June 29, 2016

9.00 am. To School, for the first of several Open Days during this year’s recruitment round. The weather did not accord with the photographs of the building and its environs as shown in the prospectus. No doubt someone else will pick up on this too:

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9.30 am. Bedraggled and dripping visitors began arriving and Tweets to the wider world were posted. In between greeting and conversing with guests (which our exceptional Ambassadors do with aplomb), I dispatched emails and conquered some of my more intimidating admin tasks:

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After lunch, the weather began to break:

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In the morning and afternoon I had conversations with two intending MA applicants. Such discussions are neither interviews nor interrogations, properly speaking. To my mind, they’re more akin to an encounter at the confessional or on a psychiatrist’s couch. That’s to say, my aim is to direct the applicant to enter into a dialogue with themselves. This is in the hope that they’ll discover the core motive: not only the source of the desire to undertake the degree but also, and more importantly, their internal centre point.

4.20 pm. Homeward and onward with the CD design. The next stage of development is to create its visual identity, which will be manifest in the cover and ‘inner sleeve’ art work, icons, and other furniture. It’s all good fun once the fundamental ‘feel’ of the design is established. This, in turn, must accord with the mood(s) (preferably singular) of the sound pieces on the album. For the R R B V E Ǝ T N Ƨ O A album, the wax cylinder — the object of my inquiry and the theme of the entire composition — dictated the design, to a large extent. The present album has no focal object and a far broader thematic reach. Thus, an encompassing visual identity is, correspondingly, more difficult to establish:

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June 28, 2016

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them (Leviticus 19.33)

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On June 25, my family and I left St Ives, where we’d enjoyed our summer holiday, and headed for Newport, Gwent. The town in which I’d spent my undergraduate years has been in decline for decades. There appears to be little hope of reversing that trajectory in the short term:

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The following day, we visited my old art college at Clarence Place, and some of the few relatives that I have remaining in South Wales, before driving to Abertillery and Blaina to show my sons where their father had misspent his youth.

Yesterday, I cleared my inbox of all those articles of mail that had accumulated over the vacation period. The rest of the day was dedicated to completing the CD text and planning my research itinerary for the summer. There’s much to do: tasks that have remained unresolved for too long now must be settled. ‘Clear the decks, John!’ My plans and determinations are racing too far ahead of the present time.

9.00 am. Off to School to clear my pigeon hole (the original, analogue ‘inbox’) and retrieve parcels. Phil ‘the porter’ was righting the wrongs of the England football team’s management, following their defeat, yesterday, at the hands/feet of Iceland. If a small country with a population the size of Leicester (and a dentist for a manager) can climb to the top, then there’s hope that our own fair isles can prevail against the odds too.

I ruminated upon my vacation experiences in Cornwall. The Bottallack Mine, pitched on the cliff edge on the west coast, is one of the most impressive and haunting sites of industrial archaeology in the UK:

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Like the ruins at Pompeii and Herculaneum, it’s the wreckage of a bygone civilisation. All ages, empires, and nations have their allotted time. Ruins remind us of the inevitable decline and decay that, one day, will characterise our own.  The wrinkles, aches, and incipient dementia are already beginning to show.

Nailed to a post in Barbara Hepworth’s studio at St Ives (which is, now, part of the Barbara Hepworth Museum), I came across a note that she’d written to herself (presumably):

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Irrationally, perhaps, I found the statement a little unnerving. It came to me as a reminder of a fundamental commitment, call-to-arms, and pronouncement.

Throughout the day I made my final edit of the CD text: cutting and refining, sharpening and reordering. Done! I write poorly sometimes. My inconsistency is possibly the only thing that is consistent about my performance across all departments of my life.

 



June 14, 2016

Maxims: Be true to your principles. But, first, check that your principles are true. Art and life are a false dichotomy. 

8.30 am. Mad rush! Much has to be finished, decided, set in motion, thought over, read through, consulted upon, and confirmed today. John: ‘Create a list of tasks for the morning; prioritise; assign a time limit for each item; start work’. (A downpour of rain.) Postgraduate admin is at the top of the list. 10.30 am. Off, again, to my surgery for a second course of blood tests:

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Back at homebase, I picked up the pen and continued where I’d left off, while thrashing my arms wildly to ward off the wasps of incoming emails. By noon, I’d laid to rest two major tasks.

12.30 pm. Off to church to meet the sound engineers for a discussion about the building’s ailing PA system. Ever since Bill’s funeral, a few weeks back, the output from the amplifiers has undulated: the volume fades and returns to normal, following a constant and smooth wave pattern. Neither they nor I can account for it. Presently, all we can do, as the HAL 9000 computer would recommend, is ‘put the unit back in operation and let it fail’:

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After lunch, I was back at the School to attend to late postgraduate applications and convene a Postgraduate Research Monitoring meeting to sign off on the forms. On, then, to varieties of email aimed at those whose activities touch upon my own. I had to attend to several aspects of projects in hand in readiness for my re-engagement with research in a few weeks time.

Towards the end of the afternoon, I held a tutorial with one of our finalising MA Fine Art students. The challenge of the second exhibition, which will need to be completed by the end of September, is to respond to and refine the first exhibition. As such, the second needs to be consistent with the first and also demonstrate a deepening of awareness, greater refinement, and an ability to move beyond the boundaries already established:

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Wonder of wonders! Abertillery in Gwent (my old home town and the geographical and spiritual centre of my universe) now has an art gallery:

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The Kickplate Gallery is presently hosting an exhibition by the Magnum photographer David Hurn.

In the evening, my elder son and I watched Don Cheadle’s impressive bioopic of Miles Davis’ life, Miles Ahead (2015), at the Arts Centre. Some of the incidents depicted were fiction and fantasy. To my mind this was an entirely reasonable response to a remark that Davis makes at the outset of the film: ‘If you want to tell a story. Tell it with attitude’:

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We listened, enlightened, to Davis’ music from 1973 to 1975 on our return home.

 



June 13, 2016

Maxim: Put yourself down, before someone else does. And be the butt of your own joke, before you are of another’s.

June 13 is 170 days before and 195 days after Christmas Day. Not exactly half way, but close enough. When in primary school, I was the envy of many … especially those whose own birthday was so perilously close to Christmas Day that it risked being sucked into the larger mass — like a planet into a black hole — so that only one big-day of presents would likely ensue the collision.

June 13, 1960. My first birthday party. I really knew how to let it all hang out in those days:

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On this day in 1525, the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther married Katharina von Bora, against the celibacy rule decreed by the Roman Catholic Church for priests and nuns. He always misbehaved in the most principled manner. To Luther, the following quotation has been misattributed: If I knew the world was to end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today. It sounds very Lutheran, but there’s no evidence of it in his writing. It came to light as late as 1944. Some scholars believe that the saying originated in the German Confessing Church during the Second World War, which used the sentiment to inspire hope and perseverance during its opposition to the Nazism. Personally, I’ve found the quotation to be a antidote against a type of world-denying dualism (which has sometimes plagued Christianity) that refuses to attribute significance to what we do in the here and now. My take on it is this: If I plant a tree (or accomplish something worthy) in this world, this life, I expect it to be there in the next. This is my metaphysical ecology.

The perennial discomfiture of the derriere that is the postgraduate monitoring round is coming to the end. A morning of finalisation against the background of Miles Davis’ magnificently unsettling Dark Magus (1974)60s singles nostalgia, and happy reflection.

Party on! After lunch. I, and my family, made our decisions on the postal voting forms for the EU Referendum. For my part, I’ve not been swayed either intellectually or emotionally by the arguments put forward by either side. (The debate has been nothing short of a disgrace.) In the end, my response was decided by the conviction that this time is not the best time for a referendum. The world is currently and dangerously unsettled. Coherence and cohesion are the call of the hour. Better, then, to maintain the status quo. (Rarely have I acted so conservatively.)

After a brief trip to retrieve mail and parcels from the School I drove more admin over the clifftop of completion. Thereafter, I finished refiling digital documents while listening, for the last time before it’s sent to the record company, the master of the double album. The mental images evoked by the Image and Inscription composition have grown more vivid with every hearing. This afternoon, I recalled a small drawing that I’d made in 1989, in response a narrative associated with the Welsh Revival of 1904-5. At the time, one chapel goer related a vision that he’d received of an angel and a devil wrestling above the town of Llanhilleth in the Ebbw Fach valley, where I lived. This, he interpreted, was a visualisation prophesying the battle between opposing spiritual forces for the souls of those below:

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John Harvey, Vision: Angel and Devil Fighting Over Llanhilleth (1989) pencil, 8 × 6.4 cm.

After dinner, we sat down as a family and I received my birthday gifts: a treasure of entirely practical things (like sound cables), holiday reading, music CDs, DVDs, and dark, dark chocolate. We ended the evening together watching the BlueRay director’s cut of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, Blade Runner (1982). A perfect film.

 



June 11, 2016

Maxim: There’s a considerable difference between being an artist and being a creative artist. The latter constantly strives to move beyond (and sometimes abandon) themselves, their technique and style, critical acclaim, and a public following, in order to secure something that is genuinely innovative, progressive, and ground-breakingly qualitative.

8.30 am. I made preparations for a magna-trip to town, armed with a list, a box to deposit, and a deadline. (There would be many tasks to complete back at home before the family returned, ensemble.):

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The Post Office has one of the most desultory interiors in town. There’s not enough light of the world; insufficient windows. I treasure the views from my studio and study at home, and my office at the School (the prospect accented by the distant, twice daily toot of the ‘little choo’ (as my children would have it, when they were young)):

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Back at homebase, other lists of ‘things to do’ (Hamlet) were composed and executed.

To energise my body and resolve, I played Miles Davis’ Rated X (1970-4) and his ‘Prelude’ from Agharta (1975). (This was in anticipation of seeing Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead film on Tuesday.) The later album, recorded at a matinee performance on 1 February 1975, and Pangaea, recorded at the evening performance on the same day, were his final releases before a self-imposed retirement that year. After having reinvented jazz three times already, he’d become spiritually, physically, and creatively exhausted:

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Both albums are exceptional. (Not a bad day’s work.) They’re the most deeply ‘African’ of all the works that he’d produced up until that time and, arguably, the apotheosis of jazz-fusion during that period, and since. The performances have a remarkable energy and sense of determination.  Yet, at the time of concert, Davis was at his lowest ebb, physically, suffering from a combination of sickle cell anaemia, osteoporosis, and painful ankles. This was a man burning out in a blaze of glory.

It took me some time to realise the merit of these albums. They were that far ahead. The music sounded under-composed, without harmony or melodic structure, and as though it had no over-arching direction. But I was listening to it in the wrong way. (Great art forces us to adjust our perceptions.) Rated X, for me, served as a cipher to the code; the track was the encapsulation of a principle of operation that these albums would extend and elaborate on a gargantuan scale.

Afternoon. Further domestics: recycling, bin evacuations, tidying and putting away, and bed making. The family returned at 4.00 pm. I was on dinner duty.

6.30 pm. An evening with my family. All together now …!

 

 

 



June 9, 2016

8.30 am. Off to School, and on with processing further postgraduate applications. (What a year it has been in this respect!) Judy Macklin’s course on Imaging Landscape has been in progress over the last few days. It’s heartening to see mature students liberated from the shackles of unconfidence, and learning to, for the first time, find a voice that has been muffled by a lack of encouragement and low expectations. Why can’t art be taught like this in secondary school?. (My O-level art teacher actively dissuaded me from taking art any further):

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At 9.45 pm the Art History and Final Exam Boards were convened:

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Exam board meetings are an education. The role of the external examiner can’t be over estimated. They observe the conduct and outcome of modules, as well as individual student performance, from a greater distance than can we as School staff. They, too, comprehend the totality, whereas we can see only in ‘aspect mode’. The board is also one of the few occasions when, as academics, we can sit down with a colleague who works in another institution and share experiences.

A family of seagulls have, once again, established their home at the back of the School. One of the adults squawks in cautionary tones, perpetually. A noisome bother; but you can’t fault the sincerity and effectiveness of its parenting:

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Two MA Fine Art students postponed their tutorials today. But their were other responsibilities waiting in the wings. Bits and pieces related to postgraduate monitoring began to stack at the top of my inbox. I’ll deal with these tomorrow. (This is organisation and not prevarication.) At this time of the year, I spring clean my computer-based admin: either deleting files and folders or else redepositing them in their correct location. These were the tasks for the afternoon and evening.



June 8, 2016

8.30 am. A little Lidling for pineapple chunks before work:

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There’s always a danger that a day will fragment into bitty tasks, none of which is particularly fulfilling or contributory to the greater cause, all of which add up to very little in the end. Having dealt with the trivial and marginally important — spam, emails, appointments, references, and form filling — I made ready for the meat of the morning.

9.00 am. A Skype tutorial with one of our PhD Fine Art students:

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Thereafter, I held an MA Fine Art tutorial and, then, attended a Special Cases review meeting in anticipation of tomorrow’s final board meeting:

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11.45 am. A dash home to deliver the can of pineapples that I’d procured at Lidl. 12.00 pm. The second PhD Fine Art tutorial of the day. Eileen’s notice board:

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Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • What we make and who we are are indivisible. This is a commonplace. But, also, so much of the worst that we’ve experienced informs the best that we’ve made.
  • Remember: visual art is notoriously unable to articulate anything specific.  It’s strength lies in its capacity to convey metaphor and allusion.
  • Aim for conceptual singularity: one idea, clearly conceived and succinctly expressed.
  • In a successful tutorial, the tutee and the tutor are both listening: to each other and for the penny to drop.
  • If you’re at war with something in your soul or work for long enough, inevitably you’ll lose some of the battles.
  • One must not only look before you leap but also know when to look and to leap. A sense of inner necessity will inform these decisions.

Over what remained of the lunchtime, I hacked away at the folders of postgraduate applications that had been stacked in my pigeon hole. 2.30 pm. I held an MA inquirers appointment with someone with whom I’d graduated at Newport in 1981. Mid afternoon, I followed up several PhD inquiries and applications on the phone. 4.30 pm. Back at homebase, I pushed on with further postgraduate admin and tutorial arrangements.

7.00 pm. An evening at the cinema/theatre, where I attended the RSC Live production of Hamlet, performed by a largely black cast. Like much of what the RSC  produces today, the conception was compromised by the desire to appeal to a broad audience. The principal actor, Paapa Essiedu, held the show together. He was exceptional. Far better than Benedict Cumberbatch in the same role:

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June 6, 2016

Maxim: Anything more than sufficiency is superfluity. 

9.20 am. My annual course of blood tests at the surgery:

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Over the weekend, I received an inquiry from one of our earnest undergraduate finalists. They asked whether I intended to project spirituality onto my artwork, and what was my definition of spirituality. I replied:

Those are two intriguing questions. It makes sense to answer to the second one first. My definition of spirituality is informed by a biblical and an orthodox Christian outlook. In essence, it’s very pragmatic. The emphasis within this tradition is on the believer’s communion with God, and vice versa. That sense of togetherness and participation is predicated upon God’s spirit indwelling and working through individual, collaboratively. The fruit of that relationship is called spirituality. That, in turn, is manifest in an enlivening of a person’s own spirit and a progressive moral and religious reformation of their natural disposition towards the character of God. A person’s spirituality would be expressed in attitudes and actions associated with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, repentance, obedience, consistency, submission to God, and so forth.

So, to answer your first question: It would be impossible to ‘project’ spirituality, thus conceived, onto an artwork. However, an artwork may be produced spiritually; that is to say, in an attitude, and with a motivation, governed by love, joy, patience, etc. Some people have commented that they find my visual and sound work ‘spiritual’. I’m not sure what hey mean, and I’m not sure that they know what they mean. (Which is not to devalue either their experience or opinion.) My guess is that they are using the term ‘spiritual’ more loosely, as a synonym for either concepts such ‘contemplative’, ‘meditative’, ‘calming’, and ‘peaceful’, or for something real but indefinite.

Punctured, I returned home to wrestle with postgraduate admin matters and critique submissions. Deadlines are beginning to press in.

The valley where I grew up had many immigrants: Spaniards who’d fled the Spanish Civil War, Jews, Irish, Italians, and English. My home town of Abertillery would have been improverished without them. It gave the place a faint air of cosmopolitan sophistication. The incomers co-existed with the locals without tension or resentment. In part, this was because the rest of us were the children’s children’s children of immigrants who’d populated South Wales during the industrial revolution. While the Welsh language was lost in my area, as a consequence of their intermarriage with the natives, something else of greater significance emerged:

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My family is a case in point. Harvey is an English surname which, in turn, is derived from the Old Breton forename Huiarnviu and the Old Welsh, Haarnbiu. My father’s father, Trevor (who was Welsh) married Eunice (‘Nina’) May, whose own family heralded from Bristol and were a partner in the Bryant & May company, of England’s Glory fame:

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I rejoice in my, and my forefathers’ and foremothers’, hybridity. (It encouraged me to take the ultimate step and become one of those ‘dreadful miscegenists’.)

Mid morning, I was able to return to the CD material while batting off incoming missiles responding to my earlier outgoing missives.  The need of the hour was to determine the track order on Disc two of the CD set, and to write a summary account of each track on both discs. Because the booklet’s text has to be bilingual, it must be concise … in extremis.

After lunch, I made a first attempt to order the tracks on the second CD. They fell out immediately and appropriately. Then, I began a hard but necessary consideration of what, if any, tracks must be sacrificed for the sake of the whole. One must establish punch, balance, forward motion, continuity, diversity, a beginning and end, and the journey in between. Sometimes perfectly good material has to be jettisoned in order to observe these principles. ‘Begin by being Ruthless, John!’ The pruned tracks can be framed as ‘bonus material’ on the website associated with the album. Nothing will be wasted.

Evening. Three tracks bit the dust. The whole has to be played through repeatedly to identify any further excess baggage and encumbrance.

 

 



June 4, 2016

Morning. The sound system at Holy Trinity Church is ailing. The installation engineers must visit to administer a cure. To oil the day, I continued inserting pdf images of my books’ covers next to their citation on the Academia site:

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‘Polishing the brass’ … possibly. But today, as makers of either images, texts, or sounds, we are responsible for dressing our own shop window.

On, then, to a radical revision of Pedalboard IV. Nothing superfluous this time. ‘Keep it like that … tight!’, as Miles Davis once commanded. Short cables needed to be prepared. This is the same tin of soldering paste, or flux, that my father used when he was a young man. Of how many other consumables can it be said that they last for two generations:

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Rarely is anything worthwhile straightforward. Effects pedals are like unruly school children. Some won’t sit quietly with others. Others want to be the first in the queue. And a few should be put out of the classroom. By mid afternoon, the order had settled thus: buffer > tuner > fuzz > fuzz > overdrive > wah. The Dunlop Cry Baby Mini works extraordinarily well at the end of the line (contrary to the accepted wisdom). However, the Zvex Fuzz factory didn’t fare well after a buffer and before the Electro Harmonix Big Muff Nano. (The former is a temperamental so and so.):

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Pedalboard IV (June 2016)

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Pedalboard III (April 2016)

Pedalboard III had been modified in April. It’s now fully optimised. So, a task that I’d expected to complete in the morning ended up absorbing the whole day.

5.15 pm. Power down! 6.30 pm. An evening with my wife.

 



June 3, 2016

A door of utterance (Colossians 4.3)

8.00 am. An early morning email cull and blog broadcast, before a period of reflection and utterance prior to the challenges of the day. An hour later, I continued where I’d left off last night — updating the general website, as well as my professional presence on sites such as Academia and LinkedIn. The texts needed sharpening and my histories, brought up to date.

At 12.30 pm, I made ready to attend Bill Williams’ funeral at Holy Trinity Church, which is near the Edward Davies Building. There he’d worked tirelessly until his retirement in the 1980s. The eulogies revealed a humble man of private faith who’d excelled as a husband and widower, a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather, a chemist, an educationalist, and a musician. There are so many perspectives to be had on a person’s life. As individuals, we can know another only ‘in part’. The complete portrait of Bill (and today we fitted together just a few more — albiet important — pieces) comprises, at the very least, the witness and testimony of everyone with whom he’d ever had meaningful contact during the course of nearly ten decades. But now he’s fully known, even as he, now, fully knows (1 Corinthians 13.12):

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At the entrance to the reception, following the church service, there were photographs of Bill as a young man — here, in his role as an RAF training pilot during World War Two:

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A year ago, Bill informed me that he wanted to arrange a lunch at Llety Parc (where the reception was being held) for all his friends. He was intending to be present. Today, he fulfilled his ambition, in absentia. ‘Dad’s projects always came to pass’, one of his daughters told me. And this one was his last.

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At evening:

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I returned to the necessary mundanities of personal website updates. Ah! Too much of me, me, me. What I’ve attained professionally appears to get fainter and less fulfilling with every passing year. What was momentous becomes momentary. The things we make and say are mere shadows cast upon the wall, and then only until the sun goes down.



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