Month: February 2016

February 29, 2016

The ‘last post’ before the hiatus. 8.00 am. Sober, sombre reflection. 8.30 am. There was a great deal of tutorial arrangement, re-arrangement, fitting in, finalising, and notifying to perform before I could excuse myself from my study. 9.50 am. Into the studio, with every intent of completing section 8 and beginning section 9 by the end of the afternoon. The finale of the present section: the two Tables of the Law.


In Hebrew, the Ten Commandments are referred to as the ‘ten utterances’ or ‘ten words’ (aseret hadevarim). I followed the rendering of these utterances recorded by the historians Philo and Josephus, and assigned to each letter of each word of each of the ten statements a separate inscription-like sound with its own tonality:


The statements were then arranged in order, to form a string of 10 samples:


I formatted two versions (representing the two tables) of the string sample, one for the left channel and the other for the right. The right channel version was reversed and played against the left channel version simultaneously. The reverse mode referenced the idea that the tables ‘were written on both their side’ (Exod. 21.15). That is to say, seen from the front side, the text on the rear side would run back-to-front.

By lunchtime, the finale was as complete as it could be, for now. I determined not to listen to the section again for a week. (It’s like placing a painting with its face to the wall for a while.) When I hear it again, this part will sound either very right or very wrong, with nothing in between.

1.40 pm. Emails to answer. 2.00 pm. On with section 9, which begins with the casting and adoration of the golden calf. (As soon as the Israelites receive the commandment prohibiting image making and idolatry, they break it.) The narrative proceeds as follow:

  1. The commission, construction, and consecration of the golden calf.
  2. God tell Moses what’s happening below; God threatens to consume the people because of their disobedience; Moses intercedes on their behalf; and God repents of his intent.
  3. Moses [and the elders, presumably] descends the mount; Moses and Joshua hear the people shout and sing; and, later, see them dancing before the calf.
  4. In anger, Moses breaks the two Tables of the Law and burns the calf.
  5. Aaron explains to Moses what had happened in his absence.
  6. Moses passes a death sentence on those who were not faithful to Yahweh; the Levites execute that judgement.
  7. Moses ascends the mount to make atonement for the peoples’ sin.
  8. Moses hears God’s description of the promised land.
  9. Moses descends [this is implied rather than described]; he sets up the Tabernacle; God speak to him, now, from out of a cloudy pillar at the door of Tabernacle; God talks of a forthcoming encounter, when his ‘goodness’ will pass before Moses.
  10. God commands Moses to make two new Tables of the Law (copies of the original); and Moses ascends the mount once again.

This section ends in the same way as section 8, with the Tables of the Law. Throughout this project, I’ve found myself in the same position as a film director of biblical epics: faced with the dilemma of what to leave out, telescope, and highlight from the welter of narrative incidents. 3.30 pm. I returned to the study, to deal with correspondence:


4.00 pm. On with section 9. I jumped in at the point where the Israelites were shouting and singing, and dancing before the golden calf (Exod. 32.17-19). The quality of my work is in direct proportion to the quality of my attentiveness.

6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. A preparatory email to my, albeit small, sound ensemble, who’ll be assembling on Thursday for the ‘Ways of Working with Sound’ workshop:

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 19.45.48

It’ll be a bit of a party game. But ‘fun’ can be an effective attitude in which to conduct education, sometimes. And, if you’re going to address the subject of sound, you need to be prepared to make a colossal din. Once I had added several examples of sonic artists’ work, the PowerPoint presentation was structurally complete. All that needed to be added were some examples from my own outings in databending and circuit bending:


February 27, 2016

7.30 am. Arose. 8.30 am. A review of my inbox before a dispatch of sundry domestic chores. 9.00 am. Day 2 of section 8. Moses and the elders of Israel are someway up Mount Sinai, where they receive a vision of God:

And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness (Exod. 24.10).

