Month: September 2015

September 30, 2015

8.20 am. A disposal of emails with attachments to staff pertaining to postgraduate allocations of various sorts, before a walk to School, cutting a track down Llanbardarn Road, up Pound Place (I wonder why so called) and Trinity Road, passed the church, and onto the Buarth. 9.10 am. Further email flurries. My ‘To Do Today’ and ‘To Do This Week’ lists grow, dispiritingly. 10.00 am. A PhD Fine Art tutorial with Eileen:


11.30 am. The beginning of a day of MA Fine Art assessments. That the show is strong doesn’t make the task any easier. Sarah was feeling the pressure … getting the jitters:



In my capacity as either first supervisor or second marker, I assessed until 5.15 pm, with half hour for lunch. (This is a nobbling regime.) Some principles and observations:

  • The more ‘mature’ MA students have been among those who have made the greatest leap forward since Exhibition 1. Age is no obstacle to artistic vitality and growth. On the contrary, it may be contributory factor.
  • More than native talent, cognisance of the context of one’s operations, technical expertise, and intellectual wherewithal, the capacity for hard work is the necessary foundation for success.
  • We should expect to exceed our own expectations (and, indeed, those of others).
  • We may not feel success, even when we have achieved it.
  • We may feel successful, even when we aren’t.

5.15 pm. Even the light draws lines here:


7.30 pm. An evening writing up assessment reports in readiness for the external examiner’s arrival, tomorrow.

The discussions about student satisfaction rubble on. Of course, students should receive the best quality of teaching and care and resources we can offer. But not at any cost. Balancing principles are required:

  • Staff must place professional integrity before popularity. They mustn’t be afraid to upset or rebuke a student when it is clearly in a student’s best interests. Any other attitude is irresponsible in my opinion.
  • The concept of student satisfaction is becoming a form of benign intimidation. It should be resisted as such.
  • The concept of student satisfaction is primarily about the student’s perception of reality, rather than about the nature of the reality itself (which may be very different). 
  • Disgruntled students can respond to questionnaires selfishly, mischievously and unintelligently. They are human, like the rest of us. 
  • Negative comments may be representative of a small minority of students only (particularly in a department the size of the School of Art). One doesn’t turn a cruise liner around just because a few passengers are seasick.
  • There’ll always be criticism, even when it’s not deserved. 

If everyone (students and staff) in the School were mobilised towards a common goal, fuelled by equality of commitment and an intensity of passion (savoured with honesty, optimism, and goodwill) then anything should be possible.

September 29, 2015


9.00 am. I took into School my Electro Harmonix Flanger Hoax — a modulation pedal comprising two independent phaser sections and associated delay lines. I’m feeding the effector back into itself. In so doing, the device modulates its own modulation. (Electronic navel staring.) I’m tinkering with it with a view to some kind of informal demonstration for the coming Open Days. 9.30 pm. A pastoral tutorial which, in part, enabled me to get a better sense of how yesterday’s Abstraction lecture had been received, and to determine how tutelage in essay writing should be introduced. 10.00 am. On with postgraduate admin and preparations for the beginning of the MA Vocational Practice module. We begin, as always, by examining the elements of higher education teaching. By the end of this module, these students will have conducted one-to-one tutorials, group workshops, and given a mini lecture. One must take responsibility for nurturing the next generation of academic teachers:


2.00 pm. A pastoral, group tutorial with my first year ‘year tutees’. They appear to be a confident bunch. When I first entered higher education, I thought I’d only got in by the skin of my teeth and that I would be the least able of the cohort. It turned out, that everyone in that cohort suffered from the same insecurity.

2.45 pm. On with MA space allocations. Getting there. 4.00 pm. A second year pastoral tutorial. Just a check up, but heartening to hear of success coming to someone who’s still in the midst of their undergraduate studies.

6.30 pm. Practise session 1, followed by a little TV: a dramatisation of the Enflield poltergeist  phenomenon. I’d met Maurice Grosse and Guy Lyon Playfair, the investigators, at conferences when I was a member of the Society for Psychical Research. Two more level headed and earthed human beings you could not wish to meet. I’ve never been fully persuaded of the account’s veracity. But I’m equally unsure as to what would constitute verifiable evidence. However, I’m convince that both investigators believed it; and that they were men of integrity.

7.30 pm. I pressed on with postgraduate admin:


This is always the most administratively heavy week in the academic calendar. Exam weeks do not compare. (Although I’m sure Helen and Suzie would beg to differ … and rightly so.) And there’s an internal examination of the MA show and the External Examiner’s three-day visit to come this week. Next week, my time and energies will be focussed on the delivery of teaching (which has had to proceed in parallel, and sometimes in tandem, thus far).

September 28, 2015

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood (Joel 2.31).

3.00 am. The alchemical mutation of the super moon eclipse, which glowed like a heated coppery orb, miraculously suspended. My visual memory, rather than my failed, hand-held photographs, will be the most abiding and affecting image of the phenomenon. I probably won’t be on this side of the veil the next time it occurs:



8.15 am. A time of reflection upon my obligations before a very down-to-earth nose dive into various administrations of a modular, personal, pastoral, and researchable kind. Oiling the bike isn’t half as fulfilling as riding it; but without lubrication, it doesn’t travel half so smoothly. So, I pressed on with organising times for tutorials, group meetings, trips, files and folders, backups, updates, the mechanics of delivery, course materials, and priorities. It all came fast and furious.

1.00 pm. Off to School to prepare for the first Abstraction lecture at 2.10 pm. Two more lights in the darkness:

It takes time for the deliverer and recipients to get into the groove and sync after so many months of not assuming those roles. The level of general religious knowledge among students (and that of the general populous, it must be said) is at a very low ebb — medieval, almost. One should assume nothing these days, and explain everything. All knowledge (including the religious sort) and disciplines pass through art history; that’s one of the discipline’s glories. The subject touches all things, and demands that the scholar gain some understanding of most things. Big ask!

3.15 pm. A walkaround with Mr Garrett in order to allocate studio spaces to the new MA contingent:


3.45 pm. The entrance of light. And with it, one anticipates, wisdom, hope, mercy, grace, and compassion:


For the remainder of the afternoon, I concerned myself with apportioning MA students to staff and spaces. My room is baked by the sunlight and a radiator that (like the sun) cannot be turned off. The first year students are bedding-in (if in the wrong rooms, on occasion).

6.30 pm. Practise session 1 . 7.30 pm. And in the heavens, again, at the close of the day: a Friedrichy sunset over the Buarth:


An evening of uploading files to Blackboard, completing registers, posting curriculum and guidelines, and keeping everyone in the loop. 9.00 pm. Facebook appears to have been stymied (by the super moon eclipse, no doubt); social networkers are in meltdown; and kitten and puppy addicts are having to go cold turkey. Ha!

September 26, 2015

How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? (Prov. 6.9).

8.30 am. Wakey! Wakey! 9.15 am. I engaged module admin catch up and calendar filling to begin the day. 10.30 am. Research admin. This involved transferring sound capture files and event photographs to their appropriate folders in my archive, testing the sound files for integrity (and they have), and updating relevant websites. Recording one’s efforts, while not as important as the primary activity, is still a priority. Two principles are involved. The first is personal management: one should run a creative practice as though it were a business. The second concerns public engagement: one must be seen to have acquitted the task set, and to evidence such in a manner that’s accessible to outsiders. Archiving and promotion are of the essence.

Don’t aim to be famous; endeavour, rather, to be exemplary in the conception and execution of an intent, responsible in its delivery, professional in one’s attitude, and gracious and comprehensible to one’s audience.

I’m aware of ignoring the potential audience linked to eye(aɪ)–ear(ɪə(r)). I need to upgrade the Facebook account and create a bespoke website outside the domain of the School’s pages. Once I’m in conference convening mode again, this new site will be the focal forum:

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11.00 am. I listened to my sound capture. Not surprisingly, it all sounded very new to me. Clearly, at the time of production, tiredness compromised my ability to make audio memories. 12.00 pm. Now that some of the equipment is out of the studio, I was able to clean … big time (in the foreground to Scott Walker and Sunn O’s remarkable Soused (2014).

