October 31, 2014

8.30 am. Updated the John Harvey: Blog site with reports on the first two of three reconstructions of Duchamp’s music.  The final piece will be a rendering of his The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even. Erratum Musical, which I’ll endeavour to complete before the end of the calendar year. These pieces are not by any stretch of the imagination significant outputs in terms of either my own work or a contribution to ‘Duchamp studies’. Nevertheless, they’ve presented themselves to me as a necessary undertaking — a self-education in musical interpretation and performance, and an opportunity to explore how an art historian (or an artist for that matter) can intervene in, interrogate, and interpret an artwork through its reconstruction (see Making Ready Duchamp: Sculpture Musicale):

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11.40 am. Updated and posted my Personal Tutor invitation to my charge. The pastoral dimension of academic life absorbs a considerable amount of time and emotional energy. But it’s of the essence of one’s vocation —  bit like being a plumber: you have the responsibility of keeping the pipes clean too, so that the water can have free course through them to the tap:

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12.00 pm. Back to The Floating Bible visualization — finalising templates and developing an efficient and reasonably straightforward process for stretching and copying handwritten words. To begin, every diffrent word was written down:

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From this list, individual words will be scanned at 1200 dpi and stretched vertically to the height to the of the text columns in the edition of the Gideon Bible which is likely to have featured in the original account of the ‘miracle’. It’s only as one engages the mechanics of the process that the full implications of the labour ahead —  in terms of the investment of time, the demands that’ll be made on my patience and fortitude, and the irksomeness of the necessary routine — become apparent:

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I need to complete one verse from beginning to end — from scan, through the parameter adjustments, and to the final artwork — in order to ascertain the viability and duration of the procedure.

5.45 pm. An evening with my fully-assembled family:

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October 30, 2014

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9.00 am. An MA fine art tutorial. Owen’s studio rags. They are an unselfconscious residue of his palette, mark-making, application, and gesture; as distinctly his handiwork as anything he has produced, with deliberation, on canvas. When is a painting not a painting? Below, another ‘over-painting’ (as I now call them), made by cursorily applying a thin layer of gesso over a ‘readymade’ painting (originally wrought by Dr Forster in this instance), creating, thereby, an entirely new and unpremeditated image (October 16, 2014). When is the artist not the artist?:

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10.30 am. My walk to the Old College studios to teach the third year painters, down Park Avenue, through the town, and across the promenade:

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Some observations, principles, and lessons:

  • Painting is incapable of saying anything explicit. It is a non-propositional art form like music and architecture, but unlike literature. But therein is its virtue: painting is consummately able to be evasive, suggestive, and evocative — hinting at, rather than pointing to, things.
  • Responsible, personal time management is of the essence of creative endeavour. Good ideas, consummate skill, and notable intentions require a temporal arena in which to be applied and developed. One of the hardest tasks faced by an artist is to establish a routine for consistent creative engagement within the framework of their busy lives. We would do well to learn from musician-performers in this respect. They are committed to regular and structured practice, without which their professional form would quickly deteriorate.
  • A limited palette is not a limiting palette. Quite the contrary. The number set 1, 2, and 3 has six permutations. How many permutations has a set of three colours?
  • A working knowledge of colour recognition, mixing, and harmonies would appear to be every student’s most pressing need presently. Too often, they arrive at the correct colour mix by way of what can only be described as a chance procedure.

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7.30 pm. I made adjustments to the text and PowerPoint for Tuesday’s Art/Sound lecture and completed the Sculpture Musicale blog. 9.40 pm Practice session 2. ‘Sufficient unto the day’.



October 29, 2014

9.00 am. The first of three MA Fine Art tutorials. For those students from a fine art only background, the first part of the degree is very demanding;  they’re hitting (for the first time) art theory like a car a wall in a destructive vehicle test. They’ll orientate; of that I’ve no doubt. However, the endeavour takes time away from their practice. As a consequence, some are prone to the jitters (understandably). In short, they have to grow another head in order to cope with the dual function of being (temporarily at least) a practitioner-theoretician. I would have it no other way.

11.00 am. Back at home, I worked on module admin, dealt with the morning’s emails, and tried to understand how Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even. Musical Erratum (1913) might be realised. This is the most complex and incomplete of the three musical compositions conceived by the artist and, along with Erratum Musical, a work that involves chance procedure:

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I may need to commission our Computer Studies boffins to design an algorithm to mimic the action of the moving cars. The arrangement of the funnel and mobile open cars reminded me of the way in which trucks were filled with coal from a large hopper at  collieries in south Wales, before being pulled by steam engine to the nearest port.

2.00 pm. A further MA tutorial with a student who is turning a corner at speed, with all the attendant expectations of skidding and swerving in interesting and necessary ways. The chore of completing on-line registers. The task is made the more difficult because the register system is locked into an entirely bonkers timetable system that imposes an unnecessarily restrictive practice:

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A man from IS came at 4.00 pm to (for the fourth time) to enable my laptop to communicate with the departmental ‘central’ printer. (Yet another unnecessarily restrictive practice.) Fourth time lucky. At the end of the afternoon, I held a reassigned painting tutorial.

6.15 pm. Practice session 1 (sans nice amp). 7.30 pm. I began a review of an article dealing with a historical book that I’d been committed to in the past. 9.40 pm. Practice session 2. 10.40 pm. ‘The nightwatch’. Review complete, I commenced a blog on this week’s Sculpture Musicale event:

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October 28, 2014

8.00 am. At the School, duck-tape to hand, I was on my knees making safe cables in readiness for the morning’s reconstruction of Duchamp’s Sculpture Musicale (1913) by members of the Art/Sound module. 9.00 am. The composer/audients arrived and, after a brief introduction, entered into the spirit of the exercise — walking from room to room, through the corridors, along landings, and down staircases, adjusting the parameters of the oscillators, and articulating their response on a worksheet:

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We recaptured the industrialism of last night’s ‘rehearsal’ with avengence. The exercise lasted thirty-five minutes. I suspect that some students had fun, others, a genuinely new and enriching experience, and yet others, no doubt, found the noise oppressive and unsettling. The second part of the workshop was held in Holy Trinity Church, close by … in silence. The students adapted very well to the project’s expectations and the unfamiliar environment. There’s much I need to consider in relation to both parts of the morning’s proceedings in relation to the participants and myself. A more extensive and considered blog is in order:

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1.30 pm. I set about sifting through documentation generated by the workshop, and disseminating it to the contributors, principally, while editing and remastering the sound material for Sculpture Musicale (a poor token of the real experience, and uploading it to my Studium website.

7.30 pm. A treat. I attended Music Theatre Wales’ production of Philip Glass’ The Trail (based on Kafka’s novel). Tight, clean ensemble playing, austere stage design and lighting (appropriate to the music), good acting and choreography, and some exceptional voices. It wasn’t always possible to maintain a balance between the orchestra and some of the solo singing. Microphones would have helped matters:

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10.15 pm. ‘The nightwatch’. I completed updating my diary page for the day and my website ‘news’ and ‘project’ fields.

 



October 27, 2014

The revision of the my circuit bending juvenilia was launched over the weekend: Auld Tune (2014).

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8.30 am. Having orientated the soul, I attended to more mundane and temporal matters — establishing my timetable for the week and beyond, and updating the Professional Practice lecture that I’ll deliver at the close of the day. 9.30 am. I revived a studio notebook that is kept whenever I return to image making after a hiatus. Now is that time, once again. For those students undertaking the undergraduate Research, Process & Practice module: this is my ‘visual diary’:

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During a restless period last night, thoughts arose regarding the process and structure of a visual analogue of The Floating Bible sound work. When an idea comes with such clarity, one must act  — if only to prove its metal. For there can be a yawning credibility gap between the quality of an idea and the integrity of its visual realisation. So, some initial, developmental strategies:

1  The text of the printed bible will be translated into handwriting. This is visual equivalent of speaking the printed text: likewise, a conversion of the source through the agency of the reader’s body and idiosyncratic articulation. Fountains pens were readied:

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2 Following the process principles underlying the sound version of the project, I stretched a word horizontally to the width of a double-spread bible page. The outcome was too obvious, too literal, and insufficiently transformed:

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However, when the same word was stretched vertically, to the height of the page column, the resultant image (here shown on its side) resembled the waveform graph of a sound:

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You cannot stretch a sound recording vertically, because there’s no such thing as vertical time. (I’m more than willing to be proved wrong.) The passage of time ‘feels’ horizontal: ‘Time stretches before us’, as the saying goes. Not ‘above us’. To stretch a recorded word vertically on a waveform graph is to increase its volume only. So, by analogy and notionally, this vertically stretched word is very loud indeed.

3 I need, now, to visualize the stretches of shorter words and of the shortest words (‘a’ and ‘I’), and source ‘bible paper’ (which would seems to be, conceptually, the most appropriate support on which to print the works), as well as a means of printing on such thin, fragile, and shiny paper. By the end of the afternoon, I’d made progress on all fronts.

5.10 pm. I gave the Professional Practice lecture. The opportunities for self promotion afforded by internet are bewildering. ‘In my day’, the scope for advertising oneself and one’s work was limited to whatever one could stuff into a manilla envelope:

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7.15 pm. The sound equipment for tomorrow’s Art/Sound workshop was trundled to the School, where one of my students was waiting to help install (with great enthusiasm) the eight amp/oscillator units throughout the building. Two hours later the building resonated fiercely and loudly, like a site of heavy industry. We’d successfully overlaid the architecture of stone with one of sound.



October 25, 2014

9.00 am. A trip to town to buy equipment storage boxes from Charlie’s — our cheap and cheerful, have everything, nearest you get to a hardware store in Aberystwyth. 10.00 am. I set about designing the cover for R B V E Ǝ T N Ƨ O A. When I was 14 to 16 years of age, I created cover art for my experimental music bands: Hunter (1972-3) and Orange (1975-6). (I really should have copyrighted the title of the second. Who’d have thought):

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Then, the artwork was hand made. In the days before the domestication of graphics software, ‘cut and paste’ was not a metaphor, and the only means of reproducing an image, non-professionally, was a black and white, too high-contrast photocopier, at 5p a time. The original cassette covers have either been lost or deteriorated with time. The only residue is the album notes, clumsily hand-typed but retaining a period charm:

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My homespun experience in graphic design, which I furthered even while studying for a BA Fine Art degree, secured me my first job on graduation. Nothing is ever wasted.

By lunchtime, I’d complete a draft of the front cover:

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2.00 pm. I began work on the back cover while updating elements of my website. 4.15 pm. The back cover draft was complete. It’s a beginning, and I now have a clear sense of the design character for the interior:

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4.30 pm. I returned to an album by Hunter entitled Undulate, which I recorded with Robert Atkins and Andrew price in August 1973, when I was 14 years of age. I isolated (as far as it was possible) and extracted the sound of my circuit bending sounds from the three-part track in order to rework them into redux/mashup version.

Jack Bruce died today, aged 71.

An evening with the family.

 

 



October 24, 2014

9.00 am. A ‘warning’ to my colleagues:

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9.15 am. Completed the NSSAW minutes that I’d begun last night and cleared the desk for work on The Bible in Translation exhibition of visual and sound art works. 10.30 am. I’m investigating the possibility of developing a visual response to The Floating Bible sound work:

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My initial intent is to digitally copy and then stretch each word (as I’d done for the audio processing of the material) visually. To begin, I need to abstract and index the text and discern the recurrence of words:

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One of the hallmarks of professional integrity is a willingness to redo from scratch something which may have taken a very long time to achieve, on discovering that a fundamental error has been made — one to which, quite possibly, the audience would be entirely oblivious.  It requires courage and tenacity to do what is necessary.

4.45 pm. An apparition drew me away:

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6.15 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. I continued making an inventory of the biblical text while listening to Captain Beefheart’s Lick My Decals Off, Baby (1970). Beefheart (aka Don Glen Viliet) was an abstract/figurative expressionist painter and a musician. You can hear that. His level of innovation and daring meant that he was largely unpopular and a commercial failure. Yet he’s considered to be one of the most significant songwriters of his generation, among those ‘in the know’. (That’s one in the eye for so-called public ‘impact’ ratings.) He exemplifies many of the principles and lessons of creative practice that I, too, stand by: be yourself; what you learn for yourself is more important than anything anyone can teach you; ignore public expectation; let go; don’t ape others; integrate your interests; collide opposites; learn to break the rules, and learn the rules to break; be ambitious and aim for the impossible sometimes, and attempt the difficult always; and don’t try to be an original — either you are or you aren’t. Live with it.

9.40 pm. Practice session 2.



October 23, 2014

9.00 am. I delivered the Art/Sound lecture on spirit and technology. It felt too dense and 5 minutes too long. I’ll prune the text before the next time that it’s out of the filing cabinet. On the day that Tesco announces a significant reduction in profits and its chairman resigns, Aberystwyth’s new Tesco Express is polished in readiness for the opening:

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11.00 am. Second year painting tutorials for the remainder of the day. Some observations and principles:

  • When students say ‘to experiment’ they more often or not mean ‘to explore’. The former intent is orientated to process, hypothesis testing, and demonstration; the latter, to a journey through unfamiliar territory and to an open-ended inquiry.
  • A palette knife has its virtues, but injudiciously used it can be, quite literally, a blunt instrument. Square-end, hog-hair brushes would enable them to achieve a similar mark, but with a greater degree of control and variation. Use both, then.
  • The painting that comes too quickly and completely is both a blessing and a curse. The student is suspicious of instant success, and helpless to replicate the conditions under which it was made. Mercifully, such ‘gifts’ are rarely given to us.
  • Students need to see other artists’ paintings ‘in the flesh’ more often. Their visual sensibility is too narrowly circumscribed by the limitations of reproductions.

I’ve been heartened by the progress made by all those that I taught this morning. They are, to a woman, ploughing their own furrow with increasing confidence and facility.

1.05 pm. Lunch in the Quad under Mary Lloyd-Jones’ painted banners. Now, Mr Thomas Ellis has something to point at:

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2.00 am. Seeing the students paint makes me want to do the same. Absenteeism was conspicuous this afternoon. Something is amiss, perhaps.

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5.10 pm. Close of play. It has been a relentless but a rewarding day.

7.30 pm. I applied myself to research admin. related to the NSSAW project — writing up the minutes of Wednesday’s meeting, and sending out documentation related to both the project and the Evan Roberts CD release, so that everyone involved knows what everyone else knows. Wacked!



October 22, 2014

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9.30 am. My first MA tutorial of the morning engaged a process painter who is exploring dripping paint (as distinct from drip painting or painting drips). Such a simple proposition can have enormous implications.  The study of the phenomenon requires a quasi-scientific methodology, precision, and accountability. The fall of a drop of liquid is also resonant with allusions. As the paint accumulated on the floor beneath the drip, I recalled the stalagmites that I’d seen in the caverns of Castleton, Derbyshire, over the summer, and a childhood fascination with beads of condensation that chased one another down the window pane.

In the second tutorial, we discussed paint in another state — as a stain upon the canvas. Again, this is a rudimentary matter, but one that presents considerable challenges for the artist. For example: developing an authoritative control over the shape, the rate of seepage, and the stain’s degree of opacity and viscosity. Few things in art are either easy or simple. 10.45 am. I held a BA dissertation tutorial with a student who is studying aspects of museum policy and practice in Saudi Arabia.

1.30 pm. I attended the inaugural meeting, held at the National Library of Wales, of my ‘An indexical-interpretive scope of sound documents at the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales’ project:

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The project’s objective are:

  1. To assess the holdings of the NSSAW and, guided initially by extant public databases and the archive’s staff, to define a body of material that could form the basis of commissioned sound-art projects.
  2. To develop a descriptive index and interpretive document of the investigative findings suitable for sound artists and historians seeking to develop projects using NSSAW material.
  3. To establish an on-going collaborative relationship with the NSSAW, realized in regularly convened meetings, and the development of ‘policy’ documentation aimed at: (a) promoting the archive’s contents within the professional sphere of sound-art studies; (b) developing a scheme for a second sound-art conference; and (c) producing a schedule of publications and a program of performance projects based upon sound art commissions, to be held at the NLW, School of Art, Aberystwyth University (SoA), Aberystwyth Arts Centre, and relevant public venues elsewhere.
  4. To determine a specific sound source-set capable of sustaining a practical and historical intervention by Harvey. The project would represent a practical exemplification of a sound-art commission based upon the archive, one which would follow on from his earlier research, which was realized in
    R B V E Ǝ T N Ƨ O A (2014).

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We also discussed the release, in the next few months, of R B V E Ǝ T N Ƨ O A, which is in the process of being mastered at a recording studio.

2.45 pm. I joined a staff meeting at the School of Art where its first year Fine Art provision and the School’s promotional strategy were under review. 3.45 pm. The final part of the afternoon was devoted to painting tutorials and pastoral consultations.

6.10 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. In the evening, I finalised the second phase of next week’s Art/Sound Workshop 2 project outline:

Holy Trinity Church: Silence

Holy Trinity Church is an Anglican church:
Architects: Middleton, Prothero, and Phillpot

Erected: 1882–6

Nave opened: 1886
Church completed: 1889
Builders: J & D Evans (nave, tower, and transcept); Thomas Hopkins (Chancel (up to the plinth course), vestries, organ chamber, and oak choir stalls). 



General Description:
 Perpendicular Gothic, 5-bay with North West porch; 1 bay transepts, incomplete central tower (designed to have a spire) with North West polygonal stair turret; North East chapel and vestry to 3-bay chancel. 

Bull-nosed rubble masonry with freestone dressings, quoins, plinth band and string courses etc., as well as to chancel blind traceried parapet and East gable end; stepped buttresses; crucifix finial to West gable, others broken. Slate roofs, tiled cresting, eaves band, and pyramidal roof to tower.

3-light ogee double cusped nave windows with transoms and hoodmoulds, shortened to North West over pitched roof with 4-centred Tudor porch reached by steps leading from iron gated entrance. West front has shortened window over paired larger windows with more elaborate tracery and stilted hoodmoulds; central canopied niche. Plain tower faces; transepts have quatrefoil attic lights in square recesses over 5-light (ransomed windows; 2-light window to chancel with hoodmoulds; 5-light East window below 4-light louvered attic with ogee head. 

Similar masonry internally; hammerbeam roofs and crenellated wall plates with shields. Panelled tracery crossing arches with polygonal bases; similar blind tracery over linenfold panelling to East wall. Vacant canopied niches in chancel; sedilia and double cusped piscina.

The church also has one attribute that cannot be accounted for by an inventory of its architectural details, but is, nevertheless, a bi-product of all of them: the ambience. We will be present to experience and expound the relative silence of the interior, as well as adapt the process of what is called ‘deep listening’. This is to sound what life drawing is to vision. The term was coined by Pauline Oliveros (b. 1932), the American composer and developer of electronic art music. It was originally conceived as a means of training performers to respond to the environmental contexts in which they played. Its roots are in certain types of meditative practice. The development of sonic awareness (which is a concept comparable to John Berger’s (b. 1926) notion of ‘visual consciousness’ (Ways of Seeing (1972)) facilitates a greater degree of focal attention than we ordinarily possess.

9.40 pm. Practice session 2. In ‘the night watch’, I worked up the workshop worksheet:

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October 21, 2014

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The weather was very present today. 9.00 am. The wind buffeted, hummed, and hissed around the ceiling lantern in the lecture theatre: art and sound of a different order. After the morning’s Art/Sound lecture was delivered, I redelivered last Thursday’s lecture (which had failed to record on my dictaphone) to no audience. I was not as self conscious about the absence of listeners as I’d anticipated. The darkness of the auditorium dulls their presence even when it’s full. However, the ambience of the recording is entirely different; human bodies absorb a great deal of sound. One audient came up to me at the end of the first lecture and tactfully drew to my attention a proclivity that I have to confuse left and right when identifying one of a pair of images on the screen. Guilty as charged. I haven’t a clue. My impairment is made all the worse because the left and right images that I’m seeing on my monitor are in reverse orientation to the projection of the same on the screen behind me.

In the Vocational Practice module, afterwards, the group had a thoughtful, wide ranging, and good-humoured discussion about the nature of professionalism in relation to art and art history. I learn a great deal from them. They exhibit an admirable balance of openness and caution, firmness and courtesy. And, they take my jibes well. Good chaps to a woman and man.

1.30 pm. Over lunch, I uploaded today’s and last week’s (failed) podcasts, caught up on module emails, adjusted my schedule for the remainder of the week, and mixed down the Verso/Recto track of The Floating Bible composition:

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The first mixdown was back to front, or rather front to back: I didn’t know my recto from my verso. (There’s a joke in there, somewhere.) It has been one of those days. The final track was published to part 2 of the album. Complete.

6.15 pm. Practice session 1. The evening session focussed on developing the project sheet for Art/Sound‘s Workshop 2. The first of two complementary projects:

Introduction

The workshop provides a two-fold experience: one of noise and another of silence (in the Cageian sense). Both involve attentive listening, but of different orders, intensities, and foci. One of the aims of the workshop is to develop not only the discipline of hearing but also an ability to describe sound phenomenon. As students of fine art and art history, we are used to perceiving with our eyes and mind, and articulating those observations in writing and speech using a language that is native to our subjects. We aren’t as experienced in dealing with acoustic perceptions in the same way. The contexts of listening to noise and silence are the School of Art and Holy Trinity Church (on Trinity Road) respectively. 

School of Art: Noise

The basis of this phase of the workshop is Marcel Duchamp’s Sculpture Musicale (1913). Translated, the fragment of paper says: ‘Musical Sculpture. Sounds lasting and leaving from different places and forming a sounding sculpture that lasts’. The description is of a conceptual work (insomuch as Duchamp doesn’t appear to have acted upon it). However, the statement could just as easily be understood as an instruction for its realization. In the workshop, we will construct the sound sculpture within the context of School of Art. 

The ‘sounds lasting’ will be generated by a sustained electrical waveform fed through an amplifier and speaker. There will be several such units available for installation in ‘different places’ throughout the building. They will need to be of sufficient volume and situated so that they can be, as far as possible, heard together.

Once the sound sources have been installed, the group will move around the building and ‘observe’ their perceptions of the phenomenon. The experience will be articulated on a worksheet and in conversation.

 9.40 pm. Practice session 2.

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