December 21, 2017

They that sow in tears shall reap in joy (Psalm 126.5)

8.15 am: A communion. This would be the final diary entry before the Christmas vacation. My activities will continue until the close of Friday. I don’t find it easy to move from work to rest suddenly. It’s like coming to a dead stop in a car that has been moving at speed: an uncomfortable ride. A gradual deceleration is preferred. My best energies – intellectual and constitutional – are now expended. I need to stop. As the HAL 9000 computer reflected: ‘My mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it.’ (2001: A Space Odyssey). As for my soul and heart …. well … .

9.45 am: I’m now far more content (‘far less discontent’ isn’t quite the same measure) with the mix of the latest composition. Isaiah rotated on the deck in the background:

I extended what will be the first composition in the I.Nothing.Lack. suite to include repetitions (or, rather, MacMillan’s several restatements) of the phrase ‘I shall not want’. This is the King James Bible’s translation of the works’ collective title; therefore it ought to be included. There’s one composition, which involves a gradual deceleration from 0% to 200% of the minister reciting Psalm 23, that I’ve not been able to pull off. This is a classic instance in which the concept is appropriate, but its application simply doesn’t engage the ear sufficiently. Perhaps the idea is too obvious, too predictable. It lacks aesthetic surprise. ‘Let it be’, John. Some battles aren’t worth fighting. I needed to conceive the final titles for the compositions.

12.30 pm: The second and final funeral of the week at Holy Trinity Church:

By 12.45 pm, the building was full. The Old Testament reading was from Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, and verses 1 to 8:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

The longer you live, the more likely you are to observe (if not directly experience) this pattern of oscillations and oppositions. This side of the veil, these fluctuations in life’s conditions are an unalterable principle. Today it’s winter; tomorrow it’ll be spring, and so forth. We move from one to the other and back again, cyclically. At times, it may seem to us as though we are being batted, arbitrarily, between contraries. However, each change is as purposeful as it’s inevitable. We may not, however, discern the underlying rationale; life (and God) are often disconcertingly mute when it comes to explanations for the best and the worst that befall us. So, if (to use John Bunyan’s imagery) you are in the ‘Slough of Despond’ presently, lighten up. This too will pass. Likewise, if you are on the ‘Delectable Mountains’ … don’t get too comfortable. Make ready for your descent.

2.30 pm: I moved back into the study, where I began work on the text for the I. Nothing. Lack. suite, while listening to the mixdowns on my computer’s sound system. In the background, I posted an image, made during the first year of my MA Visual Art degree. It’s based upon the area at the rear of the, then, Art Department on Llanbadarn Road. (The building now houses Gorwelion.) At it’s centre is the entrance to an underground cavern that had been bored into the rock in order to house and protect artworks from enemy bombing during the World War II:

Entrance to the Strongroom (Study 2), pen, ink, watercolour, and gouache, 20.3 × 17.2 (1983)
Fragment, mixed media, 17.8 × 12.7 (1983)

7.30 pm: I picked up the text once again, while listening to Philip Glass’ opera Satyagraha (1985).

I’ve often wondered how many peers from my undergraduate and postgraduate days are still practicing, as either artists or art historians. Perpetuating a profile, however modest, is one of the most difficult challenges we face. There’s every legitimate excuse to give up. It’s distressing to hear of practitioners who have, for whatever reason, thrown in the towel. But it’s far more painful for them, because they’re giving up on themselves too. And don’t they know it. Part of them dies. They feel diminished. Some have told me as much. And there’s no substitute for what has been forsaken. So if you really don’t need to surrender your gift, then – please, please – don’t. Once the continuity has been broken, it’s even more difficult to re-establish the practice than was to maintain it.

 

December 20, 2017

Doing the right thing for the right reasons in the right spirit at the right time. That’s wisdom. But there are times when you’re not the right person to do it. That realisation requires wisdom too. The task must be entrusted to others.

8.30 am: A communion. 9.00 am: A review of my inbox: the work mail and, happily, seasonal greetings. An extract from a School of Art alumnus’ general missive:

I suppose one of the ways of coming to an understanding of one’s own ways of seeing is to consider that and those of others, or is that indeed a form of conditioning? The diary and poetic forms have always been of great interest to me. So may I recommend the following. Professor John Harvey, School of Art, Aberystwyth, Wales has had an ‘a/Academic Diary in process for some time. So I have to take his own personal way/s of looking as indeed his own way/s of seeing. It is clearly not possible for me to have any means of relating his own private/public offerings to my own, his world is not my world and vice versa. But his world and what he sees plays in some small way into my own world, but now in some smaller way, as we have in the past, now ten years ago, had some contact with one another. So something of a past history offers something of a common ground, if now very much a one-sided one, he writes and I read what he has written. 

