Month: August 2017

August 14, 2017

There is a shadow side to great strength (Personal notes, St Beuno’s, October 18, 2013).

8.10 am: A communion:

Over the weekend, I cleaned the study and batched and filed personal correspondence that had slept too long in my too many in-trays. While dispatching redundant paperwork from my filing cabinet to the paper bin, I alighted upon reflective notes that I’d made over a decade ago; they represent an early draft towards a ‘manifesto for becoming’ that has been on-going ever since. It’s relatively straightforward to discern the roots of our dissatisfaction, to define the person we’d rather be, and to envision better circumstances. Far harder to undo the consequences of a lifetime littered with poor decisions, unheeded advice, missed opportunities, lacks and losses, wasted time, talents, and resources, regrets and hurts, unresolvable relationships, and calamities of our own making:

9.30 am: Back to the conference call for papers. The hardest part behind me, now was the time for some spit and polish and ‘furniture’ moving. The ideas found their groupings more readily on a second draft. Things began to settle down. The overview needs to be completed by the end of this week, at the latest.

1.40 pm: In the studio, I redrew the schematic for the sound system. Gradually, in both small and large ways, it has changed substantially since last week. The schematic is as much a guide to dismantling and reconstructing the gear as it is account of the connections for their own sake. When I visualise a network, like this, I grasp its totality:

Schematic for ‘Double Blind’ (second amendment)

It remained for me to rationalise the mains input to, and distribution boards under, the primary table. Wherever possible and, certainly, whenever necessary, the boards are rigged with RF insulation and power conditioning.

Since Saturday, I’ve been developing an occasional series of works entitled Surface Noise, based upon enlargements of small areas of digital photographs, each 20 × 15 cm, that have been rendered as GIF files. Presently, they represent the exterior planes of anything from sound equipment and file boxes to walls. The intent is to generate a set of sound ‘drawings’, based upon these samples, using the photographs that have been processed through a data-bending technique, in order to evoke, analogously, the quality of visual source. The exercise is driven by curiosity alone. I’ve no plans to exploit the portfolio that may ensue:

7.30 pm: Further tests on the stereo imaging of the system. There was a puzzling monaural output from the TC Electronic array of effectors, but a stereo output elsewhere in the system. I retraced the the signal paths to and from the turntable mixer and via the two Boomerang III sampler/loopers. Everything was intact and divided, left and right, as it should be. Unanticipated. And, not immediately resolvable.

August 11, 2017

An amendment to the system entered my consciousness on the brink of sleep last night. This adjustment would, hypothetically, permit the two sampler/loopers’ (the Boss and Boomerang III) outputs to be entirely independent (in parallel), rather than follow on from another (in series):

I’m conscious of under-using the Boomerang IIIs, and of trying to fix problems that the device is already capable of resolving. A thorough investigation of their potential would occupy the afternoon.

8.30 am: Yesterday evening I received a sound file from a postgraduate student from another department. They’d attended my PhD training workshop on ‘Working with Sound’ (presumably). In the accompanying email, the correspondent wrote:

Inspired by your work I tried to capture Stendhal Syndrome in audio while I was in Florence, Italy. Some tourists are made crazy by the numinous quality of the art in the city and start seeing angels. I thought the singers in the streets heard from far away could be mistaken for Renaissance angels. 

They have a keen ear and intelligence. The recording is a lovely vignette. Stendhal Syndrome may also explain some people’s quasi-spiritual response to Rothko’s paintings. (The artistic and religious sensibilities aren’t so far apart.) The phenomenon cries out to be explored through practice-based research.

Florence (2010)

9.00 am: Talking of which … I recommenced my appraisal of the PhD Fine Art draft submissions. In the background, I listened to Italian Renaissance music for the viola de gamba.

11.30 am: Off to town for a mop-mow. The sky was emotionally ‘dead’, passionless, motionless, colourless, and bearing down. When meteorologists speak of a ‘depression’ in the weather, they touch upon a very apposite sensory metaphor for the psychological condition. 12.15 pm: On, then, with a YouTube Boomerang III tutorial. So much more engaging, straightforward, and enabling than the manual. There’s no substitute for a teacher giving a practical demonstration.

2.00 pm: Studiology: the implementation of last night’s amendment, in part. (I await components in order to complete the change.). Boomerangology:

I was in a bind as to whether the two devices should be placed at my finger tips or toes. ‘Try them one way and then the other, John!’, remarked the ‘intutor’. Indeed. Experience is the best laboratory in which to experiment. At the same time, I amended the amendment. By the close of the afternoon:

  1. two Boomerang III (B3) sampler/loopers were in operation in parallel;
  2. each B3 had an independent signal path in the turnable’s ‘send’ and ‘receive’ extension loop;
  3. each B3 could be synchronised internally but not externally, with its sibling.

By having a double bank of sampler/loopers, I would be able to fade the one out while the other was being filled, enabling a seamless transition from one phase of the composition to another. All that remained was for me to install a Korg Kaos Quad Pad in place of the Boss sampler/looper:

Technology, whether it be electronic devices or paint or a camera, is not independent of the creative process. Rather, it’s a collaborator with such. Thus, I will not begin the process of composition when the system is complete. (And it was, now.) On the contrary, the composition started when I first began to assemble the system.

6.00 am: A trip to the Arts Centre cinema to see David Lynch: The Art Life (2017). It’s a documentary that every young painter ought to see. He’s not one of those artists who begrudge making art. (I’ve known a number of very good ones who resented the process, disliked the product, and had no appetite for exhibiting.) Lynch, however, makes art like an artisan baker bakes loaves – with love, craft, necessity, and constancy. His curiosity and creative energy seem self-replenishing. His drive exceeds that of many artists fifty years his junior. The consistency of his vision and sensibility is even more impressive. An image from his art school day could just as readily have been made yesterday. ‘Is it the future or is it the past?’ (Philip Gerrard/Mike, Twin Peaks: The Return).

August 10, 2017

8.30 am: Back to PhD Fine Art draft reviews, until the time of my medical consultation. 9.50 am: An artless waiting room. The absence of anything else and anyone else heightened the experience of doing very little, life in abeyance, and a time before something happens. The context felt vaguely metaphysical. It required a Lynchian drone to articulate its dis-ease:

10.20 am: At my desk once again. Elaine Radique’s Feedback Works in the background:

By lunchtime, I’d cleared two chapters. Professionalism and propriety prevent me from making any further comment. Nevertheless, I can relay my gratification and gratitude to the students for having pushed my mind into territories where it would not have had cause to go otherwise. This is one of the great rewards of teaching at higher-research level.

2.00 pm: A glitch developed even as I returned to testing the system. It started as a vague ground-loop phenomenon, developed into a general distortion of the signals throughout, and ended with the collapse of the left turntable’s output. How frustrating. I’m conscious of spending too long on the technological wherewithal at the expense of the creative process. But there was no option other than to trace the fault, starting at the beginning and moving to the end of chain of connections (of which there are many). It sounded like either a component malfunction or a localised overload. Better it fail in the studio than in front of an audience. I rewired the left-hand pathway (turntable, sampler, and sub-mixer). I suspected that the line output from the sampler is too hot for the sub-mixer. I removed the sub-mixer and inserted a Lehle D.Loop in its place. This was a better solution all round. The sampler and the delay effectors could, now, each be assigned to a separate and isolated send and return loop on the device, permitting the signal from the left-hand turntable to pass through D.Loop with or without the loop paths activated. I’ve learned to bless my glitches (in both electronics and life). They’re often the signposts to improvement:

Having fixed that problem, there was still an issue with the integrity on the turntable’s own send and return loop that wasn’t there yesterday. Think! What aspects of the system had I changed since then? Again, I tested that circuit from start to finish. Usually, there’s only one offender. Was it the Boss looper or its placement in the chain, I wondered? Again, this was an opportunity for betterment.

7.30 pm: I cast cables and devices around like someone rearranging large cumbersome furniture in a very small room. It was tiring. The manoeuvres represented an even more radical think again than I’d undertaken yesterday. I’m not a perfectionist; I’m an ‘optimists’. That’s to say, I aim to realise a system’s optimum efficiency. That’s sufficient. So by the close of the day, I’d arrived at where I should’ve been at 2.00 pm. A waste of a day? By no means. I was put to the test. And passed!

August 9, 2017

8.30 am: I flushed my inbox as far as I could, confirmed medical consultations, and reviewed yesterday’s engagements and achievements. 9.00 am: For the remainder of the morning, I recommenced my review of draft submissions from two completing PhD Fine Art students.

Uncomfortable and consoling advice from the seat of self-loathing:

After lunch, I returned to the studio to finalise the system set up that I’d begun yesterday evening. Before nailing down the tent pegs there were several alternative configurations that needed to tested. Periodically, one ought to assume that there’s still a better way of doing things. No harm in trying. But I’m always suspicious when a change either introduces an additional level of complexity or unseats something worthwhile in the system or requires additional expenditure. Clarity of intent is key: decide what you want the system to do, and incorporate only those devices necessary to do it.

6.30 pm: Practise session. 7.30 pm: A more radical but less intrusive approach was required. (This was a classic case of lateral thinking.) I treated each turntable as a separate signal source (which they were). However, now, each had a distinct effects path. The right-hand turntable was routed through a pitch-changing effector, and the left, through a delay effector. Their distinct sonic characteristics and potentials were interleaved when they entered the turntables’ mixer.

By the close of the evening, the modified and partially extended system was mapped, connected, and tested. This was as good as it gets within the confines of the network:

August 8, 2017

Yesterday. When someone asks me the question: ‘What one thing would you really like to do or be?’, I’ve no answer. I’ve never had an answer. Perhaps, there’s nothing and no one that I want to do or be. Perhaps, I don’t want to do or be only one thing. Perhaps, I’m doing or being it already. Perhaps, these realisations are yet to come. But I do know, assuredly, what I don’t want to do or be. And those things can take as much determination and energy to resist and put to rout as positive aspirations require to resolve and achieve.

9.00 am: Studiology. The cause of the ‘hum’ heard on plugging the Roland device into the turntable mixer was established. As I suspected, the source was too ‘hot’ for the input. Now I have experiment with a mini-mixer in front of the turntable mixer in order to push two separate stereo signals outputs into one stereo input. But this could both compromise the sound quality and increase the ‘noise’ floor of the devices. It wouldn’t be a solution so much as a different presentation of the same problem as the one that I’m trying to resolve. I’ll purchase a 4-channel mixer and test the hypothesis.

I opened the conference folder again, and continued drafting the call for papers. One has to demonstrate an authority over the theme. This takes time and thought and more than a morning’s labour. The work continued after lunch. A solid structure emerged for the first section: ‘Sound in the Bible’. By mid afternoon, I’d made my first assault on the second section: ‘The Bible as Sound’. By the close of the afternoon, I was confident of the spread and division of ideas.

Today. 8.30 am: Into the rain, onto the Old College, for a 9.00 am PhD Fine Art tutorial, followed by another at 10.00 pm. The conversation, in both cases, was drawn to concerns and endeavours that were peripheral to the work, but nonetheless important. Art forms within a gas cloud made up of many different and contiguous elements associated with our life in the broadest sense: circumstances, predilections, personality traits, psychological profile, enthusiasms, opinions, flaws, virtues, commitments, and much more besides. Some of these things inevitably seep into the forum of tutee-tutor discussions. And that’s no bad thing.

11.30 am: A PhD Fine Art tutorial via Skype. Something occurs when two people are physically present in the same space at the same time that doesn’t attend a virtual or remote conversation:

So, is embodiment crucial? (Coincidently, the same question emerged from a tutorial with a PhD Fine Art tutee at the beginning of the afternoon.) Perhaps, there’s comfort and consolation to be had in the company of another, even when talking just business. Presence confirms mutuality. ‘The evolution of the arm’:

2.35 pm: Postgraduate admin beckoned. 4.00 pm: A gratuitous (in the best sense of that word) tutorial with an undergraduate painter. 5.15 pm: Homeward.

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: Studiology. Hypothesis testing. The Roland and Deck 1 were routed into the new mixer. Its output was, in turn, sent to the line inputs of the deck mixer. Success (I think). There was no increase in the floor level noise, no loss of signal integrity, and no difficulty achieving unity gain on recording and playback throughout the system:

The final half of the evening was set aside for preparing intercessions, which I’ll deliver at Holy Communion on Sunday morning.

Some principles and observations derived the today’s engagements:

  • There’s only one thing worse than failure, and that’s the inability to recognise it.
  • This is normative artistic experience: a vacillation between confidence and insecurity, dedication and detachment, fulfilment and dissatisfaction, and passion and dispassion.
  • I’ve never known a perpetually upbeat, certain, happy, and satisfied artist who ever made anything worthwhile.
  • Be the artist that you wish to be rather than the artist that others want you to be.
  • It’s better to fail on your own terms than to succeed on those of others.
  • An artwork may serve as a substitutionary presence for the artist in absentia.
  • It’s more worthy and harder to do one thing very well than many things merely adequately. (Multiplicity is the refuge of the mediocrity.)
  • Wisdom in choosing and fortitude in following the right path.
  • With art, you’re always learning on the job.
  • It’s possible to be successful doing something that you dislike. But the artwork produced thereby is like unto an unwanted and unloved child.
  • There are certain circumstances, tasks, and relationships that bring out the best in us. If only we could engage such exclusively.
  • Having found the truth, one must proceed to discover it.

August 4, 2017

Yesterday. The projects related to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales’ and School of Art’s collaboration, Explore Your Archive: Memory, came onto my horizon. I’d had in mind contributing a sound ‘performance’, to be held in one of the local chapels sometime during the Explore Your Archive week (18–26 November). The idea is to replay an audio recording (a technological mode of creating and storing memories) of a Bible reading (and/or sermon) that was delivered there many years ago. This would represent, metaphorically, an act of recollection.

The source material would be subjected to processes analogous to the characteristic conditions of dementia (being the underlying theme of the Commission’s approach to the topic of memory). The symptoms, appalling as they are, are readily convertible into sonic processes: erasure, confusion, fragmentation, disintegration, disordering, loss of continuity, slowing, failure to recall, repetition of the same thing, getting lost, breaking down, lapses, misplacement, language impairment, and behaviour and mood changes, among others. By the close of the afternoon, I was fortunate to locate a source recording, made in an Aberystwyth chapel thirty-eight years ago. The theme of the preacher’s sermon was Psalm 23: ‘The Lord is my shepherd’.

The Psalm is particularly appropriate. In being well-known, short, and learned from an early age, it’s a text that senior sufferers can often recall even while their more recent memories fade. The Psalm addresses the experience of the soul – that which abides intact, even when those aspects of our personality and sense of self which are regulated by the brain deteriorate.

Today. 9.00 am: A review and articulation of yesterday’s work, followed by resource and research correspondence. 11.00 am: Studiology. Back to the decks:

Two floors below, my sons were together learning a pair of jazz standards on piano and saxophone:  Some Day My Prince will Come (1937) and Autumn Leaves (1945). This is one of the joys of living in a musical household.

Me … I began with the simplest conceivable proposition: dropping the tone arm of the record player onto the disc and looping the sound, and, then, introducing a delay modulation and EQ modification. Throughout the proceedings the relative balance of the sound, in recording and playing mode, was equalised across the effects chain, with care being taken to prevent ‘clipping’ at the end-stop device.

1.40 pm: Following lunch, I opened my instruction manuals in order to develop a more ‘mature’ understanding of my system’s sub-menus (of which I’m no fan). I learn quickly, but forget even faster. Knowledge only sticks when its applied repeatedly. A weakness in the system was revealed; it was only noticeable once I began working with it extensively. The modulation units modify the sum of the looped material at the end of the output chain. Thus, when a unit was switched on or off, the whole is affected. I need to be able to also modify the signal before it enters the looping section of the system. But where?:

7.30 pm: Experiment and implement. Life would be that much easier if all effects pedals had stereo connections, both in and out. Between the Roland and the Boss (a rock and a hard place): that’s where a delay unit should go. The Roland buzzes alarmingly when fed into the deck mixer directly. Is the output too ‘hot’? (To be continued …)

August 2, 2017

8.30 am: In Darren Aronofsky’s π (1998), the film’s protagonist periodically declares his beliefs about mathematics, prefaced by the time of day and the determination:  ‘Restate my assumptions’. What follows is a kind of creed enumerating his convictions about numbers and their significance. The habitual reaffirmation of one’s beliefs is good practice. This, of course, assumes that a person has a set of beliefs that’s definable and defensible. Whether we are religious or not, its useful to establish a basis for our convictions and certainties and their implications, simply and systematically. (A commitment to ‘unfaith’ deserves a declaration of principles and professions just as much as does a commitment to doctrines and theologies of assurance.) Reaffirmation is not a thoughtless repetition. At every statement, one ought to pause, consider, and ask the question: ‘Am I still convinced of this?’

In the Anglican Church, we reaffirm the articles of belief, embodied in either the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed, in our weekly liturgy. This is a public declaration of both a person’s individual identification with, and the congregation’s communal commitment to, ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’ (Jude 1.3). These creeds embody (although not comprehensively) the fundamentals of Christian belief. Most other doctrines are secondary, but important nevertheless.

9.00 am: Studiology. The digital transfer of the Scourby records has reached the Book of Deuteronomy. Another biggy! In the background, discs were processed. In the foreground, I sorted through the track listings and their contents. Having established the component parts of the compositional suite, three strategies – that had been waiting in the wings – came into focus. The possible incorporation of:

  1. references to major historical events that took place in July 1964 (the period when the recording was captured);
  2. information related to the provenance of, and written material that came with, the set of records that I purchased;
  3. other processes of interpreting the biblical text. For example, using a sonic adaptation of braille codification and by applying computer-aided text to sound conversion algorithms.

The written material, which was inscribed in pencil by one hand on three sheets of lined paper and a number of the record sleeves, provides a partial and fragmentary narrative. The records were once owned by two Americans, ‘Beth & Bill’. They began to log their auditions on 5 April 1992. Their last log was entered on 27 November 1996. Whoever wrote the notes appears to have have been dyslexic; there are several variant spellings of words throughout, such as ‘Job’ and Jobe’, ‘Side’ and ‘Sid’, and ‘Record’ and ‘Rekord’. During that four or more year period, there are inscriptions for Old Testament books only. The writer provides several estimations regarding the ratio between the text printed in the Bible and the same, read by Scourby: for example, ’30 Pages 80 Minutes’. There was no pattern to their listening. During 1996, for instance, they played a disc on everyday of the week for nine days, broke off for three days, and then resumed intermittently for two- or three-days at a time for the remainder of that year. One document suggests that they listened in at least two places: ‘Home’ and ‘School House’. One of the records, they indicated, is missing from the set:

7.30 pm: In the evening and into the early hours, I composed my draft contribution for Dr Chamberlain’s The Pedal Effect project. A portion of autobiography in relation to an object (an effects pedal pedal, in this case); the history of an object in relation to one’s life: a fascinating, reciprocal dynamic.

August 1, 2017

8.30 am: The inbox was getting perilously near the ’10 unread’ emails mark. I culled. There was a backlog of postgraduate admin to clear, in between discussions with decorators on the domestic front. Following a glance at a forthcoming conference call on digital technologies — this may be appropriate for a paper on the steelworks project (if that goes ahead) — I returned to the text of my own conference call. To my alarm, I discovered that yesterday’s efforts, for whatever reason, hadn’t saved. Duff things happen, from time to time. Thus, a rewrite from memory was required. Maybe the second attempt would be better. For I’d surely forget was hadn’t been memorable. And a good idea, like the postman, ‘always rings twice’. So nothing worthwhile will be lost.

By 11.00 am I was back in the groove. 12.15 pm: Off to the Crimson Rhino for a salady lunchtime catch-up with Dr Chamberlain. It was good to trade ideas, think wide of the mark, and generally indulge our passions for sonic stuff. 1.30 pm: At the School of Art:

A necessary tutorial cancellation followed by temperamental departmental telephonics scuppered the afternoon’s first two appointments. However, there was enough in my pigeon hole to keep me out of mischief until I inclined in the direction of the Old College, mid afternoon.

The Pier has had a make over. It looked vaguely like an insufficiently rendered digital image of itself:

I assume that its present Spartan appearance is temporary, and some form garish, vulgar, but eminently loveable flashing signage will eventually be set-up on the façade.

There were two MA fine art tutorials to engage before the end of the afternoon. Curiously, both students had, quite independently of one another, evolved in the same direction, although using very different technical means. Whether working towards their first or second exhibition, the challenge was the same: to break out of the orbit of their earlier best efforts and head towards the stars. The aspiration is daring, the implementation, risky, but the outcome, if successful, will bring them satisfaction of the highest order. (Nothing ventured, nothing gained’, as they say.) ‘Meanwhile’ … Alysia’s productive mess:

6.30 pm: Practise session. 7.30 pm: An evening on the conference call material. This moved too slowly for comfort. The task was hard. To write a call, the convenor needs to stand as far away as possible from the theme under discussion, in order to present the broadest overview of the whole and its potential parts. To do that, one must comprehend the whole even before the parts have been conceived.