November 17, 2017

8.00 am: A communion. I began reading Isaiah, chapter 9, verses 1 to 7 in preparation for my Advent Light talk at Holy Trinity Church on 8 December. For me, its important to live inside a text for some time before inviting others to enter. 9.00 am: Studiology. I reviewed Monday’s tentative beginnings of the jazz/hywl composition before re-opening Turn Table. My encounter with Basquiat’s work on Wednesday had enabled me to see opportunities within the composition that were previously obscured. Quite how his influence has affected my work has more to do with an attitude than an idea or a process. But it just goes to show how important is the habit of exposing oneself to other artists’ work. 10.45 am: I directed a copy of the mixdown of the composition to my discerning ‘external ear’ for a critical review.

Back, then, to the earlier pierce. I’d learned something from the revision of Turn Table that gave me greater confidence when it came to opening it up again. Progress (or, at best, evolution) was painfully slow; it had to be, this was a difficult and delicate operation requiring me to listen attentively from the beginning to the end of the composition every time a new element was added:

Thoughts about PhDs in Fine art and Art History, extracted from a Messenger exchange during the morning:

  • Do you have to be self-reflective to be in charge of what you’re doing?
  • If you’re an intuitive and instinctual artist, and that works for you, why screw it up by trying to be intellectual and systematic?
  • The idea of self-reflective research in fine art practice would hardly have occurred to artists such as Cézanne, Picasso, and Braque. They’d have preferred to ‘theorise’ over a bottle of wine in a cafe rather than on paper.
  • Self reflection: a self conscious, critical analysis with a view to discerning what was, is, and is to come.
  • Sometimes the issue is not one of aptitude but, rather, of necessity.
  • The right thing at the wrong time.
  • What I wanted to do was to develop a context for me work. That’s always been pre-eminently important. I don’t need to do a PhD to reflect upon my practice. That takes place in situ.But I do need to know the traditions in which I work.
  • Two parallel streams (art history and art practice), converging only within oneself.
  • Borderers (like those on the Welsh Marches and the Salopian edge): living and crossing over between two countries and counties. One can be a borderer between disciplines. too.

2.00 pm: After lunch I made a dash for the finishing line of the text-to-beat alignment. Along the way, small adjustments were made to the duration of the samples. It takes an inordinate amount of time to generate just three minutes of composition. But, then again, some of the best singles ever released were shorter. 5.00 pm: The evening began to draw in:

7.30 pm: I began work on my introduction for The dementia project at the Royal Commission on Wednesday. Once I’ve written the first paragraph, I know where I am in respect to the tone of the piece, its density, pace, and unfolding.

 

November 15, 2017

A 7.00 am rise. We were out of the flat and onto the commuter track by 8.00 am, moving like drone ants towards a hole in the ground. By 8.45 am, I was at the Barbican once again, where I waited for the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition to open at 10.00 am. There was time to review and respond to emails over a cup of hot chocolate. (I do miss coffee.):

9.45 am: I was let in early. (An obvious keeny.) Basquiat was as conspicuously gifted young artist. Too many art students equate art education with what they receive by means of tutorials, lectures, and so forth. But this is the smallest part of it. Basquiat educated himself through an intelligent observation of art and life. He subjected himself to the work of past masters and his contemporaries. Reading broadly and deeply was a further means of not only grasping the spirit and values of his own and former times but also investing his own visual work (and poetry) with gravitas. Music, too, was a love and inspiration. (Rarely is it one without the other.) Painting and drawing were his means of combining and making sense of the richly informed culture that he’d created around him. Basquiat’s work provides a remarkable index to a period in recent visual and musical culture marked by diversity. He was able to reconcile and represent those differences without diluting them. One cannot just paint. The artist must prepare themselves first; there must be something out of which to paint.

At the heart of the Barbican Centre is the church of St Giles Cripplegate. The present building is over 400 years old. London has grown up around it subsequently. It now seems surreally out of time and place – like the Tardis in a desert – surrounded by glass, steel, and concrete skyscrapers, apartments, and cultural centres. Somethings don’t adapt to their environment, and yet they survive. And sometimes the environment must adapt to them too:

11.00 am: I headed to the Tate Modern in the mistaken belief that the Rachel Whiteread exhibition was on show there. (This was at Tate Britain, rather.) But there were new hangs, and galleries in the Blavatnik extension that I’d not seen before. The Tate’s curatorial approach is too self-consciously educative for my taste. I feel that I’m being led by the arm. Whereas, I want to make the connections for myself. But I enjoyed the Darth Vader’s bathroom aesthetic of the building and seeing school children genuinely and quizzically engaging with challenging works:

12.45 pm: I met with my elder son in Chinatown for lunch in an acceptably decent Malaysian restaurant:

Afterwards, we parted company and I travelled to Oxford Street to window browse. This was one of the rare occasions on which I shop in the real world. It was a challenge.

3.30 pm: Onto the Glasgow Central bound train, alighting at Birmingham International. I rarely want to leave London. Yes, it had been a tiring, sweaty, jostling, and driven day and a half (that seemed so much longer), but also a welcome retreat from the habitual and familiar round of life and work back at home. Even the problems that I’d to pack into my rucksack and brought with me took on a different complexion here. From Birmingham International, it was a straight-through journey to home.

Lessons learned:

  • I associate elevated feelings with a false or delusional frame of mind, and downcast feelings with a true perspective on things. I’ve never before realised this. But the principle is utterly consistent. I don’t trust joy. Perhaps I see better in the dark.
  • Hypocrisy: a contempt for the obvious failings of others, while harbouring the same in oneself.
  • It’s wise to be suspicious of even the best motives. ‘The heart is above all deceitful’.
  • Cowardice seeks the easiest, simplest, and most straightforward solution, regardless of the cost to others.
  • Bravery resists rash judgements, takes time to weigh up contrary opinions, and chooses on the basis of their other’s best interest.
  • A course of action should not be either deemed wrong or abandoned because it’s difficult, painful, frustrating, inconvenient, and apparently futile. Likewise, a course of action should not be deemed right just because it fulfils a need, brings satisfaction, and is popular and beyond criticism. Only by the application of a moral and ethical perspective can right and wrong be determined … and sometimes not easily at that.

 

 

 

November 14, 2017

5.45 am: An early start in readiness for the 7.30 am train for Birmingham and, then, London. The streets glistened; the rain diffused; the town awoke, baker by baker. (Ah! The smell of freshly-baked bread.) At the station (I arrived too early, as ever), seagulls hollered and dived overhead. Professor Grattan was taking the same train, as he embarked upon one of his ambassadorial tours of far flung places on behalf of the university. I really don’t envy him. On board, I plugged in my iPad and settled to write correspondence and draft ideas for more substantial things. That unnerving sense of having forgotten something was beginning to recede. I tried to nap for a while en route. Too restless for that. So, I awaited the trolley with the unconscionably expensive tea to arrive. [‘John, you’re pathetic!’]:

A grey tarpaulin covered the route once the sun, which had threatened to burn off the morning mist earlier, had lost its battle. Beyond Shrewsbury, the red brick remains of a once prosperous midlands manufacturing industry became more conspicuous. I’m always struck by how much green pasture there remains between the great industrial cities of Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Canals, corrugation, parking lots for unsold cars, and out-of-town supermarkets pretending to be castles:

I arrived at Euston shortly after noon. Oyster Card topped up, I headed for Leicester Square and walked from there to Piccadilly and the Royal Academy. My pre-booked, time-booked ticket didn’t arrive on my phone last night, so I bought again. I was about to see the Jasper Johns and Duchamp/Dali exhibitions. This was a lot to take in. Johns first:

A great painter of greys. Temperate greys over saturated chromatic. Works that are conceptual but also sensual. He held onto an idea and motif far longer than most artists can. A man of conviction. Memory tracings. He was not enslaved to his past or the expectations of others. Reworked past imagery: his own and of other artworks. Interest in classical mythology. Great artists are invariably well read. ‘The Seasons’ reminds me of John Selway’s work from the late 1970s. ‘Perilous Night’ (I know this title from somewhere else [?]). ‘Watchman’ – made with so few moves. (Painting as a well conceived game of chess.) At his best, he was Rauschenberg’s equal. But R was more consistently good throughout his career. JJ: intelligence and aesthetics in unison. Great wit. He makes me smile. ‘Painting Bitten by a Man’ – I laughed, audibly (‘The Black Notebook’ (November 14, 2017) 276–7).

My estimation of Dali grew considerably today. In the context of Duchamp’s work, the exhibition highlighted the intellectual roots of the former’s imagery and, too, of his technique.

Mid afternoon I returned to Leicester Square and made my pilgrimage to Denmark Street. One day all these great guitar shops will be gone, and with them a significant chapter in British music history. Some genuinely important guitarists and guitars have been walked out of their doors. I’ve an ambition to buy one from this street one day. I took refuge in a coffee house (where I drank tea) in order to catch up on mail and other correspondence. I’ve eaten light throughout the day; now I was getting peckish. (Bring on the self discipline.)

4.55 pm: I met my younger son at Euston and, from there, we travelled to Barbican and a local restaurant, where my elder son met us. A Harvey Boys’ night on the town. Always a treat. Pensive selfie:

7.30 pm: A concert by the jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and his band. Hancock began his career, like so many other colossi of that generation, in the stable of Miles Davis back in the 60s and 70s. Davis’ stamp was still evident in Hancock’s fascination with electronic tonalities and boundary pushing. It was a tight set. The drummer played punishingly (there were evocations of Billy Cobham) without respite for a good two hours. The boys should do this more:

 

November 13, 2017

When interior decorators work, they can often spend far more time preparing than finishing a room. Layers of old wall paper, going back decades sometimes, have to be teased apart until the base wall is cleared for preparation. The older the layer, the harder it is to remove. Rather than scrape off the earliest layers aggressively, the decorator patiently soaks them until the paper is softened and malleable, and the old paste loses its adhesion. Thereafter, holes and cracks in the walls are filled and the room’s surfaces, sanded evenly. If walls had feelings, the latter would be a painful, if necessary, part of the process. Thus, to begin a new life, the redundant and unhelpful parts of the old need to be removed, piece by piece. You can’t just paper and paint over them. The good decorator will remove the residue of the past cautiously, caringly, consistently, and, in time, completely. There’s a tradition in the decorator’s craft wherein the master and apprentice signed and dated their work on the prepared wall before commencing. Unlike the painter’s autograph, the decorators’ identities were eclipsed by the work that they undertook on top of it. I like that idea.

8.30 am: Off, in the biting cold, for a PhD Fine Art tutorial at the Old College. 10.00 am: I walked from the promenade down the stone steps towards the shoreline to record the sea at low tide for a foreigner abroad:

Here was a place where I could think, look outwards and towards, remember, and rejoice.

10.20 pm: Homebase. Admin had accumulated over the weekend. I’d not be able to return to the studio with an easy mind before dealing with it. 11.30 am: Into the still cold studio:

I wanted to reassess ‘The Silences’ (and the title too) and resolve the premature climax at the beginning of the piece, based upon convictions arising from an unfocussed audition, Friday evening. By the close of the morning, the piece was a few minutes shorter; the harmonic track, a little more assertive throughout; a single climax at the end, asserted; and the tail-off, shortened. Altogether, the piece had more dynamic punch. 12.30 pm: I returned to several other ‘resolved’ tracks in order to either confirm my previous conviction or repent of them.

1.4o pm: I wanted to test whether, what I refer to as, the ‘jazz loop’ (due to its rather ‘cool’, laid back, finger-clicking beat), and the more hwyl-like musicality of some of the extracted samples, could be integrated in a single composition. The first trial went well. The spoken text took on a rather confident swagger. I was back in R R B V E Ǝ T N Ƨ O A territory, mapping text samples to a rhythmic spine. Familiarity can be both comforting and unnerving at one and the same time. I don’t wish to go where I’ve already been. But, by the same token, I recognise that a degree of repetition is of the essence of one’s habitual ‘style’ or manner of working. I would have to walk a tight-rope, and balance between two possibilities, while trying to remain upright and not to rule out either. (This is the dominant motif of my life, presently.)

7.15 pm: At evening, I began nailing the texts to the spine, on and off the beat. The words are spoken, but I have to treat the speech as though it was sung. Out of doors, in the background, I could hear the sound of the annual Monday fair, which will take place on this day of the week for the next three. My brain has learned to mask sounds that aren’t emanating directly from the monitors. Every so often I’d scuttle around the house putting together bits and bobs in readiness for my cultural excursion tomorrow morning.

 

November 10, 2017

7.30 am: A communion. Yesterday felt cruel and relentless. I took it hour by hour, asking for strength to be measured out accordingly. There are times when many and fierce cross currents converge upon one’s life. This morning brought with it a renewed resolve. 8.30 am: Homebase. The decorators arrived with lining paper. Always a good sign. There were a few small admin matters that required my attention before I bit into the meat of the day.

9.00 am: Studiology. There was still the residue of equipment to be put away, now that the Turn Table composition was finished. I’m a stickler for studio discipline. Discipline begins from within, extends outwards, and returns to its point of origin. Discipline, properly conceived, gradually and progressively embraces every aspect of our lives: how we think, what we allow ourselves to feel, what we say in speech and writing, what we take into our bodies, how we cherish those bodies for ourselves and for others, and how we respond to our shortcomings, as well as to those of others.

I reviewed Monday’s resolution to the Turn Table composition. I still liked it. (Always a good sign.) However, the initial composition, which I’d rejected, still beckoned. Perhaps it required a complete rethink. What I’d got was fine, but only fine. And too complete to improve upon, maybe. I permitted myself an hour to re-engage it. In my mind’s ear, I kept hearing a psychotic electric guitar improvisation accompanying it. Should I bite that bullet?

I began making electronic sounds when I was 14 years of age and playing for Hunter. This was a front-room band, as distinct from a garage band, and completely non-viable as a performing unit. It, and my subsequent bands, gave me an education that far outstripped anything that I’d received in school at the time. Not that I paid that much attention to teachers back then. For I’d descended to the level of their expectations for me. Big mistake! (It took the Creator of the universe to pull me out of that deep pit.) Sound and music helped me to hear and define myself for the first time. In this realm I was confident, even though untrained and unable by any standard definition of musical competence. For I knew that I possessed an instinct and determination that would overcome the deficits.  All I needed to do is determine my own rules and values rather than follow those that’d been already established. One ought never to lose faith with oneself. What once we were, and are, doesn’t determine what we may yet become.

The next outing on the horizon was the I. Nothing. Lack. presentation on 24 November. Mid-morning, I decided to review all the samples that’d been already resolved for this project. But, first, I chose my Oblique Strategy at random:

That confirmed my decision. I’ve never applied this method of aided decision making to any other aspect of my life. I wonder what the outcomes might be?

I’d forgotten how much I’d achieved before breaking off from the project. Presently, I’m preparing more or less completed compositions for presentation on the day. However, my expectation is that the indeterminate outcomes of my efforts on the day will provide further material with which to work in the studio. For the remainder of the morning, I remixed sessions and brought them into a condition suitable for PA projection in situ. I was dealing with massive files (3 GB+), which took an age to process. (Watching the paint dry.)

1.45 pm: I’d been asked to submit photographs, related to the I. Nothing. Lack. project, to publicise the paper that I’ll deliver at the Digital Past 2018 conference. 2.20 pm: Job done:

I’d intended to be pushing real-world faders by the afternoon, but I’d not anticipated how much new material there was for the project at hand. That was an encouraging discovery. Knob twiddling would have to be postponed until the evening.

But it never came to pass. I’d got caught up in critically evaluating the samples processed throughout the day. Certain problems and their solutions sometimes  become far clearer to me when the sounds are heard at the periphery of my attention while in a state of contemplative ease. On these occasions, I’m far more alert to their textural consistency and transitions. If I’m lulled by the work, then it works. If I’m distracted, then I know something is amiss.

 

 

 

November 8, 2017

7.30 am: A communion. 8.00 am: To begin: a letter. 8.30 am: A preparation for departure. The air was keen, enlivening, heartening. Today, thereafter, my reflections were committed to a dictaphone. 8.30 am: Preparations for the the second year priming class at 10.00 am. 9.00 am: A re-routed MA Fine Art tutorial followed by administrations 10.00am: The priming demonstration:

 

10.45 am: Time for teaching prep and administrations before a peregrination to the Old College for an MA Fine Art tutorial:

Afterwards, a lunchtime consultation with the above. 2.15 pm: I’d time to set in motion several admin projects before walking the hill to the National Library of Wales for the second of our dementia working party meetings with the Commission. We seem, now, to be on point. There was a stronger sense of doability; more light and, with it, a clearer sense of mission.

5.00 pm: Back at homebase, I mopped up some of the incoming mail before making dinner. 6.00 pm: I caught up with the news headlines.

7.00 pm: I compressed my abstract for the Digital Past 2018 conference in readiness for publication. 8.30 pm had to be my cut-off time. My mind and emotions were idling. In this condition, work becomes toil and all positive affections are held in abeyance. Life out of kilter. Finally: a letter.

Dictaphonics:

He’ll be there at the meeting on Thursday.
Some things are changing – coming into focus.
I’ll send a handwritten letter.
In the past, I gave up something very precious to me. Years later it was returned, polished.
When filling the water jug for the office kettle, I always think about the theme of Aphrodite at the water-hole.
I sense a change in the tide.
From my office window, I can see the sea’s horizon .
Some feelings, like some knowledge, lie below the surface of articulation.
In a cafe window, light and shadow cast through a Venetian blind reminds me of Hopper.
Descriptive texts substituting for photographs.
Not all possibilities are possible at all times.
A commitment and a determination, even in the face of failing feeling.
Someone with whom to be totally honest.
Imagining what’s impossible momentarily breaks the spell of it’s hopelessness.

 

November 7, 2017

7.45 am: A communion. Occasionally, in my study, when my mind is tired, I hear my late mother shout ‘John!’. I ‘heard’ it again this morning. Usually, the ‘sound’ appears to emanate from the foot of the staircase leading up to the top floor of the house. It reminds me of the times, when I was young, that she’d call my name from the bottom of the stairs at home in Abertillery, to summon me from my bedroom to the dining table. It’s an auditory hallucination, no doubt. But no less consoling for that.

8.30 am: Into the ‘tamping’ rain:

The wind inverted my umbrella. The sea filled my ears with brown noise. (Wonderful!) The waves churned and agitated; the waters were inconsolable:

9.00 am: At the Old College, I began the first of three MA Fine Art tutorials. There are always contrasting experiences at this point in the degree: sudden new departures that need to be reckoned on; a loss of nerve and indecision; painfully slow progress, even after an investment of determinate hard work; and moments of crystal clear insight.

11.10 pm: Vocational Practice. The class critiqued examples of professional lecturing. 12.30 pm: An MA inquirer’s interview. This year I’m nurturing students through the year of application by setting them projects designed to confirm and extend their skills and ambitions. 1.00 pm: A time for catching up and drawing breath before I launched into the afternoon.

2.00 pm: MA Fine Art tutorials continued. Bridgette introduced me to her hand-made drawing tool. (My mind gravitated to fly fishing):

Objects finding themselves. Obliterated edges. Trying to be playful. Naked representation. The vessel/the body. ‘Should?’ ‘What do you mean? ‘And what of desire?’ Covering up/obscuration. But also confronting. What’s authentic? Excavation/burial. An energy held back in reserve. That knowledge is accessible with time and effort. Art is so full of metaphor. Hot pink. Whispering painting. Each painting – like another voice in the choir (Tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (November 7, 2017) 275-6).

4.45 pm: A brisk walk to the Old College again, as the sun began to set, for the final tutorial of the day:

6.30 pm: Back at homebase, there was much to catch up on. The hospital radio had to cancel tomorrow’s interview, so this was one preparation that I could shelve for now. However, tomorrow’s meeting with the Commission beckoned.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagement:

  • What we’ve done, are doing, and plan to do can turn out the same, if we aren’t careful. Habit of mind and action is fundamentally conservative and debilitating.
  • Sometimes (most times) it’s impossible to conceive of an artwork’s outcome in advance of the process of making. Thinking and doing as best engaged in unison.
  • One should not underestimate the fulfilment factor. A work may receive praise, be awarded a good grade, and be technically and conceptually impressive, and yet fail to fascinate you, the maker. It has to touch your heart and imagination too.
  • Don’t presume what the work should be, or how it should develop, or the way it should end up looking. It may have ideas of its own, and draw you towards a way of working and a conclusion that you couldn’t have possibly conceived at the outset.
  • Is the exceptional and unexpected work an anomaly or a breakthrough? Only the work that follows it can decide that.
  • When we begin university education, we’re apt to abandon many of the interests that kept us buoyant while in school. Perhaps it would be useful to reinvigorate some of them. After all, both you and art must be fed on something other than art alone.
  • The weaknesses and idiosyncrasies of our work and personality can sometimes be part of their charm.
  • ‘You are first a human being, then an individual, and then an art student’. This is how I’ll regard and respond to you. This is non-negotiable.
  • In art we try to resolve what we cannot reconcile in life.
  • We cannot do this on our own. No one ever has.
  • Painting is not about the length of time invested in the work but, rather the intensity of our application over time (however short).

 

November 6, 2017

7.45 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Full-throttle admin and state of the week review. There’s so much to pack in (again). Planning is half the battle; anticipating, a further quarter; and doing, the remainder.

9.00 am: Studiology. The task was to try and reconcile several alternative approaches to the Turn Table composition, without creating the proverbial dog’s dinner. First, I regularised the rhythm pulse (8-repeat base) of what would be the spine of the piece. The sample was created at the recent gallery event, and comprises the looping of the lead-in groove on one of the gospel discs. Creative wisdom is, in part, knowing what can be left out, even the really good material,  in order to allow other really good material space in which to breath. What can be left out didn’t belong there in the first place. In the end, ‘enough is enough’. For, it’s the whole rather than the parts that counts. There’s a logic to compositional structure (be it a sound work or a visual work; be it discerned rationally or intuitively) that determines the development and resolution of the whole.

10.30 am: I had something that was listenable. However, the sample that I’d evolved initially – for which all the subsequent samples were designed as adjuncts – wasn’t part of the whole any longer. Like the first stage of a Saturn V rocket, it had taken me into orbit and could, now, be jettisoned. Perhaps, I’ll deposit it, and one other groove-based sample, on my Studium site. 10.45 am: Tea time:

For the next hour, I jiggled sub sections of the samples around the beat track. There were times where the voice track needed to enter right on the beat; but, for the most part, it could ride alongside it, casually. As in life, one must know when to assert and when to back off. Dynamic and differential volumes were, then, modified to secure continuity of loudness throughout, while key moments were emphasised with discreet amplitude boosts.

12.30 pm: The sound system for Turn Table could now be dismantled:

1.00 pm: Off to School with an oat bar for lunch. Turns out that the oat bar had been dropped at some point in its lifetime. It poured from the packet onto the table like coarse sand. Talk about spoon fed. 1.45 pm: An afternoon of second-year Personal Tutorials, with a pile of admin at my elbow to undertake in the spaces created by absenteeism. I can appreciate why some don’t turn up. I’m like a GP who asks patients to visit the surgery when there’s nothing ailing them. I’m constantly astonished at the capacity of some students to overcome the deep-dyed disadvantages and traumas of their past. They deserve a medal, as well as a degree.

Throughout the afternoon, I punched my keyboard in a bid to fight off the backlog of small but pressing teaching prep and admin ‘to dos’ that had accumulated on my Post-it washing line:

5.00 pm: A consultation with the dementia project working party. We need to be more assertive about our contribution to the endeavour

5.30 pm: Home and a rummage around for dinner materials and tool. ‘Where did I put all the tea towels, and the oven glove, and washing-up liquid and …’.

6.30 pm: Back into the study for the evening (with David Bowie’s Black Star in the background):

I wrote down, for the working party, the undertakings we had agreed at this afternoon’s consultation. On, then, with choosing a shortlist of music for the radio broadcast recording on Wednesday, I wanted to address the prescription regarding ‘Christian’ music only a little more obliquely and broadly than might be anticipated:

  1. J S Bach, Choral Prelude BMV720 ‘Ein Feter Burg ist Unser Gott’.
  2. John Tavener, ‘The Lamb’
  3. John Harvey, ‘Preach to the Beat’
  4. Steve Reich, ‘It’s Gonna Rain’ [extract]
  5. Gaelic Psalm Singing: ‘Psalm 79’
  6. G F Handel, ‘Zadok the Priest’ from Solomon
  7. Philip Glass, ‘Hymn’ from Akhnaton [extract]

 

November 3, 2017

6.30 am: I could sleep no longer, and so attended to bits of admin that I was too tired to clear last night. 7.45 am: Following breakfast, a communion. 8.30 am: Further admin arising from admin completed last evening. (‘Of the making of [emails] there is no end’.) 9.15 am: Studiology.

The objective over the weekend was to complete the composition arising from the Turn Table project. Most of the elements were in place. I needed only to complete an extraction of further aggressive and tospy-turvy table turning, and to integrate that into the collage. To the decks, then:

I didn’t know what type of wall I wanted to build. But I did know what type of bricks were required. That was sufficient at the outset of the endeavour. You can only know what you know at any given time. And knowing something is better than knowing nothing. By 11.00 am, I’d nearly half an hour of useable material with which to build.

The first pass over the material involved deleting all the silly Alvin and the Chipmunks sounds resulting from manipulating the disc at too high speed. This is easily done on a disc that’s designed to rotate at only 16¾ rpm. Sounds which were too closely associated with the culture of DJ turntabling were also omitted; most of these were either predictable, cliched, or otherwise inappropriate to the tenor of the composition. I was searching for something darker and more unsettling. 12.00 pm: The studio was getting cold; on with the oil heater.

1.20 pm: I find it harder to turn order into chaos than vice versa. What I had in my ‘mind’s-ear’ was something that sounded dislocated, up-ended, and scattered … and yet remained, fundamentally, deliberate and coherent. Our life’s experience can sometimes be like that: furniture is over turned, objects fly passed our heads and smash against the wall, the carpet is pulled from beneath us, and little about us makes sense. However, behind the furore and disarray we suspect that there’s a principle at work, the pattern and shape of which will become clearer with time. We just have to endure the present and wait patiently.

2.00 pm: Once all of the ‘cards’ were on the table, I could begin to shuffle them. ‘Ah! Cards’, John. I consulted my Oblique Strategies. Advice (with a choice):

I opted for the former, and endeavoured to integrate all the extracted samples. 2.30 pm: A thought: What if I assigned the sound samples to cards, shuffled them, laid out the cards in the order in they’d been chosen at random, and assembled the samples accordingly. A chance procedure, then … just to kick things off:

I don’t believe in chance as a general principal of life. ‘Things don’t just happen’ (as the old hymn goes). I don’t consider myself an unwilling victim of the arbitrary and fortuitous, blind fate, or impersonal destiny. Such concepts don’t fit within my world view. However, as a method for non-intentional decision making, I’m all for chance. The outcome of the shuffle presented me with a linear and discontinuous set of statements. This I could work with; this I could disrupt. Thereafter, I played it by ear.

By mid afternoon, I could sense the growing darkness, as a, now, prematurely closing and overcast day entered the studio. The onset of winter has its own peculiar melancholy. I’d been asked to advertise on the School’s social media sites events to advise students on dealing with sexual harassment. I was more than happy to. The recent rash of disclosures about inappropriate contact perpetrated by male government ministers and celebrities has appalled me. Men in power are not above decency. And truly powerful men have mastery over their passions.

4.40 pm: I and one of my colleagues were booked to present a talk on blogging at 5.10 pm (the final class of the day; the graveyard shift). Karen and I did a sequential double-act.

6.00 pm: Finished. Hungry. 6.30 pm: Following dinner (quick to cook; quick to eat), I uploaded the afternoon’s teaching materials.

7.30 pm: I returned, briefly, to the turntables to generate a little more ‘noise’ in order to offset the clarity of the speech recordings (which had been captured directly from the vinyl, without digital processing):

Back, then, to sample sequences that I’d begun to assemble during the afternoon. The composition doesn’t need to be resolved; it’s only one contributor to a greater whole that has to be resolved. It was raining outside; I could hear the irregular and somewhat manic pitter-patter of raindrops falling from the troughing. The sound was both a comfort and an unwanted distraction.

 

 

November 2, 2017

6.30 am: I was awoken by distant voice – unfamiliar and yet fully known. 7.15 am: Having showered and breakfasted, I sat down to review the day before me and set my heart in order. These days, my internal landscape is constantly reconfiguring; landmarks move in and out of focus; the furthermost distances are lost in a haze; the frame at first broadens and then contracts alarmingly, and without warning; and I no longer have a sense of where due north lies. But ‘through all these changing scenes of life’ (to quote the hymn), there are constants, certainties, assurances, and reasons to be grateful. These are the days. Days I’ll always remember. Days of change (so long in coming), maturation, deepening, opening, knowing, and of being known.

To work:

9.00 am: The beginning of a long day of teaching covering third year painting, the Abstraction module, and PhD Fine Art teaching. A small still life: one needs very little from which to create something of significance:

12.10 pm: The Abstraction double-bill, once again. Into socio-historical territory for the first time. The second session looked at the module essay, followed by a discussion about where we should travel to undertake the Exhibition Report submission. The students’ financial limitations are decisive. I took lunch on the hop. (Rubbish food!)

2.00 pm: I’d half an hour respite, before blundering into third year tutorials again at 2.30 pm. 4.00 pm: Off to the Old College for a final tutorial with one of my PhD Fine Art tutees. 5.45 pm: Homeward:

6.30 pm: The Thursday diary routine, wherein I endeavour to clear the decks in preparation for a studio day tomorrow. This means addressing all incoming email and reconciling my teaching timetable (something which is become increasingly difficult to achieve).

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • T: ‘I don’t actually know what I’m doing’. J: ‘But just acknowledging that is sufficient for now. Think off yourself as being within a dark room. All you can do at the moment is bump into furniture as you establish a mental map of the interior. There’ll come a time when your hand will find the light switch’.
  • The future always emerges from the present. What you’re doing presently is unlikely to be what you’ll be doing in a year’s time. However, what you’ll go onto do is dependent on what you’re doing now. So commit yourself to the present and to the work at hand wholeheartedly, enthusiastically, and without reservation, and walk with it towards the future.
  • For every creative project that we engage, there must a game plan – a let of rules by which to play and delimit our possibilities. Without them, anything and everything is possible and, as such, nothing will happen.
  • Her middle name, in Welsh, is Grug [Heather]. That name tied her to the landscape she painted.
  • T: ‘I think of the Llyn Peninsula as being like a long arm stretching towards an apple’.
  • The motif is the fixed element in the series – like a wire hanger; each painting is like a different shirt that’s hung upon it.
  • J: ‘What are you searching for?’ ‘Would you know what it was if you saw it?’ ‘What is searching for you?’
  • Frequently, the game plan that we establish for one work can generate a variety of permutations. Realise the full potential of an idea, therefore. Make many works – all the same, yet all different.
  • The integrity of a set of works is predicated upon the integrity of the individual pieces and their shared identity.