And the diary helps me to see my life, both academically and privately, too. We each have the capacity to influence others for either better or worse. (Readers: choose your diarists wisely, therefore. Diarists: choose your words wisely, therefore.)

At this time of the year, I try to catch up myself, take stock, self-evaluate, grieve and rejoice, and remember and forget. Each year gone by is a mixed bag of personal and professional failures, victories and successes, losses and gains, insights and perplexities, folly and wisdom, vices and virtues, and – just sometimes – unexpected and bewildering happiness. (All I’m confessing to, here, is a flawed humanity.) To mature, we need both the good and the ill, the ‘weary ways’ and the ‘golden days’ (as the hymn says). It’s not experiences that define and distinguish us, but, rather, our response to them.

I continued updating my personal website. The task always takes far longer than I anticipate. There were also completed projects to organise and put to bed. I like to keep a tidy screen desktop. Thumbnail furniture had to be generated for several website pages where the list of activities had now become extended. This was tiresome work. Not all tasks can be made interesting. In the background, I launched several examples of ‘My Art History’, taken from my foundation and second year undergraduate studies. In some respects, I don’t feel that I’ve moved so far away from them.

Following lunch, I walked via the School to town. Wall memorial:

I’d hoped to be in and out of the area in under an hour. Pharmaceuticalisms prevailed. A, now, week-long discussion between Boots, my surgery, and myself finally resolved the delayed repeat prescription debacle. It’s astonishing how a supposedly automated system can fail so badly and often. Homeward:

3.15 pm: On with the website update, until it was completed:

7.30 pm: Studiology. I listened to the composition that I’d addressed yesterday. I’d heard it so many times now; my objectivity was diminishing. The last mixdown was too aggressive; I’d over-compressed one of the tracks, and squeezed out some of the virtue in so doing. The composition had been overcooked. I reinstated a previous, uncompressed, version … and the air began to move again. Thereafter, I mapped the amplitude contours from the old to the new sample. Jeremiah was off the deck. Isaiah was installed.

December 19, 2017

8.15 am: A communion. It’s not given to us to understand all things at all times. More often than not, we have to be content with witnessing only the stirrings on the surface of the water. And what’s apparent may not be decisive. Beneath, there’s an undertow that moves in the contrary direction to the surface current – a return flow that compensates for, rather than contradicts, what’s evident: ‘Judge not according to appearance’. Any sailor worth their salt would say ‘Amen!’ to that. Therefore, we ought not to be too discouraged when things appear go wrong and, likewise, too optimistic when things seem to go right. Few things in life are straightforward. And in that there’s hope.

Yesterday evening’s glorious sunset gave way to an unalloyed and uneventful greyness and faint rain today – appropriate for the day of a funeral:

9.00 am: I listened again to the composition that I’d worked on yesterday, as Jeremiah was digitised in the background. Small adjustments were made to the stereo field, and to the volume and apparent loudness of levels within and between tracks. The introduction was too abrupt. There needed to be as quiet a passage at the beginning, as there was at the end. These passages represent (not a word I’m entirely comfortable with), in the context of dementia, moments of calm and lucidity in between bouts of angry disorientation. 12.00 pm: I mixed down the composition for review later in the day. How do I package and release this suite of compositions? I’m reluctant to include it on The Talking Bible, The Aural Bible III, album because the source material doesn’t derive from the Scourby recordings. The suite may need to be presented as a discrete, small, and streamable album under the Royal Commission’s banner.

12.30 pm: I walked to Holy Trinity Church for the first of two funerals this week, each for one of our members:

Eulogies reveal a richness, uniqueness, and complexity to people whom you thought you knew, but clearly didn’t. There was a considerable turnout. One measure of a person’s good character is the number of people who still hold them in their affections after they’ve gone. Most loved are often those who loved most.

2.30 pm: I reviewed the morning’s work and the ‘Bartimaeus’ [working title] track from the developing The Talking Bible set. This track works effortlessly as the spoken word alone. It requires no addition. The only other composition that has succeeded as economically is ‘Double Talk’, from The Bible in Translation album. I returned to the morning’s composition armed with a strategy for further simplification and clarification (which is always the outcome of the former):

7.30 pm: My website needed updating. Some Petula Clark in the background. There’s a certain melancholic frame of mind that finds solace only in love songs from the 1960s – the music that played on Rediffusion radio when I played in front of the fire as a child. Since Mr and Mrs Fripp had sent me their Christmas greetings today, I played his and Brian Eno’s ‘An Index of Metals’ (1975) to close the evening.

 

December 18, 2017

The weekend. The missing pieces had been broken. (A metaphor.):

The Harvey household tree was set up in record time.

After the recent redecoration of part of the house, familiar trophies of past experience were reinstalled – including the ‘miraculous’ horse chestnuts (December 14, 2015):

8.10 am: A communion. 8.45 am: A began a letter that I may never send. (I wrote it to myself, in the first instance, in order to exorcise a dilemma.)  My battle to prevent email spam (which escalates at this time of the year) from entering my private mail account ended as a Pyrrhic victory. I’ve now closed the account.* Sometimes, to destroy something is the best and only response one can make. (A metaphor.)

By mid-morning I was back in the studio and into the 60-piece dislocation that I’d made Friday evening. Mercilessly, I cut into the ‘chaos’ composition, inserting fragments of the reordered text along the way. The initial draft revisions sounded far better than their component parts. That was a good beginning.

4.30 pm: Sundown:

Is ‘Yeh, yeh, yeh!’ the new ‘Absolutely!’? Where has this response (at one and the same time emphatic and impatient) come from? I hear it everywhere … catch myself slipping into it. We’re so prone to conformity: ‘Let your … yea be yea; Nay, nay’.

7.15 pm: I listened to the composition through headphones and tightened the whole. This was as good as the idea could get. Optimised. I could do no more. It was off the bench. In the background, the digital transfer of the vinyls for the book of Ruth to the close of 2 Samuel was completed. I’m now set to embark upon the final volume of the Scourby recordings.

*My ‘johnharvey@hotmail.com’ account was closed on November 30, 2017. Any friends who wish to contact me on my alternative private account should notify me via either FaceBook or my university email address.

December 15, 2017

9.00 am: Can’t get warm! Some wearisome admin to dispatch before orientating my mind studioward. Oh! New cables! (I’m too excitable.) I reviewed the Bethel compositions with an ear to quality control. Am I fully persuaded? What jars? What doesn’t fit? What fails to impress? Why does a particular work fall short of the best that I’ve done? And what, then, are the attributes of my best work? After some technical manoeuvring with microphones and channel routing on the digital interface (all necessary extensions of the knowledge base), I got down to something creative: pairing back, shrinking, and allowing sounds to do their work unadulterated.

11.00 am: The ‘chaos’ composition had to be undone before it could be reconceived in simpler terms. The making of art is not for the squeamish. On with the cans, for a closer scrutiny. In the background, the Esther to Job discs were being digitised. I’m aiming to complete the whole Bible by the end of the Christmas vacation. Once the whole composition had been reconfigured, I worked my way backwards from its end to the beginning, optimising each component sample along the way. (An artwork need not be the best you’ve ever made, but it must be the best it can be.) As a result, the whole was made more brutal and confrontational.

Thereafter, I reviewed the ‘Psalm 23 collage’ [identifying title] ‘musicality’ [identifying title], and ‘Intervals’ compositions.

2.00 pm: Its useful to play compositions that were designed to be a part of a suite in different orders relative to one another. That way, I’m able to hear the connecting tissue that binds them together (or not, as the case may be). I made a compressed version of the ‘chaos’ mix in order to push its aggressiveness to an audible limit, and to enhance its presence over all. I wasn’t sure of the outcome … which I always consider to be an intriguing and challenged response. The work may now be at the boundary of my aesthetic. One should sometimes venture to the edge of the known world.

Sundown:

I cut the ‘Psalm 23 collage’ to the first line only: ‘The Lord is my shepherd’. This was an example of radical action. There’re few things sweeter than succinctness. Emboldened by the result, I vowed that nothing that was good– as opposed to either very good or excellent – was safe from the chop. ‘Good’ is rarely good enough.

7.30 pm: I completed the intercessions for Sunday morning’s Holy Communion service. Then, I took the MacMillan’s 1-minute read reading of Psalm 23 and cut it up into sixty 1-second segments. This enabled me to reconfigure or disrupt sense into a discontinuous ‘nonsense’. I drew the order from sixty numbered playing cards, and assembled the fragments in their new relations on the editing software:

9.45 pm: Cease!

 

 

 

December 14, 2017

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: The wind bit and chaffed en route to the School. 9.00 am: My final day of teaching for the term. I was, by now, scraping the bottom of the barrel for last reserves of energy. Focus, determination, and a critical/supportive outlook were the watchwords for the day.

One small part of a painting contains the stylistic coding for the whole:

9.00 am: The beginning of the last day of third-year painting tutorials. We’ll meet again at the end of semester feedback/assessment tutorial. Therefore, it was imperative to determine a doable course of action for the period from now until then.

11.30 am: I made preparations for the final Abstraction lecture, which looked at the resurgence of abstract painting during the late 1970s to the present day. A number of our third year and postgraduate painters are part of that revival. My love of Lemsip remains unabated. 12.10 pm: The end:

In the current climate of HE job security, I don’t assume that I’ll necessarily present this module again.

1.10 pm: A Management Meeting (Fine Art). 2.10 pm: A cobbled-together lunch comprising things I ought not to have been eating. 2.30 pm: I engaged a further third year tutorial before returning to teaching and research admin. 5.00 pm: A final walk around the studios:

6.30 pm: The annual staff Christmas dinner at the putatively haunted Tynllidiart Arms. I will always feel privileged to have been counted among theses fine ‘fellows’:

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • When you begin writing a diary, you start to live your life more self-consciously — with a view to it being written up.
  • You need to keep on doing something for quite a while before headway is made. Don’t give up too soon.
  • Ideas on the periphery of your thought have a habit of drifting into the centre of operations eventually. Therefore, look to the margins.
  • And, always look at what you’ve left behind.
  • To self: ‘Don’t give away too many ideas; don’t answer your own questions’.
  • Look beyond self, to politics, world events, culture in its broadest sense, and systems of belief.
  • The clearer you understand what you’ve done, the clear you’ll see what you have to do.
  • The ‘transitory point’: Where you become conscious of moving from one way of thinking to another.
  • The source material for an abstract work may derive from something observed. However, the work itself need not necessarily be about it. It has an independent life.

 

December 13, 2017

8.00 am: A communion. Thereafter, it was onto the drizzled streets towards Old College for three MA fine art tutorials. The university was beginning to wind down.

West Classroom: an informal painting:

10.45 am: I had time to window shop and catch up on emails and messages before my 12.00 pm emergency dental appointment. I took refuge from the rain in a café that I’d never before patronised. I’ve sent many students to draw there in the past:

11.45 am: I was at the dentists to await emergency dental treatment on my ailing back tooth. I receive refill, with the possibility of gold cap to finalise the reparations in the Spring:

1.30 pm: The first of two PhD Fine Art tutorials this afternoon. The students represented entirely contrasting worlds. Variety is one of the joys of research-degree teaching. There’s also a richness in witnessing them discover a sense about their lives and themselves that would not be disclosed other than through art.

5.20 pm: Homeward. 7.00 pm: My other life: Holy Trinity Church Committee.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • While we may not fully understand what are our intentions are at the outset of a project, it’s incumbent upon us to know them by the end.
  • When you get lost in art (as in life), retrace your steps to the point where you know that you still knew the way.
  • Art is made within the nexus of our lives. Thus, when we are made tired, downcast, despondent, and distracted by the broader context of our experience, the art suffers in sympathy. It cannot be insulated. Therefore, be kind to yourself and realistic.
  • It’s when you return to the point in your work from which you first embarked that you begin to realise what is was all about, and where you should go next.
  • Suffering can produce either a positive or a negative response, either good or bad fruit. The choice is yours.
  • In the absence of suffering, we live paper-thin lives.
  • Choose your problems wisely. Consider only those that you feel likely to overcome (albeit with great difficulty) and be of benefit to either you or others.

December 12, 2017

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Just keeping a breast of medical affairs is becoming a major project. I’m far more aware of having to push, advocate, and making connections between the NHS, GPs, and specialists than I did just two years ago. It’s too easy to get lost in the system. Flares have to be fired periodically. The structures (as distinct from those that work within them) of care are failing. Structures cannot dispose love and attention. Only people can. However, inefficient structures can prevent medical professionals from doing their job effectively. Structures that are fit for purpose arise out of the needs of people, and the capacity and resources professionals to meet them. Too often, today, structures are developed independently of, and imposed upon, such. Impossible demands arise as a result.

9.00 am: Teaching and research admin were the priority of the morning. I began my annual stocktake of research outputs in preparation for a forthcoming review. (Why do I feel as though I’m looking down the barrel of a gun on these occasions?) Occasionally, I’ve been posting reproductions of visual work, made quite awhile ago in some cases,  as a series entitled ‘My Art History’, on FaceBook. For me, this is a further mode of stocktaking on a broader temporal scale.The most recent publications are of drawings made, direct from life, through the windows of wherever I was living at the time. Today, I’d not be able to justify this type of practice as ‘research’ in the manner in which HE defines that term. ‘Just’ drawing would not be conceived as evidencing sufficient intellectual endeavour in relation to a definable problematic or inquiry:

Caradoc Road: Two Houses, Aberystwyth (1988), 39.9 × 38, pencil on paper

1.30 pm: Off to the School:

And down the Soddy Laboratory’s corridor to meet with my first MA tutee of the afternoon:

2.40 pm: Off, then to the Old College for my second MA tutorial. An apparition on Pier Street:

4.50 pm: Homeward.

6.30 pm: Practice session. 7.30 pm: Admin followed by a return to my research profiles, where I’d left off during the morning session.

On reflection: There are times when our work drags us around a corner when we’re looking in another direction. It can come as quite a surprise. There we were, thinking about going over there, but are now … over here. But ‘here’ feels right … as though we belong, as though we’d been here before. Two case studies: In the first, the ‘here’ represented a more abstract and, apparently, non-intentional version of work made to date; in the second, the ‘here’ represented a figurative and observed version of work made to date. In both cases, the artists are required to integrate the ‘here’ with what has been. Often this is a natural rather than a forced fusion that occurs in time: the gradual assimilation of, and adaptation to, the one by the other.

December 11, 2017

Over the weekend, a filling in my lower back tooth had ruptured, as the result of biting on an ice cube I suspect. 9.00 am: I initiated a request for an emergency appointment. My university junk mail problem has been cured. For some reason, pretty much everyone was being deposited there. (A good, if delusional, way of culling an inbox.) So much spam from shopping outlets to insurance offers clutters my junk-mail folder. Unfortunately, I’m at the mercy of the university server’s filter. Now, at least, I can delete the whole folder at the end of each day without having to look at the contents.

On with administrations. This is going to be a corker of a week. 10.30 pm: Off to the School in an enlivening air …

… for a School of Art Management Committee on Art History.

2.00 pm: Into the studio and back to The Bible in Translation. I’d got as far as I and II Chronicles in respect to the analogue to data transfer from vinyl. I continued with I and II Kings. This process has already taken an age. But it happens in the background to my activities. In the foreground, I returned to the ‘chaos’ composition and added small samples of the overlaid sermon section, which I’d rejected from the composition last week. Sometimes exclusions return, but on an entirely different basis:

Mid afternoon, as the sun set behind the grey clouds, seaward, I moved onto the ‘musicality’ [identifying title] composition to adjust the EQ of the backing track. The ‘Psalm 23 collage’ [identifying title] was next in the frame. I aligned the original studio capture with the reverberant recording made at Bethel chapel. I was edging towards something. It is was the faintest sense of a potentiality already lay within the composition.

7.30 pm: I implemented my instincts.

 

 

December 8, 2017

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: The Blackboard and TurnItIn sites on the university server weren’t functioning. They were either undergoing maintenance or else seasonally affected. (The strong Artic winds had buffeted the house all night. A patch of cold air beneath my study desk and around my knees remained a constant, no matter how warm the room grew.)

9.00 am: Studiology. I reviewed the ‘chaotic’ [identifying title] composition where I’d left off on Monday. The stereo fields of the samples comprising the session needed to be broader. I also paired back and economised without compromise. Away with superfluities. There’re no redundant cogs in a mechanical clock. 10.00 am: I approached the recording, which I’d made inside Bethel, of sounds coming from the outside interacting with the interior ambience. Similar sounds were evident on the original cassette-tape recordings: cars, pedestrians, doors banging etc. My recording, made with a sophisticated and sensitive technology, captured far more than was picked up on the preacher’s microphone back then.

11.30 am: How short can I make the composition? There’s an economy of size, too, to be considered, in other words. My penchant is for succinctness.

12.30: Kitted up with many layers, I headed for Holy Trinity Church where I’d lead the first in the series of Advent Light [extract] services:

The dreadful weather had kept many away (a useful conceit to offset the possibility that I may have been the reason for the low turnout). The Advent services last only half-an-hour. They offer the ‘un-churched’ community a bite-size taste of Christianity, and the faithful – a brief period of respite and reflection during the working day. Some city churches provide this opportunity on a daily basis. Wonderful!

1.30 pm: Cuppa-soup in hand, I returned to the mix and reviewed the morning’s work. The external sound meshed well within the existing framework of the composition. I completed a ‘proof’ mixdown, so that could play it on sound systems other than the desk monitors. (This is my usual policy). I then reviewed and made adjustments to several other pieces in the light of my experience of playing them at Bethel.

6.15 pm: I listened closely to suite of pieces as they were resolving. I suspect that there’ll be four compositions in all. There’re moments in this process when the work catches me off guard. I hear its virtue all of a sudden. (It’s rather like that experience of accidentally catching a painting you’ve made out of the corner of your eye.) And in that moment, I heard also their deficits as clearly, and with that the remedy. A blessing indeed.

Soli Deo gloria