February 27, 2015

8.50 am. Getting turned on at the School of Art, as it were:

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9.15 am. Back at homebase, I returned to my chapter on the wax cylinder project and to the process of uploading The Floating Bible tracks to the dedicated site. Rewriting is irksome. In my ‘breather’ breaks, I dispatched memos and emails about forthcoming teaching engagements. One industrious student (eager to keep abreast of future developments, no doubt) opened this message during a lecture, and thereafter wrestled with a fit of giggles. (Lesson: Don’t read your emails or FaceBook in lectures):

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The graphical display of the sound file of The Floating Bible tracks reminds me of a pair of large, hairy caterpillars:

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1.30 pm. Back in the studio, I tinkered with the ailing Handboard 1 and brought her back to life. (Any equipment related with guitars, synthesizers, are amplifiers is female in my books. Computers, on the other hand, are definitely male: tending to be functional, somewhat unreliable, slow to respond, and wearing on the eyes if looked at for too long.) Rewiring, I conclude, is more fulfilling than rewriting:

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2.00 pm. The Floating Bible upload is complete, and the album ready for release this evening, or whenever the search engines begin to recognize the forwarding address. On with the rewrites — adding endnotes and expansions, and speculating whether it would be feasible to extract chunks of the conclusion and hammer them into the introduction. Change can be (and, sometimes, needs to be) brutal and alarming. My academic writing is so flat-footed and leaden today.

6.00 pm. Practice session 1: Four-finger, left hand exercises synchronised with plectrum control while playing a demanding phrase of music from a John McLaughlin composition. It’s a cunningly intricate pattern that adapts the scale of a raga. 7.30 pm. Back into the fray and further into the chapter. A clearer structure is now emerging, one which may be sufficient to resolve the final section of the writing. Old notebooks to the ready:

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9.40 pm. Practice session 2: the practise of gentleness — moving the string with the plectrum with minimum effort, the right hand relaxed; walking the fingers across the fretwork, as on tip toe, each finger the others’ equal.

Leonard Nimoy has passed away:

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February 26, 2015

8.15 am. Through the streets, through the rain and chilled air, under a deadening sky, to the School. 9.00 am. In the Chapels in Wales class we explored the requirements of the assessed elements. It’s a somewhat tedious and perfunctory excursion, but necessary nonetheless. 10.15 am. I’m the first School of Art immigrant to arrive at the Old College:

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When I was an undergraduate, I lived in a hall of residence where the cleaners insisted that you were out of your room by 8.30 am on a weekday. As such, I was at the bus stop and on route to my art school, a few miles away, shortly afterwards. By 9.00 am, I was standing before my easel. I’ve come to appreciate that enforced discipline. In those days, the studios were always occupied. Everyone came in to work, most of the time. I miss that society of artists working in close proximity. It felt like a Guild:

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Some principles and observations:

  • Some forms of painting are like improvised jazz — you don’t know what you’re going to play until you put the horn to our mouth: You’ll only know when you blow, as it were.
  • If you lose several days work through ill health (and who doesn’t), it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes not working for a period can be immensely productive. This is something of which you become aware only when you return to work. One cannot overestimate the benefits of rest. Love yourself. Honour your body and mind as though they belonged to someone else.
  • Our physical and psychological infirmities shape who we are. They have more influence, for good, on the development of character than unremitting good health ever will. The history of art rings loud with the testimony of artists who achieved great things in spite of (and, I would venture, also, because of) the battles that they fought with their body, mind, and soul.
  • The student is not the boss; the tutor is not the boss; the work is the boss. Listen to the boss!

12.15 pm. Water is now dripping through the roof of the small studio on the third floor of the Old College. An emergency call to the duty porter was required. Apparently, the exterior gutters are now so full of old leaves and other muck that the rain water has nowhere else to go than into the walls. The floor above is sodden:

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12.30 pm. An unexpected tutee. But I had a cancellation, and could accommodate. I talked to them about their seascapes while looking out at the sea and the sun-bleached breakers from the studio window. There can be few art schools in Britain where this scenario is possible. Truly wonderful!:

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1.00 pm. No more rubbish lunches. A cafe, close by, does a small, cheap, and tasty lasagne and salad. This is the New Me! 1.30 pm. Admin catch up.

2.00 pm. I conducted several further one-to-one tutorials before returning to the School around 4.00 pm to respond to mail, adjust itineraries, post notifications, and take time to wander around the School to see what my colleagues were teaching. (I should do this more often.)

7.30 pm. I prepared a PowerPoint for a workshop on stretching canvas. What began as a straightforward proposition turned into an intriguing journey through the history of the material and the bewildering variety of ways to botch or otherwise over-egg the procedure. 9.40 Practice session 2.

 



February 25, 2015

8.30 am. As a rule, I endeavour to get the dreary, routine, and otherwise irksome tasks off my desk as quickly as possible at the beginning of a day. One ought to reserve one’s best energies for that time in the day when the brain is most keen, and for the more important things in life and art. 10.00 am. An informal meeting with Mr Huckin (one of our MA alumni), who showed me some if his most recent drawings. Phil has considerable facility — an artist who could have developed as a printmaker (if he had had the inclination) as much as he has as a painter and draughtsman (which he is inclined to be):

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11.00 am. For the remainder of the morning I engaged postgraduate tutorials. Our lives and work are so intertwined.  One can hardly talk about the one without acknowledging the other. Occasionally, a tutorial will transcend the bounds of its function and expectations and move into territories beyond the present, the physical, and temporal. In those moments, what can only be described as a minor revelation occurs: thoughts are elevated and clarified, the spirit is touched, and the soul enlivened and emboldened.

2.00 pm. Another visiting day, from which I was excused on this occasion. I occupied myself, first, in the print room, reviewing works by one of my painting students. It’s helpful to connect what a student does in one medium with their achievements in another. Ideally, the two endeavours should cross fertilise, or at least inform each other. After all, students are not Jekyll and Hyde characters — of one personality in one module and of an entirely different psychological makeup in another. They possess a creative sensibility that is able permeate both — although sometimes in rather different ways :

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One of singular delights of Visiting Days: partaking of the leftover cakes and Danish pastries:

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4.00 pm. The remainder of the afternoon was set apart for undergraduate art history dissertations. Discerning the structure of a dissertation is the hardest part of the endeavour. A few students can drop the topic of their writing, like a stick of rock on the hard floor, and watch it effortlessly break into sections of an appropriate length and shape. Most have to sweat blood to achieve the same end.

6.20 pm. Practice session 1. 7.20 pm. Communications from colleagues in the north of England suggest that return to Sheffield for a few days may be on the itinerary some time in the near future. A trip to London will have to wait, therefore. On with preparations for tomorrow’s Chapels in Wales class (PowerPoint at the ready), and further organisations of the Vocational Practice itinerary. The Floating Bible verses continue to upload in the background:

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I ate a bowl of oat granola (which looks and tastes like wood chips) and a Farley’s Rusk (a weakness) to fortify myself for work during the ‘night watch’.



February 24, 2015

8.30 pm. Who borrowed the lectern lamp? Where did I put my dictaphone? These were two unexpected crises that I experienced while preparing for the Chapels in Wales module:

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The dictaphone was discovered, but died from battery exhaustion half way through the lecture. (The power gave out without warning.)

10.00 pm. A morning (and lunch) of Vocational Practice paired tutorials, in which I reviewed the students’ development of their group-workshop projects. There are many natural teachers among them. And all, I suspect, will become teachers in the process of preparation and in the delivery of the class. They’ve some exciting projects to present. I hope the undergraduate school responds with reciprocal enthusiasm.

2.00 pm. A hasty, rubbish lunch, followed by an afternoon of micro-tutorials for all-comers at the Old College. Rebecca M’s slippers sleep:

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Georgina B’s boots (I’m reminded Van Gogh’s painting of Gauguin’s own) await her return. I didn’t know that she’s also an astronaut. Dark horse!:

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In the spaces between tutorials, I whittled away at postgraduate and general admin. Some principles and observations:

  • Our lives, abilities, tastes, and proclivities may shape our work either positively or negatively. The choice is ours, actually.
  • It’s insufficient merely to do something, even extremely well. Once must also understand why we do what we do. What does it all mean? Answer that question, and you’ll have discovered something profound about yourself too.
  • A little encouragement goes a long way. (One knows that from personal experience.)
  • Treat painting like a 9 to 5 job. In the end, the making of art is just honest labour.
  • Unlike the operation of the ‘muse’ or inspiration, hard work never lets you down; its always available to help you, when you’re ready to apply yourself.

5.00 pm. Homeward along the prom. ‘Goodbye, Aberystwyth Bandstand (1935-2015)!

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Temporarily, we’ll be able to see a space, a vista, a view through that has not be visible for 80 years.

6.20 pm Practice session 1: attention to the plectrum hand and pre-amp effector. 7.20 pm. I undertook admin related to the outcome of this morning’s teaching: pdfing documents, (that’s not a vulgarism), uploading files, and keeping all concerned in a very wide loop. These undoubtedly tedious duties are, nonetheless, the small cogs that help the big cogs of more meaningful enterprises to turn. 9.40 pm. Practice session 2: cross-picking and tremelo picking excercises.



February 23, 2015

High tides and strong winds are forecast for today. Are we to anticipate a repeat of last year’s furor? 8.30 am. Small, agitated birds were heading for the trees; seagulls encircled the town, high above, like albatrosses. The clouds bloom and churn. They’re often most beautiful before a storm:

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9.00 am. Back at homebase, I caught up on email admin and set up the remaining tutorial appointments for the busy days ahead, and for the following week. A thought occurred to me over at breakfast:

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Note: Tutor A and Tutee A, and Tutor A and Tutee B, and Tutee A and Tutee B, and  Tutor B and Tutee A, and Tutor B and Tutee B, are equidistant apart. Tutor A and Tutor B are further apart. This is to indicate that the latter’s interaction, in the context of the tutorial, is of less importance.

10.30 am. I return to a book chapter, which will be published by the Courtauld Institute, on the theme of my Evan Roberts wax cylinder project/CD. I need to respond (where possible) to the peer review comments, and to rewrite a few new portions of text. It’s difficult to break into a piece again, after over six months of closure.

1.30 pm. Saturday’s ‘sound plan’ regarding a three-way splitter does work in practice, and is eminently controllable. Although, Handboard 1 has now gone silent. (No doubt, having taken out a  component, I’ve rewired it incorrectly.) It can only one thing causing the problem, this instance:

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2.00 pm. On with the revisions. I’m breaking into the essay via the backdoor: the endnotes. We are tested in the small things; and the small things can be very testing. In the background, I continue uploading sound and images of The Floating Bible verses to the new site. 4.30 pm. Now to chew on the meat of the chapter. I need to be ruthless in my excisions; ready to ‘kill all my darlings’, as William Faulkner advised. In revising written material, one should, ideally, give the editors more than they’d bargained for. Always go the second mile, as a matter of principle.

6.45 pm. Practice session 1. 7.20 pm. Diagrammatising further figures for illustration:

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Continued amending the text until I could see no more. 9.40 pm. Practice session 2.



February 21, 2015

9.20 am. Off to the Farmers’ Market to buy eggs, and to take in Mr Sewell’ exhibition, Revelation, presently showing at the Morlan Centre, Aberystwyth. I was reminded of a type of European Abstraction Expressionism that emerged during the early 1950s. This was more lyrical, colourful, and less angst-ridden than the American variety. Pulling off a domestic-scale abstraction is a challenge. Mr Sewell’s paintings accommodate the restraint well. In other words, they don’t look like shrunken versions of larger things. Why can’t leisure agencies such as Premier Inn and Travel Lodge purchase small works like these for their bedrooms — rather than that insipid, cloned pap which someone, who was clearly not in the know, advised them was desirable art?:

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10.30 am. On with the handboard testing and a minor reconfiguration of the studio’s desk light array. While rummaging through my cases of wires and plugs, I alighted upon this box set. Scourby was an American voice actor. In 1953, after four years work, he completed the first ever audio recording of the entire bible: 169 records with a runtime of 84.5 hours:

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I applaud the ambition; it’s magisterial. He’d translated the written text into a spoken text. Can this is process be taken one step further, either visually or sonically? Am I looking at the prime candidate for a notional The Pictorial Bible IV or The Aural Bible III? Whatever the case, the challenge of producing a single work that encapsulates the whole bible looms above me like Everest.

1.40 pm. After lunch, I connected all three handboards together and immediately hit a snag. It’s impossible to achieve unity gain (a common volume of signal input/output) across the whole system. The Moog board, for example, is ‘quieter’ than the other two but, at the same time, ‘peaks’ alarmingly. (I see red, and not green, lights). In short, the problem is caused by differences of capacitance and resistance across and between the boards:

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The only remedy is to detach the three boards and run a common signal into them each separately, and to match their output volumes independently via a multi-channel mixer. I met this issue when attempting to conjoin two large pedalboards several years ago:

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Once again, the problem may give produce to a better outcome than had it not arisen. At present, each handboard is active in the chain, with all the effectors modulate each other. Nothing wrong with that as a potential, but it’s not economic and is very difficult to control. Furthermore, one’s ear cannot discern what is contributing to the output sound and, therefore, which effector to adjust in order to modify it. But how does one split a single output three ways without creating an earth loop hum in the system? This is the sort of problem that I’ve come to cherish. [Long pause.] This might work:

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4.30 pm. Reconfigured the Moog handboard. 5.20 pm. Enough! Enough! 6.20 pm. Practice session 1. 7.20 pm. An evening with the family.



February 20, 2015

8.30 am. I popped into the department to turn on the sound and visual devices,  then returned to my study at home for a spot of stock taking. There’s a routine to this: updating my CV, ensuring that it has caught up with the ‘John Harvey’ website, determining how past and present projects can be consolidated and extended and, finally, wincing at the evidence of conspicuous failure and  ‘under achievement’ that litters my career. (This is my Salieri moment: the recognition that one’s best barely rises above mediocrity.) The review and the remorse spur me on, nonetheless. The substantive matter is not whether you are the best, but whether you are your best. We cannot be responsible for what we cannot be. Our duty, it seems to me, is to return the capital (the gifts) that we’ve been given, with interest.

Plans (and ‘plans within plans’) are put in motion; ‘The spice must flow’ (Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)). Two mugs of tea, and it’s not even 11.00 am:

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11.00 am. I feel the pull of the studio. It must be resisted … for now. Discipline is the contrary force: the developed ability to remain focussed upon immediate priorities and the task at hand, even when every inclination of one’s mind and body is to capitulate. 12.30 pm. Having completed admin for the SIP project, I began some design trials for The Floating Bible website, which will allow folk to listen to and purchase the whole suite of sound works on-line. (On which subject: one of the audients at my exhibition wrote in the visitors book advice to the effect: ‘I think your CD is stuck’.)

1.40 pm. After lunch, I continued with the website’s design to the stage where I was able to upload and play the first verse:

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3.30 pm. I made a decision to enhance the mix of each track in order to maximize the volume on the website software. The optimum volume is -1dB. One decibel more, and peak clipping is audible.  My mind is gradually orientating towards The Aural Bible II: The Bible in Translation CD, which will feature sample tracks from the suite. I look forward to the post production period. 5.00 pm. Into the studio to connect the MacBook to the effects handboards in readiness for my sound trails over the weekend. The audio/digital interface doesn’t work with the smaller MacBook. I’ve had this problem before.

8.10 pm. Each unit of each handboard must be tested independently and in relation to the unit before and after it:

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February 19, 2015

9.15 am. The turbulent sea. (All metaphor.):

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9.30 pm. Second year painting tutorials today. Some principles and observations:

  1. One should paint through a problem to its solution. Answers aren’t usually found without a brush in one’s hand.
  2. Better to paint a dozen poor works than nothing at all. One must trust that something of quality will eventually emerge.
  3. The following conditions are fundamental to success as an art student: sufficient sleep, at least moderate exercise, a balanced and healthy diet, periodic rest and distraction, a comfortable work and life environment, and meaningful and supportive relationships.
  4. I endeavour to suppress my consternation when a student — having been a cold, austere Minimalist last semester — now wants to paint portraits of their friends’ pets.
  5. When we runaway from a problem, where are we running to?
  6. The worst of what we were and have done (in either art or life) in the past shapes significantly what we are and do, presently — and sometimes for the good, mercifully.

An unintentional Trompe l’oeil painting in the West Classroom. (This is a colour photograph.):

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1.10 pm. Lunch with the esteemed Mr Monaghan. The fellowship of other artists is fundamental to success as an artist:

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2.00 pm. I undertook one further second year and a ‘residual’ third year painting tutorial, before moving back to the School for my last tutorial on the day, MA admin, and a bit of cupboard ‘turfing out’. Live light, where one can.

6.20 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. I began the evening with teaching admin, then a review of two undergraduate dissertation drafts, then more teaching admin, followed by a compilation of the Graven Image II sound files to test the Graven Image III sound equipment tomorrow evening and Saturday. (Oh, joy!) 9.40 Practice session 2:

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February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday. (The beginning of Lent.) 8.30 am. ‘Off to school’, as they used to say in Janet and John books. The mornings, now, begin with a boot up of the TVs and sound equipment in the small gallery. 9.00 am. On, then, to the day’s teaching admin. My office needs flowers:

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10.00 am. The first MA tutorial of the day. Encouraging and significant developments are afoot for the student concerned. One must trust that the right move in the right direction will be made for the right reasons at the right time. And that time is now:

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11.40 pm. A PhD Art History tutorial. One of the last for this student. They’re on the homeward lap. (That’s an overused metaphor.)

2.00 pm. Visiting Day. Our Ambassadors are the best there are:

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The Shropshire contingent were out in force. 3.30 pm. I had an initial discussion with a BA Dissertation inquirer who’s considering researching the topic of Abstract Expressionism and jazz. I look forward to it. 4.00 pm. The second MA Fine Art tutorial of the day. There’s a perpetual and necessary tension between extension and consolidation, exploration and resolution, and diversification and unification in image making. Each component of each pair threatens to unseat the other component. One must tread a very thin line.

6.20 pm. Practice Session 1. 7.20 pm. I returned to the sound archive project, writing up minutes of meetings held since the end of December 2014.



February 17, 2015

Shrove Tuesday. 8.30 pm. At the School, I dispatched emails and cleared areas of the desk before escorting the Chapels in Wales 8 to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales (situated in the tax office down the road):

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There, Penny Icke took charge, and I returned to undertake overdue postgraduate admin. A full day and full steam ahead.

10.00 am. The first of two ‘off the radar tutorials’. 11.00 am. Peter Monaghan and Becky Backshall gave a robust response to my interrogations at the Vocational Practice module. There’s no better means to convince a group of artists in embryo that they are capable of succeeding than by presenting the example of new-born artists who are.

12.30 pm. My PhD student from Malvern had arrived.  We spent lunch and the remainder of the afternoon weaving in and out of conversational and tutorial mode. One of the main objectives in laying the foundations of a tutee-tutor relationship is understanding how each other thinks. That takes both time and a breadth of discussion which must, of necessity, range beyond the topic of study. A tutee’s opinions about literature, music, theatre, cinema, and the flight of birds may tell one a great deal about the sophistication of their intellect and aptitude for relational thought. As it did, indeed, in this case. Gold star performance!

6.20 pm. Practice session 1. 7.20 pm. I spent the evening catching up on the day’s emails, administrating the registration of, and royalties pertaining to, the new CD, and making plans for a sound art performance (not quite the right word) at the National Screen & Sound Archive soon. Things move slowly; but move they must. 9.40 pm Practice session 2. My bedtime reading is The Writings of Marcel Duchamp:

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