Month: August 2016

August 30, 2016

A late night’s work put pay to any determination I had to get out there and run at 6.00 am+. I woke at the shameful hour of 7.30 am. 8.45 am. Into the cellar and out into the garden to measure and cut boards in readiness for their transportation to the School, later in the morning. Black & Decker-Man goes into action:


10.30 am: I returned to PDF-ing the booklet (having lost half of yesterday’s efforts due to a ‘save’ error). Often, a repeat effort improves upon the initial endeavour. 11.30 am: Mr Garrett and Ms Hughes turned up to transport my surplus materials. These will be at the disposal of second and third year painting students. The painting studios need to develop a more workshop-like ethos … like that established by Mr Croft in the Printmaking dungeons. A disciplined working environment often rubs off on the undisciplined worker.

12.30 pm: An MA fine art tutorial with one of our finalising students. They and others will exhibit at the School in late September.

1.40 pm. On with PDF-ing documents, while listening to a selection of Burt Bacharach’s songs, to sooth the process:


His compositions, Herb Albert’s trumpet, and the brassy ebullience the orchestration defined the upbeat spirit and optimism which characterised much mid-1960s’ music. By mid afternoon, the booklet was complete, and looked so much the better for the effort put into redoing it. Upload!

I returned to my website to finalise the gallery for The Pictorial Bible I project, inserting images of the final four artworks made under this banner into the PDF pages.

Evening. I began the slow process of preparing web-ready versions of the PDFs and images; they’ll be uploaded to the website tomorrow:


August 29, 2016

Over the weekend, I’d completed the reorganisation and sprucing-up of the studio and study. All that remains is or me to hang several artworks over the table areas and test the whole sound system thoroughly for integrity:


I built the new mini-rack and outboard power system, and began putting it through its paces by feeding two contrasting oscillation outputs through the left- and right-hand channels of the system:


Yesterday, having set up the new record player deck, I set my collection of vinyls in order. It had begun in 1963, when I was 4 years old and able to persuade Mam and Dad to buy me the Beatles’ single, Twist and Shout. The LPs represent a fairly one-sided perspective on music in the 1970s and early 80s, chiefly, comprising progressive rock, jazz rock, bebop, folk rock, experimental, and classical albums:


I’d forgotten just how many recordings I’d bought of piano and orchestral works by the American composer Aaron Copland (1900–1990). Compositions such as Our Town and Quiet City, from 1940, recall the paintings of Edward Hopper. (I should write a lecture on the evocation of landscape in music and painting.) Both artists’ work summon a particular time of day, a quality of light, a sparseness, and melancholy that I associate as much with my experience of the South Wales valleys during my youth as with my visits to America’s small towns and major cities:

Early morning, Manhattan, New York, October 11, 2001 (one month after ‘9/11’)

(October 11, 2001. On that day, I visited ‘ground zero’. Ashes were still falling from the sky.)

Those albums have supported me through the turbulence of my teenage years and some of the richest and most elevated, as well as the most forbidding, periods in my life since. Where would I be, who would I be, without music?

6.30 am. Floor exercises. 8.45 am. To business today. To begin, I determined to rescan the PDF version of The Pictorial Bible I booklet. The present rendering has poor tonal contrast on several pages. In conjunction with this task, I mapped the connections between the units that make up the mini-rack. Does channel 1 always correspond to the left-hand channel on all sound equipment? I couldn’t assume so. Therefore, the inputs and outputs of each unit had to be, one by one, tested for consistency.

Afternoon. Testing and PDF-ing continued. My problem is that I cannot distinguish left from right. Therefore, each cable route had to be mapped prior to its execution:


Evening. A Bank Holiday evening off with the family.

August 26, 2016

6.15 am: Run! Today, I cut a route via the promenade and town. There was a chill in the air; a harbinger of Autumn. After a breakfast conversation with our guests, I set about investigating and solving what sounded like either RF (Radio Frequency) or EMF (Electromagnetic Frequency) interference that was being picked up between the guitar amplifiers and the speaker cabinets. As I suspected, the culprit was the mixing desk’s subwoofer, which sat in too close proximity to the speaker cables which, in turn, acted like aerials:45345345

I love that sort of problem. Today was my deadline for a final rationalisation of the studio, study, storerooms, and cellar antechambers. All are now responsive to changes in one another.

11.30 am: A jaunt to the School to retrieve several recent equipment purchases, among which was the flight-case for the new mini-rack, which is destined to become (+ mixer) the hub for my project work at the School this year:


Afternoon. Following an extended lunch, at which we bid farewell to our guests, I evacuated the last of the image-based equipment from the sound material and set about a general spring clean of both it and my study.

On a shelf, in a box, out of sight, I rediscovered one of my prototypes for the ‘Pencrophrone’ — a graphic instrument with a transducer tip that was able to record the sound of drawing made by it. The device was intended for the Live Art: Dialogues2 sound drawing project. It reminded me of some sort of alien invasive probe:


Evening: The ‘trivial round and common task’: vacuuming, dusting, and putting in order the study:


9.30 pm: Done!

August 25, 2016

6.15 am: Run!


The GCSE results were released today. My performance at ‘O’-level (GCE ‘Ordinary’-level) was abysmal. (The outcome of my ‘A’-levels was only marginally better.) It took me two further attempts to pass my English Language ‘O’-level; but I never did succeed in achieving a qualification in Maths. Had I obtained one less ‘O’-level, I ‘d have been pointed in the direction of the coal pit, in all likelihood. Clearly, I was not ‘academic’. But neither was I particularly practical; my accomplishments in woodwork, metalwork, technical drawing, and even art were mediocre at best. I didn’t blame these failures on either the school or the teachers or my parental upbringing (which had been exemplary). The problem was me, or, rather, the misfit between the way that I needed to learn and the way that I’d been taught.

At art school I found myself among many others who’d been, similarly, designated educationally ‘disabled’ by the state-school system. There were academic Olympians in my cohort too. But what you’d failed or achieved in the past didn’t matter one hoot now. I’d been planted into an altogether different type of soil. Here, there was no top or bottom of the class or yardstick of attainment against which you were regularly measured. Here, family, friends, and previous teachers hadn’t a clue what you was doing. (I liked that.) Here, I began to grow in confidence and understanding in response to a set of expectations that I’d not before encountered. To:

  1. be an active investigator, rather than a passive recipient, of knowledge;
  2. respond to a teaching while, at the same time, extend the curriculum for myself;
  3. develop skills relevant to my intent;
  4. through observation and drawing, engage with a world beyond the pages of a text book;
  5. through observation and drawing, learn to see intelligently for the first time;
  6. through observation and drawing, engage with a history and geography that were relevant to my background and locale;
  7. through art history, to understand my position, as an image maker, within a broad framework of continuities and discontinuities, and to nourish myself on the work of others, past and present;
  8. teach myself. (Most artists struggle to be taught anything.)

And much else besides. In essence, I came to understand that one’s limitations were, in some large measure, acquired rather than innate. Moreover, their boundaries were weak and could be breached. In art school, it was possible for a student to transcend their past, their former prospects, the estimation of others, and themselves. Art school education works. Well, it did for me.

9.00 am: I returned to the final phase of the space rationalisation project, turfing-out everything inessential, wasteful, unappreciable, and unfixable, while alighting upon notebooks and documents that I’d not consulted in years. (My state assigned incompetence with regard to numeracy skills has never prevented me from using them in my work.):

Sound studio notebook, 2010-15

With a little adaptive sawing, I prepared the studio rack to house the Yamaha THX 100 guitar amplifier head (top), in such a way as to make it straightforward to extract the unit from the system as a whole when in transit:


Afternoon. ‘Skipping’ at the School with my ‘little boys’. ‘Goodbye heavy surplus studio “stuff”!’ we said, as it disappeared into the great metal hod, forever. This was a weight off my shoulders — a lightening of life and an almost religious experience. I recalled Bunyan’s protagonist, Christian, in The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), losing the load from off his back ‘at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a Cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre’, into which the burden rolled:

William Blake, ‘Pilgrim Reading His Book’, Pilgrim’s Progress (1824)

Back at homebase, we set about creating additional shelves in the sound studio. Towards the close of work, our guests arrived for an overnight stay.

August 24, 2016

6.15 am: Floor exercises. 8.30 am: A little admin. I’m planning to construct a more portable mini-rack (4 units) for use on out-of-studio projects. Some initial sourcing of equipment was required. 10.00 am: A haircut. I’d not before noticed the intriguing double-inversion of the image in the salon’s mirrors:


10.30 am: Back into the sound studio to complete the overhaul. I’ve determined to remove all materials and equipment associated with image making. The room will no longer have a double identity. Efficiency and focus, like a gas, must expand to occupy the whole container. In between excursions to and from the basement, I responded to emails and placed orders related to the proposed mini-rack (which, in turn, will require its own mini-power conditioner.) All fun.

Public: ‘John! Why make the type of art that you do?’ John: ‘Because it’s the type of art that I want to see; the type of art that I need to be in this world’. 





By the close of the evening, and a great deal of disposal, moving, reallocation, cleaning, and pruning, the sound studio began to breath once more. There was, now, excess of space; which is how it always should be.

And, in the process of shifting and shunting: rediscovered — my mother’s paternal grandfather’s (‘Grampa’ Tom Rees) pocket watch. A Waltham (c.1880-90s):


August 23, 2016

6.15 am: Run! At the Vicarage Field, a band of glistening mist, diffused with sunlight, hung over the grass, as though in suspended animation. 8.15 am: I took a sunlit path to the Old College, past a council worker who was mechanically blowing sand off the promenade and back onto the beach. (The displacement had been caused by the high winds and tide that struck the vicinity over the weekend.)

9.00 am: An initial, pre-course tutorial with one of our PhD Fine Art newbies. They have amassed more brushes than an art shop. (I’m too easily impressed, I know.):




After one further PhD and one MA fine art tutorial, I sped back to the mothership to conduct another of the latter:


At this time of the year, the School’s interior is touched by moments that seem as though to momentarily break through the veil dividing the visible and invisible realms:

This world of ours, and worlds unseen,
And thin the boundary between.
(Josiah Conder (1824))


Lunch (which was largely absorbed by the return journey to the Old College) was taken in one of the seafront shelters, looking seaward, while holidaymakers promenaded. Only with my eyes closed could I smell the sea:


2.00 pm: Another PhD Fine art tutorial, this time in my capacity as second supervisor. An hour later, I retraced my journey to the School in order to undertake two more MA Fine Art tutorials. 5.15 pm. I was taught out!

Evening. I had a raft of postgraduate and professorial admin to sail upon the ocean of routine, duty, and necessity.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s encounters:

  • Teaching is dancing.
  • Our work may speak its mysteries to others, but not to us. Therefore, speak to others about your work.
  • Ideas and preoccupations from our distant past often catch-up with us in the present. But they recur, like revivals in art, not in exactly the same way; they’re coloured by the life we’ve experienced and the history of art that have occurred since their last appearance.
  • Aim to work with as little effort, and as quickly, as possible. This is an exercise in economy and efficiency, rather than a manifestation of laziness.
  • You are assessed not only on the quality of the artwork produced but also on the evidence of sound judgement, wisdom, and discernment exercised in its conception and execution.
  • What we cannot do defines us as assuredly as what we can.
  • If you cannot decide what to do then, first, determine what you don’t want to do.
  • Sometimes, you need to walk in fog for a long time. It will lift, eventually.
  • It’s quite possible not to see the virtue of our work until long after it has been made.
  • What any artwork means is never straightforward. Therefore, don’t be tempted to offer your public a simple explanation when they inquire.
  • Learn to say ‘enough’ to an artwork; learn to let it go … to let it be (with all its defects). Resolution should not be confused with perfection.

August 22, 2016

9.00 am: A review and prioritisation of the week’s work, and responses to the weekend’s incoming emails. Today I’m a technician. Into the studio, and that rat’s nest of the rack’s back, for a major reconfiguration of the system. This is, now, an annual event. The rack is at the core of the PA and monitoring system in the studio and in performance. Every component needs to justify its continued presence within the system overall. A radical rethink was required:


What am I aiming at? Having, over the past year, scoured the internet for videos of solo sound artists in performance — often in a gallery or a small-auditorium — I’m struck by how poor and unthought through the acoustic representation of the artwork often is. Health and safety apart (all mains devices should be routed through a power conditioner; a domestic plugboard simply won’t do), the equipment should provide the clearest sounding, roundest, and most tweakable mode of amplification and sonic dispersion that either the artist or the curator can afford. I also want to create more, independent modules for amplification, mixing, and conditioning etc — following the example of the pedalboards and handboards. In this way, the modules can be interchanged, and the equipment packaged in portable and a readily assembled way.

The new routing for the rack:


The next requirement (every change effects a further change) was to reroute the PA’s main speakers and sub. Another rat’s nest:


Evening. The rack was reattached to both the mains and the various devices drawing power from the assembly. The PA speakers and sub cables were then reconfigured and plugged into the rack’s primary outputs. All in all, things are looking decidedly neater and, most importantly, more intelligently laid out. A good day’s work.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s activities:

  • If a solution to a problem doesn’t present itself immediately, then wait.  Quite often, we cannot see the way forward because we don’t have access to sufficient information. Answers to other questions may need to be determined first. Therefore, to begin, discern the order in which the difficulties are best dealt with.
  • Go to a trusted teacher or confidant first for advice about, but last for an answer to, a problem. Maturity lies is this: determining the (provisional) answers to your questions yourself, before seeking the confirmation of, or a challenge from, others.
  • Don’t trust your own counsel alone.
  • Strip-down, prune, simplify, get rid of the excrescences, redundancies, incompatibilities, anomalies, and duplications, in order to enhance efficiency, controllability, and serviceability, thereby.
  • Keep it lean. Keep it light. Keep it tight. Keep it safe.
  • Spare nothing.
  • Don’t presuppose outcomes. Test them beforehand, where possible.
  • Understand the tools of your trade, thoroughly.
  • All solutions are temporary and situational, because the context of their operation and application is forever changing.
  • If something appears over complicated then, most likely, it has been ill-conceived.

August 19, 2016

9.00 am: I inserted the sound clips of the R R B V E Ǝ T N Ƨ O A suite of compositions onto the dedicated webpage and added related links elsewhere. An end to website updating and fleshing out is now in sight. Only The Pictorial Bible I gallery remains to be organised:


10.20 am: On, then, to the sound studio for a spot of radical reorganisation of its contents and the working space. Every project requires a somewhat different arrangement of the room and its contents. The tasks of the day ahead; to do:

  1. Remap and secure the connections between equipment hubs, amplifiers, and speakers.
  2. Rationalise cables.
  3. Test electrical break circuits.
  4. Eject from the studio all items that do not have a more or less immediate relevance to the project at hand.
  5. Place out of sight what shouldn’t be visible.
  6. Create storage space.
  7. Be aware of every part of the room, and what’s in each draw.
  8. Consider my body in relation to the room.
  9. What needs to be in easy reach?
  10. Make table-top space on which to be playful.
  11. Ensure that I can to switch on equipment and work, immediately.
  12. Ensure that I can record work, quickly.
  13. Vacuum and dust.
  14. Make the room pleasant to work in.

The extraction was largely of performance-based equipment (stands, tripods, etc.) that were rarely used in the setting of studio work:


Reorganisation is invigorating; order and control in reciprocal relation. I had four flights of stairs, from the third floor to the basement, to climb, down and up;  I lost count of descents and ascents. Solid aerobic exercise. By 4.30 pm, the studio was ready to be cleaned:


Evening. Vacuum cleaner in hand, I cleared the floor and shelved equipment that, formerly, had had its resting place either hung on the walls or attached to the floor:


August 18, 2016


9.40 am: A further appointment at the surgery. The interior ambience exaggerates the sense of emptiness. If there was a purgatory, and it had a waiting room … it would be like this.

Clearing has begun. My ‘A’-level results were embarrassingly poor. But I’d applied for art school, rather than university, and gained a place by passing an entrance exam and on the merit of my portfolio. These were far better indicators of likely success. The next few weeks are an anxious time for applicants and parents or guardians alike. However, where an applicant ends up and who teaches them is not as significant as who the applicant is and what they’re prepared to do in order to realise their potential. It’s all about character, in the end. Too much emphasis is put on the context and conditions of education in universities these days. I was a thoroughly dissatisfied student. But not in a sense that could be measured by an NSS survey. My lack of contentment arose from within, in response to what I perceived to be lack of personal gifting and vision on my part. No amount of swanky facilities and charismatic teaching could have dented that realisation. But that abiding dissatisfaction has done more to goad me into action and keep me in the game than anything else. ‘Student! Are you satisfied with your academic experience? Yes? Then, you’re doomed!’.

The tree surgeons are in the back garden making a noise like a large exasperated wasp and when lobbing, and like a voracious all-consuming metal robot when grinding the off cuts. (I recalled the grizzly final scene from the Coen brothers’ film Fargo (1996).):


Throughout the morning and afternoon I converted document files into pdfs into jpegs into web enabled gifs. Tedious, laborious, and time-consuming; but necessary.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Expose yourself to the highest, greatest, most ambitious, excellent, and extraordinary examples of human achievement. At the very, least they’ll teach you humility. At best, they’ll give you a vision of what is possible and how much further you have to climb.
  • Artistic freedom can be secured only by developing a consummate control over your discipline.
  • The level of energy, determination, and conscientiousness that you direct towards a project is in direct proportion to your belief in its worthiness. Why are you diffident about your work? Because you don’t believe in it sufficiently.
  • The spirit in which we acquit ourselves of the tedious and mundane task is a subtle test of our integrity.
  • When the desire dissipates, discipline keeps you going.
  • When a job is worth doing well, you don’t keep one eye on the clock.
  • The closer you get to achieving your goal, the less significant it seems.

By 5.00 pm, I’d completed the PDF conversions in readiness for uploading them as a gallery to The Pictorial Bible III section of the website in the evening:

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 20.05.54

Detail from: The Floating Bible: Miracle of the Risen Word (2015), 54-parts, carbon powder toner on Bible paper on board, 21 × 28 (×54) (King James Version)

My eyes are tired; too much monitor work. Tomorrow’s activities must have a different complexion.

August 17, 2016

6.30 am: Floor exercises. I creaked, cracked, puffed, and perspired:


I’m no Olympian. Neither am I a fan of sport for that matter. Nevertheless, the example of athletes who commit themselves (while holding down a day job) to a demanding daily regime of gruelling exercise in order to be their best (and, hopefully, to be the best) inspires. Any discipline we pursue, if properly undertaken, will ask a great deal of us. More than we can possibly give, at the outset. A discipline is not only a branch of knowledge but also a training, a code of practice, a body of rules, and a mode of behaviour. As such, it requires rigour, devotion, an attention, and an exactitude of the highest order to develop it. The measure of discipline is not its fun and happiness quotient. On the contrary, discipline is often painful, frustrating, humiliating, unsatisfying, and demoralising. It requires submission, time, sacrifice, consistency, and constancy on our part. However, the fruit of discipline is always improvement, control, power, dignity, fulfilment, mastery, determination, and cognisance. These virtues come only the hard way, and very, very slowly: ‘No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it ‘ (Heb. 12.11).

8.45 am: On with The Pictorial Bible II page. I began by preparing reproductions of the project’s artworks for the website:

Detail from: Write the Vision and Make it Plain upon Tables (Hab. 2.2) (2007) ink on paper on card, 15 x 15 cm (King James Version)
Detail from: No It Al[l] Ever: 1137–52 (1138) (Rev. 1.13-2.20) gouache & emulsion, 40.5 x 25.5 cm (King James Version)

11.30 am: A touch of disassembling and putting away in the sound studio in order to get me on my feet for a while.

Afternoon. I worked on the page and PDF versions of the images until 3.30 pm. This otherwise perfunctory process now had something of a swing to it. (I’d developed efficiencies.) Back, then, into the sound studio to continue putting away cables, plugs, and effectors:


Evening. I set about creating a sub-gallery for the digital work entitled ‘Ikon/iPod: Magnificat’ – a work designed to be viewed on a contemporary version of the original portable medium, the breviary. The technology of the iPod has developed to the extent that the artwork is no longer playable in its present format. Perhaps I should return to the work and reissue the composition as ‘Ikon/iPad’:

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 20.50.47
Detail from: Ikon/iPod: Magnificat (2007) interactive digital media