Month: September 2016

September 2, 2016


The adventure began. I departed on the 7.30 am train to Newport, Gwent via Shrewsbury. It takes me half a day to mentally deposit the affairs of work and home in left luggage and relax into my ‘break away from it all’. En route, I listened to singles from the 1960s – songs that I associate with my early childhood in Abertillery. My earliest exposure to music of any kind was at home. The radio (which came through the TV, courtesy of Rediffusion) was on all morning and afternoon; it provided the backdrop to my playtime and Mam’s routine of Hoovering, washing, and cooking. I listened to love songs that are filled with a wisdom and an experience that were lost on me as a four year old. The time limit of the single’s format imposed a strict discipline on composition. The recordings got to it from the outset, proceeded economically, and then faded out (sometimes alarmingly abruptly).

Call me old fashioned, but I consider people who conduct their business loudly over their mobile phones on public transport to be improprietous, and discourteous to other passengers. And always: ‘Can you ask Mike to call me back?’

11.20 am: Arrived at Newport. The town is at its most resonant under a grey, sodden sky. ‘Take it in slowly; relish every perspective; no agenda – just respond; remember, remember; and watch your back (this isn’t Aberystwyth), John!’ My domicile for the next three nights; relatively inexpensive, fundamental, but sufficient for my needs:


Having deposited my suitcase, I headed for a refreshment emporium. A customer before me in the queue ordered, in clear tones of adequate volume, ‘one grande cappuccino, please’.. ‘A tall Americano, did you say?’, inquired the salesperson. (Concentrate! Concentrate!, boy.)

Vistas have opened and closed since I was a student here. I find myself looking not at what is, but at what is no longer. The kitsch, quiche café (as I call it) at Newport Market is still in business though:


The market’s gallery area has been turned into something that resembles an open prison for a ragbag of artists and makers of dismally poor work. Well, at least the pet shops with sad, caged dogs and cats have disappeared. But so also has the stall that sold every conceivable washer, screw, and gauge of pipe for washing machine and vacuum cleaner, along with the Bible Depository, and faggots and peas café.


I made my way to the building which once housed my art school and, before that, a technical college. Today, it’s subdivided into bijou flats.

7.00 pm: Weatherspoonery at The Queen[‘][s] Hotel. One hotel; three names. The devil really got into the detail here:


I had dinner with an old friend and student colleague at the art school, whom I’ve not met since 1983. In intensity, integrity, honesty, and intellectual curiosity, he’s not changed one jot. And, he still paints. (To maintain one’s practice for so long takes courage, determination, and vision.) We took up a conversation, as though we’d had paused only yesterday. There are few people in my life that I can talk with about so much and with complete candour. The themes of art, art education, local history, religion, theology, folklore, and spiritual pilgrimage wove in and out one another, as we peppered our conversation with reminiscences about our shared experiences, friends, and their respective trajectories through life to death over the past three decades.

My friend recalled a statement by Mark Cheverton — the Travelling Secretary for Art for the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, who was, with his wife, tragically killed in a car accident in the 1980s. He believed (and we concurred) that art education in the late 70s and 80s suffered from the perilous combination of tutors who didn’t wish to teach and students who didn’t wish to learn. Mark was instrumental in setting up the Leith School of Art in Scotland, where teaching and learning were clearly articulated, contentful, committed, and respected. A rich and rare evening.

September 1, 2016

As I turned the corner into September, I could smell the scent of a new academic year ahead. This is a month for transition. 8.45 am: A little sourcing of hybrid analogue/digital mixers, while dealing with postgraduate admin and making a mental list of all those things that I’d needed to put together in readiness for the weekend’s pilgrimage to my fatherland.

I’ve a cousin in the South Wales valleys — one of the few family members that remain — who has endeavoured to map her and my late father’s ancestry. One carte de visite in her collection, however, has defied her best efforts to identify the subjects. The gentleman (and he was undoubtedly such) holds an open book in one hand. Iconographically, the device symbolised either a person of learning or (more probably) a preacher. However, the grim and disapproving expression on his wife’s face confirms, without a shadow of a doubt, that she’s a Harvey:


9.30 am: As a large piece of domestic hardware was squeezed through the backdoor by two earthy delivery men, I returned to the studio and to ward-off email responses. (Once distractions are integrated into the work schedule, their potency is diminished.) 11.00 am: Off to the School, where I scrutinised several new purchases:


Afternoon. On the floor — my essential carriables for the trip: notebook, pens, camera, bag for chargers and photographic miscellany, iPad, medication, antique mobile phone, travel information, and hand gun. It’s not that my home town is particularly dangerous to be in. (The epithet ‘Dodge City’ was reserved for a council housing estate at Coed Cae, four miles north of Abertillery.) Rather, I’m taking the weapon to the Police Museum:


In the studio, my mantra is ‘simplify’. I’m challenging myself to make the connections within and between sound units as direct as possible. Pair back; tear down.

7.00 pm: An evening at the Arts centre with three quarters of my family, where we attended the NTL performance of Terrence Rattigan’s play, Deep Blue Sea:

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The set design and soundscape reminded me of David Lynch’s Rabbits series.

August 31, 2016

8.15 am: The rubbish men (or ‘dustmen’ as we used to call them in South Wales, in the day when they also collected the ash and clinker remains of coal fires) removed the contents of our green bins and recycling bags out of sight and mind. The spiritual metaphors proliferate: all the broken, useless, unnecessary, degraded, foul, and encumbering residue of our daily lives — lifted and taken away. And, as in the realms of the heart and soul, there’ll be more of the same dross to be dealt with by this time next week:


9.20 am: A further blood test. The vacuity of the space and radio broadcast at the surgery was more than usually acute this morning. The receptionist told me: ‘The lady upstairs’ (I assumed that this was an administrator rather than a metaphysical construct) was on holiday; ‘So, GP appointments for September can’t be made until she returns’. (I mean … ‘What!?’):


9.45 am: GIF production went into full swing. I was determined to complete the Settings of the Psalms gallery and ‘further information’ by the close of the morning. While rifling through the publicity materials generated by the project, I found a poster advertising a lecture that I gave during an ultra short teaching and research sabbatical at Colorado College, Colorado Springs, back in October 2001, on my first visit to the USA. I’d quite forgotten about the presentation:



I was there at the invitation of the American Jewish composer Ofer Ben-Amots. It was he who first anticipated that my visual artwork might eventually move in the direction of sound and music. I responded to his suggestion with a mixture of astonishment and disbelief. What, for me, is now obvious, was not so then. (Always consider the advice of your betters.)

Lunchtime. The morning’s task was finished on time (with 5 minutes to spare). Afternoon. Back into the studio, to continue testing the new configurations of equipment:


First, I checked the L & R/Channel 1 & 2 (A & B) consistency on the main rack. Then, I went back to the mini-rack in order to confirm input levels through the rear of the preamp. I’ll must rethink the routing, using the MacBook/DAW as the interface between the rack pre-amp & A/D unit and the mixer. Mid afternoon, I plugged in both record decks and set up the main rack inputs for them. Contact!

The test records were taken from my box set of Alexander Scourby‘s reading of the whole Bible. The recording was commissioned by the American Foundation for the Blind, and was completed in 1953. There’s no information on the discs other than in braille, appropriately:


Evening. Further testing of the inputs and mixer on the main rack.