12.50 pm. News of the forthcoming Live Art event was propagated:


2.00 pm. After lunch: on with cleaning the studio. I’m a man with a dark heart. (I accept no dissent on this matter):


5.15 pm. Cleaning — all done! The main table and studio control console are once more operational; ready for action:


I commenced unpacking and shelving the equipment used during the past two day. Now to begin putting the 42 samples created during the event under scrutiny, and some of them into some kind of compositional order. 5.15 pm. Power down; red light off. 6.30 pm. An evening with my wife.

September 25, 2015


12.16 am. A guard waved through the window. I was not alone.

The experience has felt like a long-haul night flight. The challenge during this phase of the project was to keep generating new procedures. A critical edge is one of the first capacities to diminish with the onset of profound tiredness. So, I didn’t judge my efforts too harshly from 1.00 am onwards. Time appeared to proceed more slowly, now. I was reminded of hospitals at night:


2.00 pm. A bite to eat was in order. As I got tireder, my activities became more physical and urgent. A second bout of sleep-urgency struck. ‘Keep busy; keep hydrated; eat a Mars Bar, John!’. 2.10 am. A curious and beguiling piece emerged from the most obvious of strategies. And, after I’d switched off the input from the turntables, the samplers and filters continued to cycle the voices within themselves. Every iteration of the sources was different. I sat back and listened to the machines compose quite independently of me:


There was a satisfying completeness to the outcome. This was not a sample; this was a composition. I was cast back upon myself.

3.00 am. My eyes grew tired before any other member of my body. Having stood for the best part of fifteen hours, my feet ached also. It was time to put them up, darken the room further, and reflect on my activities so far. A time for silence. I wondered when dawn would break and signal the beginning of the final phase. 4.10 am. In an early morning letter to an equally early bird, I wrote: ‘I’m between profound tiredness and euphoria, and in this state I’ve produced some of the best work of the past 17 hours’.

5.00 pm. I was running-dry on strategies … with seven hours of work still in front of me.


6.22 am. The first seagull’s call. 6.40 am. A perceivable daybreak. Slowly, the library reawakened:


7.00 am. I was in the grip of a strong desire for breakfast. I pressed on with modifying samples that I’d captured to the Roland device sometime after 2.00 am. The loops sounded a little too upbeat for my purposes. 8.15 am. The restaurant did not open until 9.00 am. In the meantime … I turned off all the modulators and recorded the raw sound from the turntables played, in parallel, and by hand(s). ‘Am I missing something?’, I asked myself. ‘Is this something in this medium and recording that I’ve not yet extracted? I’m attracted more to the unadulterated form of the source than to its modified or modulated version. A raw sound that yields its magic without tampering is precious.

9.10 am. It wasn’t full-English, and I shouldn’t have been consuming most of those things on the tray, but I needed a filler:


9.30 am. I continued in the same vein. A fortuitous meeting, yesterday and today, with a representative from the People’s Collection Wales, has given me a steer on how I should focus my image>sound project proposal. It’s beautiful. 10.30 am. There weren’t so many customers at my stall this morning; any visitors to the library were herded from one part to the another on the grand tour. 12.00 pm. Done! It took an hour to pack the equipment away and ship out (courtesy of Mr Garrett and his family-mobile). 2.30 pm. Following lunch, I caught up on emails and slept for an hour and a half.

7.30 pm. Off to the Postgraduate (MA) exhibition, which officially opened at the School this evening:


The turn out had the buzz of the May BA and MA shows. What an encouragement for the students:


By 9.00 pm. I was ready to hit the sack.

September 24, 2015

7.30 am. The big day; the long day. The prisoner ate a hearty breakfast before acting upon several good ideas that broke his sleep at 4.30 am this morning. 9.00 am. On the mark, Mr Garrett arrived to ship my gear to the National Library of Wales. I was astonished that it all fitted into his hatchback with space to spare. 9.30 am. Unpacked, installed, and readied to unbox:


9.45 am. The next phase is always the most stressful: putting the kits together, pressing ‘on’, and hoping everything works as well as it did in the studio. (The whole system was fully tested before dismantling. But that may mean nothing now.)

11.3o am. With the set-up completed, I put into action a thorough operational run, component by component:


12.00 am. My 24-hour open studio had begun. Immediately, members of the public poked their heads around the door. I found the conversations encouraging. They grasped and enthused about the concept, and seemed to genuinely engage, emotionally, with the sounds that were being produced:


It takes a little time to acclimatise to a different working environment — in effect to be simultaneously fully aware of, and oblivious to, it as one works. At 1.00 pm, Drs Noland and Roberts made a supportive visit. We discussed how a project such as this could be considered ‘research’, and the possibility of returning to this venue with the project in a performance capacity.

2.00 pm. I fielded the questions from more visitors. Nothing wrong with that; that’s the whole point of an open-studio event: public engagement. I soon realised that most of the serious work would only take place once the library had closed, at 6.00 pm. I concentrated on developing my turntable dexterities, and made slow-motion sound capture from both units simultaneously, and played the modified sounds derived from the recordings of the engravers in the background. The process of composition involves an integration of the sound of the voices and of the engravings. So, I needed to get use to hearing them together.

5.33 pm. Mrs H delivered my dinner, and work continued:


6.10 pm. The Library was closed. Only a few security guards, who’d be patrolling the building periodically throughout the night, were in the building. I’m appreciating the architecture of the Drwm, now that I’ve bonded with the environment. The reverberant acoustics of the interior were perfect for my purposes:


7.00 pm. I considered rerouting the looper array by taking it from of the end of the effects chain and placing it at the beginning. I’d not the additional cable types with me to implement the plan at the library. And, on into the early evening, with 15 hours to go:


My attention was now focussed on creating short looped samples from a manipulation of the turntables, with motors off, which were afterwards processed and recorded. The temperature dropped moderately. I began turning off as much of the Drwm‘s ambient lighting as I could in order to concentrate the illumination on the area around the console. The night was young:


My movements within the library were confined to a corridor leading to the toilets. The emptiness and darkness of the interior, set against the sound track of the somewhat menacing drawl of my looped samples, was a little unsettling. Outside the Drwm, they sounded like the growls of some dreadful prowling beast. (Shouldn’t the security guards be looking in on me more often? What happened to them?) :



9.30 pm. I was conscious of noises in and outside the room:  the drone of a refrigerator cooling; automated switches turning on and off; doors closing a far off; and bumps and cracks as the building contracts in the night air. Time to put on my hoody!

10.00 pm. Like a man cast adrift on the ocean without prospect of immediate rescue, I began rationing myself squares of chocolate and my remaining biscuits. My body began to protest. It wanted sleep. This would be the first of several rebellions against the glorious cause that I’d have to fight off before daybreak. 10.30 pm. A distraction: I watched a YouTube tutorial to learn how to edit samples on one of my devices. (I feel someone’s watching me, too!):


11.30 pm. The day has been an immersive experience. I’ve developed new facilities and awareness; I’m more comfortable with my gear; and I’ve, now, a store of useable material. 11.59 pm. Half way! But the worst is yet to come.

September 23, 2015

9.00 am. A PhD Fine Art consultation, followed a final MA Art History tutorial and a visit to a local supermarket to replenish the School’s milk supplies. My Sophos software has disabled itself and I cannot print from my office laptop to the School’s printer. (Is it me, or what?) I worked to the accompaniment of the painter and decorator’s radio. Do any of these workmen ever tune to Radio 3 or 4, I wonder? I’m all for bringing art and sound together … but on my own terms, please:


10.30 am. The finalisation of admin for the afternoon’s Postgraduate Induction meetings. 11.00 am. Ms Kennedy and I made preparations for the postgraduate welcome fayre at 12.00 pm:


Many of the current MA contingent were present to lend support and alleviate the burden of so much food. (Their thoughtfulness knows no bounds.) 2.00 pm. The start of postgraduate induction. We have as sparky and committed a bunch as ever. One must leave them with a sense that they are at the foothill of an exceedingly tall and delectable mountain whose peak is shrouded by a golden mist.

3.30 pm. Back at homebase, I continued packing equipment and considering the logistics of what will be one of the longest ‘night watch’ seasons that I’ll have ever kept. How cold could the Drwm get at 3.00 am? What will be the lighting conditions in that space after dark? What provisions will I need to ease me through the night to early morning: water, hot drinks, fruit, energisers, etc.? Not knowing is thrilling.

4.10 pm. Yesterday’s software problem was resolved. I packed more cables and connectors than I’m likely to use. One never knows what time and chance may throw your way. (The multiple, electronicky failures already this week have been cautionary in this respect.) I was most likely to forget something that was just under my nose. So, I took time to look … just under my nose.

7.00 pm. BBC Radio are considering interviewing me and recording my efforts at the Drwm, either tomorrow or Friday. (No pressure, then!) Well, we’ll see; sometime these opportunities never materialise. On with the packing, schlepping (down three flights of stairs), and list making. I now feel comfortable that I’ve done all to ensure that all the equipment is accounted for and safely transportable. In order to be audacious one must first be careful.

An inky September evening:


My last ‘gig’ at the Drwm was in 2011, when I gave a lecture on the R R B V E Ǝ T N Ƨ O A suite, and afterwards a premiere live performance of the opening track, Abort Nerves:


9.30 pm. Done. A sound night’s sleep would be welcome.

September 22, 2015

Change and decay in all around I see (Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847)).


8.30 am. A rifle through the inbox, a rearrangement of my calendar, and a rapid response to a problem (not of my making) that has come to light in connection with the event on Thursday. One must proceed with clarity of mind, good will, patience, and a viable back-up plan. These aren’t good days to be liaising with public art institutions. They’re under a financial squeeze, demoralised, and facing grave uncertainties about their futures. One must do what one can, as well as one can, together.

9.30 am. A back-up plan was initiated. My teaching calendar began to fill … alarmingly! 10.30 am. A phone call from the event manager indicated that the problem was being dealt with and Plan A may be realisable (with some tweaking and compromise). All partners in a project should endeavour to deliver on their commitments. That’s the honourable way. 11.30 pm. Feeling for funding. In an ideal world, The Aural Bible II: The Bible in Translation CD would be a double album. But that will require me to find twice as much money as presently set aside for the project. 12.30 pm. Good to see our PhD students pushing their subject into public debate:


I’ve a mind to make a sonic interpretation Sandra Sagan’s (an MA Fine Art finalist) work. The project would not require an audience, just the occasion to play, compose, and record. Indeed, the most acceptable response may require, of necessity, that I closet myself in the gallery and treat it as a recording studio rather than as a performance arena. I have until October 2 to decide:


1.40 pm. A delicious gluten-free Scotch egg for lunch. A little email banter about the temptations of modular synthesiser purchases with with my playmate in sound, Dr Roberts, before continuing with the Abstraction module admin. (New modules take up an inordinate amount of time at their inception.)

3.30 pm. Off to School to retrieve some of my visual work and clear my office thereby. The studios await their guests, expectantly:


By the end of the afternoon, most of the Abstraction admin was in place.

7.30 pm. Into the studio to test one of the two MacBooks that I’ll be using on Thursday and its connection to an analogue/digital converter. An irksome but necessary procedure. The only problem presently outstanding concerns the transportation of equipment. I began packing gear into store boxes in readiness. 9.15 pm. An unexpected software installation problem. (It’s been that sort of week.) I’ve two back-up plans (possibly three).

