Month: January 2016

January 19, 2016

8.30 am. A survey of incoming mail, a review of my diary, a thoughtfulness about the day ahead, and, then, on with the meat of the morning … with expectation: ‘thou knowest not what a day may bring forth’. 9.00 am:


I pressed on with the second conspectus for the book while, at the periphery of my focus, making tentative notes towards a presentation on working with sound; this will be delivered as part of the university’s postgraduate research training provision, in early March. Once ideas are objectified in writing, the mind can see, and think beyond, them:


By 11.00 am, I’d developed a firm sense of which topics the presentation should embrace and, tangentially, how I should break into the conspectus with all guns blazing. And it was to this that I turned my attention next. The intent is to distance the book’s conceptual approach from that of its rivals. Every publication needs to justify its existence and appeal to the market. Publishing is business after all.

1.40 pm. I removed the Moog Analogue Delay effector from the handboard and, in its place, inserted two TC Electronic delays after each of the Electro-Harmonix synth engines. I’ll test my intuitions regarding the change mid afternoon, over a cuppa. Meanwhile, back to the notebook:


This book poses a significant challenge. I need to break into a subject which I’ve already dealt with at length in a recent publication: The Bible as Visual Culture. To do so, will require a new methodological approach and framework for discussion. By mid afternoon, the faintest glimmer of an alternative began to make its presence felt. 4.30 pm. I tested the new handboard configuration. As I’d anticipated, the addition of the two delay effectors enhanced my facility to sustain samples from, and vary the decay rate of, the modulated output. Back, then, for a final stint on the conspectus before the close of the afternoon.

6.15 pm. Practise session 1. 7.15 pm. One thing I do know …  As I move towards the third and final stage of my career, my activities will become less diverse, although my interests and enthusiasms may not. Instead, they’ll converge on one or more preoccupations. In order to bring this about, I shall need to prune. Inevitably, this will be an uncomfortable and, perhaps, unpopular, process. Some fruitful branches of endeavour will have to be sacrificed in order for the most fruitful ones to thrive. Needs must!

7. 30 pm. Further teaching admin was disposed as I worked my way up the years through to the MA and PhD levels.

January 18, 2016

8.30 am. Grim news for the workforce at Port Talbot Steelworks:

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The Steel Work [working title] project is now very timely, therefore. It was developed, at the invitation of the Peoples’ Collection Wales, as a response to the deposit of over 2,000 glass-plate negatives of the Port Talbot Steelworks (PTS), which they’ve recently acquired, and which were hitherto unknown. The negatives depict the plant during the first two decades of its existence. PTS was, and remains, one of the largest steel manufacturers in Europe. Presently the plant, and UK Steel in general, are under threat from imports of the alloy from China more cheaply, with the threat of job losses (now realised) and possible closure. Consequently, this may be one of last opportunities to engage artistically with a living industry, and one of the great contributors to Wales’ industrial heritage. The project is envisaged as a visual-sound articulation aimed at promoting the collection within an academic and a public sphere.

I wrote to one of the project organisers:

Presently, I’m envisaging a sound response to both the glass-plate slides and the steelworks as it looks and sounds today. The ‘soundscape’ would be performed live, and so could form part of an event aimed at promoting this collection and public debate in the Port Talbot and South Wales region. I’ve also been discussing, more generally, the new methodological approaches to converting digital images, such as those made from the glass slides, into sound analogues with Professor Reyer Zwigglaar at Computer Science. As such, I believe the project could develop into one that has meaningful public impact, while at the sometime breaking new artistic and academic ground.

9.00 am. I opened and dispatched responses to my unread mail, and made ready for a trip to the campus to participate in the delivery of a Research Supervisors’ Training session:


I’ve attended this session more times that I can remember. However, the discussions never fail to raise new issues, imponderable questions, and fresh and relevant insights, and are never less than open and mutually supportive. Personally, I derive a great deal from learning about different disciplinary perspectives on PhD supervision.

12.15 pm. At homebase, I used the awkward three quarters of an hour before lunch to deal with responses to my morning’s dispatches, and others beside. (Do the small things in the small intervals.)  1.40 pm. I resolved Saturday’s volume pedal problem by fitting it into the return signal path of the handboard loop:


2.00 pm. Back to ‘The Bible and Visual Culture’ [working title] book, which Bloomsbury Publishers had commissioned, and on with the development of the second conspectus.

6.15 pm. Practise session 1. I concentrated on developing a tonal palette for the guitar using only a Moog MF Drive effector with a filter, controlled by an expression pedal, together with a wash of a subtle chorus and reverb. The outcome was extraordinarily musical, enabling me to summon a range of moods from the elegiac and melancholic to the aggressively ‘heavy’.

7.15 pm. Module admin: notifications of introductory and initial classes, curriculum amendment, Blackboard spring-cleaning, and email broadcasts. It takes time, but must be done.

January 16, 2016

9.30 am. Making good on common courtesies following the symposium yesterday, I wrote to one of the speakers from the session that I had charge over:

I didn’t have the opportunity to show my appreciation for your paper and presentation yesterday. You delivered it with consummate professionalism and economy. I also enjoyed your work too. Fascinating. It reminded me of my experiences in the Linnaeus’s garden and house at Uppsala, Sweden. I was staying at a hotel, during an autumn conference, the back door of which opened onto the garden. The hotel guests were allowed to explore it freely. And, being out of season, one was often alone in the garden. A rich experience.

10.15 am. Cleaning! The study and studio needed a sparkle:


I always disable the computers’ keyboards before cleaning; a brisk run over with a duster can accidentally activate a combination of keys that can place a device into a deep sleep from which it might never wake up.

11.45 pm. Off to lunchtime music recital at Holy Trinity Church:


Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, music does not happen. The score can be first rate, the notes played in the right order, the range of dynamics appropriate, and a sense of togetherness among the musicians evident, and yet …  There was a composition by one of the performers, however, where the ‘spirit’ did descend.

1.10 pm. I returned home for lunch via the Farmers’ Market. 2.00 pm. Back to the studio, in order to review and adjust section 4, as well as to test the new sampler/looper in the reconfigured handboard section. The sound was ‘dead’ on boot up. There may be an issue with the volume pedal being placed after the sampler/looper; it should, in any case, have been on the return path from the handboard to the loop-switch unit. Ha hum! Then a hum. And then it was working again.

Now that the network of pedalboards and the handboard and their effectors have been completed, both it and I need to be disciplined in relation to one another. In essence, the network is a single, complex instrument, which I must now explore fully and learn how to play.

4.00 pm. Some taxy business, one week before the deadline for submission. Yawn!:

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5.15 pm. Done! 6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. An evening with my wife.

January 15, 2016

9.00 am. Hail, rain, wind, blow: the background noise against which I competed periodically throughout the morning:


As is my habit, I reviewed those sections in progress (they won’t be finished until they’re finished, and that wont be until the whole composition is resolved), made minor but significant tweaks, before settling to section 4 — the abrasive, nasty one. This section arrived too complete too soon. That was a blessing and a curse. Both had to be broken. Rather than intervene immediately, I, instead, began building another and independent structure of sound derived from my set of turntabled voice samples. I extracted over 20 from the set, and simply threw them together without any preconceptions. (Sometimes one can overthink a problem.) Thereafter, the pieces were moved around the ‘board’ until they formed a serviceable shape.

12.00 pm. I concentrated on section 4 as a whole, once again, and inserted the new elements plus the descent motif. Then, I endeavoured to reconcile the elements.

1.30 pm. Each needed to find its place and volume in relation to the others, and to be modified tonally and spatially. This is mundane, first order, organisation, but one cannot move forward without doing it. 2.30 pm. I headed for the Arts Centre, where I was chairing the final session of the day’s art and science symposium:

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The delegates and speakers were committed, thoughtful, and spoke as though something genuinely important was at stake. Which of course it is. 5.00 pm. Homeward. There was the anticipation of snow in those Ruisdaelesque clouds:


6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.15 pm. A little email catch-up before I scurried back into the sound studio. A thought came to me, forcibly, while en route to Arts Centre: ‘Dismantle section 4. Take the voice of God, and place it at the beginning’. I always take such moments of auditive intuition very seriously. So, in the evening, I acted upon it. Clarity emerged, as does so often in any medium or discipline when the elements are separated out and can, then, be experienced individually and distinctly. Once the change had been made, the remainder of the composition fell into place effortlessly, following its own internal logic. This was my ‘fast track’:


January 14, 2016

9.00 am. It’s a blessing to see a different cloudscape:


I released the feedback forms for my second and third year painting modules. None of my students have anything to be ashamed of, and all have everything to work for. For my part, the challenge is to construct a bespoke plan of action for each, in collaboration with their intent. During this next semester, as they assume complete responsibility for their subject matter and course of action for the first time, the stabilisers will be finally removed from the back wheels of their bikes; they’ll be free to travel wherever they like, as fast as they like, and … to loose their balance.

9.30 am. Back into the sound studio, and on with a revision of ‘Image and Inscription”s section 2. The first task was to apply the principles that improved section 1. The second task, to align the pace of this section with that of its predecessor. To do so, I had, in my mind’s ear, to listen to a metronome without a beat. In order to get back into the composition again, it has to be torn apart and reassembled. Breaking and making are inextricably linked. 11.45 am. Section 3 was in the preparatory stages only when I’d last attended to it. As such, the possibilities remained wide open. In order to advance the piece, I needed to return to the drones that I’d derived from the sound of the texts’ engraving. A significant shift in the tonal complexion of the composition, in toto, was now called for.

1.40 pm. Section 3 deals with Moses descent from Mount Sinai and his recount to the Israelites of the God’s speech on the summit. The scene ends with the people, corporately, voicing their promise to uphold his will. This would be dramatic moment at which the tonal shift occurs. A loud clamour range out from the studio monitors:


At the close of the section, I alluded to Moses’s second ascent (Exod. 19.8). The move will permits section 4 to start at verse 9 and on the Mount, with the voice of God: a further and far greater dramatic moment.

6.20 pm. Practise session 1. 7.20 pm. A review of sections  2 and 3, and the commencement of section 4 . The sound at the opening is very dark and heavy — like a chorus of overdriven electric guitars —  in keeping with the threats and forebodings described in verses 9 to 13. I’ve been struck by God’s pronouncement : ‘Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee …’ (Exod. 19. 9). Obscurity and proximity:

Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, woodcut (15th-16th centuries)
(courtesy of Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts)

I have been looking at old prints depicting Moses on Mount Sinai throughout the project. The woodcut renderings emblematise events; little by way of an emotional content is expressed.

8.30 pm. I gathered up material, sent to me by Mr Ruddock (one of my PhD Fine Art students), in preparation for the ‘Strata: Art and Science Collaborations in the Anthropocene’ symposium, tomorrow. He’d called upon me to chair the final session.

January 13, 2016

8.55 am:DSC00075

9.00 am. A further morning of second year, fine art feedback tutorials. Some observations and principles:

  • Positive and productive change is always possible. But’s its sometimes surprising when it happens.
  • Printmakers and photographers often begin with the medium and the technique and then work their way towards the subject; whereas painters tend make their journey in the opposite direction.
  • There are two possibilities for students who work across several mediums: either the practices continue to be pursued independently, or else they increasingly converge upon one another. Neither scenario is preferable, although one may be more appropriate.
  • The seeds of your present were planted in your past. The shoots of your future are contained within them. Realise, and rejoice in, that continuity; look to what you’re doing in order to understand what you must do.

1.00 pm. No lunch for the wicked! 1.10 pm. Our sole, full-time, MA Fine Art, Portfolio assessment. Very encouraging. 2.00 pm: Mr Croft (sub) and I assessed the third year, fine art, Research, Process, and Practice presentations:


I admired the students’ candour and brave self disclosure as much as I did the insightfulness of their contributions. Encapsulating oneself and one’s work, and projecting such to your peers and assessors poses a considerable challenge.

6.00 pm. Practise session 1. 7.00 pm. A day’s worth of assessments needed to be distilled into feedback reports by the end of the evening. (Some Miles Davis, c.1970, to lubricate the mind and inspire the creative spirit. I discovered this material when I was 14 years of age. It was like hearing music for the first time again.):


Some typifying feedback comments on the Research, Process, and Practice presentations:

  • You switched effortlessly, and to good effect, between a verbatim mode and a more extemporary manner.
  • Throughout, you maintained an intimate relationship between what was being said and what was being shown. No mean feat.
  • Read towards the audience and not your feet.
  • You presented a critical and well-comprehended assessment of your contribution to the field.
  • An authoritative and engaging introduction that made sensible and varied use of technology.
  • You’ve a gift for this, and it should be fostered further.
  • Throughout, you were yourself. That’s a virtue.
  • Writing out the piece helps to consolidate ideas and clarify intent.
  • Your conviction convinced me.
  • You revealed the inner processes of thought and making.

January 12, 2016

8.45 am. Against strong winds and beating raining, I advanced towards the School. 8.55 am. The room for the morning’s fine-art feedback tutorials was readied:


Some principles and observations:

  • A student may begin their studies from a position of strength, and end them in weakness. The reverse is also true, and more commonly the case.
  • At any one point in your development, you won’t be equally competent in everything, or in every aspect of any one thing. The principle of inconsistency is a constant built into the fabric of reality.
  • It’s one thing for a tutor to see the qualities and potential of a student’s work, quite another for the student to do so. We are apt to see our shortcomings with searing intensity, while being wholly oblivious to our strengths. Tutoring is, in part, an endeavour ‘to give sight to the blind’.

11.00 am. Following the last minute cancellation of a consultation meeting at the National Library of Wales, I returned to homebase to write-up my feedback reports and compose a letter to the working group overseeing future research collaborations with the Library. Due to my assessment commitments, I’m unable to attend tomorrow’s inaugural meeting. 12.30 pm. I updated my selection of research outputs for REF. The squall persists, despairingly:


2.00 am. The new sampler/looper has arrived. This’ll fit into the handboard array that I redesigned on Saturday. A test run will be in order at some point during this day’s proceedings:


3.00 pm. I came back to section 1 of ‘Image and Inscription’, in order to review yesterday evening’s modifications. They’d wrought a substantial improvement to the overall cohesion of the 2-minute section. The devil is, indeed, in the detail. The small adjustments, and continued to make today, revealed the compositional logic of the whole — which was not evident (or to which I wasn’t yet attuned) previously.  It’s perhaps strange to talk in terms of rhythm in the context of a sound work that has no time signature or metre. But it’s there … in the pace, in the sonic anticipations, events, and their ebb, and in that fabric of the totality which is apprehended more by feeling rather than by hearing.

6.30 pm. Back into the studio to modify hardware on this occasion. The task was simply satisfying; improvements were immediate. The looper worked a treat. 7.45 pm. An evening at the cinema with the family. My younger son wanted me to see the new Star Wars film. ‘I have a bad feeling about this …’. My grim forebodings weren’t disappointed. I’m no fan.

January 11, 2016

David Bowie was one of us — a former art student, and an artist whose creative energies could not be contained within the boundaries of any one discipline. His painting, acting, fashion, writing, and composing, either singularly or in combination, were evidence of a creative genius (and the epithet is unquestionably deserved in his case) whose relentless talent and capacity for original vision was in excess. To my mind, he contributed far more to the history of rock and pop than the Beatles ever did. His music was fine art. The ‘Berlin trilogy’ (1976-9) especially, on which Brian Eno (another former art student and musician) collaborated, shaped my musical landscape with the force of an earthquake. Eno’s heartfelt sentiments on Twitter were surprising, coming from someone who wears the badge of ‘evangelical atheist’ so proudly. To know peace and rest, the deceased must experience a measure of postmortem consciousness … an afterlife. Perhaps the concept of eternal oblivion is too much to bear — to believe — when it implies the complete cessation of those whom we love and respect, whose vitality and presence in this life was so profound:

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9.00 am. I held a rescheduled Year Tutor meeting before attending the day’s second year feedback tutorials, along with Mr Webster and several of our MA Fine Art students, who were attending as part of their teaching-experience on the Vocational Practice module. Some principles and observations:

  • Face up to what you cannot do and avoid doing. These are your priorities.
  • Your future subject matter is currently waiting at your elbow.
  • Why are the little works, made on the margins of our operations, often among our best?
  • Virtues are harder won than skills.
  • Add to your paint-box: perseverance, fortitude, stamina, and bananas.
  • Reckon on it: one day you may achieve more than some of those artists who presently influence you.
  • Choose heroes worthy of you.

12.20 pm. I made a foray into town to buy new light bulbs for my studio desk lamps. No doubt the town decorations will be taken down before the summer holidaymakers return:


1.40 pm. An afternoon filling out feedback forms, and essentialising the outcomes and recommendations of the morning’s discussions. 4.45pm. I responded to email requests for assistance. My prospective working life is getting busier.

6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. Back to the first section of  ‘Image and Inscription’. I’d deliberately withdrawn from the project for a period in order to give myself a fresh perspective on my return. Sometimes time makes all the difference. My immediate response was that the piece needed to be shortened in order for the incidents to ebb and flow and follow on from one another more swiftly. The dynamics of the tracks were also enhanced:

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9.30 pm. Practise session 2.

January 9, 2016

9.00 am. More admin-type tasks: follow-up emails, module scheduling and curriculum updates and posting, and responding to the unforeseen. The challenge is to remain creatively intelligent in the dutiful dispatch of the mundane. One should aim to plan in advance of life at all times. 11.20 am. A long-overdue return to the studio. But a little tidying and reorganisation was required before a serious engagement could commence. This, in part, was the preparation of the mind for intention.

12.00 am. The pedalboard and handboard arrays, which I’d designed over the Christmas holidays, required a rationalisation of wiring routes and an ergonomic arrangement describing an arc beneath my feet and at my right hand, to permit ease of access to all switches and controls:


1.40 pm. I completed the morning’s tasks, and began to schematise the connections:


There is one signal route that I’d been able neither to resolve nor properly conceive. (Before a solution can be found, one must first describe the problem as clearly and simply as possible.) I wanted to be able to create a sonic background and, then, switch to solo guitar mode, in order play over it in the foreground. Conventional signal-loop configurations can’t fulfil this function. The answer required the insertion of a sampler/looper on the handboard array, placed after the switching unit, in order to store a sample a sound (up to 5 minutes), permit the handboard array to be then turned off, and for a solo to be played without being routed actively through the handboard while, at the same time, hearing the sample recorded through that array behind the solo:


5.00 pm. ‘Silencio!’ 6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. An evening with my family.

January 8, 2016

9.00 am. Fine-art painting assessments commence. The readied room:


All in all, an encouraging morning. One must never give up on students; some have the capacity to produce the ripe fruit, but only at the end of the season. Patience, expectation, and nail biting are called for. Some principles and observations:

  • What makes a painter is often the subject.
  • No amount of talent can make up for a lack of hard work and commitment.
  • Work within your limitations while, at the same time, extending beyond them.
  • Small paintings may make a large impact. Conversely, large paintings may make a small impact. It’s not the size but, rather, the intensity of the work that counts.
  • For the exhibition: do the same, only better; don’t veer either to the left or to the right of the path that you’ve laid for yourself; and refine each of the elements that comprise your work in turn.
  • Let others praise you. That’s to say, allow others to acknowledge the worth of your work, and don’t blow your own trumpet.
  • The best is yet to come … always.

At the end of the morning at the School, I walked to the Old College to conduct one further tutorial with student, in situ.

1.30 pm. Lunch on the move. 2.00 pm. I’d arranged a pastoral tutorial, but there was a ‘no show’. 2.30 pm. Back at home base, I wrote up the feedback sheets, filled in my appointments diary further, and caught up on incoming mail:

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6.30 pm Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. Further dairy reconciliations, insertions, excisions, and shunting were undertaken and several academic references composed and posted. There’s an art to creating, maintaining, and balancing periods for teaching, research, and admin. One day, I’ll master it. 9.30 pm. Practise session 2: