Month: April 2017

April 13, 2017

Yesterday. 8.15 am: Having tended to the inbox, I began writing a list of interrogative questions to address to a candidate for the post of vicar at Holy Trinity Church, at a meeting to be held in the late afternoon. 10.00 am: Studiology. The re-modification to Pedalboard IV. The tube gain pedal returned to the board. It was too good to be away for very long. Then, I attended to the mains power distribution and plugboards. The quality of the electricity firing the effectors contributes greatly to the quality of their operation. It really isn’t just a matter of plugging into a wall socket.

11.00 am: Off to School to look inside my physical inbox (aka ‘the pigeon hole’), sign off on postgraduate applications, and meeting again a successful MA applicant who had deferred their place for a year. 1.00 pm: We’d invited our former vicar and his wife for lunch. He’s delivering the Holy Week services this year .

3.00 pm: One of my finalising PhD Fine Art students came to the house to work with me on the soundtrack to one of their principal and concluding works. Great fun! 4.40 pm: Off to the parish Rectory to attend the preliminary interview committee for the post of Holy Trinity Church’s new vicar.

7.30 pm: Studiology: On with the analogue/digital translation of the records and back to the pedalboard project. Having inserted an Electro Harmonix Synth Engine between Pedalboards IV & V, I began to hear a guitar sound that has been in my head for several years. It was powerful, terrifying, and invigorating:

Maundy Thursday (The Thursday of Mysteries). 8.15 am: I wrote up my feedback on yesterday’s interview, cleared by virtual desktop, and entered the studio for the final day before my Easter vacation. The translations continued, with the Pauline epistles. The entire of the New Testament will be completed by the close of the day:

2.00 pm: One ought not to conclude, too early, that optimisation has been achieved. Therefore, I set about a wholesale reconsideration of the pedalboard array:

Test. Test. Test.

7.30 pm: The final session before vacation. The Synth Engine effectors were re-routed in parallel, a chorus effector inserted into their combined loop circuit, and the dual output from the engines fed into a delay unit in order to widen the stereo field. I’d not before attempted this configuration. I doubt whether many, if any, others have had the occasion to, either. This set up allows me to adjust each engine (and, therefore, their left and right signals) independently, and to smooth the transitions from one chordal change to another. The character of the guitar’s sonority and timbre is sober, fulsome, and reedy — somewhat like a church pipe organ:

9.40 pm: Over, for now.

April 11, 2017

Yesterday. Half the morning, I battled with re-installing soft-editing software on a laptop. Some manuals are less than ‘customer orientated’. (A well-written manual must be conceived from the learner’s perspective.) Good-old YouTube tutorials saved my bacon. Thereafter, I completed re-routing the major sound system in readiness for the 1-2 May outing. Back in 2009, I had a ‘vision’, on the boundaries of waking and sleep, of playing an electric guitar somewhere in the Arts Centre. The image and audition were fleeting; I couldn’t hear what I was playing, beyond the presence of a background drone, over which solo parts were introduced and looped. Today, I set about bringing this ‘vision’ to pass, by designing a double-looper network, which will permit drones and solos to be looped, stacked, and erased independently of one another:

In the afternoon, I constructed it. My pedalboard arrays are modular units (clusters of effectors) each with their own independent, buffered boards. These units can be combined to create a larger network. My principle for construction is to: begin as simply as possible; end as simply as possible:

In the background, I continued to migrate ‘The Talking Bible’ records to digital files. There’s not shortcut to the task; it has to be completed in real time. In the evening, I made trial of the pedalboard array. There’s always going to be some noise (the so-called ‘signal to noise ratio’ phenomenon) in a system built from so many units of mismatched capacitance and resistance. But just how far can one go to exclude it? The quest began.

Today. 8.15 am: A sent my responses to incoming emails and returned to the studio to review yesterday’s work and continue digitising records. A revelation: the (for me) unacceptable ‘hum’ in the background to the array was caused by a bridged power supply, shared by the two loopers. Once each looper was given an independent DC source, the ‘hum’ was history (‘humtory’).

The composition for which the array is required – ‘New Songs‘ – was conceived in 2014. I’d not had an opportunity to realise it further since. My ambition was to develop a part determined/part improvisatory structure for the suite. The music would be mediated by reasonably sparse and straightforward technology, such that its performance could be easily accommodated in either a gallery space or church. The four pieces that make up the suite are derived from those Psalms that refer to both stringed instruments, as the medium of performance, and the nature or mood of the music produced thereon. These two stipulations constrained my options, as follows:

Loud Noise (Ps. 33.3): ‘Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise’.

Dark Saying (Ps. 49.4): ‘I will incline my ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp’.

Solemn Sound (Ps. 92.3): ‘Upon an instrument of ten strings, and upon a psaltery; upon the harp with a solemn sound’.

Joyful Noise (Ps. 98.5-6): ‘ Sing unto the Lord with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets and sound of cornets make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King’.

2.00 pm: Following lunch, I caught up with learning the ins and outs of equipment that I’d purchased during the last six months. One ought to be conversant the tools of the trade at a deep level. But this takes time. And one learns best through usage. Further digital recordings were processed, sections extracted and looped, and files allocated to folders. Administering the conversions and their offspring is a task unto itself. They needed to logically labelled and intuitively accessible.

By the close of the afternoon, I’d reached the end of 2 Corinthians.

7.00 pm: I attended one of the Holy Week services, at St Anne’s, Penparcau. Above my head, a crucifix and a projector confronted one another in a stand-off. My metaphorical turn of mind went into overdrive:

Sometimes the traditional and the contemporary can’t be reconciled. They set up a dissonance that is, at one and the same time, intriguing and uncomfortable.

April 8, 2017

8.00 am: Breakfast. The town today looked like one of Pierre Adolphe Valette’s scenes of Manchester in the fog. (He’d had a significant influence on Lowry’s early work.):

Back at the stables, I packed and uploaded the last two days’ dairy, while recapping the dismal world news for the same period. 8.45 am: Off to the station, ridiculously early (as ever). 9.35 am: I caught the Holyhead train for Shrewsbury. The rail strikes ‘oup norwth’ and ‘darn sarth’ haven’t effected the routes home (yet). ‘All travel tickets, please!’, the conductor requested. What other kind of tickets are there? Like the term ‘the next station stop’ (announced on the train’s Tannoy (that dates me)), the term is a tautology.

Courtesy of Arriva Trains Wales’ free and efficient wifi, I reviewed unread mail. I’d been invited to write an essay on sonification for a book on transmediality. Would this be either relevant or necessary for me to do? Do I have time for this? When it doubt … defer a response until some clarity of conviction emerges. The refreshments trolley man entered the carriage advertising ‘tea, coffee, cold drinks, serpent’s venom …’. I was reminded of the departing advice given by the air hostess on a small US interstate airline that I once travelled on: ‘Please remember to take with you all your personal belongings (and any one else’s personal belongings, for that matter)’. Only when we depart from the script are we likely to be memorable. A lesson for life.

At Cardiff, yesterday, I’d time to retrace my old circuits and haunts, where I lived out my days in the early 1980s. I walked from the city centre, to the National Museum Wales, City Road, Kincraig Street, Albany Road, Donald Street, Hendy Street, and Roath Park (which is to Cardiff what Central Park is to New York.) I’d forgotten quite how long the distances between these places were. (I must have been hardier then.) ‘Those were the days’, I was tempted to think. But these are the days, now. Better days than those in so many ways. There’s a peculiar melancholy about revisiting places from which you’ve been distant for some time. In returning, you experience them through the lens of memory; what was and what is are one and the same. I need to go back in order to lay to rest their ghosts too, sometimes.

I’ve never given much thought to the future. Unlike the past and the present, it has neither substance, definition, nor certainty. However, I do reflect (too often) upon an alternative or a para-present. These reflections are idealist rather than fantastical. (There’s always a better life, a better self, to reach for.) The trick is knowing what from the imaginary can be realised in reality. They are not always so far apart. However, some things cannot happen … and for good reason. (God, only, knows the better way. And hard that way may prove.)

11.29 am: A smooth transition from one train to another. The entrance to Shrewsbury station was chocolate-o-bloc with travellers. Homeward. An opportunity to catch up with colleagues and students on Messenger.

1.15 pm: My younger son greeted me as I passed over the threshold, and regaled me with his research about mutational differences in birdsong, species, mating, and sexual reproductivity (being the topic of his dissertation). After a recuperative cup of tea, I unpacked. These days, there’s very little news to come home to; news follows you everywhere by every means: phones, pads, computers, and so forth. One can’t any longer ‘get away from it all’ in the fullest sense of the term.

5.00 pm: An end. 5.30 pm: Elder son returns. 7.30 pm: An evening with my family.

April 7, 2017

8.00 am: My traditional breakfast treat at the ‘inn’ across the road. 9.30 am: Back at the library:

Since my last visit, the Reference section has been converted into an educational room for the Newport Community Learning project. (It was empty.) The loss of the rooms’ former function makes academic study difficult. Books and journals are no longer on the open shelves. They have to be fetched from other parts of the building — which takes time. I’ve been catered for, though. A desk and chair has been set up for me. But who will consult material that they cannot see and access easily? Surely that’s what learning in the community is all about — finding things for oneself (which is the best experience of education one can ever have). My mother was a Library Assistant at Abertillery’s town library during the latter part of her life. After school, I’d hole up in the basement reference room (which was invariably empty, too) and pour over typewritten histories of the locality. I needed to know the past of my present — to discover what had been lost, over-written, and untaught. In school, I’d learned of English kings and queens, but was told nothing about the Industrial Revolution, the vestiges of which I could see from the library window.

I took an extended lunch and made off for Cardiff to visit the Gillian Ayres exhibition at the National Museum Wales. Her works are sumptuous, succulent, and sensuous; she’s one of our great colourists. Painting is about movement, the trace of the brush as it tracked across the support. Ayres’ works makes a virtue of this attribute. On this journey south, I’ve not had time to visit my home town in the valleys. My consolation was seeing L S Lowry’s magisterial Six Bells, Abertillery (1962), which is also at the museum. By 3.15 pm, I was back at my seat in Newport library. I’d been well fed. 5.00 pm: Closure.

6.45 pm: Having rested up ad touched-base with home, I headed out into the town to search for a place to eat. Loud gangs of smartly dressed twenty-somethings unsettled the evening shoppers:

The better restaurants were booked up. (It was Friday evening, of course). I settled for Mexican food at an ‘ok’ eatery:

8.00 pm: Reflection.

April 6, 2017

7.30 am: I departed Aberystwyth on the first leg of my journey to Newport, Gwent. The landscape was raked by a frosted sunlight. A brittle air. Sharply defined contours. A thin reflective vapour lifted off the water. Fields glistened. Shadows stretched long. (The anticipation of a better and more intense world — the plains of Heaven.)  I was reminded of another place, another time – this world. (Was it approaching Christmas, then?) What I saw; what I remembered: seeped into one another.

9.15 am: It was unusually cold at Shrewsbury. I listened to John McLaughlin’s second solo album, Devotion (1970), on the second leg. Hendrix’s influence is evident. But JM, having been brought to the guitar through jazz, had a far greater command of melodic invention than H ever would:

11.15 am: Approaching Newport: ‘Oh, Clarence Place in my dreams!’:

An early check-in was possible at my usual stables in this parish. I had lunch and caught up on departmental business and with my general plan of action for the next few days.

1.00 pm: Off to >

Here, in 1981, that I began my study of art and Welsh Nonconformity. In those days, there wasn’t very much to read on the topic and, certainly, not much written since the end of the nineteenth century. There were very few readers today; the good weather that has prevailed in these parts over the past few days proved too enticing, perhaps.

5.00 pm: They chuck you out early here! I returned to my accommodation, freshened up, caught-up on mail, and headed over the road to for little Weatherspoonery. The waitresses hovered around my table, periodically asking whether ‘everything was alright’. This made me insecure about my meal.

7.00 pm: It’d been a long day. Once the evening’s trivial and the routine business had been dispatched, I listened to music and watched the town through the net curtain. In the background, I heard the whirr and draw of the trains as they pulled out of Newport station:

April 5, 2017

9.00 am: A day for second and third year painters. To begin, I vacuumed my inbox and reduced the unanswered letters to 1. 9.30 am: The first of the day’s tutorials. 10.00 am: Back to PhD training module marking, before a review of a bucket load of MA Fine Art applications. Often, a trawl of late applications comes our way at this time of the year. It would appear to herald a bumper harvest (again).

An idea may be simple to state without, at the same time, being easy to execute. Alkyd paint: neither fish nor foul. ‘I’ve little visual imagination’. Consider the materiality of each object in the composition, through paint. In other words, learn to ‘think’ in the ‘language’ that you ‘speak’ — visually. Your health is of greater importance than your work. Something understood, seen, known, and felt. ‘Do as little as possible and as much as necessary’. There’s an energy that comes with the idea that will permit only a finite number of outcomes. When you arrive at the work that doesn’t work, you’ll know the energy has been all used up (BA Fine Art tutorials, from ‘The Black Notebook’ (April 5, 2017) 245).

For the finalists, these next few weeks will be the most crucial in their art education to date. That which ensues over the Easter vacation, in terms of works begun and completed, will have a significant impact on the outcome of their Exhibition module. The stakes are high. The extent of their capacity for hard work, intelligently undertaken, will be the making or breaking of their endeavours. Only those that persevere to the end will finally wear the crown, as it were.

Throughout the morning, I discussed the finalisation of the catalogue statements with my charge. It’s important to get this right.

1.40 pm: Ever onwards. Second-year painting tutorials continued:

Something must be present at a tutorial – other than the tutee and tutor – for it to rise above the perfunctory. Try out ideas like items in a clothes shop, and see which fits. ‘Today, I can’t help you’. Is creativity our natural state?  You can either conceive of an idea and then formulate it in a sentence, or formulate a sentence in order to conceive an idea. The same is true with painting. If you’ve no idea what you’re going to do to …  just start painting. Ideas will catch up, eventually. Hans Hoffman was a painter-teacher. His works were, for me, too much a compendium, rather than a resolution, of possibilities. You can redeem the banal by looking at it with interest (BA Fine Art tutorials, from ‘The Black Notebook’ (April 5, 2017) 246).

Some absenteeism today. But, then again, I’d changed the day of the tutorials and it’s the last week of term. No excuse, mind you! 5.20 pm: Mission accomplished.

6.30 pm: Off to Holy Trinity Church, where I lead a service for Lent and of compline. An extract from the homily:

I want to return to the context of Christ’s burial, and a verse that can be easily overlooked in the narrative: ‘Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden’ (John 19.41). Let’s pause for a moment and consider this astonishing incongruity. Set amid this dismal landscape of undignified, slow, and excruciating mass execution, and rank and rotting cadavers, was an oasis of natural beauty and solace, where the well-to-do departed were laid to rest and remembered. We see a rather twee and sanitised representation of this conjunction in the tradition of the Easter Garden. There was a garden in the vicinity of another notorious state sponsored killing machine, much later in Jewish history. On the outskirts and at the centre of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, the prisoners planted and tended formal flower gardens. Through them, they were marched en route to the gas chambers. A paradise in hell, as it were.

April 4, 2017

MA day. 9.00 am: At the School: Tutorial no. 1. 10.30 am: At the Old College:

Tutorial no. 2.

If it works … it works! Throw caution, theory, and precedent to the wall. Odd numbers, like 5 and 7. To write a hundred words describing your work, it’s better to write a thousand, and then to condense the text. An even number of hung works divides at the space between them; an odd number, divides upon the central work. Which is to be preferred? You live too close to your heart to know. A tutor has a privileged distance from your work. They see in from without, whereas you see out from within. Where the work began and where it’s now are two very different places connected by a journey.  ‘A man from a different film crossed my path’. ‘How noisy it all is, today!’ ‘I’m skidding across the surface of things!’ Claude glass. Day for night photography. Truth, authenticity, scope. The best artists go through dry and barren creative patches; but it’s the manner in which they traverse the difficulty that, in part, makes them the best artists. Quietness and stillness: What is the distinction? You see the symbols, but not their significance (MA Fine Art tutorials, from ‘The Black Notebook’ (April 4, 2017) 245).


Back at the School. 11.45 am: A late running third year painting tutorial. I’m trying to fit in as many of these as possible before my time away at the close of the week and beginning of the Easter vacation. I feel so tired! 12.30 pm: Tutorial no. 3.

2.00 pm: Following lunch, Tutorial no. 4. Brigitte’s studio:

The difference between exercising a facility and exercising a gift is the same as that between walking and flying. Establish the tone of your blog: between conversation and formality. ‘What has been the most significant influence on your work in past few months?’ Discussing your work with other students is like journeying with a travelling companion. They notice things that you do not. Rhythm and drumming/dancing and drawing. When a way of working isn’t enough for you, what is the ’nuff’ that’s missing? ‘When I found the mark?’ ’47’ (another odd number). Odd numbers of works leave the sequence open. A great many colours and a great many parts are hard to resolve in a painting. Try, instead, composing with a few colours and great many parts, and vice versa (MA Fine Art tutorials, from ‘The Black Notebook’ (April 4, 2017) 246).

2.30 pm: I held an illuminating and potentially exciting MA Fine Art application interview. (Music in the air.) 3.00 am: An advisory session for an earnest, final year painter. Lil’s lights:

3.45 pm: I ended where I began, at the Old College. Tutorial no. 5. 5.00 pm: Outward and homeward:

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: Various administrations:

  • Student catalogue statement reviews, revises, and re-revises;
  • Teaching appointment confirmations;
  • Diary update;
  • Research training module marking.

April 3, 2017

Yesterday. 4.00 pm: Borth walk:

Today: 8.30 pm. The first half of the morning was conducted at homebase, where I caught up on the admin tasks generated during the latter part of the last week and over the weekend: postgraduate references, a review of exhibition statements, MA inquiries, a Module Evaluation Questionnaire redo (sigh!), and an MA publicity material edit and confirmation.

11.15 am: Studiology. The Gospel of John was on the turntable, ready to be digitised. On the bench, Pedalboard I was on its back, like a stranded turtle, awaiting the insertion of a digital EQ and a reorganisation of the top of board layout, as a consequence:

On the mixing table, I reviewed last week’s materials in order to get my head back into the zone.

I’m not getting  traction on anything substantial. It’s ‘a day of small things’, as the prophet would say. And, as such, it should not be despised. One must always keep busy … doing the little things, dutifully. There’s no excuse for putting down tools and folding the arms. Creativity is an uneven process. There’re times when things speed along at a pace, are heady with possibilities, point in sure directions, and resolve effortlessly. And there’re other times when ideas are thin, the work, disengaging, and one’s energy for it, febrile. Neither condition is to be preferred. Fallow times (as is the case in agriculture) are the necessary preparation for fruitfulness and harvest later on.

By 4.00 pm, the recording of John’s gospel was complete.

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: An assortment box of preparations, planning, learning, and reviewing.

April 1, 2017

8.30 am: Studiology. Today, I faced my demons: the persistent problem with the ‘A’ and ‘B’ loops on the Lehle D.Loop, and my niggling sense of compromise regarding the system mixer’s inability to exclude the ‘dry’ signal from the processing path when using its own internal ‘send’ and ‘receive’ loop. The latter problem could only be overcome by feeding the mixer’s main outputs directly through the modifiers and splitting the signal at the end — one pair of stereo outputs proceeding to the amps, and an identical pair, to an analogue/digital interface and onto a computer, where the signal will be recorded. Deciding where in the system the stereo signal would begin was the first task:

In the background, I combined and mixed down the composite tracks for each of Mark’s and Luke’s gospels. This process occupied my laptop for an hour and a half. (It didn’t like it. These are huge files.) In the meantime, I dismantled the sound system cabling in order to prepare for re-routing its signal path:

Before lunch I extracted, from the analogue>digital recording of the records, the noise of the stylus as it trails off from the recorded groove towards the centre of the disc. The ‘needle’ gets stuck in the grove until the tone arm is lifted. (Analogue looping.) The graphical display of the sound looks like a very fine-tooth comb:

1.40 pm: I isolated a portion of the mechanical loops from each of the records and created a digital loop. These loops will then be overlaid to create polyrhythms. The static, click, and bumps produce the trace of the stylus is exquisitely subtle and delicate. The graphic rendering looks precisely like the recorded sound:

In tandem, I continued to re-route the cables of the revised sound system. The new configuration does away with the need of the Lehle D.Loop in the system. (Problem solved.)

I’ll need to place a mixer between the system and the amplifiers, and to run the levelling amplifier into the Moog units, rather than after it. (I could, then, record from the mixer USB, which would save me having to split the stereo signal.) The present set up is far too cumbersome for recording purposes. Due to the variation in the capacitance and mismatched resistance across so many modifiers, the overall sound quality at the final output is also compromised, albeit only moderately and, for the purpose of the coming 24-hour open studio – negligibly.

5.20 pm: Close of play. 6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: An evening with my wife.

March 31, 2017

8.00 am: A final read through the School’s self-assessment profile in readiness for the 11.30 am Quinquennial inquisition. (I felt as though I was preparing for a viva voce?) 9.00 am: Studiology. My micro-toggle switches arrived yesterday, all the way from China. These will be used to switch on and off the ‘bent’ paths created by redirecting the current on the solid-state circuit board of the original Stylophone. Fun to come:

At this stage in the composition, based on the ‘blind’ extracts, I’m applying well-worn strategies for editing, interlacing, looping, and superimposition. Eventually, I’ll move beyond what I know I can do to what I never thought was possible. But I’ve learned never to despise the obvious. An old technique when applied to new material can produce some unexpected results.

11.00 am: Off to School to face the music. 11.30 pm Quinquennial Inspection: inquisition/disquisition. The panel were only doing their job … and did it well. In my head, I repeated: ‘Now, don’t get me going on that’. Like most academics, I’ve a welter of gripes, groans, bees in bonnets, and moral outrages about the contemporary system of higher education that, once let out of the cage, are difficult to round-up again. The panel was very patient. The School’s teaching staff held their own for nearly and hour and a half. We acquitted ourselves well.

1.40 pm: After lunch, I arranged the morning’s extractions from the ‘blind’ sequence into equal and sub-divided measures for the purpose of synchronous looping:

Next, I stacked the ‘blind’ sequence 20 times, one below the other, and off-set the beginning of each track by two positions right of its predecessor. Something unexpected resulted. After the mixdown, I stretched the time span of the amalgamated tracks and lowered the pitch by 800%. What emerged was strikingly dark, driving, (like the sound of old rolling stock being pulled at speed by a diesel train), loud, complex, rhythmic, evocative, strangely complete (which may prove problematic), and remote from me — as though it had been made by someone else. Such moments come too rarely. And when they do, they’re treasured. The sound fabric has a superficial resemblance to an earlier piece, entitled B-Lit-Z (2013). The unconscious repetition of elements and ways of working over time is of the essence of ‘style’.

Recently, I came across the following opinion — one that is pertinent both to my own blog practice and that of students from BA to PhD level, who do likewise. It’s wise and cautionary:

While it’s great that musicians can allow the entire world to enter into their private creative domain via live streaming or endless video diaries, the mystery of that process and then the revealing of a finished piece of work can be devalued or its impact lessened thanks to this drip feed of samples. The constant share of the ‘process’ also has a levelling effect on the appreciation of some artists’ music, and once again the old phrase, ‘less is more’ is increasingly pertinent (Chris Partridge, Jazzwise Magazine, 217 (April 2017) 98).

I, for one, won’t expose any work in a partial and still vulnerable state by publishing extracts or ‘proofs’. My objective is, rather, to describe the process by which it came into being, and my on-going evaluation of such. An only that.

5.15 pm. My other life. Off to the Parish Rectory for a Holy Trinity Church Committee, and a discussion about the appointment of a new vicar, principally.

7.30 pm: After dinner, I listened again to the afternoon’s work and continued the process of recording the albums.