, great ambition and determination, and a sense of our own identity are insufficient. There must be vision also.
  • We evolve as artists in fits and starts.

2.00 pm. I assisted my elder son in a photo-session to advertise the sale of his 100-watt Marshall stack on the second-hand market. She is a sturdy and noble beast:


2.40 pm. I returned to the Abstraction module, inserting further questions to the audience. I’m keen to explore new ‘rhythms’ of learning for the lectures; this intent began in the Art/Sound module. Music, as a formal and illustrative analogue to visual art, needs to be discussed in relation to each lecture theme too.

7.00 pm. I tested the connections between the turntable array and the newly established pre-amp to mixer connections, and updated the software on my Eventide modulation pedals:


Back at the Abstraction lecture no. 2, I edge my way towards an explanation of Impressionist music, atomic theory, and the notion of the Zeitgeist. All good fun!

August 18, 2015

8.45 am. A little studio work to begin, implementing suggestions regarding the PA system to studio rack connection, ordering cable adapters and ever more Velcro, and reckoning upon the network of equipment as a whole. 10.15 am. I returned to the Abstraction module to begin second lecture:

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 10.45.14

1.30 pm. I continued with the project. In order to break into a piece of writing, I find it useful to work on it in a focussed way for at least two contiguous sessions. Ideas should be under scrutiny, constantly: ‘Why do I need to say this?’ and ‘Should it be said now, rather than later?’ and ‘Can I assume that the students know this already?’ As I wrote and sourced images, Helen and I batted back and fore emails related to a spate of late MA applications.

7.15 pm. Having connected the entire PA system to the studio rack, the cables needed rationalising, gathering, and tying. Back-breaking work under tables, for the most part. These are the necessary preparations; the ritual; the laying out of tools in readiness for the incomparably more difficult task of creating something worthwhile. 9.30 pm. Task completed. Now the entire system needs to be put through its paces: