Month: February 2018

February 27, 2018

6.00 am: Arise. The beginning of snow: delicate, light, like a whispered white noise or a off-station image on a cathode-ray TV. And with the snow, a quieting also fell. Only a waking wood-pigeon could be heard. 8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: I faced down one of the annual dreads: changing my university password. I nailed it in two attempts this year. A record.

9.00 am: I caught up with my emails and issued a weather warning to the postgraduates. Those coming from a far may struggle to either arrive or depart. 9.20 am: I discovered that my new password didn’t work. (Sigh!). But the old one still did! (I feel oddly unsettled; anxious at the edges, and a little lost). 10.00 am: Off to the School. A parked van: white on white:

A notification from our Information Services to alert me that one of the UK-wide journal access sites had been compromised; the passwords of many subscribers had been published. I hastily changed anything that resembled it on all my many many sites. At least my university password now worked.

11.00 am: The first of the week’s MA inquiry consultations was followed by a postponed third year painting tutorial. 12.00 pm: Homeward again. I enjoyed the snow in my face, on my hair and black coat, and under foot. Correspondence came along too. I’m planning a research trip next week and will be revisiting a place that I’d not been to in early four years. (Prior to that occasion, I’d not been there for more than thirty years.) In the past, I’ve done a great deal of thinking and much self-searching there. I’m looking forward to both the work and the opportunity, again.

1.30 pm: Off to the railways station to look at ticket options. 2.00 pm: The weather has disrupted not only the trains but also the smooth running of my teaching diary. Someone with my personality stamp ought to have their clockwork routine disrupted occasionally. 2.30 pm: A Skype tutorial with one of my snow-bound MA Fine Art students. The facility is not as good as a one-to-one encounter; but it’s still possible to do meaningful business:

3.30 pm: The snow had melted, for the most part. I pushed towards the Old College for the remainder of the afternoon’s MA teaching, until 6.00 pm. Rachel’s wall:

7.30 pm: Admin and diary catch-up. 8.15 pm: Studiology. I began constructing a processing array in order to modify the output from the dual decks, which I’ll be manipulating over the next few days as I begin generating samples for the ‘Double Blind’ track.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • You can copy another person’s work, in order to pass it off as your own. You can copy, in order to understand how that person’s work works.
  • Cursed are they who find art easy to do.
  • There’s a time for spreading your wings and a time for reigning in your energies. Know the seasons.
  • Go for quality and intensity, and forget about quantity.
  • To create, one must first destroy.
  • The work’s title helps to clarify its focal subject and intent.
  • Too often, we’re try to achieve half-a-dozen things at once in a single work. Therefore, separate and spread ideas over several works.
  • Aim to work in resolved phases. Thus, a painting will appear complete at every stage of its development.

February 26, 2018

He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds (Ps. 147.3).

‘Time heals’, they say. Or, put another way: we heal over time, usually. In other words, the further we are removed from the hurt, temporally speaking, the better able we are to reconcile ourselves to events, self-repair, and move on with our lives. This is an entirely natural process. What the psalmist refers to is a supernatural intervention: God administering a comforting salve in the moment of our need (rather than a long time afterwards). Heartbreak is a type of grief. It’s experienced in response to, for example, the loss or absence of someone we love, separation, a great disappointment, a frustrated longing, or a unrealisable desire. The condition is not a slight thing. Scientifically speaking, you can die from it. Its symptoms are as much physiological as they’re emotional and spiritual. Never blithely tell anyone ‘you’ll get over it!’. They may not, ever. (Time isn’t guaranteed to heal in all cases.) Such can be heartbreak’s profundity. It’s one of a number of wounds that have no obvious outward sign. We carry them around inside, in secret. But God (‘the great physician’) sees, cares (achingly so), sympathises, diagnoses, and prescribes. He does not wish for our hearts and hurts to go unattended.

Over the weekend, I learned of the death of Mrs Eluned Thomas. In my Diary for August 13, 2014 (which was the last time that I saw her), I wrote:

[She was] one of the most gracious and wise women that I’ve had the privilege of knowing. I’d not seen her in many years. Had she lived in biblical times, Mrs ‘T.’ would probably have been considered a prophetess in the mould of Anna (Luke 2.36-8). During the 1980s, she ran a house in Cardiff for single female students. Understandably, Auntie Eluned (as she was called by her girls) drew to her door a succession of male callers on a regular basis … myself included:

6.30 am: I awoke. 7.45 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Admin: email catch up and plans for a week of consultation meetings and teaching ahead, and beyond, and postgraduate matters.

10.15 am: Studiology. I reviewed Saturday’s work on the loudness equalisation of the Bible book mixdowns, before arranging them in their biblical order and across the stereo field, from Left 100% to Right 100%:

I’ve no idea what can be done with it, presently. The imperative was to create an ‘image’ of the totality of the combined recordings. That was sufficient reason for the endeavour. I’ll have to wait until an opportunity for deployment suggests itself.

Over lunch, Pedalboard III was on the bench. Yesterday, it was cutting out, possibly because of a live DC output touching and short circuiting one of the effectors. Of course, it worked perfectly when under scrutiny:

2.00 pm: Back to the texts on blindness. I looked again at a track called ‘Double Blind’ (Matt. 9. 27–31; 20.29–34). The last occasion I dealt with it was in the context of a formidable array of equipment, put together in anticipation of a possible live performance.

However, I suspect that I’m not a performance artist. In the past, my ‘public appearances’ have been largely confined to open-studio events in which I’m making rather than performing. (It’s felt rather like painting plein air under spectator observation.) I’ve rendered guitar-based pieces (scored and improvised) at the close of lectures on my work, and in collaboration with visual artists, reasonably successfully. Perhaps this is a challenge that lies before me. Meanwhile … back onto the decks:

6.30 pm: Practice session. 7.30 pm: I dispatched postgraduate admin and put together the spontaneous ensemble piece, which my ‘Ways of Working in Sound’ group (The Impromptu Aberystwyth University Music Department) made in 5 minutes last Friday.

February 24, 2018

7.00 am: I awoke. There was much to do today. 7.45 am: A communion, followed by a final letter to myself. (To be continued.) 9.30 am: A trip to ‘Dickie Snips’, the hairdresser, for my monthly prune. Only the grey hairs were visible against the gown:

I don’t appear to be getting any greyer, presently. ‘Progress’ is intermittent. (Like my life.) My journey to the light side began at 25 years of age, when I developed a distinctive ‘badger’ patch. Both my grandfathers had a full set of snowy white hair by the time they were 60 years old.

10.00 am: Into the studio and on with finalising the mixdown of individual Old Testament books, before the magna-crunch-down during the afternoon. 10.40 am: Back into town for a long-overdue appointment at the opticians. They’ve so many new ‘toys’ these days. One made arcade-game-like sounds when it moved. I was entranced. I’ve seen the glory of my eyes (to invert the first line of The Battle Hymn of the Republic). ‘Mars!’, I exclaimed. Then, ’embryo!’ What fascinating insights (in the most literal sense of that word) digital photography facilitates into the mechanism of seeing. ‘We are fearfully and wonderfully made’:

1.45pm: After lunch, I returned to the studio for the final overlay of the entire Bible. I wondered whether anyone has ever done this before; and, if so, why. I don’t want to intervene in the proceedings other than to balance each of the track’s output and arrange them across a broad stereo field. This will give the very dense texture some space in which to breath. My initial response to the rough mix was that it sounded like everyone in the world praying quietly together.

While, the tracks were being balanced for loudness (this would take an age), I picked up a guitar, after over a fortnight’s sabbatical, to assess the implications of the recent operation for my dexterity. There’re some things in this world that I’m not willing to relinquish without a fight. Guitar playing is one of them. If I ever develop a deficit; I’ll overcome it. This is the pact that I’ve made with myself. My fingers felt like the feet of a novice ice-skater, at first. Gradually, the muscles will ‘remember’ and the instrument, feel like an extension to my body once again. I’ll take time. The whole guitar collection was in dire need of a restring and some spit and polish. The ‘Strat’ was first on the bench. I love this job. There’s great satisfaction to be had in manual work:

Frets polished and oiled; body waxed and polished; new strings readied for the ‘morrow:

5.15 pm: Down tools.

February 23, 2018

Silence, then …
Discreet, unannounced 

{Silence, that’s
rejection or reserve;
departure or discipline?}

… Then, silence.*

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: I began finalising the texts for the I. Nothing. Lack album before sending it off to my trusted ‘remote ear’ for a discerning appraisal and feedback. I’ll also need the go-ahead for publication from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, and to initiate further discussions with them about the future of sound/dementia studies. I would not have imagined, a year ago, my work having any relationship with medical science. This was never my ambition; I did not choose this path. It arose, rather, as the natural outcome of a way of thinking and acting. To my mind, this is when the dimension of so-called ‘public impact’ to research is authentic. Too often, the researcher strains to make the work relevant or possess an application that isn’t native to its nature.

I believe in the notions of pure research and art for art’s sake. But I’m also increasingly convinced that art can, on occasion, have a ‘reach’ beyond both its intent and the narrow (in my case) bounds of its assumed audience. The general public are far more receptive to ‘difficult’ work than one might imagine. However, that receptivity needs to be acquired and tutored. The artist has a responsibility to ‘educate’ and grow an audience by initiating a conversation with them. The public aren’t stupid, for the most part. They’re just require an informed context, the tools to hear, an openness to new ideas and experiences, and patient trust.

9.00 am: A view into the studio, where I’ll be returning for the next few weeks:

11.30 am: Off, then, to the see the nurse and be unstitched:

I’ve moved to a village surgery. In contrast to my previous practice, the space is intimate, visually noisy, personable, humane, and technologically ‘lite’ (no screens, automated check-in, and terse robotic voice). The nurse tackled a knotty problem with finesse. There were few ‘ouches’ under the breath on my part. (I was a brave boy.):

1.45 pm: A enjoyed a hastily eaten beans on toast before climbing back onto the study chair. Now that the I. Nothing. Lack. was in the birth canal (as it were), I could return to ‘The Talking Bible’ project. ‘Now where was I?’

Having completed the digitisation of the vinyl set, I was ready to undertake a superimposition of all the individual files representing the sides of the vinyl discs. This may create an accumulated sound that is either deadpan and obvious or else almost mystical in the outcome. Before I began the process of mixing-down whole books of the Bible, I reviewed the tracks and works related to the album in general that I’d made to date. The experience of undertaking I. Nothing. Lack has helped to clarify aspects of my approach to this album of works. How often, for me, have the problems of one work been solved in terms of another.

7.30 pm: There’s no shortcut to mixdown on this scale. So, I set the process in motion for the remainder of the evening.

*For Amy Seed

February 22, 2018

8.00 am: A communion. 8.45 am: I passed the picket line, brazenly. It’s a cold day and they’ve a long vigil ahead. I respect the determination of my colleagues to strike. But each must act according to their conscience. For my part, I consider myself to be a member of the caring professions (along with doctors and nurses). As such, I abrogate my right to take industrial action. I wouldn’t like to think of my own children’s university education being compromised. And, so, I can’t reasonably withhold from the children of other parents (as well as mature students) the same consideration. 9.00 am: A tutorial cancellation opened up a space for admin. (There’s always something waiting in the wings.)

9.30 am: A morning of third-year painting tutorials. Things are beginning to move in small but measurable ways. You can’t force art to either develop or excel. The artist and the artwork grow best together. I’m conscious of feeling the onset of my annual exhibition agitation. I’ll not settle until all the students are up to speed. And students work at different speeds, each according to their aptitude, vision, determination, and appetite for work. My task is to help them realise their potential at this point in their life. Which may be significantly less than their potential in a year’s time.

A bouquet of brushes:

1.00 pm: A tutorial with an earnest second-year dissertation tutee. They’re fascinated by a subject that concluded two decades before they were born, and in a part of the country with which they’ve no association. What draws us to the unknown and unfamiliar? Do we choose the subject or does the subject choose us?

1.30 pm: Homeward for an immediate and light lunch. 2.00 pm: Back to remixing and finalisation, in parallel with teaching prep. Small adjustments were made to the volume of some of the tracks. The only way to do it is play the whole suite again and again until the apparent loudness of the suite appears (it’s very subjective) consistent throughout. 3.15 pm: I ventured outwards and upwards to the campus to conduct my annual ‘Ways of Working with Sound’ workshop, at 4.10 pm, for the PhD Research Training programme. It was held at the new P5 building:

The room had a decent sound system. There were only a small number present, representing Creative Writing, Education, and Television and Film. At that time of the week and day, I was running on empty:

6.00 pm: Homeward. 7.30 pm: I returned to the mix. Judging the optimum volume of a track is, I’ve always found, exceedingly difficult. A + or -3dB adjustment can open or close the sonorities of a composition significantly. I’ve learned a great deal from this process of adjustment during the project. I think I maybe getting better at it.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • When our whole of life loses its direction we, inevitably, lose the plot in its parts too. However, the reverse is also true. When we begin to take responsibility for the parts, the whole comes together again. Therefore, discover what you’re able to control … and act.
  • T: ‘What makes you want to paint?’
  • T: ‘As your tutor, I may see the potential in the work, but if you can’t too, you’re stuffed’.
  • Honour the subject by the way in which you paint it.
  • Concept: a single subject still life.
  • Artists create a world over which they have full control. It may be the only aspect of their life, sometimes, that’s under their thumb.
  • Shout in one part of the picture and whisper another.
  • Sometimes you have to fall off the table top in order to discover where the edges lies.
  • Painting = finding.
  • An emotional, as distinct from a visual, memory.
  • T: ‘This type of art education is too good to last’.
  • So often, the breakthrough (when many pennies drop all at once) comes at the end of the third year of study. Thus, students have to down their tools just when they’ve mastered them. Which is why MA studies are often as much a matter of necessity as of continuity.
  • You make so that those who can’t may experience making, vicariously, through your endeavour.
  • S: ‘I know, now, that “the man upstairs” has given me this gift; I know, now, what I was put on earth to do’.
  • What does what we’re interested in tell us about who we are?

February 21, 2018

8.00 am: A communion. I was out of kilter from the outset. There are days when I feel as though my needle doesn’t sit well in the day’s groove. This would be one, at the beginning. 8.30 am: Into the fray and through the town, under the soupy grey sky that offered no consolation:

9.00 am: I arrived for a tutorial at the door to one of our MA studios at the Old College. It was locked, with no one inside. Having texted the whereabouts of the missing student, they responded to the effect: ‘But I’m here, inside the room’. At that moment, my reality began to unravel. It turned out that I was on the wrong floor standing in an corridor and outside a room that were identical, in structure and ambience, to those on the floor below, where the student was stationed. I put it down to the residual effects of GA. The student was, as ever, forgiving and understanding. I’d convinced myself of a truth that was entirely false. I was in the wrong place at the right time, and didn’t realise it. Duped by appearances. Now, there’s a lesson. Old College: fragment:

9.30 am: The first of several PhD Fine Art students. Today has been, for me at least, one of revelations and moments of turning. Together, the students and I gasped something – saw through to a potentiality and a possibility that had, hitherto lay in abeyance. Ideas have a habit of divulging themselves only when we’re prepared to embrace them. And such ideas are often of the nature of a pattern, structure, or container that frames the research being undertaken within it.

10.45 am: I took refuge in a local café to catch up on admin and recuperate. Physical exertion requires more energy presently. Apparently, it takes a month for GA to work itself out of the system. Strong stuff!. 12.30 pm: To the School and a postgraduate admissions consultation with Dr Webster Van Tonder. 1.00 pm: Lunchtime admin. There’s still a significant backlog of teaching and admin to clear following my week working on research at home.

2.00 pm: Back to Old College via Laura Place. I was reminded of Lego:

…. for a further PhD Fine Art tutorial. It’s a strange experience when the artwork declares its own significance and trajectory to the artist. This is when it truly ‘speaks’ to us. But we must have ‘ears to hear’. Homeward journey: fragment:

3.30 pm: Homebase. I pressed on with the backlog of admin while working, in tandem, on remixing the I. Nothing. Lack suite. I had decided to rethink the relationship of the foreground voice and background tracks. The former was enhanced to increase the preacher’s presence.

7.30 pm: I continued by testing the mixes on different media players (iMac, iPad, and iPhone) and a variety of qualities of headphone. I’d more or less tried every permutation of composition ratio, balance, spatial positioning, volume threshold, and equalisation.

February 20, 2018

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Off to the Old College under a neutral sky that would, within the hour, yield to blue. The window eats away the building like a cankerous worm:

The sunlight raked across the crests of the incoming tide, and illuminated the interior of the building in sometimes surprising ways:

My MA students are, now, seeded throughout the building. This gives me an excuse to explore beyond the boundaries of my usual furrow … upwards and upwards. (A lesson for life.):

Mr Monaghan (one of our MA Fine Art alumni) talked informally about his work to the assembled Vocational Practice group. He presented a realistic, honest, frank, and helpful account of his professional experience:

We took lunch together afterwards.

2.00 pm: An afternoon of further MA tutorials, beginning at the School and moving back to the Old College:

7.30 pm: I continued with the revised volume profiles for the I. Nothing. Lack tracks.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • The absence of image makes a space for the presence of enigma.
  • The outcome of the artwork often confutes our intentions.
  • Ideas generate process generates ideas generate process … .
  • We may betray an insecurity about our security.
  • Devise an explanation that isn’t exclusive and comprehensive but, rather, definitive and provisional.
  • It’s not always a good thing to let the work pull you by the nose.
  • Some artwork’s titles are as arbitrary as the names given to battleships.
  • Titles direct the viewers to experience your work in a particular way. And, as such, they may prevent them from seeing it in other ways.
  • Establish a fulcrum (or centre point) for your modus operandi, and determine to work both at and either side of it. (Explore subtle differences within a narrow frame of reference, in other words.)
  • The teacher often identifies and validates what the student has already realised, but not yet articulated to themselves.
  • Integrity, before all else.
  • S: ‘I am so far out of my comfort zone!’ T: ‘Good! Stay there’.
  • Intensity is sometimes at the expense of longevity. ‘The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long’ (Blade Runner (1982)).
  • Try not looking at the dartboard when you throw the dart.
  • Don’t miss-read what the work needs.

February 19, 2018


A strength;

Not knowing;



Friday and Saturday. I continued working on the text for the suite’s introduction and the tracks’ descriptions, while preparing alternative mixes. Most things sounded ideal on the studio monitors and over the cans, but otherwise muddy or insufficiently ‘present’ on my more than decent desktop sound system. Part of the craft of mixing is to create a sonic profile that works well on most any active speaker set up (from the ultra expensive and sophisticated to the cheap and cheerful), but without compromise:

Over the past few days, I’ve written several letter to myself. This may appear to be a pastime bordering on insanity. Some of my friends write letters to others that they’ve no intention of sending. In so doing, they can speak their mind, but without fear of a backlash. The practice helps to defuse a potentially divisive exchange of words. Having ‘gotten it off their chests’, they discover that those things no longer need to be said. I write in order to either gain a perspective upon, or else exorcise, a troubling matter. Doing so is a mode of auto-therapy, wherein I can be entirely open and honest with myself, and not have to consider another person’s response, causing offence, being misunderstood, or censure. There’re times when it’s wise to keep one’s own counsel.

I managed to procure a 1970s cassette-tape editing block. It’s exactly the same as the one I used as an earnest 16-year old sound-‘junky’:

By the close of Saturday afternoon, the tracks and their descriptors had been uploaded to the album on my Sound website. A typescript of the lyrics, and album and track covers, still need to be prepared before publication.

Sunday. A morning in A&E. My suture had grown increasingly painful, and my hand and wrist, swollen. I required a professional opinion from the orthopaedic department. Apparently, my experience was not uncommon. (Nerve settlement, the doctor said.) The good news is that the suture is, at last, healing well:

Today. Sometimes I wake and know that I’m just a man. The waters fall, again. 9.00 am: The start of several hours of appointment setting and email catch-up. And, then, dealing with the incoming mail that had arrived in response. 11.30 am: There was time to look at the possibilities for individual covers for the tracks comprising I. Nothing. Lack. 12.30 pm: Off to School to prepare for the 1.10 pm Art in Wales lecture on ‘Art and Industry’. This would be my first outing since the operation. It was good to be back in the saddle again.

2.00 pm: A tuna sandwich and cup of PG at my elbow, I took a working lunch uploading files and responding to emails. 2.30 pm: I got back to I. Nothing. Lack and generated a number of digital images that were relevant to the concept and process of the audio content in each case. Thus, for example, audio glitching found a corresponding analogy in photographic glitching:

7.00 pm: I completed the album and track artworks and reviewed, once more, the volume of the tracks relative to one another, and to the optimum volume of the streamable-software. I was still uncomfortable about the background sample to the second track. The volume of all the tracks was far too high, although matched throughout the suite. At least, now, I understand what’s the desirable level. Progress is always slowest as one reaches the end of an endeavour.

*For Amy Seed

February 15, 2018

He shall call upon me, and I will answer him (Ps. 91.15).

8.00 am: A communion. Scenario 1: There was no mobile reception in the hotel. I had to walk to the end of the drive before I could obtain even a precariously weak signal. Did they hear me? ‘Hello!?’ Scenario 2: The phone number was correct; so, either the line was faulty or they weren’t picking up. Scenario 3: All I could get was the engaged tone. The efficacy of prayer is not, likewise, subject to either our location or the signal (spiritual) strength; and God is never too busy or unresponsive. He not only listens but also replies. Yes. There’ve been times when I’ve wondered if there was someone on the other end. There’ve been times, too, when my motives for speaking with him have been wrong; my heart, awry; and my priorities, dishevelled. You can’t have communication without communion. (‘Reform and redial, John!’) God’s answers aren’t always straightforward, though. In other words, they’re not necessarily comprehensible in terms of a simple and absolute ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For example, there’s a ‘yes’ … but not yet; and a ‘no’, for now, that’ll be superseded by a ‘yes’ in the future. Answers to prayer are always contextual and conditional. Sometimes, either we, or our circumstances, or the season, or the prevailing conditions must change before God chooses his moment. But act he will. ‘Gottes Zeit ist die Allerbeste Zeit‘ [‘God’s Time is the Very Best Time’], as J S Bach titled one of his cantatas (BWV106). But that time may be a very long time in coming. Which is why trusting God (Ps. 91. 2, 4), and waiting upon him, are of the essence of prayer.

Waiting (in silence):

Yesterday evening, a friend from home (South Wales) phoned to tell me that Linda Thomas had died after a short and aggressive illness. I knew her during my time at Blaenau Gwent Baptist Church, Abertillery, back in the late 1970s. She was a gifted and compassionate peripatetic music teacher, as well as a serious-minded Christian who knew how to let her hair down. I used to rib her mercilessly; and she, me. ‘See you on the far side of the river, “Lindy-Loo”!’:

8.30 pm: Health check. Since the operation, last week, my blood pressure has become unstable due to the effects of the general anaesthetic, which has also got entangled with the background ME. (‘Complications’, as they say.) Added to this, my surgical wound hasn’t sealed entirely. Healing will be a slower process, as a result. So, the arm remains very painful and inefficient. And to think that I have to go through this twice more. During my convalescence, I’ve been working on projects that don’t require too much keyboard manipulation. It’s been an opportunity to finalise the compositions and mix for the I. Nothing. Lack. project.

To that end, I wanted to devise two further and final tracks that explored and applied aspects of the deficits of dementia that hadn’t been addressed by the other components of the suite. Having recorded MacMillan’s recitation of Psalm 23 to cassette tape, I proceeded to physically erase, with glass paper, the magnetic particles that were adhered to it, layer by layer. Following each pass, I digitally transferred the effects of my vandalism. After five applications of the process, the original recording was little more than fierce noise. (I’d deployed a similar strategy to create my ‘Erased Messiah Recording’ (2016).) The phased passes were then arranged in order, beginning with the most degraded, and proceeding, through a sequence of fades, to a pristine rendering of the original, at the end. In this way, the process is analogous to the effects of dementia on memory, wherein the most recent memories (corresponding to the beginning of the recitation) are erased first (and catastrophically), while the earliest memories (corresponding to the end of the recitation), remain intact:

The second new piece resolved the impasse that I’d been experiencing with the decelerated rendering of MacMillan’s recitation. I constructed a constantly fast moving and animated backing track against which the progressively slowing speech (0  to -250%) could be heard. It was a simple but an effective solution.

11.30 am: After a period of respite and arm exercises I returned to the first of the two additional compositions, which is tentatively entitled ‘ h   T  n y-Th rd P alm’. In my mind’s ear, I recalled the aural image of a medium-wave radio being gradually tuned into a station – the background, crackling and spiting like a detached electricity cable from which thousands of volts oozed. I’ve not considered radio noise since composing my first sound piece, ‘Ion on Iron‘, back in 1977. The first question that this present work addressed was: ‘How do you make a sound that’s simultaneously unpleasant and compelling to the ear?

1.40 pm: After lunch and updating my Instagram account, I rolled up my sleeve and started cutting into multiple and variously distorted tracks, based upon the cassette tape erasures, to create a 1-minute composition. 2.30 pm: A vision:

Mr Malevich and Mr Lissitszky Together Looked Up, 1 & 2

5.10 pm: Mission accomplished (for now); I’ll review this again in the silent light of a new day. I reloaded the deceleration piece and listened once more.

7.30 pm: On with, what’s tentatively entitled, ‘Ps-a–l–m— T—w—e—n––t––y –––– T––––h––––r––––––e­––––––e’. (The decelerating piece.) The first question that this work addressed was: ‘How can I resolve the whole in as few moves as necessary? 8.15 pm: Mission accomplished. That’s two compositions completed in one day. A record (for me). 8.30 pm: I revisited those pieces about which I’d some reservations regarding their final mix. Already, I can feel myself letting go of this project. This is always a sign that an end (a sufficiency) is in sight/sound.

February 9, 2018

7.00 am: Rise. The weather was angry and inconsolable. A ‘beginfast’, as opposed to a breakfast, was the order of the morning. I so missed that first cup of tea. 7.45 am: Preparations for my return to teaching (mid week) needed to be completed, my inbox emptied, and registers updated. Putting my affairs in order, as it were. Too dramatic? Perhaps. On the other hand: ‘Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring’ (Prov. 27.1).

While searching for a defunct cassette tape to unwind some days back, I alighted upon:

It, too, was now inoperable. I’d purchased the album, released in 1973, one Saturday afternoon at one of the several independent record shops in Abertillery. My first experience of the music was in mono on a Sanyo AutoStop System G2000 cassette recorder, which was later also made inoperable after a circuit-bending session. The album was very hissy. So much so, that I couldn’t hear the very quiet parts. There’s something about the physicality of cassettes – their rattles, contours, moulding, hiddenness, and moving parts – that makes the CD format seem so coldly efficient and anonymous. At night, I used to lie in bed with the cassette recorder on the pillow beside my head, playing the music softly. I didn’t use the flesh-coloured monaural earpiece that came with the recorder; it made the sound resemble a crystal radio set. And, there’s something disconcerting about hearing music only in one ear. ‘Mono headphones?’ Not in Abertillery. And not on my pocket money.

10.00 am: All set: admission papers; iPhone; iPad/keyboard; iPod (my old 5th Generation), noise-cancelling headphones (you could not have imagined such a thing when I was young); book to read; Book of Common Prayer to console; notebook; pen; slippers; dressing gown; hairbrush; etc. (‘You’re only there until late afternoon, John!’)

10.40 am: Off to the hospital (which is little beyond a stone’s throw from my home) and the Day Surgical Unit. Then, the wait:

11.10 am: Onto the ward for a pre-operation assessment. Bronglais Hospital is a relatively small and very supportive environment. The staff are efficient, busy, and polite. Every so often, doctors walked passed my bed carrying cups of tea and coffee. (This was torture.) I’d not had a cuppa since 1.30 pm yesterday. I connected to the Cloud in order to monitor the outside world. But I was content to remain in my warm and scrubbed-clean bubble, with nothing to do other than reflect, read, and write, while listening to the bleeps of monitors and other patients’ consultations close by. The operation was scheduled for mid afternoon. The NHS, embattled as it is, rises above the limitations imposed upon it, maintains dignity and courtesy, and ploughs on with a determination and grit, like the British during the war. Exemplary, laudable, and astonishing. We should be far more grateful:

The physician drew:

The risks associated with the operation were described in some detail. It pays to be not too idealistic in one’s expectations. The lunch trolley passed. (Sigh!) The smell of hospital food filled the ward. Any food smells delicious when you’re hungry. The surgery session would begin at 1.30 pm. I waited in a queue like an aeroplane for its turn on the runway. (The patient patient.) Several other non-definable medics checked vitals and confirmed my identity and which arm required attention. 1.35 pm: I disrobed and dressed in a rather fetching pale-blue gown (back to front, the first time) for action (or, rather, profound inaction). Soon, I would lose an hour of my life irredeemably while in a state of near oblivion. Curiously, the prospect excited me:

To my left, the first aeroplane took off. The anaesthetist came from behind the curtain to ascertain answers to questions that I’d been asked twice already. But I could appreciate the need for thoroughness and to avoid litigation. Apparently, the anaesthetic included eggs among its components.

2.40 pm: I was wheeled to the Preparation Room, where the anaesthetic was administered, and, then, into Theatre. As the bed moved into the operating table, I remember thinking: ‘What extraordinary equipment they have in her …………. ‘. (Gone. I’d surrendered to Morpheus. ) 3.50 pm: I opened my eyes again in the Recovery Room, feeling like Dorothy awaking back in Kansas.

After a stint back in the main ward, and several cups of very welcome tea and a bowl of rice crispies, I was in a position to appreciate the onset of pain and inspect the ‘damage’:

5.40 pm: Release. ‘I’ll be back’ (I thought, in an Austrian accent) for my right arm to receive the same treatment. As medical interventions go, I couldn’t have hoped to receive better attention.

6.30 pm: Home, dinner, catch-up, and rest.