February 23, 2018

Silence, then …
observation.
Discreet, unannounced 

{Silence, that’s
durationless;
uninterpreted:
rejection or reserve;
departure or discipline?}

… Then, silence.*

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: I began finalising the texts for the I. Nothing. Lack. album before sending it off to my trusted ‘remote ear’ for a discerning appraisal and feedback. I’ll also need the go-ahead for publication from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, and to initiate further discussions with them about the future of sound/dementia studies. I would not have imagined, a year ago, my work having any relationship with medical science. This was never my ambition; I did not choose this path. It arose, rather, as the natural outcome of a way of thinking and acting. To my mind, this is when the dimension of so-called ‘public impact’ to research is authentic. Too often, the researcher strains to make the work relevant or possess an application that isn’t native to its nature.

I believe in the notions of pure research and art for art’s sake. But I’m also increasingly convinced that art can, on occasion, have a ‘reach’ beyond both its intent and the narrow (in my case) bounds of its assumed audience. The general public are far more receptive to ‘difficult’ work than one might imagine. However, that receptivity needs to be acquired and tutored. The artist has a responsibility to ‘educate’ and grow an audience by initiating a conversation with them. The public aren’t stupid, for the most part. They’re just require an informed context, the tools to hear, an openness to new ideas and experiences, and patient trust.

9.00 am: A view into the studio, where I’ll be returning for the next few weeks:

11.30 am: Off, then, to the see the nurse and be unstitched:

I’ve moved to a village surgery. In contrast to my previous practice, the space is intimate, visually noisy, personable, humane, and technologically ‘lite’ (no screens, automated check-in, and terse robotic voice). The nurse tackled a knotty problem with finesse. There were few ‘ouches’ under the breath on my part. (I was a brave boy.):

1.45 pm: A enjoyed a hastily eaten beans on toast before climbing back onto the study chair. Now that the I. Nothing. Lack. was in the birth canal (as it were), I could return to The Talking Bible project. ‘Now where was I?’

Having completed the digitisation of the vinyl set, I was ready to undertake a superimposition of all the individual files representing the sides of the vinyl discs. This may create an accumulated sound that is either deadpan and obvious or else almost mystical in the outcome. Before I began the process of mixing-down whole books of the Bible, I reviewed the tracks and works related to the album in general that I’d made to date. The experience of undertaking I. Nothing. Lack. has helped to clarify aspects of my approach to this album of works. How often, for me, have the problems of one work been solved in terms of another.

7.30 pm: There’s no shortcut to mixdown on this scale. So, I set the process in motion for the remainder of the evening.

 

 

*For Amy Seed

February 22, 2018

8.00 am: A communion. 8.45 am: I passed the picket line, brazenly. It’s a cold day and they’ve a long vigil ahead. I respect the determination of my colleagues to strike. But each must act according to their conscience. For my part, I consider myself to be a member of the caring professions (along with doctors and nurses). As such, I abrogate my right to take industrial action. I wouldn’t like to think of my own children’s university education being compromised. And, so, I can’t reasonably withhold from the children of other parents (as well as mature students) the same consideration. 9.00 am: A tutorial cancellation opened up a space for admin. (There’s always something waiting in the wings.)

9.30 am: A morning of third-year painting tutorials. Things are beginning to move in small but measurable ways. You can’t force art to either develop or excel. The artist and the artwork grow best together. I’m conscious of feeling the onset of my annual exhibition agitation. I’ll not settle until all the students are up to speed. And students work at different speeds, each according to their aptitude, vision, determination, and appetite for work. My task is to help them realise their potential at this point in their life. Which may be significantly less than their potential in a year’s time.

A bouquet of brushes:

1.00 pm: A tutorial with an earnest second-year dissertation tutee. They’re fascinated by a subject that concluded two decades before they were born, and in a part of the country with which they’ve no association. What draws us to the unknown and unfamiliar? Do we choose the subject or does the subject choose us?

1.30 pm: Homeward for an immediate and light lunch. 2.00 pm: Back to remixing and finalisation, in parallel with teaching prep. Small adjustments were made to the volume of some of the tracks. The only way to do it is play the whole suite again and again until the apparent loudness of the suite appears (it’s very subjective) consistent throughout. 3.15 pm: I ventured outwards and upwards to the campus to conduct my annual ‘Ways of Working with Sound’ workshop, at 4.10 pm, for the PhD research training programme. It was held at the new P5 building:

The room had a decent sound system. There were only a small number present, representing Creative Writing, Education, and Television and Film. At that time of the week and day, I was running on empty:

6.00 pm: Homeward. 7.30 pm: I returned to the mix. Judging the optimum volume of a track is, I’ve always found, exceedingly difficult. A + or -3dB adjustment can open or close the sonorities of a composition significantly. I’ve learned a great deal from this process of adjustment during the project. I think I maybe getting better at it.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • When our whole of life loses its direction we, inevitably, lose the plot in its parts too. However, the reverse is also true. When we begin to take responsibility for the parts, the whole comes together again. Therefore, discover what you’re able to control … and act.
  • T: ‘What makes you want to paint?’
  • T: ‘As your tutor, I may see the potential in the work, but if you can’t too, you’re stuffed’.
  • Honour the subject by the way in which you paint it.
  • Concept: a single subject still life.
  • Artists create a world over which they have full control. It may be the only aspect of their life, sometimes, that’s under their thumb.
  • Shout in one part of picture and whisper another.
  • Sometimes you have to fall off the tabletop in order to discover where the edges lies.
  • Painting = finding.
  • An emotional, as distinct from a visual, memory.
  • T: ‘This type of art education is too good to last’.
  • So often, the breakthrough (when many pennies drop all at once) comes at the end of the third year of study. Thus, students have to down their tools just when they’ve mastered them. Which is why MA studies are often as much a matter of necessity as of continuity.
  • You make so that those who can’t may experience making, vicariously, through your endeavour.
  • S: ‘I know, now, that “the man upstairs” has given me this gift; I know, now, what I was put on earth to do’.
  • What does what we’re interested in tell us about who we are?

 

February 21, 2018

8.00 am: A communion. I was out of kilter from the outset. There are days when I feel as though my needle doesn’t sit well in the day’s groove. This would be one, at the beginning. 8.30 am: Into the fray and through the town, under the soupy grey sky that offered no consolation:

9.00 am: I arrived for a tutorial at the door to one of our MA studios at the Old College. It was locked, with no one inside. Having texted the whereabouts of the missing student, they responded to the effect: ‘But I’m here, inside the room’. At that moment, my reality began to unravel. It turned out that I was on the wrong floor standing in an corridor and outside a room that were identical, in structure and ambience, to those on the floor below, where the student was stationed. I put it down to the residual effects of GA. The student was, as ever, forgiving and understanding. I’d convinced myself of a truth that was entirely false. I was in the wrong place at the right time, and didn’t realise it. Duped by appearances. Now, there’s a lesson. Old College: fragment:

9.30 am: The first of several PhD Fine Art students. Today has been, for me at least, one of revelations and moments of turning. Together, the students and I gasped something – saw through to a potentiality and a possibility that had, hitherto lay in abeyance. Ideas have a habit of divulging themselves only when we’re prepared to embrace them. And such ideas are often of the nature of a pattern, structure, or container that frames the research being undertaken within it.

10.45 am: I took refuge in a local cafe to catch up on admin and recuperate. Physical exertion requires more energy presently. Apparently, it takes a month for GA to work itself out of the system. Strong stuff!. 12.30 pm: To the School and a postgraduate admissions consultation with Dr Webster Van Tonder. 1.00 pm: Lunchtime admin. There’s still a significant backlog of teaching and admin to clear following my week working on research at home.

2.00 pm: Back to Old College via Laura Place. I was reminded of Lego:

…. for a further PhD Fine Art tutorial. It’s a strange experience when the artwork declares its own significance and trajectory to the artist. This is when it truly ‘speaks’ to us. But we must have ‘ears to hear’. Homeward journey: fragment:

3.30 pm: Homebase. I pressed on with the backlog of admin while working, in tandem, on remixing the I. Nothing. Lack. suite. I had decided to rethink the relationship of the foreground voice and background tracks. The former was enhanced to increase the preacher’s presence.

7.30 pm: I continued by testing the mixes on different media players (iMac, iPad, and iPhone) and a variety of qualities of headphone. I’d more or less tried every permutation of composition ratio, balance, spatial positioning, volume threshold, and equalisation.

February 20, 2018

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Off to the Old College under a neutral sky that would, within the hour, yield to blue. The window eats away the building like a cankerous worm:

The sunlight raked across the crests of the incoming tide, and illuminated the interior of the building in sometimes surprising ways:

My MA students are, now, seeded throughout the building. This gives me an excuse to explore beyond the boundaries of my usual furrow … upwards and upwards. (A lesson for life.):

Mr Monaghan (one of our MA Fine Art alumni) talked informally about his work to the assembled Vocational Practice group. He presented a realistic, honest, frank, and helpful account of his professional experience:

We took lunch together afterwards.

2.00 pm: An afternoon of further MA tutorials, beginning at the School and moving back to the Old College:

7.30 pm: I continued with the revised volume profiles for the I. Nothing. Lack. tracks.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • The absence of image makes a space for the presence of enigma.
  • The outcome of the artwork often confutes our intentions.
  • Ideas generate process generates ideas generate process … .
  • We may betray an insecurity about our security.
  • Devise an explanation that isn’t exclusive and comprehensive but, rather, definitive and provisional.
  • It’s not always a good thing to let the work pull you by the nose.
  • Some artwork’s titles are as arbitrary as the names given to battleships.
  • Titles direct the viewers to experience your work in a particular way. And, as such, they may prevent them from seeing it in other ways.
  • Establish a fulcrum (or centre point) for your modus operandi, and determine to work both at and either side of it. (Explore subtle differences within a narrow frame of reference, in other words.)
  • The teacher often identifies and validates what the student has already realised, but not yet articulated to themselves.
  • Integrity, before all else.
  • S: ‘I am so far out of my comfort zone!’ T: ‘Good! Stay there’.
  • Intensity is sometimes at the expense of longevity. ‘The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long’ (Blade Runner (1982)).
  • Try not looking at the dartboard when you throw the dart.
  • Don’t miss-read what the work needs.

February 19, 2018

Theirs:
mine:

A strength;
waiting.

Not knowing;
undoing.

Undeceiving;
disbelieving.

Deliberating;
anticipating.
*

Friday and Saturday. I continued working on the text for the suite’s introduction and the tracks’ descriptions, while preparing alternative mixes. Most things sounded ideal on the studio monitors and over the cans, but otherwise muddy or insufficiently ‘present’ on my more than decent desktop sound system. Part of the craft of mixing is to create a sonic profile that works well on most any active speaker set up (from the ultra expensive and sophisticated to the cheap and cheerful), but without compromise:

Over the past few days, I’ve written several letter to myself. This may appear to be a pastime bordering on insanity. Some of my friends write letters to others that they’ve no intention of sending. In so doing, they can speak their mind, but without fear of a backlash. The practice helps to defuse a potentially divisive exchange of words. Having ‘gotten it off their chests’, they discover that those things no longer need to be said. I write in order to either gain a perspective upon, or else exorcise, a troubling matter. Doing so is a mode of auto-therapy, wherein I can be entirely open and honest with myself, and not have to consider another person’s response, causing offence, being misunderstood, or censure. There’re times when it’s wise to keep one’s own counsel.

I managed to procure a 1970s cassette-tape editing block. It’s exactly the same as the one I used as an earnest 16-year old sound ‘junky’:

By the close of Saturday afternoon, the tracks and their descriptors had been uploaded to the album on my Sound website. A typescript of the lyrics, and album and track covers, still need to be prepared before publication.

Sunday. A morning in A&E. My suture had grown increasingly painful, and my hand and wrist, swollen. I required a professional opinion from the orthopaedic department. Apparently, my experience was not uncommon. (Nerve settlement, the doctor said.) The good news is that the suture is, at last, healing well:

Today. Sometimes I wake and know that I’m just a man. The waters fall, again. 9.00 am: The start of several hours of appointment setting and email catch up. And, then, dealing with the incoming mail that had arrived in response. 11.30 am: There was time to look at the possibilities for individual covers for the tracks comprising I. Nothing. Lack. 12.30 pm: Off to School to prepare for the 1.10 pm Art in Wales lecture on ‘Art and Industry’. This would be my first outing since the operation. It was good to be back in the saddle again.

2.00 pm: A tuna sandwich and cup of PG at my elbow, I took a working lunch uploading files and responding to emails. 2.30 pm: I got back to I. Nothing. Lack. and generated a number of digital images that were relevant to the concept and process of the audio content in each case. Thus, for example, audio glitching found a corresponding analogy in photographic glitching:

7.00 pm: I completed the album and track artworks and reviewed, once more, the volume of the tracks relative to one another, and to the optimum volume of the streamable software. I was still uncomfortable about the background sample to the second track. The volume of all the tracks was far too high, although matched throughout the suite. At least, now, I understand what’s the desirable level. Progress is always slowest as one reaches the end of an endeavour.

 

* For Amy Seed

February 15, 2018

He shall call upon me, and I will answer him (Psalm 91.15)

8.00 am: A communion. Scenario 1: There was no mobile reception in the hotel. I had to walk to the end of the drive before I could obtain even a precariously weak signal. Did they hear me? ‘Hello!?’ Scenario 2: The phone number was correct; so, either the line was faulty or they weren’t picking up. Scenario 3: All I could get was the engaged tone. The efficacy of prayer is not, likewise, subject to either our location or the signal (spiritual) strength; and God is never too busy or unresponsive. He not only listens but also replies. Yes. There’ve been times when I’ve wondered if there was someone on the other end. There’ve been times, too, when my motives for speaking with him have been wrong; my heart, awry; and my priorities, dishevelled. You can’t have communication without communion. (‘Reform and redial, John!’) God’s answers aren’t always straightforward, though. In other words, they’re not necessarily comprehensible in terms of a simple and absolute ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For example, there’s a ‘yes’ … but not yet; and a ‘no’, for now, that’ll be superseded by a ‘yes’ in the future. Answers to prayer are always contextual and conditional. Sometimes, either we, or our circumstances, or the season, or the prevailing conditions must change before God chooses his moment. But act he will. ‘Gottes Zeit ist die Allerbeste Zeit‘ [‘God’s Time is the Very Best Time’], as J.S. Bach titled one of his cantatas (BWV106). But that time may be a very long time in coming. Which is why trusting God (Psalm 91. 2, 4), and waiting upon him, are of the essence of prayer.

Waiting (in silence):

Yesterday evening, a friend from home (South Wales) phoned to tell me that Linda Thomas had died after a short and aggressive illness. I knew her during my time at Blaenau Gwent Baptist Church, Abertillery, back in the late 1970s. She was a gifted and compassionate peripatetic music teacher, as well as a serious-minded Christian who knew how to let her hair down. I used to rib her mercilessly; and she, me. ‘See you on the far side of the river, “Lindy-Loo”!’:

8.30 pm: Health check. Since the operation, last week, my blood pressure has become unstable due to the effects of the general anaesthetic, which has also got entangled with the background ME. (‘Complications’, as they say.) Added to this, my surgical wound hasn’t sealed entirely. Healing will be a slower process, as a result. So, the arm remains very painful and inefficient. And to think that I have to go through this twice more. During my convalescence, I’ve been working on projects that don’t require too much keyboard manipulation. It’s been an opportunity to finalise the compositions and mix for the I. Nothing. Lack. project.

To that end, I wanted to devise two further and final tracks that explored and applied aspects of the deficits of dementia that hadn’t been addressed by the other components of the suite. Having recorded MacMillan’s recitation of Psalm 23 to cassette tape, I proceeded to physically erase, with glass paper, the magnetic particles that were adhered to it, layer by layer. Following each pass, I digitally transferred the effects of my vandalism. After five applications of the process, the original recording was little more than fierce noise. (I’d deployed a similar strategy to create my Erased Messiah Recording (2016).) The phased passes were then arranged in order, beginning with the most degraded, and proceeding, through a sequence of fades, to a pristine rendering of the original, at the end. In this way, the process is analogous to the effects of dementia on memory, wherein the most recent memories (corresponding to the beginning of the recitation) are erased first (and catastrophically), while the earliest memories (corresponding to the end of the recitation), remain intact:

The second new piece resolved the impasse that I’d been experiencing with the decelerated rendering of MacMillan’s recitation. I constructed a constantly fast moving and animated backing track against which the progressively slowing speech (0  to -250%) could be heard. It was a simple but an effective solution.

11.30 am: After a period of respite and arm exercises I returned to the first of the two additional compositions, which is tentatively entitled ‘ h   T  n y-Th rd P alm’. In my mind’s ear, I recalled the aural image of a medium-wave radio being gradually tuned into a station – the background, crackling and spiting like a detached electricity cable from which thousands of volts oozed. I’ve not considered radio noise since composing my first sound piece, ‘Ion on Iron‘, back in 1977. The first question that this present work addressed was: ‘How do you make a sound that’s simultaneously unpleasant and compelling to the ear?

1.40 pm: After lunch and updating my Instagram account, I rolled up my sleeve and started cutting into multiple and variously distorted tracks, based upon the cassette tape erasures, to create a 1-minute composition. 2.30 pm: A vision:

Mr Malevich and Mr Lissitszky Together Looked Up, 1 & 2

5.10 pm: Mission accomplished (for now); I’ll review this again in the silent light of a new day. I reloaded the deceleration piece and listened once more.

7.30 pm: On with, what’s tentatively entitled, ‘Ps-a–l–m— T—w—e—n––t––y –––– T––––h––––r––––––e­––––––e’. (The decelerating piece.) The first question that this work addressed was: ‘How can I resolve the whole in as few moves as necessary? 8.15 pm: Mission accomplished. That’s two compositions completed in one day. A record (for me). 8.30 pm: I revisited those pieces about which I’d some reservations regarding their final mix. Already, I can feel myself letting go of this project. This is always a sign that an end (a sufficiency) is in sight/sound.

February 9, 2018

7.00 am: Rise. The weather was angry and inconsolable. A ‘beginfast’, as opposed to a breakfast, was the order of the morning. I so missed that first cup of tea. 7.45 am: Preparations for my return to teaching (mid week) needed to be completed, my inbox emptied, and registers updated. Putting my affairs in order, as it were. Too dramatic? Perhaps. On the other hand: ‘Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring’ (Proverbs 27.1).

While searching for a defunct cassette tape to unwind some days back, I alighted upon:

It, too, was now inoperable. I’d purchased the album, released in 1973, one Saturday afternoon at one of the several independent record shops in Abertillery. My first experience of the music was in mono on a Sanyo AutoStop System G2000 cassette recorder, which was later also made inoperable after a circuit-bending session. The album was very hissy. So much so, that I couldn’t hear the very quiet parts. There’s something about the physicality of cassettes – their rattleyness, contours, moulding, hiddenness, and moving parts – that makes the CD format seem so coldly efficient and anonymous. At night, I used to lie in bed with the cassette recorder on the pillow beside my head, playing the music softly. I didn’t use the flesh-coloured monaural earpiece that came with the recorder; it made the sound resemble a crystal radio set. And, there’s something disconcerting about hearing music only in one ear. ‘Mono headphones?’ Not in Abertillery. And not on my pocket money.

10.00 am: All set: admission papers; iPhone; iPad/keyboard; iPod (my old 5th Generation), noise-cancelling headphones (you could not have imagined such a thing when I was young); book to read; Book of Common Prayer to console; notebook; pen; slippers; dressing gown; hairbrush; etc. (‘You’re only there until late afternoon, John!’)

10.40 am: Off to the hospital (which is little beyond a stone’s throw from my home) and the Day Surgical Unit. Then, the wait:

11.10 am: Onto the ward for a pre-operation assessment. Bronglais Hospital is a relatively small and very supportive environment. The staff are efficient, busy, and polite. Every so often, doctors walked passed my bed carrying cups of tea and coffee. (This was torture.) I’d not had a cuppa since 1.30 pm yesterday. I connected to the Cloud in order to monitor the outside world. But I was content to remain in my warm and scrubbed-clean bubble, with nothing to do other than reflect, read, and write, while listening to the bleeps of monitors and other patients’ consultations close by. The operation was scheduled for mid afternoon. The NHS, embattled as it is, rises above the limitations imposed upon it, maintains dignity and courtesy, and ploughs on with a determination and grit, like the British during the war. Exemplary, laudable, and astonishing. We should be far more grateful:

The physician drew:

The risks associated with the operation were described in some detail. It pays to be not too idealistic in one’s expectations. The lunch trolley passed. (Sigh!) The smell of hospital food filled the ward. Any food smells delicious when you’re hungry. The surgery session would begin at 1.30 pm. I waited in a queue like an aeroplane for its turn on the runway. (The patient patient.) Several other non-definable medics checked vitals and confirmed my identity and which arm required attention. 1.35 pm: I disrobed and dressed in a rather fetching pale-blue gown (back to front, the first time) for action (or, rather, profound inaction). Soon, I would lose an hour of my life irredeemably while in a state of near oblivion. Curiously, the prospect excited me:

To my left, the first aeroplane took off. The anaesthetist came from behind the curtain to ascertain answers to questions that I’d been asked twice already. But I could appreciate the need for thoroughness and to avoid litigation. Apparently, the anaesthetic included eggs among its components.

2.40 pm: I was wheeled to the Preparation Room, where the anaesthetic was administered, and, then, into Theatre. As the bed moved into the operating table, I remember thinking: ‘What extraordinary equipment they have in her …………. ‘. (Gone. I’d surrendered to Morpheus. ) 3.50 pm: I opened my eyes again in the Recovery Room, feeling like Dorothy awaking back in Kansas.

After a stint back in the main ward, and several cups of very welcome tea and a bowl of rice crispies, I was in a position to appreciate the onset of pain and inspect the ‘damage’:

5.40 pm: Release. ‘I’ll be back’ (I thought, in an Austrian accent) for my right arm to receive the same treatment. As medical interventions go, I couldn’t have hoped to receive better attention.

6.30 pm: Home, dinner, catch up, and rest.

February 8, 2018

8.00 am: A communion. 8.20 am: An arduous day lay ahead, and my reserves – which I (like a local council) have dipped into too often this last fortnight – were drying up rapidly. Beyond this morning’s conference, I had a full afternoon of teaching to fulfil, an evening of email catch up, and to prepare for my day in hospital tomorrow, as well as the knock-on effect of taking off two working days next week in order to recuperate. 8.30 am: As part of my pre-delivery routine, I went through the presentation against the clock. There’d by no surprises, as far as it was in my power to ensure. In my final pass over the script, I made some radical excisions in order to keep the presentation well within time. (Strand chairpersons hate contributions that exceed their allotted limit. One overspill can throw the timetable for the whole session.) My last task was to make the top, right-hand corner of each page of my script dog-eared. This permits me to turnover effortlessly, without the risk of skipping a page.

10.20 am: I arrived at the Arts Centre, registered for the Digital Past 2018 conference, and was told that my session had been moved from the Cinema to the Theatre. No big deal. But I’d never spoken there before and, therefore, needed to get acclimatised to the acoustics and depth of the auditorium. I’m more comfortable when knowing how the space will respond to my voice:

10.45 am: Time for tea before I looked at the various heritage stands in the Great Hall:

I took time to review my script and, then, sat myself in the auditorium ahead of time and considered how I would walk from my seat to the lectern to commence, and from the lectern back to my seat after the delivery. Once I’d pre-visioned the bookends, what lay between would take care of itself. It sounds nuts. But it works.

I was down for the end of the session, so I was able to learn from the efforts of others contributing before me. My paper was rather left of field in respect to the heritage theme. Something of a wild card. But, what the heck! 12.15 pm: I took to the floor …

… and launched:

The audience were generous with their response (and, I’m sure, not a little bemused). However, their questions implied that they’d grasped my endeavour and its future implications.

After a speedy lunch and a searching conversation with one of the delegates, I pressed down towards the School to undertake what would have been the mornings third-year Painting tutorials. One student has been painting flowers and taps. (Don’t ask. It does make sense.) It struck me that their palette had begun to take on the quality of the bouquets quite unselfconsciously:

7.15 pm: I caught up on the day’s waiting emails, this dairy, and the events of the day, while making preparations for tomorrow’s hospitalisation. In an anonymous package, I received a lovely surprise gift from one of our former MA students and the cover designer of King Crimson’s album Lizard (1970). I’m looking forward to reading the book during my recuperation:

9.30 pm: An early breakfast. (I’d have to fast tomorrow morning).

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • What if blue was thought of as a warm colour?
  • One of the hardest things a student has to create is a sense of imperative. (Tempus Fugit.)
  • When you draw, it’s not only the drawing but also the experience of seeing, understanding, and rendering through drawing that’s of value.
  • Sitting in the front seat of a car is a peculiarly cubist experience: through the windscreen there’s the view in front, and through the side- and rear-view mirrors, simultaneously, what’s to the left and right and behind.
  • Avoid quoting from your own paintings. Originally, the quotes had a context, raison d’etre, and history that cannot be replicated authentically.
  • Unless you feed your ideas by drawing upon something outside of art, the artworks will become increasingly a paler and paler echo of themselves.
  • There are times when the scale or size of the format feels like an ill-fitting shoe.
  • Make your studio space efficient – fit for purpose; beautiful in its own way.

 

February 7, 2018

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: I attended to emails before digging in for the final day on the conference presentation. 9.00 am: The morning after the snow fell:

I’ve known academics who, having been pressed for time, completed their papers on the train en route to the conference. I’ve seen academics correcting their script even as they delivered it. Me … I’m a coward. There are too many things that could go wrong, in situ, that lie outside of my control (for example, a poor projector, an inadequately darkened room, an insufficiently loud sound system, the lack of a lectern and reading light, and failed connectors) for me to add to the jeopardy. Whenever possible, I assume the worse and go over-prepared.

11.30 am: Slides were now assigned and tested. Only the sound samples needed to be added. A task for the afternoon. Next, the script required close reading and correction before a draft print out and a road test against the clock. Pare down! Pare down! I shaved off nearly 100 words. The paper had to be a lean machine.

After lunch I lurched towards the School to pick up some equipment that I would use tomorrow. There was a frozen turbulence above – appearing like a still shot of some calamitous and portentous churning of the sky. Something’s up:

Prof. JH is my teacher too. He can be an awkward cuss at times. His other students must despair too. This is a typical encounter with him: ‘You’ll need to do that bit again’. ‘I’m not sure I’ve got the time, though’. ‘It’s up to you, of course. But now I’ve told you about it, it’s difficult to ignore. Isn’t it?’ ‘You have a point’. He often does, and so I relent … even if I really don’t have the time.

Mid afternoon, I unravelled a redundant cassette tape in order to make a photographic illustration for the paper. (Wikicommons didn’t come up with the goods.):

My mind was taken back to the opening credits of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s marionette series Joe 90 (1968), (which I watched avidly as a pre-teen). The analogy between tape and memory, with all the implications of data transfer, storage, and erasure.

While taking a 10-minute period of recuperation in the study rocking chair, I experienced an emotional memory about a yearning that I associate with the time when, in my adolescence, I’d sit besides the ‘Little Feeder’ in Blaina (my material grandparents’ home), catching minnow and tadpoles, chase toads, and contemplate my future (that’s to say, no further than week to come):

The older I get, the more vivid my past becomes. Perhaps, such memories are subliminal consolations to either help me through a present trial or enrich a barren patch. (The present can sometimes appear rather pale.) Why some memories and not others return is a mystery to me. By 5.15 pm, I was ready to mark up the script.

7.30 pm: Mark up continued, and my equipment tested and made ready for the morning. Finally, I read through the text and played through the audio-visual presentation against the clock. 9.45 pm: Conclusion.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s reflections:

  • Principles imply consequences.
  • Observations imply responsibility.
  • I’ve never before realised just how rare is the virtue of constancy.
  • Some things are just too far away in all directions.
  • Something must take place, very soon.
  • Virtues and graces must be gripped tightly; they’re easily dropped when one is under duress.

February 6, 2018

He also went down and killed a lion inside a pit on a snowy day (1 Chronicles 11.22)

7.45 am: The first snow:

8.00 am: I posted weather warnings to my class and tutees. Getting to Aberystwyth is one thing; getting home again, today, might be quite another. 8.30 am: A communion. 9.00 am: To begin: postgraduate admin and teaching preparations for the day ahead. My muggy mind and more general debilitations persist. Snow quietens the world beyond my window (a hush); makes people and vehicles proceed more slowly (a sanity); and softens the turbulent heart (a blessing).

10.20 am: Off to School. The snow was still falling; things appeared as though solarised. Wonderful!:

10.30 am: I prepared the classroom for Vocational Practice. A number of otherwise loyal students were, wisely, not taking to the road today. Beauty and danger go hand in hand on these occasions:

11.10 am: Commencement. I reached for the reserves, yet again. We discussed the students’ recent experience at the undergraduate assessment observation, and looked forward to the implementation of the principles of higher-education teaching that we’d learned in semester one.

12.10 pm: A re-routed MA fine art tutorial (due to the prospect of the weather declining), followed by an early lunch (over which I tied up the loose ends of the morning’s business). 1.45 pm: A thaw:

2.00 pm: From then until 6.00 pm, both at the School and Old College (both achingly warm today), I conducted further MA tutorials:

By the time I got home, I was a wash out. After dinner, I snoozed on the settee. (Either I was having a reaction to something I’d consumed today or a cold was in the offing. Neither scenario was welcome.)

7.30 pm: I began to align the slides of the PowerPoint with my conference paper. Having clear markers to indicate transitions aids a confident, fluid, and professional presentation. It has always been worth putting in the effort.

Some observations and principles derived from today’s engagements:

  • ‘I continue to tread the road. Broad steps’, the student said of their endeavour.
  • What has the beginning to do with the end, and vice versa? So often, our practice runs in circles.
  • There’s a ‘deep structure’ (to borrow Chomsky’s phrase) underlying creative practice that’s common to all medial manifestations. Thus, we’re, at this level, artists before we’re painters, printmakers, photographers, or whatever.
  • We cannot succeed without enduring some cuts and bruises.
  • Extend generosity to the work of other artists. It may not be what you like but, if it has quality, then, acknowledge that the virtue has been hard won.
  • There are sections of the mountain that we must climb alone.
  • I’ve not taken a hand mirror into my tutorials for years. The device enables both the tutor and tutee to see an inverted version of the artwork. It’s like experiencing the image for the first time. The compositional imbalance is made conspicuously evident. I must revive the practice.