John Ruskin had something to say about this aspect of ‘clearness’, as I recall. (I must look that up.) It’s curious that the description focusses on God’s feet and the surface beneath them. Perhaps only those elements were visible; perhaps, the sight of his entire visage would have been unbearable. There are several rationales governing the prohibitions of the second command. The danger of idolatry is only one. The other concerns the nature of God himself. He is, in essence, an invisible spirit. Thus, any visual representation of him would falsify his ‘image’. It was not for humankind to imagine him in any shape or form. God’s auto-self-visualisation in this passage is likely to have been a type of symbolic and anthropomorphic picturing. A little later on in the text, Moses has another sight of God or, rather, of an attribute of his person: his glory, which was ‘like a devouring fire’ — bright, fierce, terrifying, threatening and, one assumes, noisy too (Exod. 24.17).

Sapphire and fire. Clarity and ferocity. These would need to be the defining contrasts of my sonification of the two ‘sights’ of God. That sapphire ‘clearness’ would be expressed as a sound like ice on polished steel:


The fire would be realised as an aggressive wall of noise comprising a superimposition of several high-gain versions of the engraving recordings:


1.40 pm. Thereafter, it was all down hill: the visions were followed by a repetition of the initial monologue sequence, to mark the return to law giving and, in addition, a description of the design and accoutrements associated with the Tabernacle and its priesthood (one of the most visual expressions of Judaic religion). The section ends with an extreme, left/right, stereophonic evocation of God’s finger writing the two Tables of the Law (Exod. 31.18). The whole was not finished yet; the loose end will be tied up on Monday.

3.00 pm. Back to the very physical realms of plugs, wires, power supplies, and effectors. I’ve had in mind building a two-tier pedal board for my practice sessions, principally. The upper board, which is antonymous and had already been constructed, would be detachable and piggy-back on the lower one:


5.20 pm. Press ‘Esc’! 7.00 pm. An evening with my wife.

February 26, 2016

O wretched man that I am! (Rom. 7.24).

5.30 am. I awoke from a strange and unsettling dream in which a British PhD student living in the Middle East threatened to sue me (the supervisor) for criticising their work. (Perhaps this is the shape of things to come.) 8.00 am. An unburdening. Remorse. Weariness. Self-despair. Yearning. 8.45 am. A day in the sound studio. I placed two pieces, extracted from the same sound sample, together; something began to move. In the first part of the section’s narrative, God relays more laws to Moses; in the second part, Moses descends from the Mount and recounts them to the people; and, in the third part, he writes down those laws. Thus, the same information is conveyed in three different ways. This presented an idea for both the structure and process of composition.

The first part fell together, in terms of its general disposition, within an hour. But it took a further three hours to modify the samples. It represents, tokenly, what would have been in reality a long monologue, within a two and a half minute frame:


1.40 pm. A review of the first part, and the beginning of the second: Moses, having descended, tells the Israelites what he’s heard. This would have been a remarkable feat of memory, to say the least. The scene was resolved very quickly. Never despise answer to a problem that arrives immediately or easily. It’s sometimes the fruit of much failure, discipline, and hard work in the past. Devising a solution to the following scene — where Moses writes down the laws — was neither so straightforward nor particularly vexing. I appeared to be on a ‘roll’, as they say.

6.30 pm. Practise session 1. I returned to my sound workshop preparations for the evening. I felt like I was fitting a quart into a pint pot. Without trialling the workshop, I can’t complete or optimise it. Nevertheless, more practical exercises and demonstrations needed to be inserted:

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 21.36.52

9.45 pm. Enough!

February 25, 2016

8.00 am. A thin week for morning emails. What a mercy. 8.40 pm. To School, and a day of second year painting tutorials, plus one lecture (plus all the unexpected bits in between).

Like petals, cast upon the wind:


Some principles and observations derived from today’s exchanges:

  • This applies only to the very few: If you turned up to catch a train as late as you do to a tutorial, you’d miss it.
  • Don’t assume the outcome before you’ve begun the process. Be open to the unexpected.
  • Don’t assume the relevance of a process before you’ve first engaged with it.
  • Signing your work: there’s no surer indicator that it’s already too precious for its own good. Resist.
  • At this stage of your development, concentrate on developing a way of working, an exploratory mentality, and a professional working ethic, rather than on the finished product.
  • More often than not, a tutorial discussion has no defined objective, no fixed agenda; rather, it’s an open-ended negotiation, a mutually responsive exchange — a collaboration of sorts. Think of yourself in ‘conversation’ with the work that you’re making. Let the dialogue determine its own path and ends.
  • There’s usually some virtue in everything you make, so don’t either rush to judgement or reject anything wholesale.
  • Joy is one criteria by which we may assess our work.
  • Listen to other people’s opinions about your work with a finger in one ear.
  • The most fruitful subject matter lies closest to your heart.
  • You can’t talk and listen at the same time.
  • When you get stuck, visit the School of Art Gallery, choose one work and look at it intently for 10 minutes. The work need not be relevant to your own, and you don’t even have to like it. But I guarantee that the experience will help to unstick you.
  • Left unchecked, our failures can consume us with the same ferocity as our weaknesses. Therefore, look to your best and highest.


11.10 am. The British Landscape lecture was on Peter Lanyon. He has always something new to offer. 12.00 pm. The practice of transcription (which is not the same as copying) has much to commend it still — for some types of painterly practice. The process of walking in the footprints of another artist (what we’d today call ‘reverse engineering’), at the very least, instils a greater awareness of the achievement of the artist copied. In transcription, the personality of the transcriber is not in abeyance, rather, it’s synthesised with that of the artist copied. If one were a music student, composing in the style of a past musician is likely to be a mandatory part of one’s education. Art education has a great deal to learn from music education in many other respects besides.

2.00 pm. Further tutorials interspersed with end of the teaching week module admin. 4.00 pm. Tutorials completed, I engaged the final round of uploading, registering, timetabling, and filing.

7.00 pm. Switch. Into sound mode; on to section 8 of ‘Image and Inscription’. This comprises the an account setting forth hundreds of other laws, the ascent of Moses and the elders together, an epiphanic and, on this occasion, a visual encounter with God, and his presentation to Moses of the two tables of the law (Exodus, Chapters 21 to 31). The narrative is curious mixture of the mundanely administrative and the visionary. I began with a blank ‘canvas’:

Screenshot 2016-02-25 20.08.14

I proceeded to review my library of source sounds for one that would break the deadlock and create an opening onto an idea. ‘I love tomorrow!’

February 24, 2016

8.00 am. A significant frost overnight had glazed the roads and rooftops in the neighbourhood. Reflection … . 8.50 pm. Off to the Old College to teach third year painters:



Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • There’s a ‘devil’ on your shoulder who will tell you that your only as good as your worst mark. Don’t believe it!
  • To succeed, we must first overcome ourselves.
  • Not all courses of action are either possible or necessary or worthwhile or sustainable. Choose to choose. Discriminate. Eliminate. Dictate.
  • The brave do not procrastinate.
  • Always seek advice. Don’t live by your own counsel only.
  • If you’ve any hope of finding your ‘style’ (whatever that may mean), you must first find yourself.
  • Don’t obsess about marks; obsess about doing something remarkable.

11.00 am. An additional MA Fine Art tutorial at the Samuel Graham Laboratory, followed by a brief MA Vocational Practice consultation at 12.00 pm, followed by various administrations. I felt a cold coming on. Another Visiting Day was percolating in the background:


1.40 pm. A review of another draft from a PhD Fine Art thesis submission. It’s shaping up. Since one stem of my amaryllis was irreparably damaged in the still mysterious accident last week, the other has prospered and lasted longer than anticipated. There is a lesson in this. We are all limited in our resources. Sometimes, perfectly good activities need to be sacrificed in order to nurture others better.

3.30 pm. An art history examination question review meeting. 4.30 pm. An MA Vocational Practice, workshop project consultation. 5.00 pm. A short tour of the upper studio, in order to take the temperature.

6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. On with ‘Ways of Working with Sound’ and a further preparation of PowerPoint slides — a great many of them. A set of practical exercises needed to be formulated. I had in mind the sound of a sprung ruler, for one:


February 23, 2016

8.00 am. I dealt with the more pressing emails before a time of reflection. Some days, and this was one, come with a sense of urgency and seriousness that conditions our attitude. We must rise to these occasions, believe, and act. 8.40 am. The good weather has persisted; its been a balm:


9.00 am. No takers for my morning Personal Tutor surgery, so I used the hour to confront postgraduate admin. 9.30 am. A meeting with Ms Kennedy, one of our secretaries, to discuss postgraduate scholarship applications. 10.00 am. The first of the MA Fine Art tutorials for the morning.

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

  • What you’ve done, are doing, and will do are are connected by a chain of being.
  • Don’t attempt to do everything every time you sit down to make an image. Be focussed, discriminate, strategic, and realistic.
  • There’s no such thing as the muse. So, stop waiting for it; just get on with it.
  • Do what is necessary, rather than that which is merely interesting.
  • Teaching regenerates: the tutor feeds off the students’ residual energy.
  • Don’t dunk your biscuit in another person’s tea.
  • Art is only a clothes hanger onto which is hung something far more important.

10.45 am. A current staffing issue has necessitated a number of tutee temporary reassignments. Notifications and tutee allocation updates all round. 12.00 pm. The second MA Fine Art tutorial of the day:


2.00 pm. A little graphic-art practice for my church’s redesigned website. The banner needed a tease:

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 14.31.53

I spent the first year after my undergraduate working as a part-time graphic designer for a local South Wales valley company. I wasn’t trained to be one, but I reckoned that, having learned to draw, it was possible to do just about anything. And it paid the bills. 2.20 pm. Back to ‘Ways of Working with Sound’. I’m fond of drawing diagrams in PowerPoint. I developed a sense of forward momentum that had been lacking on this project, previously. Such a turn of events has often come the moment when I perceived the end from the beginning, and the whole fell into its component pieces.

6.30 pm. Practise session 1. Now that I was in the groove with the workshop project, I determined to maintain velocity for the remainder of the evening, or at least for as long as I could before an inevitable en passe was reached.

I was distracted, occasionally. Through the rain drizzled panes of my study window I could see the lights of Bronglais Hospital, where a colleague was convalescing. An outbreak of the Norovirus on their ward has prevented family and friends from visiting. But my thoughts and prayers were not likewise barred from entering. (In our minds, we can walk through walls):


February 22, 2016

9.00 am. The habitual and the routine can be deadening. When they do, one must intervene. Tutorials planned and emails dispatched, I crept back into the sound studio to take up from where I’d left off on Saturday. This dairy/blog will ‘cease trading’ at the end of the month. Other ways of encoding life — and life other than work — now need to be brought into play instead. The aural diary, which has laid moribund for too long, will be reinvigorated. Blogging, henceforth, will take the form of longer articles on single topics. A, for me, new genre of writing — the ‘sermons that no one will hear’ — will emerge to address a more devotional agenda.

On, then, with the remainder of section 2 … and beyond. On this first pass, I’ve concentrated on enhancing and equalising volumes across all the sections so far, separating out tonalities, and making the transitions more exacting. Now, each section has its own distinct character, but enough properties and characteristics shared with the others to feel part of a larger whole. Gradually, the composition will mutate from being one piece in 10 parts to 10 parts in one piece. The distinction is subtle, but substantial.

10.30 am. Blue skies, again:


1.40 pm. On to section 5. Comparatively less has to be done to bring the later sections up to speed. At times, this has felt like composing a soundtrack (in the most literal sense of that term) for an invisible film. 4.00 pm. Section 7 was completed, (again). The weather had changed too:


A little work on the composition ‘storyboard’. This is the token representation of the next ten chapters of Exodus:


4.45 pm. A brief exchange of teaching-related emails before returning to the ‘Ways of Working with Sound’ workshop development.

7.30 pm. In the same vein … . Having set out my stall — indicating, in no uncertain terms, what the workshop was and was not about — I designed a number of PowerPoint slides to serve as a starting point for the narrative. I can think more lucidly when I’ve established visual bases to ‘run’ to (like a baseball player).

February 20, 2016

9.15 am. A late start. After email attention, I walked to shop at the rather forlorn Farmers’ Market. The choice of fresh vegetables was equally dismal:


10.15 am. I began a long overdue review of sections 1 to 6 of ‘Image and Inscription’. The process of more tightly knitting together and interrelating the components had begun. The problem of undertaking any serial composition is that the later parts tend to be better than the earlier ones. In other words, there’s been a progressive amelioration of understanding and execution. The fruit of the later sections (the acquired wisdom, expertise, and achievement, and some of the motifs, techniques, and devices) must now be dug into the earlier sections’ soil.

