Month: September 2016

September 15, 2016

9.00 am: For the first hour and half I updated my diary, posted emails related to the forthcoming MA exhibitions, and chivvied [read: ‘pushed’] some of those involved in the CD project to respond to a number of outstanding production questions. Then, back into the studio. The Apogee had failed. (It does so, intermittently. The device has been ailing of late.) I hooked up the Focusrite analogue/digital interface in its place.

12.30 pm: A call out to the School, the exhibition, and the final member of my contingent (who also required a mock viva voce):


After a fifteen minute discussion with the DPD courier driver about a lost parcel, my errant equipment was finally on its way to the mender (three-days late).

After lunch, I put the new recording set up through its paces using my test configuration of a Stylophone, Skychord Glambox, and the Moog MURF. ‘Stylophonics’ was born (TestStylophonics (15 09 16)). It’s a throwaway homage to Keith Tippett’s All Time. All Time (1982) piano solo.

September 14, 2016

8.30 am: Postgraduate admin, references, Facebook notifications regarding the Open Day on Saturday, and a sound experiment awaited dispatch before I could extricate myself from the house: Stylophone meets Skychord meets Moog:


10.30 am: At the School; in the gallery; at the piano:


The exhibition installation began. My paper was accepted for the ‘Transmedial Music’ conference at Leicester University in November. It now needs to be written. Once the lock gates of the new academic year begin to lift, the waters of commitments, actions, meetings, and engagements tumble out and quickly build to a torrent. Just keeping my diary up-to-date is a moment by moment challenge.

Throughout the day, barring a PhD fine art tutorial that I was committed to fitting in, I advised and interrogated my MA Fine Art students as they began the process of selection and hanging. Each of my painting contingent undertook a mock viva voce in preparation for the internal examination on Monday.


Evening. At 7.30 pm, I attended a memorial at Holy Trinity Church concert for Bill Williams, who died several months back:



During a quite passage in one of the Brahms’s pieces, I heard the voice of a flock of birds as it flew northward over the church. In that moment, the external world punctured and became part of the music’s interior world.

September 13, 2016

8.30 am: Off to School. High temperatures and humidity are anticipated today. But, first, fine rain — like catching the wispy thin edge of a lawn sprayer’s plume. 8.45 am: Arrived at Old College for two PhD Fine Art tutorials:


11.30 am: At the School, the double gallery awaited the MA Fine Art second exhibition:


12.40 pm: A research group meeting with two colleagues from English and TVFS, in which we speculated on the possibilities and dimensions of a fascinating project that’s currently being conceived.

2.00 pm: A five-minute lunch before returning to the sound hardware project in the studio, at home. I’m stripping more items (an equaliser and compressor/gate) from the main rack and decanting them into a second mini rack — one which will sit between the table-top effectors and the analogue/digital interface leading to the computer. This arrangement will compensate for the sometimes muffled dynamics of the filter’s analogue outputs. (The test rhythms required considerable re-equalisation after recording.) I’d prefer to correctly equalise the source prior to its recording. I see, now, why Brian Eno had adopted this strategy on the Discreet Music (1975) album. And, he was recording to two linked analogue Revox A77 reel-to-reel tape recorders:


The remainder of the afternoon was set apart for inserting, wiring, plugging, and testing, while stamping down on emails as they stacked up in my inbox. Everything took so long to get spot on. Build and demolish; build and demolish; build and demolish; built.

Evening. I put my workmanship to the test. All connections functioned, but there was, now, a hiss (white noise) in the system. To discern the source(s), one must switch off each component contacted to the mixer in turn, and discern the difference (if any). The Moog MURF was the culprit. At the close of the working day, I made up another cable and prepared the original mini-rack to receive its on-board power conditioner, which should arrive early next week. As I worked, I listened to a low sine-wave drone treated through a chorus modulator, phase, and the new EQ rack — training my ears to perceive below the level of surface audition.

9.30 pm: Practise session 2.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Most of us are capable of producing more than one type of work. This is both a blessing and a curse. Because, at the fork in the road, you can’t follow more than one route at a time.
  • Some of our ideas recur, like an obsession, at different points in our career. Their persistence should not be ignored.
  • ‘What’s the point?’ is spoken in the ear by one of the ‘demons’ that sit upon our shoulder as we work.
  • You cannot take the credit for what others do for you.
  • If a job is worth doing well, it’s worth doing twenty-times over.

September 12, 2016

On the weekend: A response to the question, from a colleague, about my modus operandi in art:  ‘Is your approach – what’s called – phenomenological?’:

I wouldn’t see my approach to sound art as phenomenological, in the traditional philosophical (Husserlian) and psychological sense. Granted, there is a dimension of subjectivity in the work; (I make choices and decisions in relation to the object of my inquiry that are influenced by, and reflect, concerns external to it). But it’s the object (either a found sound or a text), first and foremost, that gives rise to the possibility of an artwork. My task is to identify, extract, interpret, and give form to ideas and potentialities that are imbedded within that object, which might otherwise remain overlooked (email, 10 09 16).

I took in the current Arts Centre exhibition, Flora:


Ori Gerscht‘s exploding flowers was exceptionally well-conceived and executed.

9.00 am: Today, I responded to a ‘call for papers’ for the Transmedia Music conference, which will be held at Leicester University in November. When you begin to propagate any new project in an academic forum, necessarily you do so from at the bottom of the pile and in competition with everyone else. This was how the R R B V E Ǝ T N Ƨ O A was publicised, initially. Within two responses to CPFs from conferences in Cardiff and London I was being invited to be a keynote speaker on that project. Put in the spade work, plant the shrub, apply the water, pray for sunshine, and, just maybe, a tree will grow.

In the studio, I generated another test rhythm to explore recording directly to my computer DAW via an Apogee Duet Firewire analogue/digital device:


After a little teasing and coaxing, the device (which is on its last legs and not entirely compatible with the latest IOS) integrated successfully. (TestRhythm (12 09 16)) In tandem, I wrote a very brief biographical note to accompany my response to the CPF.

After lunch, I began composing the response proper while dealing with postgraduate correspondence: a succinct encapsulation of the Image and Inscription project. There’s something both compelling and satisfying about composing to a 250-word limit … like writing Tweets, but on a larger scale. By the close of the afternoon, the abstract was more or less in the bag.

6.30 pm: As ever … practise session 1. 7.30 pm: I refined the abstract further: ‘Say more with fewer words, John!’ (He’s such a taskmaster, this one.)

9.30 pm: Done! I slept on it before posting:


September 9, 2016

8.30 am: Accounting for contentment. I’m not in:

  • a war zone;
  • peril;
  • prison;
  • poverty or debt;
  • pain or distress;
  • bad health;
  • a depressed state;
  • a personal crisis;
  • a hopeless situation;
  • isolation;
  • despair;
  • grief or shock;
  • a destructive or an abusive relationship;
  • an unfulfilling occupation or a dead-end job;
  • a creative impasse;
  • a bad place.

Therefore, I should be be grateful for, celebrate, and use well, my liberty and advantage.

9.00 am: I rechecked the stereo signal pathway from the mixer to the PA speakers and subwoofer before beginning a series of simple modulations of an oscillating pulse, and to explore the effectiveness of the main rack’s EQ unit. It’s easy to produce intriguing sounds, but very difficult to construct useable ones. Sounds, like colours, allure. One must resist their obvious and superficial attraction. Finally, I processed the source through a sequencer to produce a rather compulsive rhythm (reminiscent of the work Brian Eno produced for his album Another Green World (1975)). At the same time, I tested the direct USB > DAW recording facility on the mixer. It appears that the interface software has not kept pace with the Mac IOS. Is this facility now doomed to redundancy?:


Before a lunchtime research meeting, I set up an analogue connection between the mixer and my A/D interface on the main production desk and endeavoured to optimise quality.

I had a sound-research ‘committee meeting’ with my colleague Dr Roberts, over a small bowl of soup at Tree House. On the agenda were the forthcoming NOISE PROJECTion symposium, several loosely conceived collaborations which we intend to undertake at the School in conjunction with the Art/Sound module, and an open-ended discussion about the perils and pitfalls of buying and using too much equipment.

2.00 pm: In the studio I commenced close listening of recordings of the modulated oscillations made  to the computer, either mediately (through the mixer) or directly (from the effector) (TestRhythm (09 09 16)):


A failed piece of equipment required my attention. Mercifully, it’s still under warranty. I’ll dispatched it to my faithful and reliable supplier on Tuesday.

Evening. I attempted — intuitively and provisionally — to denote and associate terms, methods, and processes suggestive of the crossover between visual and sonic practices, as they pertain to my own work. This is, as well, as an endeavour to define what the sound work is and also, crucially, what it’s not. Establishing and maintaining a focus and objective in relation to the work demands a great deal of the maker. Do what you must do, rather than what you can do, or what you’d like to do:


September 8, 2016

9.00 am: A threat of torpor follows us through life. Often, it descends in the period between the end of one project, or phase of life, and the beginning of another. At such times, one’s efforts towards forward movement must be redoubled. After a period of postgraduate admin I made ready for a walk to the School to conduct a PhD fine art tutorial at 10.30 am. The weather lurched from nice day to monsoon in minutes.

12.15 pm: Back at homebase, I began addressing correspondence related to the forthcoming CD, the book, and the SteelWorks project. At times, I feel like a circus plate spinner, moving from one plate to another in order to ensure that all are rotating at the same speed and that none topple from their poles. I’m owed a number of email responses related to several projects. A little nudge of the correspondents was in order. Silence isn’t always golden; sometimes its a cause for concern.

After lunch, I oscillated between practical manoeuvres in the studio and correspondence in the study. Conducting two distinct and contrasting activities in parallel can be more productive than pursuing either of them singularly:


The large white table was set in order: monitor speakers installed, connections to the mixer established and test oscillators attached. A simple sine wave, to begin:


The syllabus of tests undertaken in the late afternoon and evening:

  1. Double oscillators into 2 × mono inputs on mixer, monitored via sub-outputs to monitors (L&R).
  2. Double oscillators into 2 × mono inputs on mixer, monitored via PA speakers and subwoofer (L&R).
  3. Adjust subwoofer and recheck PA speakers’ parameters.
  4. Insert isolation mats beneath large white table monitors.
  5. Confirm the consistency of the stereo path from mixer > EQ > Gate/Compressor > Monitors/PA&Sub.


Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • The wise are often those who’ve made the most mistakes, and learned from them. The wisest are often those who’ve made the greatest mistakes, and learned from them.
  • Students sometimes need to be taught less in order to have the opportunity to find out more things for themselves, by experience.
  • You can work in a fog without anxiety, so long as you believe that there’s something to be found within it.
  • The skills and practice of communication, negotiation, compromise, planning, consultation, and meeting are as much a part of an artwork’s development as the making of it. These activities need to be engaged creatively, qualitatively, and determinately, as one would the artwork.
  • The more you explain your work to others the better you understand it yourself. Talking to yourself about your own work is also productive.
  • Always work as though your deadline was at the end of the day.
  • Don’t let your equipment and tools frighten you. Understand them. Master them. Bend them to your will. But, above all, respect them.

September 7, 2016

6.15 am: A curious dream. The guitarist Robert Fripp was playing several of his soundscapes from behind a wall at the bottom of the terrace where I lived as a child. And, I was the only audient. How strangely the mind hybridised memories, desires, and passions. I instinctively knew that the scenario was either too good or too peculiar to be other than a dream, and so visualised myself looking for the exit  — which, alas, I found. 9.00 am: I returned to a consideration of the studio rack and mini-rack, with the aim of slimming down and focussing their function even further. I removed the stereo noise reduction unit from the main rack and installed it in the mini one, temporarily. I must, now, consider whether a smaller rack is required to house the power conditioners and plugboards for the mini-rack, and any other inputs required in a live performance:


An idea was mooted at the Kickplate Gallery opening on Saturday that has helped determine which of the two projects on the desk must go forward first. SteelWorks it is, then. However, I remain in the position of having to work with an amber light — waiting for permissions to be given, and otherwise busy collaborators to join the project. Therefore, I must continue to do what can be done in terms of preparation. I keep encountering ‘gender incompatibilities’ with respect to plugs and sockets. Finally, the mini-rack and monitors were ready for a dual oscillator test:


The current mixer will be replaced by a smaller analogue/digital hybrid; this’ll have the capacity to route the individual outputs to a computer DAW and a general output to an onboard SD recorder. (Belt and braces.) The test worked a treat.

After lunch, I began to assemble six of my Moog effector pedals on a vertical rack. These units were designed for guitarists. However, they’ve too many tweakable parameters to be fully serviceable at one’s feet. Moreover, they take up quite a fair bit of real estate on a pedalboard:


Evening. Replugging and Velcroing — preparing and securing one of the power conditioner units: the ‘Flatty’. I may yet revise my earlier idea of developing a power conditioning rack and, instead, incorporate it into the existing mini-rack. (The main rack has a power conditioner built into it.) Economy, efficiency, sufficiency, and consistency are my watchwords.

September 6, 2016

8.15 am: I reviewed the few emails that had been deposited overnight and prepared for the day. 9.00 am: The first of today’s several MA fine art tutorials. Afterwards, I attended to admin while beginning the annual clearance of old and redundant papers: ‘Prepare ye the way!’ 10.45 am: On to the Old College for a second MA tutorial with one of our finalising students. The weather has been uncomfortably humid and muggy. Curiously, the sea was lighter than the sky; it glistened like the underbelly of a salmon:


Becca’s table

I returned home to prepare the new sound equipment, which the School had purchased, for transportation, following my operational tests last week.

After lunch, I held two further MA fine art consultations in readiness for the second exhibition’s hanging, next week. Then I convened a briefing meeting related to a PhD fine art submission that I’m external examining in October. For the remainder of the afternoon, I undertook postgraduate admin. Creativity is about making a dull task engaging. One way is to work on a significantly more interesting task, in parallel, and oscillate between them. On this occasion, I tried to trace some old art school friends from my undergraduate days.

Evening. 6.30 pm: Practise Session 1. 7.30 pm: I set up a pair of monitor speakers in the study in order to create a near-field reference facility in order to hear sound mixes in a context other than the sound studio. (See point 3, below):

John’s table

In the studio, other monitors were trialled in a new arrangement on the ‘large-white table’ and the ‘small-white table’. However, I discovered that my cables’ male plugs wouldn’t fit into the female sockets of the mixers. (The sexual connotations of electrical equipment are so unsubtle.) A pair of gender-bender adapters were required.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Our ‘duds’ are always instructive, and certainly more profitable to us than our successes, when it comes to bettering our practice. But only if we have the eye to see, the willingness to learn, and the humility to apply such lessons as they teach.
  • Your works will be your teachers when you leave art school. Therefore, start developing a pedagogical relationship with them now.
  • Practice encountering your work in contexts other than that in which it was made. Fresh and encouraging insights are guaranteed.
  • If an artwork looks as though anyone could have done it, why, then, is it so darned hard to do?
  • The resolution of an artwork depends upon recognising the internal logical and language of the image, and applying them consistently throughout.
  • When the image is 70%+ complete, then the solution to what is outstanding must already be in the work. Rarely does a new idea need to be incorporated.
  • A straightforward question deserves a straightforward answer.
  • The more we believe in the validity of our cause, the more committedly we’ll work at it.

September 5, 2016


8.30 am: After a traditional breakfast treat at ‘Spoons, situated across the road from the hotel, I packed and headed into the damp and drizzle. Newport has always woken up slowly in the morning. I recalled arriving by bus at this time of the morning, daily, to attend my Foundation Studies course in 1977. (This was undoubtedly the most important year in my art education.) Whatever else has changed, the mood of the town/city hasn’t.

There’s a danger in revisiting any place that, in time, the memory of the visits will overwrite the recollection of one’s original experience. So, I wanted to explore the further reaches of the city (It’ll always be a town in my head), to see again places that I was less familiar with. I walked down Upper Dock Street in the direction of the transporter bridge:


I and several fearless foundation colleagues once walked the narrow, upper-gantry of the bridge, hanging on to the railings on either side for dear life. A great many of the premises on the main streets of the town are now second-hand and charity shops, coffee bars, eateries, or else derelict. The new shopping precincts, such as Friars Walk, have usurped them. I alighted upon Bolt Street, where the art school’s sculpture annex was once situated:

DSC01687  bDSC01688

The old school building that housed it has long gone. As, too, the foundation annex at Emlyn Street. There’s only a plaque, affixed to the pine-end of one of terrace houses, which commemorates, not the art school annex but, rather, the old Catholic School that it had occupied:


At the end of Caroline Street there’s a corner shop that used to be ‘Maria’s’. I’d often go there to buy lunch with one of my fellow foundation student, Mario Lenza. (The resonance of his name was not lost on us.) He could talk to Maria in Italian, and get her to make some extraordinary sandwiches – like the ones he’d eaten in the ‘old country’:


11.30 am: I sought out refreshment and respite at a coffee shop on Friars Walk – a place that wasn’t in my youth. The material culture of the past is gradually erased. Memories (the immaterial culture of the past) are no more permanent. Like misplaced books, they get lost in the library of the mind. They become undone, rearranged, overlaid, and amplified by subsequent experience, realisation, and information. The past is always under construction.

1.36 pm: I caught the train back to Aberystwyth, working en route:




September 3, 2016


9.40 am: I headed for the bus station, and took the X15 to Abertillery. It poured:

I’ve not been in the town under such heavy weather since the early 1980s. So, what was, for locals, a dismal day was, for me, one of unusual and uplifting melancholy – dark and brooding, comforting and nostalgic, in equal measure. This is home in the most proud sense. Following the course of my previous revisits, I took sustenance at Marenghi’s Café in the Arcade on arrival. The name betrays its Italian ancestry:


I had an hour before my lunchtime appointment in which to find, and walk again in, my footprints through the town. I journeyed to the summit of Gladstone Street (from where I could view the terrace on which I’d lived with as a boy) and back to the boundary of the Abertillery’s centre (where the shops stopped). A low cloud ‘smoked’ the top of the Arael Mountain. There’s something eerily disquieting about this otherwise explicable, natural phenomenon. This mountain knows things – secrets:


Andrew (one of my band members in the late 1970s) and Dawn, his wife, treated me to lunch at the Abertillery branch of ‘Spoons. Afterwards, we attended the Opening of Ron McCormick’s photography exhibition, How Green Was My Valley, at the Kickplate Gallery:



I had to kick myself; I couldn’t ever have imagined that a contemporary art gallery would find a place in the town. Rarely did one have occasion to mention art and Abertillery in the same sentence. The intimate space was packed with enthusiastic visitors, some from far afield. It was lovely to see again John Selway (who has always reminded me of Keith Moon – the one-time drummer for The Who). He’s a tremendous painter, and taught me fine art during by BA at Newport. I recalled to him of the times when he painted in the studio and would commission one of us to go to the art school shop to buy him a tube of paint. ‘Get me a red, John!’, John would ask. ‘What colour of red, John?’ ‘Anyone will do’, he replied. Nobody other than John could get away with that. The gallery project is a brave and visionary endeavour, which is fast developing a sense of its own identity. I wish it well.

3.30 pm: I took the bus to Crumlin (across which once spanned an impressive viaduct) to spend a few hours with my cousin and her husband. South Walians talk and talk about anything: politics, the economy, local history, and experience. Nothing inconsequential, though. We had a gas. From the bus stop on Crumlin Square I could hear a heavy metal gig organised by The Patriots – a biker group — resounding from a pub.