Month: September 2017

September 13, 2017

An uneven night’s sleep; the house had been buffeted by gales and rain until the early hours. 9.00 am: Into the archive. I was looking for a date that I couldn’t recall:

The archive began in 1991, following my father’s sudden death (several years after my mother passed away). As an only child with very few extant relatives, I realised that the history of the family rested on only two shoulders: those of my paternal second cousin (who has compiled an illustrated family history of her side of the family) and my own. The file boxes contain letters, postcards, certificates, leaflets, newspaper cuttings, among other types of material culture – the vestigial presence of my parents’ life and death, and of my childhood and early adulthood. The artefacts have no connecting narrative (other than the one that I speak in my head as I review them), and look as fresh as on the day they were deposited. (Our possessions endure intact, even while we perish.):

My father’s ration book (1953-4)

Ration books seem, now, wonderfully arcane. I remember Dad first showing me this when I was about seven years of age, and the thrill that I experienced not only on touching and seeing something from an age that preceded my own existence but also of incomprehension and delight in the face of the design. With hindsight, its disposition of letters within a grid anticipated artworks that I’d make over forty-years later:

X (Mal. 4.4) (2007) alkyd on board, 100 × 100 cm (King James Version)

Incomprehension has always been, for me, an aesthetic pleasure.

9.20 am: Studiology. The mixdown of the sermon overlay was processed through a compressor/equaliser in order to prepare the recording for public broadcast in the chapel. (In the background, I and II Chronicles were on the turntable deck, and on their way to becoming 0s and 1s.) I returned to the question to which my successful response of late was the wrong answer. (Conversely, it was the right answer to the wrong question.) This project was not intended to absorb a great deal of my time. However, the work had a very different timetable in mind. I shrugged my shoulders and submitted to it. (It would have been unwise not to.) Nevertheless, this prolonged engagement has enabled me to find solutions to ‘The Talking Bible’ project that may not have presented themselves so readily had I been searching within that framework alone. (We sometimes see the solutions to our own problems evinced in the lives of others.)

10.30 am: I took up, once more, the looped sample extracts of the ‘silences’. Can I make a sufficiently engaging composition with this material only? The answer would come only in the doing. With all the loops calibrated at 4 seconds, eliding, superimposing, and transitioning the samples would be, I envisaged, relatively straightforward. I constructed a crude fade in/fade out ‘proof’ to test the hypothesis.

1.45 pm: The initial findings were promising. I extended the the length of the samples to 20-minutes duration, provisionally. How long should a sound composition be? How large should a painting be? The answer is always determined by, on the one hand, the requirements of the content, process, method, and context of manufacture and display, and, on the other hand, the perceptual effect and affect that the artist aims to create. The largest painting that I’ve ever made was just over 3-metres long:

‘My God it’s Full of Stars’
(Ps. 136) (2000) oil on board, 120 × 305 cm (King James Version)

Its size (the artwork was made as two, abutting panels) was dictated by the scale of the circular masks used to make the monochromatic ‘star’ discs, the dimensions of my studio, and my determination to create an extensive and enveloping ‘star-field’:

Whereas, customarily, the visual artist has to fix the size of the support prior to beginning to paint, the sound artist can defer the decision and allow the work to direct its own duration as the composition develops. But there’re limitations; for example, an audio CD can accommodate no more than eighty minutes of sound.

3.30 pm: I returned to my ‘hum’ extraction software and, on this occasion, removed from the recordings only the 50mHz (8 harmonics) content, to serve as the underlying drone for the ‘silences’ composition. This strategy represented the right answer to the right question … at last.

6.30 pm: Practise session. 7.30 pm: Never been content too soon. I repeated the afternoon’s strategy using the full overlaid sermon file, in contrast with the ‘sermon 2’ file only, which had served as the basis of the first attempt. There was no rationale for using one, as opposed to all, of the sermons for this purpose. Rigour is time consuming. The seventh side of I and II Chronicles went round and round in the background:

8.00 pm: I began the process of composition in earnest.

September 12, 2017

8.00 am: A little social mediation, followed by a mediation on an incomparably grander scale. 8.45 am: Personal administrations on the medical front, as I continue to put into place a two-year plan of physical repairs. (I felt like I was chasing my own tail.) 9.30 am: Off to town for a spot of dentalisation. All good on that front (and back), at least. And good to be in the hands of a dentist whose primary calling is their patients’ best interests:

‘We are what we eat’, we’re told. But we’re also what we read, listen to, watch on TV or in the cinema, think, say, believe, the company we keep, our attitudes to money and sex, and what we do with our free time. The concept of a life lived with integrity assumes that there’ll be consistency across the board of our enthusiasms, convictions, and actions. The task is to live self-critically, root out the anomalies, and despise the hypocrisies, but without despair.

10.00 am: Back at the School of Art, I reviewed the current Postgraduate Exhibition. It’s good to see (hear) students deploying sound so effectively. Where a work produces no sound, we should engage it in respectful and reciprocal silence:

On with admin until noon, when I held a discussion with an MA inquirer.

2.00 pm: Following lunch, and back at the mothership, I attended to several small and irksome admin tasks that I’d avoided too long, dispatched emails to which were appended a firm ! (in a bid to goad others into action), and set up a USS (nothing to do with Star Trek) account so that I could survey my pension options more conveniently. The end, in the end, comes towards me more swiftly than I’d ever anticipated. (‘Who knows where the time goes?’, Fairport Convention.)

3.10 pm: On, then, to the Old College to conduct two MA fine art tutorials. Several of the MA contingent are now ready to ship-out, having completed their degree. At least one of them has left their indelible mark:

6.30 pm: Practise session (guitar work). 7.30 pm: Into the slop bucket of bitty business, comprising tasks of, variously, a personal, an ecclesial, and an academic kind. Like cleaning muddy wellington boots, it was messy job that had to be done. Tomorrow, will be dedicated to the studio. (This is my carrot.)

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • There are some narratives to our lives that few, if any, hear, and even fewer could bear. But they are just as formative as those which we tell.
  • The soul shrinks for want of intimacy.
  • A little encouragement goes a long, long way.
  • Age is no obstacle to art.
  • No one, least of all you, can know your potential to develop as an artist. Potential is not a fixed capacity. It may be enlarged over time by: the exercise of determination, hard work, endurance, and confidence; the nurture of solid instruction; the encouragement of peers; and the experience of improvement. Likewise, potential may be diminished by the absence of these things.
  • Intuition may be a mode of thought that operates below the level of cognition and verbalisation, able to process complexities of information, possibilities, and motivations extremely quickly, and to offer a conviction in the form of a feeling.
  • Intuitions are susceptible to rationale scrutiny.
  • If you really cannot decide between two complementary ways of working, then don’t. Like parallel lines, they’ll eventually appear to converge at the same vanishing point on your horizon.
  • Someone comes out of the blue and speaks with you like you’ve known one another forever. It can happen.

September 11, 2017

Over the weekend, I reviewed last week’s sound sample extracts for the ‘I. Nothing. Lack.’ [now the title] project and some of my past sound publications, acquitted myself of sub-wardening and intercessory duties, undertook various domestics, and published an account of my experiences as an ME sufferer. I wasn’t sure whether the blog site was the most appropriate place for the topic, but there was nowhere else for it to go. Although, I suppose it does tell the story of a career in art … against the odds. We have to integrate the very worst things that happen to us into the narrative of our lives. Otherwise, they and us remain unreconciled. Which can be a cause of suffering in itself. Not that I’ve ever made peace with my illness; ME is my enemy, and always will be.

7.30 am:

8.00 am: A communion. 8.45 am: In keeping with the well-established routine, I arranged my teaching, admin, and research diary for the day and the week ahead with the objective of eking out as much time as I could for my projects. (One has to protect the core business after all. If the teacher doesn’t feed themselves, then they can’t nourish their students). 9.30 am: Emailology, with music (Else Marie Pade’s Electronic Works 1958–95). Inbox: 6 – 5 – 3 – 2 – 1 – empty! ‘Enjoy it while it lasts, John!’

In the past, some correspondents have written to ask why I don’t include more photographs of myself on the diary pages. There’re several reasons. First, it’s usually me who’s holding the camera, and I’m not an aficionado of ‘selfie’ culture. Secondly, ‘What’s to see?’ If I was a hunky humdinging good-looker, like George Clooney, then maybe. Thirdly, ‘Vanity of vanities’; self-obsession is unhealthy, in my opinion. And, finally, I’m uncomfortable about turning myself into an object of regard. However, here’s  – for the prurient and ‘fanboyz/gals’ (who should know better) – a singular concession:

However, there’re occasions, such as performances and demonstrations, when the I’m an intrinsic and a visible element in the artwork’s birth. Erasing myself from the visual documentation would draw far more attention to me:

10.30 pm: Studiology. Boot up. I made further adjustments to the samples’ EQ. I, then, superimposed all four of MacMillan’s sermons, and created an MP3 compressed version of the file that was dropped in pitch by three octaves. This took the computer an age to process. In the interim, I attended to correspondence and prepared to continue analogue to digital transfer of The Talking Bible discs, on a separate computer. (I’m now at the books of Esther and Job.) A third computer processed a high-resolution version of the sermons.

1.45 am: Following a light and warming lunch, I caught up with the computers’ progress. ‘Come on, lads! Get a move on’. Further correspondence was undertaken and emails addressed while the ‘paint dried’. The treated files didn’t yet yield a sonority that I could use. I would know it when I heard it. (On to the books of Esther to Nehemiah.) Afterwards, both the pitch-reduced and ‘normal’ versions were overlaid. That took me once step closer to my objective, so my inner-ear confirmed. It struck me that I’d been here before. The process and methodology were analogous to those that I’d used to construct the sound profiles for Julian Ruddock’s 2A artwork:

By mid afternoon, I began ‘hearing’ (again, inwardly) a faint anticipation of the totalising effect of the composition. Gratitude! Thereafter, I paid attention to stereo-imaging the combined layers. Once they were resolved, I knew that I’d something of quality. But it wasn’t anything like the outcome that I’d been working towards. There’re times when you must let the work work itself out, and abandon your initial intent.

7.30 pm: ‘Are your students also your friends?’, someone once asked me. Friendship is a mercurial relationship. Its definition changes with the context. Tutor-student ‘friendships’ aren’t equally balanced. For example, I don’t expect my commitment to them to be reciprocated to the same degree. Why should it? That said, some of my tutees have been more than that. Quite what that is, I haven’t the word to describe. More often than not, they’re the ones with whom I go onto form ‘proper friendships’ once they’ve graduated. Friendship is about trust, being there in the bad times, listening without judgement, and sharing deep and sometimes very personal things. And I’ve certainly known that kind of friendship with a very few, but only for a period.

There’re social media correspondents too – whom I’ve never met, and probably never will meet – who I regard as ‘friends’ in this conditional sense. They’ve the makings of a soul mate, bosom pal, or confidant; they’re the rarest of people, with whom you could pour out your heart, acknowledge your doubts, confess your worst, and still receive understanding and acceptance.

Before finalising the mixdown of the afternoon’s composition, I listened attentively to every second of its 1 hour, 18 minute, and 15 second duration. So, I ended the day with the right answer to the wrong question.

One of my former students and a beloved friend: Stephen Chilton (1975–2014),
composing titles for his paintings, Gas Gallery, Aberystwyth (2013)

September 8, 2017

7.45 am: I began writing my intercessions for Sunday morning’s service at Holy Trinity Church, and composing a response to a question that had been addressed to me yesterday evening. Some interrogations cut to the core of our being. This was one. 9.00 am: Studiology. I took up, again, the neckless of samples texts that made up MacMillan’s quotations from Psalm 23, and regularised their volume and channel balance. On, then, to the construction of an underlying drone and loops based upon the ‘silences’ derived from the sermon recordings:

Creative practice is a prolonged wrestling match between aspiration and desperation. Sometimes, I know what I want, but I can’t yet do it. At other times, I don’t know what I want, and I don’t know how to know. And, yet other times, I can do it, but have no need for it. Why do artists persevere against the odds and submit to routine humiliation at the hands of their own inability? Because the alternative (relenting, throwing in the towel, or walking away) is unthinkable. Better to feel the pain of struggle than of self-betrayal. (One must always keep faith with oneself.) Better to fight and fail than concede defeat.

1.30 pm: Following lunch, I donned the cans and micro-mixed the samples, each now looped for 4-minutes duration. The process involved an attentive listening to artefacts within each recording. The aim was to emphasise those characteristics, by teasing out and amplifying parts of the frequency spectrum, so that they were more immediately audible:

In order to distinguish the loop files, I gave them evocative names derived from either what they actually represented or suggested (and certainly weren’t): ‘motorcar’, ‘motorbike’, ‘suck’, ‘breath’, ‘stomp’, ‘boing’, and ‘pingpong’, among others.

7.30 pm: I continued in the same vein, while addressing discrepancies in the clarity of a number of ‘musical’ samples – being those capturing MacMillan’s flight into preacherly ecstasy – by removing the background 50Hz ‘hum’:

In the background, my younger son prepared for his own flight from the nest back to university tomorrow.

September 7, 2017

8.15 am: A communion. 9.00 am: Alarm! Due to a confusion over the times for the Postgraduate Monitoring Committee today, a meeting that I’d assumed would take place at 2.00 pm was about to convene in half-an-hour. I downed my tea, gathered my belongings, and made a dashed up the long, steep hill towards the main campus and the Huw Owen Building. I arrived with time to spare. Good exercise!:

This was a confirmatory meeting only, sealing the deal on reports submitted for the August committee and, therefore, mercifully short. I was back at my desk with a fresh cup of tea in hand by 10.15 am, readied to proceed with thesis examination, nail incoming email, and add to my diary commitments to further meetings next week:

1.00 pm: Following an early lunch, I headed for the School to assistant one of my contingent with their hanging, and another shepherd’s sheep with their sound installation. There’s something rather ‘manly’ about wielding an electrical screwdriver and a spirit-level, measuring, and levering. Painting fuses the physical, intellectual, and emotional aspects of our humanity in a very satisfying way:

Manual work is intrinsically virtuous – an estimation celebrated in Ford Madox Brown’s masterpiece Work (1852-65). Culturally, we abandoned this principle after the digital revolution. Today, most people lift little more than their fingers off a keyboard. My father (far left in the photograph) was a factory employee. He worked for Dunlop Semtex, Brynmawr, Monmouthshire, as a colourant mixer, preparing pigments for rubber floor tiles. To me, he was the ‘noble labourer’:

Dad’s factory was the first example of modern architecture that I’d ever encountered. And a very good one at that. During my five years of my education at Nantyglo Comprehensive School (which was, in contrast, an unspeakably woeful example of modern architecture), I would often pass the factory at lunchtime on my way to the fish and chip shop in Brynmawr. The vaulted boiler house (below) stole my heart. I’ve sometimes wondered what influence its gridded lattice, confident geometries, and truth to materials aesthetic had on my later predilection for abstraction:

2.30 pm: Back at homebase, I drilled deeper into the thesis for the remainder of the afternoon. In the background, I played John McLaughlin and Shakti (1975), which I first heard when seventeen years of age. Then, at the conclusion of the opening track, ‘Joy’, I cried – overwhelmed by the joy, beauty, spiritual energy, and accomplishment of both the music and musicianship.

7.30 pm: The last lap of the second reading. My opinion regarding the work’s worth is now settled. An initial pre-viva report will be required. An internal examiner will prepare the same. Thereafter, we’ll, together, draw up a plan of action in terms of questions to be asked, areas to be investigated, virtues to be highlighted, and apparent weaknesses to be interrogated.

September 6, 2017

8.30 am: I set out my stall for the day, levelled my inbox to ‘0’, and listened to those ‘thoughts’ that lie behind thoughts – the impulses, instincts, misgivings, and anxieties that were still insufficiently developed to be articulable in the realms of thinking. 9.00 am: I reopened the thesis that I’d been examining. On this fly past, I’m concentrating on the cogency of the argument and the manner in which it is shored-up methodologically and with reference to cognate fields and examples of relevant scholarship. In the background: Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs (1948):

When a thesis is read, you keep company with the scholar behind it. A well-written thesis (by which I mean, one in which the writer has engaged both their personality and mind) permits a remarkable level of intimacy. They’re very present with me. Throughout the morning I responded to emails and endeavoured to keep maintain inbox at ‘0’.

2.00 pm: At the School, I reviewed developments in the gallery. When a work is hung, it’s transformed in small but significant ways. This effect can’t be anticipated, fully. If the transformation is positive, then the artist receives an unexpected gift from the work. There’re expressions of grace and gratitude by both parties, as it were. Only when the work is placed in a public domain does the circle of creation find completion. It takes an audience’s perception and response to transform the work into ‘art’ in the fullest sense of the experience.

3.00 pm: A hanging consultation. It would be nice if your tutor took from you the burden of responsibility for the selection, arrangement, and pricing. But that’ll never happen on my watch. It would be a betrayal of the course and an infantilization of the student. They are assessed upon the professionalism of their choices. Professionalism implies a developed ability, over the course of the MA, to discern, discriminate, and determine decisively. I’ve seen many a competent image-maker fall at this hurdle. There’re none such among this year’s number:

In between visits to the gallery, I continued my examination of the thesis:

Some principles and observations derived from today’s encounters:

  • A title must arise from within the work. It shouldn’t  be appended as an afterthought.
  • The size of a work and the scale of a work aren’t synonymous. Scale is a measure of the ratio between the actual size of a thing and its size in the painting. Size may refer only to the dimensions of the picture. Thus, a large-size picture may host a small-scale representation, and a small-size picture, a large-scale representation.
  • Over the course of a degree and many conversations, the tutor and tutee develop a ‘friendship’ that transcends a mere educational compact. There’s been an exchange of trust, mutual support, and (again) intimacy. (I’ve been sustained by it during my times of greatest self-doubt as a teacher and an artist.) Thus, when that conversation has to end, at graduation, there’s a feeling of bereavement on both sides. But the ‘friendship’ abides.

7.oo pm: My other life: Holy Trinity Church Committee, held at the parish Rectory:

8.30 pm: Back at my desk, I attended to the residue of the day’s business. Tiredness is creeping up on me, and it’s only the mid-point in the week. ‘Must do better!’, as my school reports warned all too often.

September 5, 2017

Yesterday. 8.30 am: I entered the morning feeling vaguely out of sorts. The sensation was, perhaps, the cumulative effect of several minor unsettlements over the weekend, combined with the impact of too many subcutaneous realisations, befuddlements, regrets, longings, and envisioning that couldn’t be, presently, either acted upon, or resolved, or made amends for, or fulfilled. Sometimes these moods are no more than a sea squall that dissipates during the day. At other times, they’re the harbinger of a deepening dissatisfaction that’ll require a considered and dramatic response.

This week, a number of the MA Fine Art students will begin installing their second and final exhibition. They’ll receive my undivided attention tomorrow. 9.00 am: I responded to emails, and prepared to jettison one son into the deep space of higher education and professional preparedness, once again.

11.00 am: Studiology. I switched on the my main’s-power conditioner (which feeds and regulates half of my studio space) and … ‘Phut!’ The system shut down, along with the one of the circuits governing the entire top floor of the house. (Perhaps my sense of dis-ease was symptomatic of a general disruption of reality this morning.) This was a power surge. I’m astonished that I’ve not experienced more of them, given the NASA-like array of mains-powered equipment that’s packed into my studio. ‘Reset’ buttons pressed, I was back in business.

12.00 pm: For the remainder of the day, I returned to sample processing, arranging, and equalising necklaces of extracts in readiness for incorporation in the sampler launcher.

Today: A late-night session and a growing ‘sleep-debt’ frustrated my resolve to wake early. 8.00 am: Breakfast (which is always a rudimentary affair) was dispatched unceremoniously, so that I could be at my desk within half an hour. Before departing space dock for the School, there were letters to write.

9.30 am: My other study:

Postgraduate examination required my immediate attention. 10.00 am: This was followed by a discussion with the Head of School about my working hours (which are astronomical). Higher Education is, everywhere, partially funded by goodwill on the part of its staff. The MA exhibiters arose, like the morning dew, to consider their spaces. From now on, its about the technicalities of presenting: preparing walls, framing, ordering, hanging, and labelling. Each aspect of the process involves making decisions of greater or lesser consequence. The decisions must be considered in the light of the artworks’ needs and internal logic, pre-eminently. The process of consideration, in turn, ought to be undertaken in consultation with one’s peers and tutors. Often, we think less effectively and independently under stress. An exhibiting is a very stressful experience:

2.00 pm: An MA fine art tutorial. ‘In the process of painting, I realised that something had changed in myself’, the student reflected. This was an elegant articulation of a truth that’s so woven into the fabric of creative experience that we rarely acknowledge it. That being: before there can be any significant realisations about the work at hand there must first be an awakening of our self-awareness. Which is why it’s incumbent upon the artist to attend to the affairs of the heart, mind, and soul, as well as to the craft, conceptualisation, and art of manufacture.

The objective correlative:

2.30 pm: I advised students on the arrangement of the work in relation to their allocated space. What I offer are principles rather than prescriptions. One must honour the student’s right to self-determination at this level. For the remainder of the afternoon, I dropped in and out of the gallery in between spurts of postgraduate administration. ‘I can no more live without art than I can live without love’, I exclaimed to a late MA applicant at the close of an afternoon’s consultation.

7.15 pm: The ‘Memory’ collaboration came around again. A dementia care training session needs to be arranged before we can engage with the projects.

September 2, 2017

8.00 am: A communion. 9.00 am: On with sermon number four – the last one. In the background, the vinyl recordings of the Psalms continued to be transferred digitally. The sermons were delivered in 1979, three years before I arrived in Aberystwyth to commence my MA Visual Art degree. I recall meeting the Rev J Douglas MacMillan, the preacher, in the mid 1980s. He’d been a Scottish Highland shepherd prior to his call to the ministry, and drew upon that experience to illuminate his interpretation of Psalm 23. MacMillan died at the age of 57 – a preacher of his time, to his time. The theatricality and artifice of the delivery, seem to my ears, now (as it did to me, then), archaic and nostalgic – reaching back to a ‘golden age’ when preachers were required to be both actors and poets. The sermons are full of personal anecdotes, as well as discursions into doctrine, biblical commentary, and other passages of Scripture. Yet, he holds it all together by dint of his personality and earnestness.

Pulpit and painted wall decoration, Tre’r Ddol chapel,
Ceredigion, Wales (1984)

When I moved in Nonconformist circles, I’d listened to sermons like his often. While holding to many of the fundamental tenets that underlay the preaching, I was uncomfortable about their assault upon the emotions principally. Of course, faith must be a matter for the heart if it’s to mean anything. But emotionalism is dangerous. An appeal to feelings, however well meant, is not persuasive in the long run. The intellect must be convinced.

The vocal glissandos that MacMillan achieved when he was ‘in his stride’ (as the old Nonconformists used to say) reminded me of the ecstasies summoned by the jazz saxophonist John Coltrane in his later recordings. Coltrane endeavoured to fuse jazz with a religious sensibility: a heady synthesis. I suspect that he, in turn, was inspired by the rapturous excursions of so-called ‘black preaching’  – which he’d have heard when a child in his parents’ Baptist church. Afro-American preachers can move from speech to a kind of plain-song-chant-cum-rapping and back again, effortlessly and spontaneously. Wonderful!

I’m not a stranger to emotional religious experiences. But they’ve been very rare in my life and, therefore, memorable and significant. One took place on Mynnydd Arael (Arael Mountain), which overlooks the the Ebbw Vach valley, where spent my childhood:

The Arael is a Twin Peaks sort of place. In the eighteenth century, travellers testified to encounters with malevolent spirits, who’d transmigrate them from the mountain to somewhere else in South Wales in an instant. (Anyone interested in these accounts should read my The Appearance of Evil: Apparitions of Spirits in Wales.) The Arael was my Mount Sinai – the place on top of which I’d sit and talk to God:

On one notable occasion, which took place during the Summer of 1981, a conversation (which had been staid and business like in tone), on the topic of my still uncertain future, was suddenly transformed into what I can only describe as an ‘encounter’. I saw and heard nothing, but felt everything. Moreover, at no point did I become unconscious of either where I was or the passing of time. The experience began with a sensation in my loins that coursed, like the slow discharge of a mild electric current, upwards through my torso and into my head and arms, and downwards through my legs and to my toes. I clung tightly to the grass fearing that, if I didn’t, I’d be drawn heavenward with great force. In my head, I prayed: ‘Stop! Too much!’ Had someone described this experience to me, I’d have sceptically dismissed it as manifestation of a self-induced, subjective, and cathartic reconciliation with anxiety. However my impression, both during and after, was of being seized by a force outside of myself. In the ‘after-glow’, I was overwhelmed by a sense of confidence (but not in myself), of being known and cherished, and of something having irrevocably changed. (I knew not what.)

12.30 pm: A trip to town, via Holy Trinity Church, where I deposited sheets for tomorrow’s services:

The fourth recording had a fair bit of ‘drop-out’ and electrical crackling – the ‘memory’ of a loose connection. The loss of the left- and the right-hand outputs, the absolute (rather than relative) silence on occasion, and signal distortion, are as much characteristics of the recording as the spoken content. I’ll need to make a response to these features in the composition. Even the post-recording voice-over instructing ‘Please turn the tape over’ will be considered. By noon, I’d completed the extractions from the final sermon.

2.00 pm: Now, I was in a position to begin composition – to make ready samples that could be launched in a live performance context. As is my custom, every sample is worked over, clarified, and optimised in order to fit rightly together. But that’s the craft and technique only. The art is in turning it all into something that transcends the original context and intent while, at the same time, speaking a truth that’s hidden beneath the surface.

5.00 pm: An end of it! 6.30 pm: An evening with my family.

September 1, 2017

8.00 am: A communion. 9.00 am: My work diary is beginning to fill again, now that September has come around. The countdown to the beginning of the new academic year begins. Shortly, I’ll be moving into academic preparation mode. But first … . Having completed the digital to analogue transfer of the sermons, I continued, in the background, to perform an analogue to digital transfer of the Scourby vinyls. I’ve now reached Proverbs. In the foreground, I trawled through the first of the four sermon recordings, again with a view extracting samples of the preacher’s vocal ‘musicality’ (hywl) and salient phrases related to Psalm 23:

‘The Lord is my shepherd’ (Ps. 23.1)

I’ve wondered whether I should record the ambient space along with the sounds external to the chapel when I work there in November on the composition. The sermon recordings captured ‘events’ associated with the context – noises that would probably have not registered with the congregation during their audition of the sermon and, if noticed, then, would certainly not have been remembered. They are like scenes rendered incidentally at the periphery of the ostensible subjects of photographs – hardly noticed, perhaps, by the camera operator at the time the photograph was taken, but just as present for all that:

‘Porthcawl Bay 1947’

The closer we approach, the less we see; the details of reality dissolve into pure forms. Who were these people? What was there relationship to one another? Where had they come from? Who among them is still in this world?

12.00 pm: An appointment with the dental hygienist and a return to our on-going disagreement about the virtues of electric toothbrushes. I’m convinced that the device’s vibrations impair the integrity of older fillings. To me, the logic is compelling; and my experience bears it out:

After lunch, I moved onto the second (and longer) sermon. I concentrated on extracting the many and contrasting speech acts proclaiming ‘The Lord is my shepherd’. By 4.30 pm, I was at sermon 3, with a good deal of material already gleaned from its predecessors. While I listened, I responded to the report by the audit team following the recent departmental quinquennial review. (We had a commendation of ‘excellence’.)

Ruminations from the seat of self-defeat and reasoned restitution:

7.30 pm: On with the remainder of sermon three. (It’s been a long day in church!). I’ve reached ‘I shall not want’. There’s significant wow and flutter and speed deviations at some points on the tape. Recording was touch and go in those days.

August 31, 2017

8.00 am: A somewhat later wake (the consequence of the early morning recording session) and start to the day. 9.00 am: I addressed the latest batch of PhD Fine Art drafts, which had dropped into my inbox yesterday. All my supervisees are within their deadlines. They’re an impressive bunch. The PhD Art History thesis that I’m external examining will require attention before the working week is out. 11.20 pm: A further inch forward on the ‘Memory’ collaboration front. The School of Art team and I need to arrange for training in dementia care before we can engage with members of the public suffering this disability.

I’ve a washing-line of Post-its beneath my computer screen:

These represent the ‘to-dos’ that orbit the central pre-occupations of my existence. Every so often, I attend to one. Too quickly, they’re replaced by another. One of the challenges of living is not so much the number of things we have to undertake as their complexity. Life is fundamentally bitty and disordered.

1.30 pm: Following a brief trip to the mothership, I settled to an afternoon in the studio, recalibrating the samples of ‘silence’ and continuing analogue to digital transfer. I’m drawn to sounds and music that cannot be readily explained in terms of their source. In other words, some audible phenomena are an enigma – appearing to have come from another place by some other means. Yesterday’s extracted ‘silences’ are a case in point. They’re filled with layers of small acoustic events and artefacts which, when extracted from their original context and repeated in a loop, are abstracted, unrecognisable, compelling, and vaguely unsettling to the ear. Comprehended thus, each ‘silence’ is a fullness of incident. They’re like small, abstract, monochrome paintings; (the visual memories evoked by sounds are always in black and white, for me):

I’d trained by ear to recognise the subtle noises embedded in audio recordings, when researching Electronic Voice Phenomena. In the otherwise impenetrable ‘surface’ of white noise, tape hiss, and the burble of digital bits, it’s contended, can be discerned the whispers and throaty exhalations, clicks and scratches, of the communicating, or otherwise still present, dead.

Audio recordings of the deceased have a poignancy which exceeds that of photographic portraits, in my opinion. Over the years, I’ve had the presence of mind to tape close relatives, who either died too early (for me) or lived too long after their ability to articulate had ceased. Sound is a time-based and kinetic sensation; recordings reanimate the dead. It’s as though they’re still speaking, but entirely deaf to the world from which they’d been cast off; still present, but beyond sight:

Throughout the afternoon, I processed the ‘silences’ by adjusting their time-span to whole numbers durations and multiple values: 1, 2, and 4 seconds. When looped, the samples can be repeated, stacked, and overlaid:

7.00 am: I continued with the process of transfer, while allowing my thoughts to take their own direction.