12.00 pm. Having completed an initial revision of section 1, I charted section 8 on my ‘storyboard’. This visualises the main events and structure of the narrative, and identifies the sonic and visual features of each section. Its been an invaluable, objective aid to generating ideas and steering the course of the composition:


1.40 pm. On to section 2. While it deals with only one verse (whereas section 8 responds to ten chapters), it still felt too succinct — at just over one and a half minutes running time — and too many of the sounds ran concurrently. They needed to be separated out in order to better yield their nuances and distinct properties. The internal rhythms of some samples had been underplayed too. The core beat was accented by short-burst drones, reminiscent of those used in section 7, and washes.

4.45 pm. The dreariness has persisted throughout the day:


5.15 pm. Press: ‘Shut Down’. 6.30 pm Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. An evening with my wife.

February 19, 2016

9.00 am. In the sound studio, I pressed forward with section 7 of the composition. Following a review of this week’s efforts, I plundered my library of sound sources for material to support this and the penultimate section, which deals with the forging and destruction of the golden calf. First, a tentative response to the ten words of the Decalogue. This needed to be terrifying (Exod. 20.19). Advice to self: ‘Avoid the obvious, clichéd, illustrative, sensational, literal, and repetitious solution’; ‘Instead, court the unexpected, counterintuitive, and least likely possibility’. Sometimes (as was the case this morning), I don’t have a precise idea of what I want, or of what’s possible. But I’ll know it when I hear it, as they say. All I could do, in the meantime, was equivalent to throwing Lego bricks together in the hope that the some pieces would stick. By noon, a set of options had begun to emerge:


1.40 pm. Having developed the set, I could now trial each new component within the established environment of section 7. It’s a process not unlike trying various glass slippers on Cinderella. (The rate of wastage (misfits) doesn’t bear thinking about.) Once one or more samples fit (and these are, what I call, the spinal samples), then others attach themselves either side, like irregular ribs, with far less effort. I continued adding and subtracting, swapping and replacing, cutting and splicing, amplifying and modifying the equalisation of the samples, for the remainder of the afternoon. I know I have something when I can ‘see’ the space, the distance, the sonic breadth and depth of the work. This was apparent by 5.00 pm:


6.15 pm. Practise session 1. 7.15 pm. As the arrangements proceeds, the adjustments that must be made are smaller, while at the same time their impact is more significant. The section was falling into place by virtue of its internal rationale and necessities. This composition is far more airy and spatial that the others, and not at all how I anticipated it would turn out. This is not an unusual experience. Creativity is always a collaboration between the creator’s intent, the materials, technique, and the logic of form in a bid to secure an uncertain outcome. 9.30 pm. Complete.

February 18, 2016

8.45 am. On arrival:


Second year painters and British Landscape were on the menu for the day. Either I’m uneasy or there’s a foul and unsettling ‘air’ abroad. 9.00 am. Tutorials commenced:

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • What is often conspicuously absent in undergraduate study is a sense of urgency … of imperative. ‘Carpe diem’, as they say.
  • A plan of action may have certain uncomfortable implications for the artist. Maturity is the determination to face them, whatever their demands.
  • Success will follow failure will follow success will follow … like cloudy and sunny days. Reckon on it!
  • If something can be neither added to nor subtracted from a painting’s composition in order to improve the whole, then the work has reached its optimum. Leave it.
  • Your willingness to work hard is in direct proportion to your desire to succeed.
  • A lack of confidence is more often instilled into us by bad teachers, insensitive family members, and false friends in the past, rather than a disposition that we’ve cultivated by ourselves alone.
  • Don’t overload a single image with too many ideas. Learn to parcel them out.
  • Add to knowledge, discernment.
  • Add to discernment, the ability define and articulate.

11.00 am. The British Landscape lecture on ‘The Formal Garden’:


12.00 am. Further tutorials.

2.00 pm. A week off from Art in Wales duties; the hour was filled with pastoral and dissertationary advice sessions. Anyone who can pull-off wearing odd socks with style is good in my books:


3.00 pm. A final fine art tutorial. The ghost, seen on the staircase:


3.30 pm. Tidy-up admin: desk-top (real and virtual) clearance, a little social media promotion, emailism, and a reflection on the day that’s been.

7.30 pm. My other life: Holy Trinity Church Committee: