Month: September 2015

September 4, 2015

8.30 pm. A short exchange of views with a colleague regarding the completed ‘The Wounded Heart Ministries’ composition and the process of databending:

DR: Thanks for sharing, an interesting run, what was it that you bent? I found that sometimes the most useless looking file yielded the most harmonic/textural fruit. The process of enquiry is often unrewarding. Are you working on a full/long sequence of this? I think with this kind of thing (our kind of thing?) it is either high impact (brevity, volume, irregularity) or immersive (drone and incremental spatial or microtonal adjustment) that brings a satisfying wholeness to the ‘release’.

JH: The thing I ‘bent’ was the screen capture of a glitched website. I converted it into a variety of image formats (JPEG, TIFF, GIF, etc.), then as a RAW format, before importing the files into sound software and saving them in a WAV format. I also sampled sections of the source image (areas of absolute black, white and red, overlaid text, etc.), and afterwards collaged them together as a new whole, one which followed the logic of the source: repeated motifs, superimposition, erasure, deformation, and areas of emptiness, and so forth. 

It’s very hard to extract material from the file conversion that sounds sufficiently engaging. (Much of the source file translated into pink noise.) It’s tempting to process the output too much in order to compensate for its inadequacy — which is rather against the spirit of the unspoken rules of the game, I suspect. So brevity and concision were called for. The track, in its finished form, will be on the forthcoming Bible in Translation CD, along with the piece that I’ll be making at the National Screen & Sound Archive at the end of the month. 

I don’t think this process can yield the results that I need. Which is why I’m in discussion with Computer Science to see whether there are other ways of undertaking image-to-sound file conversion that might give me more consistent and controllable, and less obvious outcomes. 

9.30 am. I made a response to issues related to a much needed upgrade of the School’s main lecture theatre (We need a better sound system!) and recent NSS feedback on our provision, and answered postgraduate queries. 10.30 am. A second push with the fourth lecture for the Abstraction module, while edging the draft mix of ‘The Wounded Heart Ministries’ to a conclusion:


2.00 pm. Third push, and into Malevich and this …


… a book that had a considerable influence on my conception of art history, and sealed the deal on my future career. It was presented to me in 1976, as a school prize for my contribution to Milfraen House — one of the four divisions of my secondary school, each named after a Welsh mountain. Mynydd Milfraen is a mountain close to Nantyglo Comprehensive School, which was closed in 2013. I’m surprised that the buildings hadn’t been demolished by the pupils long before then. Like many comprehensive schools built in the early 1970s, the school was constructed of inadequate materials and furnishings that either punctured, cracked, or fell out within months of our occupation. The art room, drama studio, and music room were my ‘safe zones’. The only places and subjects where I could breath. I was woefully under par in all other dimensions of my education. In truth, I was headed either for the coal pit or an art school:

View of the art rooms, Nantyglo Comprehensive School, 2001

For this reason, I’ve had, ever since, every sympathy for the academic underdog.

Arnason’s magisterial sweep across, and interweaving of, the painting, sculpture, and architecture of Modernism since the mid-19th century remained at my elbow throughout my undergraduate degree. I read it from beginning to end several times during that period. In ambition, clarity, and compelling story telling, it has not been surpassed:


6.30 pm. Fourth push. 9.30 pm. Practise session 2.  Restraint is power. 

September 3, 2015

10.43 am. The voyage home, on a pendulous Pendolino train, and the usual straining and wheezing Arriva Trains Wales charabanc. En route, I caught up on my incoming emails and diary, and ate my way though an M&S corned beef and pickle sandwich. Too often, sandwiches and burgers are swamped by the competing tastes of the meat and the garnish (mayo, pickle, and sauces etc.). I prefer mine simple, and to taste the meat only. (I’m sure Agnes Martin would have been of the same mind.):


No ‘QuietZone’ today. Passengers voiced their private conversations publicly on mobile phones. The telephone kiosk not only provided the caller with privacy but also protected the public from the embarrassment of overhearing.

The last leg, from Machynlleth to Aberystwyth, is never less than mildly painful. The anticipation of arrival changes one’s perception of distance over time:


3.30 pm. Back at homebase, I inaugurated a new pair of carpet slippers. Those sturdy backs will be trodden down in no time:


6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. Further incoming mail and postgraduate and research admin to dutifully dispose: letters to distant doctoral students posted, tutorial dates arranged, and responses to reference requests and research initiatives dispatched.

September 2, 2015

10.30 pm. An escorted visit through the Houses of Parliament had been arranged, courtesy of Mark Williams MP’s office. Once passed the understandably formidable security barriers, I was ushered into Westminster Palace (which has stood on this spot since the twelfth century) and down to the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft (where few visitors are allowed to go). Barry and son’s restoration in the nineteenth century is a wonderful extravagance; the visual equivalent of a cranked-up 100-watt amp. Completely bonkers, and not a little reminiscent of H R Giger’s design for the interior sets of Alien (1979) and Dune (1984):


From there, I passed through lobbies and corridors of power (not a metaphor in this context) to the Houses of Lords and Commons (which, as I’d anticipated, were more intimate spaces than the TV broadcasts suggest). These rooms combine the iconic, emblematic, and surprisingly mundane. The whole establishment is ridden with class, privilege, antiquated ritual, and delightful silliness. All photography is strictly forbidden, so I had to take deliberate, mental snapshots — a practice that’s too easily neglected.

1.30 pm. After lunch at Borough Market (which sits under the guard of Southwark Cathedral, in a scene reminiscent of a medieval fayre), I walked along the embankment to the Tate Modern to see the Agnes Martin exhibition:


Agnes Martin, On a Clear Day (1973). With acknowledgement to the Modern Art Museum Fortworth, Texas

Extracts from ‘The Black Notebook’ (March 10, 2015 – ), 29-30:

Wild blossom soda – like drinking flowers / the subtly of her tonal contrast could make my legs buckle / a manual placement of disks and dots, some somewhat unaligned … human not mechanical / Dominoes – extraordinary / startlingly simple visual propositions / nothing wasted / paintings that invite the viewers to reflect upon themselves / high-key hues that are never sweet or insipid/ hard work and painful patience made covert / masking tape used not to mask but as a guide to drawing a line / an unvarying technique and use of medium (acrylic and graphite on paper or canvas) / At the end of her career, she returned to its beginning / A grid: an otherwise mute and familiar structure that she managed to make both articulate and deeply personal / I recall old cash ledgers / one has to do so much to find so little, and to do so little to find so much / in comparison, all other paintings seem somewhat gross in their materiality.

3.30 pm. On to the National Gallery to see/hear the Soundscapes exhibition:

. With acknowledgement to The National Gallery, London

I’d no expectations and deliberately not read reviews. (I came to it with an ‘innocent’ eye/ear.) The experience began with a helpful, introductory video. The curator had invited musicians (including a remix-DJ) and sound artists to respond to specific paintings in the gallery’s collection. Extracts from ‘The Black Notebook’ (March, 10 2015 – ), 30-31:

the rooms are acoustically insulated one from another; there’s no leakage / the paraphernalia of sound production, discrete / there’s much to be gained from seeing paintings isolated from the herd in a completely neutral and well-illuminated environment / I’m made aware of the kineticism of sound and the stasis of the image / various relationships of the sound to the painting: equivalence, metaphor, analogy, illustration (?) / connections are, in some works, disappointingly tenuous / I’m surprised at the openness and poetics of several musicians’ responses / I find myself not looking at the paintings and, instead, listening to the sound with my eyes closed / we are used to seeing paintings against the backdrop of music in TV documentaries; I have to divest myself of this association in order to apprehend the artists’ very different intent / We always encounter paintings along with an acoustic accompaniment: the shuffle and footfall of gallery visitors, for example

On my departure, a young woman who was canvassing responses to the exhibition, collared me. This was a good opportunity to immediately collect my thoughts and critique my response.

5.00 pm. An early dinner at Harbour City restaurant in Chinatown to fortify myself for a performance of Hamlet at the Barbican Centre, with Benedict Cumberbatch in the leading role:


I was sat in the circle at 45-degrees to the front to the auditorium — a point of view that made both the width and depth of the proscenium stage far more tangible than they are when encountered in parallel perspective. The design was impressive (Bergmanesque), if a little overwhelming at times – better suited to a grand-opera than to a play, perhaps. David Tennant’s Hamlet (2008) had illuminated me. I came away from it understanding something about my own mortality, the dreadfulness of death, the permeable boundary between sanity and madness, and why the play is truly great when rightly grasped. This was not my experience tonight. I felt entertained rather than enriched. Shakespeare should have ended the play with Hamlet’s parting words ‘The rest is silence’.

September 1, 2015


10.30 am. The day of David Trotter’s funeral. When I arrived at Holy Trinity Church to take up my duties as Assistant Warden, the building was already two-thirds full. Present, were faces that I’d not seen in a long time — academics and administrators whom I’d known during my years as Head of Department, in the days when the School was part of the Faculty of Arts. (I do miss that.) Funerals are great levellers. On these occasions, the only important people are the departed and their family. The service drew together solemnity and good humour, honour and loving tributes. One of David’s daughters spoke warmly about his fatherly dedication, imaginative forethought, and zest for life. He was a colossus as much at home among his family as he was in his career. As those who’d paid their last respects followed the bearers, a silence pervaded the church, such as I’d not experienced before. Several hundred people left their pews and filtered out through the main doors and onto Trinity Place without either a single word being spoken or noise, made. It was a most eloquent expression of the sense of tragedy.


12.30 pm. I caught the train to London via Shrewsbury and Crewe – a rather circuitous journey reflected in the price of the ticket. I sat in carriages with inadequate air-conditioning on two out of the three legs of my journey. In the ‘old days’, passengers could control their environment by pulling down a window. These days, our climatic comfort is determined remotely … or not, as the case may be. I sat in the ‘QuietZone’, behind a woman who was noisily rustling a crisp packet and chomping on its contents. I suspect the carriage’s prohibitions do not pertain in this instance:


5.05 pm. The train arrived at London Euston on the dot. Afterwards, I took a brisk walk to visit the British Library before dinner. I’d not worked there or several years. There was time to look in on the Humanities I & II reading rooms – my habitual haunt. They’d not changed; some things shouldn’t. From there, I walked the aisles of the galleries, and peered over the shoulders of young scholars working on their laptops, like an invisible angel in Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire (1987):


7.00 pm. An evening at the Almeida Theatre, where I attended a performance of Euripedes’ Bakkhai [The Bacchae], starring Ben Wishaw. Adaptions of ancient Greek tragedies are hit or miss. This was the latter. The a cappella-chorus sang well, but the music (of which there was far too much) sounded like a second-rate mash-up of cast-offs by Reich, Glass, and Adams. The play had no stylistic continuity, and was too colloquial. The descent into pantomime and school play territory was inevitable:


August 31, 2015

9.00 am. On Saturday, I endeavoured to complete, as far as possible, the third lecture on abstraction by the end of that day, in order to keep  to my schedule. I was too readily tempted to tinker with my mix:

Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 11.49.12

It was possible to do two things at once, so the writing and the mixing went forward in tandem, each one taking a turn in the front seat. You could deliver an entire module on Cubism alone. Compressing and abbreviating a subject — as is inevitable in a module with such a broad sweep — necessarily deforms it. By the close of the afternoon, I’d got three quarters of the way through the lecture.

Bank Holiday in abeyance. I caught up with my inbox, arranged postgraduate tutorials for the next fortnight, and reviewed drafts of statements for the coming MA exhibition. One matter arising gave me pause for thought: self-expression in visual art. I’ve never really understood, or identified with, the concept. It seems to imply the existence of a conduit for the untrammelled communication of thoughts and feelings from the heart, spirit, mind, and imagination, or whatever, to the plastic means of manufacture. Well, if there is, I don’t have it. In my experience, the creative process is a hard and often discouraging graft that involves a battle between personal inadequacy and materials that won’t play ball, and between ideas and their visualisation. I’ll concede that sometimes there, is in the finished work, a faint glimmer of something (I cannot say what) that might (just might) be the shallow imprint of my personhood. But that outcome, while desirable and wondrous, is unintentional. Which does not necessarily imply that it’s also fortuitous. 12.00 pm. Lecture completed. On with travel preparations, and a brief visit to the School to retrieve parcels:


1.40 pm. I listened to the mix again, this time on the studio monitors. What, in particular, am I attending to at this stage?:

  • the presence of each track and each portion of the track in itself and in relation to other tracks that are playing simultaneously;
  • the position and movement (where necessary) of each track within the stereo field: left to right and front to back;
  • the dynamics of each track and each portion of the track, moment by moment, independently and within the overall mix;
  • the position of each track in relation to its contiguous neighbours and others that are playing simultaneously.

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 15.31.35

In the ‘old days’, when the artist would hire a studio by the hour, and hand-over the responsibility (and money) for mixing to someone else (the producer), decisions were made far more quickly and determinately. The craft of sound mixing is subtle and requires a good ear; but, in essence, it’s not unlike that of mixing and balancing colours within a pictorial composition.

6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.45 pm. An end was in sight. Each component part sits comfortably within the mix. There is, now, throughout, sufficient: dynamic and textual contrast; depth of aural space; continuity of movement; and eventfulness, moment-by-moment.