Finding the Way 4: 2008-2022

In 2008, I asked a commercial company to digitise a reel-to-reel tape that dated back to 1977. This was the year when I began art school and determined to put behind me the previous fours years of exploration in sound and music in order to dedicate myself to fine art studies. The content I wanted transferred was on Side A of the spool, and comprised two songs for voice and acoustic guitar. But the company digitised Side B as well. I hadn’t asked them to do so, on the assumption that it was void of material. Their mistake was my opportunity. For, on the reverse there were five tracks that I’d not heard in over thirty years. Collectively, they represented my last foray into music and sound for some time to come. (See: The Last Things (1977).) My reacquaintance with these pieces reanimated an interest in, and creative engagement with, what’s today known as sound art.

1973-77.

A year later, while Visiting Artist and Scholar at the Department of Fine Art, University of Calgary, Canada, I presented a paper entitled ‘An Anti-Icon: A Protestant Art Now’, outlining my practice-based research on visual art, the Bible, and theology. I also performed my first sound composition since 1988, based on Exodus chapter 20 and verse 4:

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

The Second Commandment’ is a ‘non-image’ or ‘anti-icon’. It comprises a pre-existing recording of the spoken biblical text and an accompaniment played on an electric guitar through effects pedals. A second version of the composition was presented at Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey, in 2011. (See: ‘The Second Commandment‘.) During the period from 2010 to 2011 I made further sound presentations, in collaboration with visual artists on these occasions. This was to the end of exploring audiovisualogy through improvisation, observation, and installation. (See: ‘Exchange 11: Part 2‘, Energy Gift Exchange Day, School of Art Gallery, Aberystwyth University (November 11, 2011).)

2009-11.

In 2011, I set aside the guitar temporarily in order to distance myself from musicality; concentrate on manipulating found sound; and discover how concepts and techniques associated with painting and film making could be applied to sound composition. These include: allusion, blow-up, collage, colourisation, contrast, cross-fade, cutaway, depth-of-field, desynchronisation, divisionism, double exposure, fast-cutting, filtering, framing, glazing, intercutting, impasto, juxtaposition, leitmotif, metaphor, mixing, motif, montage, overexposure, pan, pixilation, reverse motion, simile, slow motion, and tenebrism. (‘Integration’.) I was, after all, a fine artist who worked with sound, image, and text, rather than a musician.

I also wanted to distance myself from the arena of performance too, and become ensconced in the studio. (Sound composition, like painting and prayer, is an intensely private matter for me.) However, my studio could be transferred into public domains, such as galleries and places of worship. It was at workshops held there that preparations for a project’s composition were often begun, and processes for extracting sounds from the source material devised. Bystanders were able to interrogate my intent, means, and methods. The discussions focused upon the relevance of the Bible in the contemporary age; the principles and problems of interpretation; the idea of sound-art practice as a mode of hermeneutic enquiry; and the function of sound descriptors in the Scripture itself. Young people, especially, were intrigued by my use of contemporary electronic equipment — more usually associated with DJing — to interpret such an ancient book.

2014-17.

The Aural Bible series of releases, which began in 2015, was conceived as a sonic parallel to The Pictorial Bible series:

The series deals with the Judaeo-christian scriptures as the written, spoken, and heard word. It explores the cultural articulations and adaptations of the Bible within the Protestant tradition. The works embark upon a critical, responsive, and interpretive intervention with aspects of its sound culture.

The Aural Bible series (2015-22).

The six suites (to date) also engage aspects of my art-historical research. The content of my books, chapters and articles, and conference papers dealing with Welsh Nonconformity, religious revival, coalmining, supernaturalism, biblical art, and biblical studies and theology, constituted the socio-historical and cultural-religious ground upon which the sound compositions were founded. In this respect, the albums represent a summative index to the principal preoccupations of my creative and academic endeavours since 1984.

The source material for the albums are recordings of, for example: wax cylinder content; the spoken biblical text; the sounds of a biblical text being mechanically engraved; evangelistic and fundamentalist preaching; the sonification of biblical texts, engravings of Bible scenes, webpages, and written prayers; exorcisms; Christian radio broadcasts; the peel of church bells; a reading of the entire Bible; historical narratives about apparitions and, latterly; the sounds of coalminers and industry, taken from the documentary soundtrack about a Welsh pit. My sound work represents an intervention in historical documents and contemporary sonic events that aims to adapt their content, in order to extend far beyond its boundaries. In so doing, the albums expand both content and context; evoke emotions and ambiences inspired by the sources; incorporate other historical themes and events associated with the times and people; fabricate counterfactual histories and speeches to help clarify meaning; ‘paint’ soundscapes summoned by the original narratives; deepen insight; and ‘resurrect’ the dead.

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