September 21, 2015

Too many cooks, and not enough Indians (JH, Facebook, 15 08 13)

Semester 1, Day 1. Affixed to my office door — a lovely surprise — one of Ben Partridge’s (a current MA Fine Art finalist) polargraph drawings of Mr Croft and I (looking wizened and grizzly, as always):


9.00 am. In deep. The MA Fine Art show has been completed. The MA Art Historians have until Friday to submit their dissertations. The first tutorial of the day was to that end — a review of final drafts, a dose of encouragement and optimism, and a listening ear:


9.45 am. A pastoral telephone call with an intending student who’s going through life’s mill. ‘Count your blessings, John!’ 10.10 am. The first-year newbies begin to arrive. The School resonates once more. 10.20 am. Mad! Mad! Mad! You think you’re ahead in the race, but then realise that all the runners behind are in fact two laps ahead of you. Then … software (which has behaved perfectly up until now) played up after being either updated or reinstalled. Once, my entire hard drive shattered irrecoverably the day before the new academic year began. What is it about this season that makes electronic equipment protest so?

I sent advice to my Abstraction tutees that expressed the preferred protocol for attendance at all my lectures:

Because this is a new module, the Blackboard content will be built week-by-week. By the beginning of the teaching semester (next Monday), the examination requirements will be visible. Each lecture folder will contain the PowerPoint and a podcast of that lecture. Some students find it helpful to take notes from these recordings rather than during the lecture. Personally, I prefer students to attend with their eyes and ears — ‘in the moment’ — rather than feverishly scribble or type. Of course, take notes of ideas (your ideas) that come to you while listening and viewing; but don’t feel that you have to make a transcript of what I’m saying.

12.10 pm. Off for a haircut. ‘A tidy mop makes for a tidy mind’.

1.00 pm. Lunch. 1.40 pm. A reference writ, I caught up on the Facebook communities related to the modules that I co-ordinate and teach. A Postgraduate Studies page is the latest addition to the portfolio:

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Since the School has had a paint job done inside and out recently, I thought that a spruce up of the School’s the Facebook and Twitter artwork, too, was in order … over a cup of tea.

4.00 pm. Back to module boot-up admin. My event poster arrived, courtesy of Mr Holland’s able hand and mouse:


6.30 pm. One of my two computer screens went dead. What’s happening? 7.00 am. Off to School and to the Freshers’ Welcome Party. Whether you’re 18+ or 50+, the prospect of beginning university is daunting and exhilarating in equal measure. We had a good turn out of earnest, apprehensive, but otherwise self-assured students, who quickly adapted to the spirit of the evening. Students today are better able to deal with new social situations than was I at their age:



9.10 pm. Homeward, in the drizzle:


September 19, 2015


9.00 am. Son Mk II — ready to ship out and join his elder brother in a prestigious northern university. But he’ll still be joined to us by love, Messenger, and a financial umbilical cord. 9.30 am. I went fresh vegetable hunting at the Food Fayre on Baker Street. There is no baker on this street these days; or, rather, there is/are several, but only today and on the occasion of the Christmas Fayre. I  purchased a pasty for my lunch from one, and returned home — scholarly journal in hand — …


… to complete the fifth Abstraction lecture, attend to Freshers’ matters, and review an MA Art History writing submission. Freshers bring out the parent/socialist in me:

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2.00 pm. Note to self: ‘Don’t forget to watch Dr Who tonight. Just don’t!’. Good to see Capaldi adapting the Tardis interior to his character. (Well, he was once an art student.) Into the sound studio to put the DJ-esque equipment through a series of tests and set ups in readiness for next week’s outing. One must take responsibility for, and ensure the performance of, everything. Oh, for a roady and a sound engineer! In the meantime, I must be them. The problem with electrical equipment is that it can fail without either warning or apparent reason at a crucial moment. Professionalism, then, is not about prevention but, rather, repairs and reaction — knowing how to deal with the situation and having a plan B, when necessary.

Everything is tickety-boo for now. (But this may mean nothing on Thursday and Friday.):


5.15 pm. Press ‘off’. 6.30 pm. A family-less evening. I ignited my limited culinary skills and cooked up a passable fried rice. I don’t follow recipes; it’s all improvisation. Yum!:


7.15 pm. A Palmery sunset: