Month: April 2017

April 29, 2017

Yesterday. I dismantled the sound system for ‘The Talking Bible’ project in readiness for packing tomorrow. In one respect, the re-assembly of the same, at the National Library of Wales on Monday, began at this point. The equipment needed to be boxed and secured systematically in order to ensure that both nothing was forgotten and it could be reconnected efficiently on arrival:

In the afternoon, I visited the School to finish preparing the fixings on the main table top for the project. On my return, completed dismantling and set myself to finalise teaching and assessment admin for the weeks ahead.

Today. Boxing day. This will be like packing for a long holiday (one, however, which isn’t, short, and very close by). In this second 24-hour event, I want to structure my endeavours far more: to observe a pattern of work and evaluation; making and writing. Defined breaks must be inserted periodically and regularly. (These will be my pot noodle and cuppa soup oases.) 11.15 pm: Into town to do the necessary:

1.20 pm: Following an early lunch, I continued packing gear into storage boxes. (This is a rationale practice.) At every turn I realise that other ‘stuff’ must be taken. While it’s only a short distance to travel, all items need to secured and padded. In the background, I undertook a remix of a sound track for one of my PhD students. Bubble wrap makes the world go round.

On, then, with dismantling tables for transport. By the close of the afternoon, The larger part of the preparations were behind me. From then on, I needed to prepare myself.

5.20 pm: A cessation. 6.30 pm: An evening with my wife.

April 27, 2017

8.30 pm: Yesterday, I saw two people, in and on my way to town, just moments after I’d thought about them. This is not an uncommon phenomenon, I’m given to understand. Today, I experienced a momentary, olfactory illusion. As on previous occasions, the scent was that of a woman’s perfume. With it came a feeling of extraordinary well being.

9.00 am: Studiology. The workforce on the scaffolding outside the studio window were making noises uncomfortably like a dental hygienist’s burnishing tool.  Since I couldn’t continue composition at the mixing desk under these conditions, I turned to ‘The Talking Bible’ sound system, and tested the MacBooks’ play and record functionality. (Better to discover a problem now than on the day.):

I’m conscious that the system is getting unwieldy. This is inevitable when the it has to live independently of any support currently provided by the studio’s equipment. Metaphorically, this ‘baby’ has to be viable outside the ‘womb’ on Monday. The fundamental structure of the system is straightforward: all the effectors are connected in series. It’s, rather, the accumulation of effectors that creates the complexity. For most of the morning I bounced between three MacBooks and an iMac, like a circus plate-spinner, processing sounds, files, and technical strategies.

At this stage of preparations, I turn my mind to what was uncomfortable, inadequate, redundant, and dysfunctional (myself included) the last time I conducted a 24-hour event. Most definitely, I need to take more warm clothes, a pair of carpet slippers (for the night watch), a kettle, some pot noodles, and additional  sugary things. The enterprise feels as though its a cross between readying for a marathon and a long-haul night flight. I remember my leg-stretching forays into the dark corridors of the Library outside the Drwm. There was at least one other person in the building, but I saw them only once:

With the digitisation of the first five books of the Bible (Torah) complete, I mixed down all the files, superimposing book upon book. Afterwards, I did the same with all the gospels, letters, and accounts making up the New Testament. The combined sound is evokes that of an enormous congregation of  glossolaliacs (tongues-speakers), combined with the drone of many murmured prayers.

By lunchtime, the whole system had been tested successfully:

2.00 pm: After lunch, I put the network of effectors through their paces using the recordings of the Revelation of St John the Divine as my source. A suitably dark and unsettling soundscape emerged. Mid afternoon, I interrogated the ergonomic of the main table. There was a little too much clutter due to inappropriate cable lengths.

7.30 pm: A grizzly evening attempting to respond to an on-line Module Evaluation Questionnaire that refused to save my input. Life is too short for this!

April 26, 2017

The swings and roundabouts of outrageous fortune.

8.15 am: A thoroughly departmental day, today. I dealt with the night season’s incoming mail and pushed on to town, where I picked up store boxes before attending to business at the School. There, I assembled my handout for the noontide workshop on the hill:

After confirming arrangements for the transportation of equipment to and from the National Library on Monday, I returned to homebase to work my way through a tranche of bitty admin jobs related to teaching and research. (‘Music, maestro, please!’)

11.30 am: Up the hill, to IBERS. The building is one of the most successful pieces of architecture on the campus. Good (café style) teaching spaces too:

I held a workshop on ‘Writing a Conference Paper’ for the university’s PhD students (who were drawn from the sciences and social sciences). The session went well. Although, in retrospect, I could have made more effort to draw out the more reflective attendees:

1.05 pm: I hurried back to homebase for a express lunch before returning to the School for an arranged tutorial with one of Dr Forster’s final year painters. I recorded the tutorial in preparation for my paper on one-to-one tutorials for the Aber Teaching Conference.

2.45 pm: The news is out! Looks like I’m really going to have to do it, then:

Back at homebase, I ‘Black Boarded’ the morning’s teaching, shared the recorded tutorial with the tutee, and infiltrated by inbox to eradicate all bold type deposits. My diary for the first week of term is beginning to fill. With Tuesday taken up at the National Library of Wales, the teaching for that day has to find another slot later in the week.

7.30 pm: And again … of the same order. A workaday sort of day. Most of life is made up of the unspectacular, the mundane, and familiar. Our attitude to, and performance of, ‘the trivial round and common task’ can be a telling indicator of personal integrity and determination.

April 25, 2017

8.30 am: As I suspected, The OtO Biscuit required a ‘hotter’ signal input than the effector placed immediately before it was able to deliver. I inserted a device with a substantial gain in between them. Problem solved. Back, then, to the mixing desk to configure the latest set of ‘end’ samples:

On my way to a medical consultation: pretty wedding tyres:

10.45 am: This would be a bitty morning, fractured by admin responses, requests for information, tutorial arrangements, advice from the external workforce, and digitising hitches. Such days must come.

After lunch, I attempted to genuinely create, as opposed to prepare to create. (The former intent is always active, the latter (sometimes), provaricative.) I returned to the ‘Blind Leaders of the Blind’ track. Last week, I’d made several samples of spoken text independently of one another. If I didn’t initiate the process of coalescence soon, they’d never establish a relation, one to another. Aligning the samples takes an inordinate length of time. How they fit together is never obvious. Sometimes, one must hit the beat of the ‘spinal’ track; at other times, syncopation is the call of the moment. Towards the end of the afternoon, I reviewed my slide presentation for tomorrow’s class on preparing a conference paper (part of the Research Postgraduate Writing week).

7.30 pm: Admin catch up. The storm had past:

Having had a few hours’ break from the afternoon’s composition, I could hear it with fresh ears. One needs to listen to the small things at this stage — the timing, speed, and positioning of particular elements. The elements need to mesh elegantly, but not predictably or perfectly, necessarily.

April 24, 2017

Sunday. ‘Over all and through all and in all’:

Today. 8.15 am: ‘The Lord is my portion’. Enough. 9.00 am: Studiology. On the deck: The Book of Numbers. In the foreground, I reviewed Saturday’s work and converted the uncompressed version of the ‘end’ files to MP3 format. Then, it was back to the ‘blind’ sequence’ ‘stretch piece’, which is still the most (disconcertingly) complete rendering that I’ve achieved on this project to date. Around and about the studio and study, the sound of paint scrapers, sandpaper, workers’ banter, and Radio 2 could be heard, as a team of builders and decorators spruced up the house’s exterior. ‘Did I make that sound, or did they?’

11.10 am: I was on the workers’ tea duty. I finalised the publicity material for ‘The Talking Bible’ event, next Monday, and began posting it out. At the mixing desk, I finalised the ‘stretch piece’. This’ll be a sample for me to work on further next week at the event. Over the next few days, I’ll need to generate more material to manipulate on this occasion. Structuring the work load for a 24-hour schedule will take some planning (as I recall).

1.40 pm: It rained:

2.00 pm: I reviewed the latest ‘end’ samples with the aim of discerning several that could serve as the percussive spine for other compositions. One was found, which had both an infectious beat and musicality. In the background, I created the mixdown for Leviticus. The surprising ‘end’ sample that arose after being dropped in pitch by 12 semitones on Saturday required reverse engineering in order to discern how I arrived at the sound. The poster and text for the event also needed translating into Welsh. Elen Rees, at the National Library of Wales, undertook a remarkably swift turnaround producing the Welsh text. (‘Diolch, Elen!’) Throughout the morning and afternoon, I fielded inquiries from students and provided email feedback on several works that a few had posted me.

Towards the end of the afternoon, I returned to my consideration of ‘The Talking Bible’ sound system (which had been radically changed some weeks back. In order to test its road-worthiness for the event, I needed to ensure that all the parts were operational and ‘hums’, debugged. Back to the drawing board; begin (again):

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: An implementation of the diagrammatisation:

‘Look mum! No “hum”!’ But why was the OtO Biscuit (bit-crusher) underperforming?

April 22, 2017

I can see for miles and miles.
I can see for miles and miles.
I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles.
Oh yeah!

(The Who, I Can see for Miles (1967))

Having spent a week in Abertillery (in my head), I now had to return home. I’m prone to spend too long in my past (or, at least, a revisionist version of it). Roger Cecil’s work has made me aware of the sensuality of the Ebbw Fach, which he conceived in terms of the metaphor of a naked female, Angharad. The gentle undulations of the mountains and valleys have, for me, a maternal evocation too: my mother’s smooth caress, when I was a child; a hand laid softly upon my ear; her soothing whisper and cushioned lap, into which I’d bury my face when seeking sleep or solace. The valley, like a woman, is a place of homecoming:

Approaching Home
(1991) watercolour and gouache on paper on board, 32 × 29.7 cm

I’ve a sliver of the Arael Mountain at home in Aberystwyth. It’s my relic; a sacred remembrancer:

9.30 am: Studiology. I reacquainted myself with the outcomes of yesterday’s work at the mixing desk. The ‘end’ files needed reduction. Processing such a large batch took time. Folders which may, eventually, represent ‘songs’, lined up on my screen. This was reassuring. Presently, I’ve lots of bits of sound. Soon, some will coalesce — like the mercurial remains of the molten liquid T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) — into more substantial units of composition. The Book of Leviticus was on the deck. On one flyleaf, I read the inscription: ‘1Sid of a Reckord = 10 pages and 26Min’.

After lunch, I recomposed the percussive track using the ‘end’ samples, which I’d abandoned yesterday because the files proved too large to be processed in parallel. Sometimes a second attempt is a better attempt. This proved to be the case. The beat developed feet. (‘You can dance to this one, Caro!’);

I took one of the ‘end’ samples and lowered its pitch by 12 semitones. ‘Woah!’ What a difference a octave makes; 24 little quarter tones. Ideas and processes are now beginning to yield. It takes me an age to get into a new project. (I reckon on that.) Rather like arriving in a city that you’ve never before visited, there’s an initial period of disorientation: ‘Where am I? How big is this place? What’re its major landmarks? How do I get to them? Where is there a high enough vantage point from which to survey the whole?’

At the top of the Arael Mountain I was sufficiently elevated to see pretty much everywhere that was significant to me. In the catalogue to my exhibition Abertillery; Aberystwyth: Landscape; Languages (1996), I wrote:

Abertillery sits at the junction of the Tillery and Ebbw Fach valleys on the north-eastern corner of what were the south Wales coalfields. The town is situated mainly on the east side of the Ebbw Fach valley. The valley’s west side is formed by the precipitous slope of the Arael mountain, a towering curtain running the length of the valley. Above the mountain the evening sky once turned an intense crimson-orange as the blast furnaces at the Ebbw Vale steelworks in the next valley were opened. My family lived in an end-of-terrace house at the bottom of a steep hill near the base of the Ebbw Fach. On our walks to the top of the Arael, my father would point out the pitched pine-end of the house, the aspect which most clearly distinguished it among the sprawling trains of rows, streets, and terraces that were the town. From the summit, Abertillery looked like a giant relief map on which familiar landmarks and paths could be traced. The view up the valley took in the long road north that passed the coal-tip below Rose Heyworth colliery and disappeared into the smoky haze obscuring Blaina and Nantyglo. To the south could be seen the colliery at Six Bells, and the constant traffic of buses to and from Newport and Ebbw Vale, the pull and grind of their engines reverberating throughout the length of the valley. This has been my enduring vision of the town.

At the top of the mountain, the town appeared small enough to embrace between outstretched arms. In later life, painting and drawing became another way of taking the town unto myself, and a means of returning, in spirit, to the place that was once my home and, to a great extent, my whole world. Abertillery, or more specifically the visual impressions, intensities of feeling, and emotional memory that I associate with it, still largely defines the boundaries and horizons of my interests as an artist.

When I turned my back to the town, I saw the mildly arched back of mountain’s plane stretching westward. This was the one place on earth where solitude could be guaranteed:

Arael Top
(1991) pencil and Conté crayon on paper, 25 × 25 cm

5.20 pm: I ceased from my labours. 6.30 pm: An evening with my family.

April 21, 2017

8.45 am: I completed ‘trussing’ Pedalboard V. I now needed to insert the pitch-bending pedal between Pedalboard V and Pedalboard II (and to hope no ‘hum’ ensued). The sample from Matthew. chapter 15 was re-recorded but, this time, from my second set of New Testament records. My intent was to compare the quality of the sets’ sound reproduction. Generally speaking, the New Testament records are far more worn than those of the Old Testament. That’s hardly surprising. The Book of Exodus was now on the deck, readied for digitisation. Another biggy!

I’m drawn to the inscriptions on the flyleaves. They’re as much a part of the records’ history as anything inscribed in their grooves: a testament to who listened to what and when:

Similarly, the discs’ patina — the static, dust, and scratches that have accrued since they were first pressed. They are the signifiers and physical memory of the medium’s ageing, usage, and wear and tear. For this reason, I haven’t cleaned the discs before recording them.

10.30 pm: A little virtual desk tidying to ensure that the generated files were in the correct folders and all the redundant material was in the ‘trash’. The sonic character of the ‘New Songs’ array is uncannily like a large church organ. This was not the sound I had in my head. Its better than that. Keith Jarrett’s improvisations Hymns and Spheres (1976) come to mind. This work has meant a great deal to me over the past five years. It summons an aching melancholy associated with unrevisitable people, locations, and times past, irretrievable love, and inconsolable regret:

1.40 pm: I completed a draft of the poster. Once the Library and other collaborators have confirmed the arrangements, I’ll publish it:

2.00 pm: For the remainder of the afternoon, I worked on the digitisation process, the ‘New Songs’ array, and the mixing desk, in rotation. The ‘end’ samples of the records beckoned. The samples were conformed to one another, looped, and layered. My approach was to construct a ‘percussive’ composition. The first trial of the idea was promising. Greater rigour and more samples will be necessary in order to pull-off something worthwhile. Furthermore, I’ll have to work with smaller file sizes; the accumulation of session tracks at (unnecessarily) high resolution slows down the computer and leads to intermittent digital dropout:

In the evening, I began writing a short explanatory text for the ‘The Talking Bible’ outing at the National Library of Wales, next month.

April 20, 2017

Ariel V
(1992) carbon-based ink on paper on board, 20 × 28.5 × 10 cm

The Arael Mountain, which encloses the eastern side of the Ebbw Vach valley (wherein is situated Abertillery) was my safe haven. In times of perplexity and hurt, and when seeking consolation, I’d climb to the summit and look down upon the town, as though from an aeriel view. From there, I’d gained both a geographical and a psychological perspective. The mountain was supposedly infested with fairies, who would teleport travellers great distances in an instant. (Further information is available in my The Appearance of Evil: Apparitions of Spirits in Wales (2003).) In Hebrew, ‘Arael’ means ‘vision of God’ or ‘light of God’. I experienced both on that mountain.

8.30 am: There was a chink and clink of scaffolding in the grounds around the house. The work of restoration had begun. At this time of the year, my immune system (which has been severely compromised by the effects of ME during the past quarter of a century and more) is in overdrive. Food intolerances are more pronounced, a dull pain pervades my musculature, sinuses are engorged (leading to toothache and headache), a profound tiredness (which no length of rest has ever mitigated) dogs my every effort, and cognitive impairment is pronounced. My encounter with the illness, while chronic, has been at the mild end of the spectrum. I can still function (albeit only by dint of a colossal effort, sometimes, and with consequences, always). And, the symptoms are not likely to kill me. So, much for which to be grateful.

9.00 am: Genesis was processed and the ‘tail’ pieces of each recording (the clicks, drag, and stutters of the stylus in the groove as it tracked towards the spindle), extracted. I was confident that the ‘blind’ samples and sequences, which I’d been working on during the past few weeks, are centred on the concept of ‘blind leaders of the blind’ (Matt. 15.14). I recorded the source text and associated verses, while occasionally tweaking the graphic publicity material for the May 1–2 event.

The first job that I secured on graduating was as a part-time graphic designer for a small business company in Abertillery. My remit was to design logos for sports bodies and cultural societies, chiefly:

Logos: ‘Ten-pin bowling’, ‘Pool’, ‘Orpheus’, ‘Potholing’ (1981–82),
pen and ink, Letratone, and Letraset on paper, 8-cm diameter

The job was repetitive and poorly paid; but kept it me solvent and funded my painting to boot. The images were produced using a Rotring pen, Letratone (for which I had the greatest enthusiasm), and Letraset, and reproduced on a standard photocopier. While commercially orientated, the commissions never prevented me from either being inventive or exploring compositional possibilities. (I made a virtue of a necessity, as they say.)

By 5.00 pm, The ‘blind leaders of the blind’ idea had developed some traction, in terms of both a hermeneutical approach and a method of interleaving texts on the same subject from different parts of the gospels. Now this, for me (and, I guess, anyone else for that matter) is a new approach to biblical, textual, sonic collaging.

7.30 pm: My new, earthed isolated effector power supply unit arrived during the afternoon. I was keen to know whether my persistent ‘hum’ would now be eradicated. PSUs don’t come better than this one:

The result: absolute silence. ‘Harvey the Hum’ had done it again. All that remained was for the PSU to be integrated onto the pedalboard and trussed up in the usual manner, and a buffered volume pedal to be placed after it and before Pedalboard II.

9.45 pm: Practise session 2.

April 19, 2017

Indistinct instinct.

On the cusp of a dream … I returned to Blaina and Abertillery, last night:

(1991)  acrylic on board, 24 × 24 cm

9.00 am: Studiology. The challenge of ‘The Talking Bible’ [working title] project is twofold: the scale of the source material, and the absence of any topical or thematic steer through or focus to it. (The source, after all, represents every story, event, person, precept, law, prophecy, hymn, poem, and thing in the Judaeo-Christian scriptures.) Which is why the history, context, purpose, provenance, and medium of the recording are indispensable. Within this ancillary body of knowledge, conditioning or limiting ideas and principles will be found that offer pathways and structures.

Domestic analogue:

Having listened to Scourby’s date stamp at the close of his reading of the the Book of Genesis, I strongly suspect that (contrary to everything that I’ve read) the whole project was begun and concluded in July 1964. Therefore, I need to find out what went on in the world during that period.

I’ve no sense of the scale of the work, its divisions, beginning or end, or anything in between for that matter. At present, all I can do is play with fragments of sound (and continue digitising the records, in the background). Its rather like painting on a canvas of indeterminate dimensions and format — pushing a few small shapes around; observing which stick together; reordering, rejecting, and returning them; and doing the obvious, the unlikely and doomed to fail, and what I’ve done before (but, now, in a different context. (And context makes all the difference.)). Metre, repetition, pulse, superimposition, and a certain musicality are among the mainstay of my creative means.

11.10 am: I ventured into the School to retrieve a parcel. A printmaking workshop was underway. 11.30 am: Back at the mixing desk, I calibrated the ‘blind’ samples to a common metre, so that they can be synchronised. Polyrhythms abound.

2.00 pm: I synchronised several of the sample tracks. There was the beginning of something. These days, if I’m not struck forcibly by an outcome, it’s rejected … no matter how competent the sound. Somethings are, now, for me, too easy to achieve. I need to be astonished, pressed harder, and challenged to exceed my best efforts.

7.30 pm: A poster for my May 1–2, 24-hour outing at the National Library of Wales needed to be begun.

In the period from the mid 80s to the mid 90s I drew, habitually, anything … in order to understand something. During the three years in which I undertook a PhD in Art History, the practice kept me ‘visual’ (as Greenberg used to say):

Self Portrait
(1985) pencil, 14.5 × 9 cm

April 18, 2017

On Saturday, I attended Peter Wakelin’s curated exhibition Roger Cecil: A Secret Artist at MOMA, Machynlleth. Like me, Roger Cecil (1942–2015) was born and lived in Abertillery, came from a working class background, grew up in a terrace house (which he later converted into his studio), and trained at the, then, Newport College of Art, Clarence Place, Newport. Unlike me, he returned to his home town to paint for the rest of his life. (For my part, I desperately needed to leave.):

Abertillery, from the south slope of the Arael Mountain (1982)

He’d walked the same mountain paths, travelled on the same bus between Abertillery and Newport, and knew the same ‘homing instinct’ (a profound sense of the psychological borders of one’s spiritual domain (this world)), as had I. His refusal to maintain a place at the Royal College of Art, London and make a name for himself in that city consigned him to virtual and knowing oblivion for most of his professional life. But, being a good artist and being a well-known artist aren’t necessarily synonymous. You can be the one without the other, either way.

Fortuitously, the exhibition came only weeks after I’d revisited by my undergraduate work, in preparation for a talk on the same to the School of Art’s BA Fine Art painting students. My final works, based upon the town, were made in 1995, and coincided with a breakaway from the genre of landscape that has persisted until the present day:

Abertillery I
(1995), oil and pencil on board, 36 × 40.5 cm

Much of what made the town engaging, visually – the collieries, coal tips, and the detritus of industry – have been variously levelled, overlaid, or removed. What remains, for me, is the vestigial presence — the corpus of my own and other artists’ works; my tactile, emotional, visual, and acoustic memories; and a historical knowledge of its social, industrial, and religious underpinnings.

Back on the bench:

The parallel Synth Engine units underwent further testing and reconfiguration. Back at the mixing desk, I reviewed the 800% stretch and pitch reduction of the New Testament combined mixdown. A curious formation had emerged:

Processing takes an age. One file was 16 GB in size. One more ‘hum’ to cure. And this one would not be straightforward. Strip down; build again, piece by piece; and locate the juncture at which the ‘hum’ is generated. And, just when you feel that the solution has been reached … The problem was caused, again, by a power supply. The supplies to Pedalboards I & III were both earthed; the one to Pedalboard V (the errant board) was not. An additional earthed unit will need to be ordered.

7.30 pm: Sifting, searching, sorting, planning: an evening of self examination and reflection: