September 29, 2016

9.00 am: In deep. The day powered up immediately: consultations, negotiations, planning chats, references, and preparations for the remainder of the morning. The fast and the furious can be exhilarating. 10.00 am: The second and third year students attended their induction session. I began processing the returns from yesterday’s MA induction. 11.00 am: The first year students gathered in the main lecture theatre to be ‘induced’ into the cult of Information Services and semester 1 courses:

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Dr Forster and I held forth the mysteries of the Art Practice modules. A principle:

The quality of an art school is most tangibly demonstrated by the quality of its students. Therefore, if you want to belong to the best art school in the country, aim to be the best art students in the country. 

12.45 pm: I convened the initial meeting with my Personal Tutees (who sound like fashion accessories). About half turned up. I suspect there was a conflict for joint honours students with their other department’s induction programme:

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2.00 pm: We held what is probably our first ever welcome event for overseas students:

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Strange fruit on offer (and I don’t mean the students). These are Italian in origin, apparently. But to an oik like me, they’re the previously unrealised ideal of the double-jammy dodger. Or else, edible cat’s eyes:

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Late afternoon, I completed the first draft of the MA and PhD candidature listing for distribution to staff and students later this evening.

7.30 pm: Evening over Pen Dinas:

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Following a hour and half of administrations, I concluded my week of new student encounters at Holy Trinity Church, where the Christian Union et al were enjoying the final course on their annual ‘grub crawl’. As of 9.40 pm, I have had my fill of finger foods for this week:

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September 28, 2016

8.30 am: A review of last night’s incoming mail was followed by a tiny tinker on the workbench, in order to effect a modification to PedalBoard IV. Bring on the RAT:

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9.30 am: Off to School. To begin, an MA Fine Art tutorial. The student’s studio is now incomplete. ‘Melissa, we’ll miss you!’. Best wishes for your post-MA future:

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Residual Melissa

11.00 am: A PhD Fine Art consultation meeting.  At 11.30 am I assisted in the ceremonial laying out of the feast in preparation for the Postgraduate Welcome Lunch:

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This year we have bumper intake and a healthy balance between newbies to the School and returnees, matures and 21+ students, and those already in professions and those embarking upon them. They’ll be inspired by, and learn as much from, one another as by and from the staff who’ll teach them. One cannot underestimate the fecundity of a functional postgraduate community. I sense the potential for good already.

Once the tables were cleared, we got down to the business of MA induction. Dr Heuser, Prof. Cruise, and myself, addressed the nature of both the modules that the students will undertake and their commitment to such. The day closed with a celebration of the departing, as crowds gathered at the Private View of the Postgraduate Exhibition – the fruit of the final module on the MA Fine Art scheme. In an end there is a beginning:

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Evening. I had to touch something bodily, tangible, and immediately rewarding. I had to do something entirely unlike my day’s other activities. I closed the working day, as it had opened, at the pedalboard. Ah! The smell of smouldering solder and scorched flux.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • A well-ordered life. That’s the objective.
  • Some creative problems are mere phantoms. They haunt our thoughts and rattle our confidence, but are without substance.
  • The most rewarding problems to solve as those that come to us tailor made.
  • Some of us create and then reflect, others of us reflect and then create. Neither approach is better than the other. However, one or other will be more suited to our personality.
  • Painting will teach you to draw.
  • The latin roots of ‘confidence’ are two words that, together, mean ‘with faith or with loyalty’. ‘Confide’ derives from the same: to show trust in someone sufficiently to tell them a secret. Thus, our understanding of ‘confidence’ should embrace the idea of holding faith with ourselves, remaining loyal to our ambition, and demonstrating our trust in the work at hand by yielding to it our innermost and best.
  • Avoid letting the tiredness of one day seep into another.


September 27, 2016

9.00 am: A meeting with Mr Garrett and Dr Forster to discuss the reconfiguration of the painting studio:

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There’s a subtle psychology to the arrangement of work spaces. Students need a sense of community as well as an opportunity for relative seclusion. 9.30 am: Afterwards, Dr Forster and I met to thrash out a refreshed attitude and content in relation to the second-year painting modules. We aim to give students what they need, rather than what they want, necessarily. (In this respect, our approach as teachers is no different to that as parents.)

10.30 am: Back at homebase, I returned to my list of ‘things to do’ in regard to admin, teaching prep, and research. A PhD Fine Art thesis is still tugging at my elbow. I must complete my external marking of this, pronto. Therefore …

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… until lunchtime … and beyond.

Mid afternoon. I wrote up and submitted my External Examiner’s report. Such a document requires the exercise of tact, candour, balance, precision, and constructive advice.

6.30 pm: Practise Session 1. 7.30 pm: The first ‘proofs’ of The Bible in Translation album arrived from the record company today. I’m also, now, in receipt of the Welsh translation of the blurb and a catalogue number. The artwork and text materials can now be sent to the company to be put together. An end is in sight. On with preparations for postgraduate induction, tomorrow. But not without, first, a sneaky peak at my new vacuum tube enabled preamp unit:

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Every year, I’m tempted to notate my spiel and create a PowerPoint presentation for the postgraduate induction meeting. Every year, I wing it. And I think the delivery is the better for it. Teaching is like acting and the seminar room, a theatre. Even in the delivery of perfunctory administrative protocols and the necessary explanation of curriculum, an electricity connecting speaker and audience can occur, one that lifts the occasion above the level of the mundane. In such moments, illumination graces information.



September 26, 2016

Term 1, Day 1. It rained on my first day of term at Aberystwyth University (then, the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth) as I embarked upon the first of two postgraduate degrees, back in 1982. One of the School of Art’s (then, the Art Department) students drew me a map indicating the route from my hall of residence to the department, on Llanbadarn Road (where, now, Gorwelion, the mental health care centre, is based):

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9.00 am. This will be a busy and bitty, fraught and fractious, week. I began the day with admin (and this will be my tune for the remainder of this week), looking at the global scene before honing in on the immediate and pressing.

Settling in the first year students asap is always the priority of the week. Their initial encounter with university can be a bewildering experience. The cultural differences between it and secondary school are significant. This is their first excursion into education beyond the boundaries of their native habit. Although, these days, social media enables them to remain in contact with home base far more easily and consistently than in my day. I managed only a weekly 20-minute telephone call home to my parents. But it did make me aware that I’d really left them. Today, they’re still connected by myriad digital umbilical cords.

The morning and afternoon were taken up with making lists, personal tutorial arrangements, postgraduate registration preparations, curriculum handouts updating, general email swatting, and messaging offspring about their educational experiences.

7.00 pm: The Welcome Party. 70+ shades of anxiety:

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Each was apprehensive, not knowing what would come, what would be expected of them, or whether they’d be able to deliver. (I can remember the feelings, vividly.) But those misgivings are a manifestation of seriousness mindedness, commitment, and resolution. (The indolent and half hearted fear nothing.) Within a few weeks they’ll have a more settled and confident outlook, as they become aware that they’d be chosen for the course because the staff had believed in them.

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Through party games, puzzles, embarrassment tactics (on my part), and mutual questioning, the new students and staff laid down the foundations of relationships that will endure, in some cases, far beyond the degree.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • We should greet success and failure with equanimity.
  • Sustainable success is the biggest challenge.
  • Confidence must arise from within, rather than in response to external validation only.
  • Sometimes we have to either break a thing or break with a thing in order to break its hold upon us.

 



September 23, 2016

8.45 am: Orientation. What must be done? What needs to be done? What should be done? What can be done? And, what would I like to do?

A few more mixer and ‘exciter’ tutorials were in order. If I don’t undertake these today, I’ll not have time in the next few weeks. (This is in the ‘must’,’ need, ‘should’ and ‘can’ category.) 11.00 am: I began the PowerPoint design for the forthcoming conference paper ‘Image and Inscription’: Sonification as an Interpretive Methodology in Biblical Textual and Visual Study. (If it pans out well enough, this may be included in this year’s Art/Sound module.) Oddly, once I’ve established the visual design, the content and structure of the paper fall into place reasonably quickly.

To begin: a logo.  The Mount Sinai sound graphic:

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In the process, I rifled through old folders containing notes on sound and the supernatural/religion. It’s helpful to touch based with the breadth of one’s inquiry before honing in on a specific domain within the general territory of possibilities:

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On, then, with the main page and graphics for the paper’s PowerPoint presentation.

Afternoon. The larger part of this session was absorbed by a marketing meeting. Once again, it’s too easy to have too many very good ideas, and for all come come to nought. Rather than adopt a buckshot approach to problem solving, its more effective to have a sniper’s perspective and aim precisely at a only few targets. Nevertheless, the exchanges were positive and thought provoking.

Evening. The PowerPoint graphics were completed:

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At the moment of falling asleep, a thought (as though from somewhere else): A person may fall so far into the deep hole within them that they cannot be reached.



September 22, 2016

8.30 am: Email dispatches, postgraduate admin., a review of intent, and a preparation for School, at 9.30 am:

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9.45 am: Contrary to yesterday’s anticipation — a further, late MA Fine Art inquiry and application. 11.00 am: Prof Zwiggelaar (Computer Science) visited for a research collaboration discussion. We’re endeavouring to apply a medical imaging technique to the the analysis of digital scans made from the glass-plate photographs of Port Talbot Steelworks. This will allow specific types of visual information to be extracted from the scans and converted into a sonic output. It will also allow the modified sonic output to be reconverted into visual information based upon, but substantially different to, the source. Allied to this, is an intent to create a software that will permit real-time sound-image/image-sound conversion within a performance context:

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12.40 pm: Somewhere along the line, I’ve missed some people today. I turned up, but nobody was there. After lunch, I tested the new hybrid mixer in conjunction with the recently built mini-rack:

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Now, to learn it. While these devices are generically the same, each has idiosyncrasies which one must work with.  In conjunction, I initiated and responded to research correspondence and began to list ‘things to do’ across teaching, research, and admin. The realisation that so much as to be completed so soon creates its own pressure.

Following dinner, I had an hour to respond further to emails that were, themselves, a response to correspondence that I’d sent out earlier in the day. I prefer this ping pong match rather than a radio silence that some correspondents observe for weeks and months at a time, on occasion. Desires become ideas. Ideas turn into plans. Plans are set in motion. Motion takes me forward.

7.30 pm: A committee meeting at Holy Trinity Church. (My other life.):

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9.30 pm: Practise Session 2. 10.45 pm. A night watch: catch up!. 12.30 am: Cessation.

 

 



September 21, 2016

8.30 am: Admin catch up. 9.00 am: A morning in the studio to ‘play’. I was investigating ways in which an electric guitar could be processed, in a controllable and repeatable manner, through my banks of modulation filters. But, first, I needed to consider the practicalities of lecturing from the new audio-visual podiums at the School. For all their sophistication of design and facility, they don’t include a lectern desk or light (and why not a timer, too). I consider these things to be fundamental. So …

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In conjunction with the task at hand, I resourced sound performance gear and other practicalities towards a full modularisation of sound components: modifiers, power controllers, and amplifiers. This would imply a stack of modular mini-racks (each light enough to be carried by one person), rather than a single, large and hideously heavy mammoth rack:

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In and out of this activity, I wove email correspondence, responses to inquiries, sourcing forays, and planning projects:

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Evening. 6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: The publisher of the prospective book had returned my email. We are still talent hunting for an appropriate co-editor. This has been the hardest part of the first stage of this venture. Time had come, at the close of the summer recess, to set out my ambitions, strategies, and timetable for the new projects ahead. This will be period of considerable change in many aspects of my work and life.

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September 20, 2016

8.30 am: I put together papers for the external examiner and headed to the School to meet him for an pre-examination discussion. On such occasions, it’s useful to walk the examiner through the back story of each candidate’s studentship prior to their viva voce:

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Principle: If you want to communicate an idea immediately and clearly, then don’t use either acronyms or short-forms for concepts. 10.20 am: Prof. Meyrick, Dr Webster, and I had a consultation on campus to look at portfolio development for BA and MA level provision. But without investment and additional resources, our ambitions and vision will come to naught. Idealism is easy; strategy and implementation … now there’s a challenge. As a School, we operate like a circus troop: streamlined, efficient, flexible, and committed, one to another. 11.45 am: Back at the mothership, I mopped up some postgraduate admin, caught up on emails, and prepared for an MA Fine Art application interview. (This will be the last one for the year’s intake, I suspect.)

1.30 pm: A lunchtime External Examiner’s Board for the MA Fine Art:

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These gatherings (and this was Prof. Ferry’s last as External Examiner for Fine Art) are fruitful beyond any outcome that they’re intended to achieve. It’s one of the few occasions in the year when we have the opportunity to talk above the level of ‘HE bunkum’. (What an indictment of the system.) I long for the return of independent art schools.

2.45 pm: Back at homebase, I finalised MA feedback admin, caught up on emails (which are increasing in number as I progress towards Freshers’ Week), and steered my attention to the studio, once again. To begin, there was a headphone monitoring problem to solve and a rack mounted power conditioner to install. 4.15 pm:

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Evening: 6.30 pm: Practise Session 1. 9.30 pm: After the final shift of the day, I sat down with the family to watch a fiftieth anniversary documentary on the notorious ‘Tate bricks’ (Carl Andre’s, Equivalent VIII (1966)), which was purchased by the Tate Gallery in 1972. In 1968, Stanley Kubrick used a monochrome minimal sculpture (the proportions of which were 1:4:9; the squares of the integers 1, 2, and 3) to represent the agency of an alien race in his 2001: A Spacey Odyssey (1968). Around the same time, the guardian of the Village in the groundbreaking TV series The Prisoner (1967–8) was a white sphere – the ‘Rover’. Between these three enigmas a discussion may be had. That’s, in part, what makes art history fascinating:

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September 19, 2016

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Aberystwyth is a town that you fall in and out of love with repeatedly. You can live here for years, and gradually lose contact with it … take it for granted, and stop seeing, visiting, and talking to, the place. The new academic year rekindles the ardour. You appreciate Aberystwyth through the eyes of newcomers (young lovers) who’ll, in turn, either be captured by its spell or remain indifferent to the charms this strange and magical world at the edge of the sea. Some of them will stay far longer than their degree, others will visit repeatedly thereafter, and yet others will never come back once they graduate:

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9.00 am: The morning of the internal viva voce for the finalising MA Fine Art students. It’s an exacting, soul searching, and draining enterprise. There’s always something vaguely ludicrous and condescending about assigning a percentage to artistic endeavour. Dr Forster and I were done by 1.00 pm. We bundled ourselves off to the Painting Sub-Committee Room, in town, to churn over issues related to the teaching of the medium at undergraduate level during this coming academic year.

Afterwards, I returned to homebase to write up the feedback reports in preparation of the external examiner’s review tomorrow. In tandem, I responded to research and postgraduate queries.

Evening. After Practise Session 1, I reviewed the feedback, prepared mark sheets, and sought my colleague’s perspective on them. On, then, with a review of sound cable resources in the studio and a wiring up of the Revox A-77 tape recorder:

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Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • One of the greatest gifts you can impart to a student is a thick skin. They’ll need it in the wicked world of work. The characteristics of that skin are: resilience in the face of hard-to-bear criticism; the ability to undertake a realistic and sober self-appraisal of their own strengths and weaknesses; independence of thought, motive, and action; and a strong instinct for survival.
  • Art will teach you about art.
  • Keep your gut instincts and first impressions to yourself. You may repent of them later.
  • Be just as cautious of your enthusiasms as you are of your misgivings. Either may betray a lack of sober judgement.
  • What you see is conditioned by what you know. What you know has been informed by what you’ve seen.
  • In the making of art, the path of intent, the path of development, and the path towards resolution may not follow on from one another. Indeed, they may not be joined in any sense at all.

 



September 16, 2016

8.30 am: A bitty beginning to the day: domestics, clearing up, putting out, putting away, shelving, counting, answering, puzzling, waiting. 9.20 am: The Apogee Duet had become too unstable to be relied upon. Out!, it must go. The Focusrite unit will be my stop gap. 10.00 am: The mini-rack was completed:

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10.30 am: Off to School. The exhibition preparations are moving to a close. The Open Day preparations have begun:

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11.00 am: Telephone calls (which I rarely make these days) to clarify situations and possibilities and communicate enthusiasms and ideas. There are some things one cannot do without others first doing their thing. Patience and resolution are required. 12.15 pm: A final check of the finalising exhibition before returning to the studio, where I finalised the installation of one of the Focusrite A/D interfaces.

After lunch, I attended a NSS review meeting in campus:

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There is, in my view, a very present danger in UK universities that we’re becoming more concerned with the scaffolding than the building of education. We need to consider the content, as much as the delivery, marking, and feedback, of our curricula.

3.20 pm. On return to homebase, I continued my endeavour to set up (and understand) the digital mixer console of the Focusrite Saffire Pro40 unit and the distinctions between it and the Focusrite Octupre MkII unit, while generating a further test of Stylophonics (TestStylophonics (16 09 16) (2016))

Evebing. Having, today, dismembered the Focusrite Octopre MkII (its cables reminiscent of an octopus’ arm) from the mixer, I ‘remembered’ it again. In repeating an installation, I learn something new … something fundamental about the logic of the set up. But there are always problems to solve … failures to fix … misunderstandings to clear up … stuff to learn:

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