November 1, 2017

8.00 am: A communion and a reaffirmation of mutual commitment. 8.30 am: Life is curiously vitalised, presently  – like a blessing bestowed; like an immersion in a soothing warm bath after a cold day. I would not have dreamt that such days were still possible. 9.00 am: I and my PhD Fine Art tutee and her other supervisor, Professor Cruise, met on the steps of the School like anxious parents anticipating a new delivery. Today was the student’s viva voce. 9.15 am: As the External Examiner began his tour of the gallery, where the student’s work was hung, I finalised my preparations for the day ahead and chipped away at admin and preparations for tomorrow’s tutorials.

9.50 am: I wrote to a ‘sister’, to the effect:

There’s a particular grace that attends suffering, and only suffering. And in that grace there’s hope (even in the face of what appears impossible to bear and expect, humanly speaking). And, with those things, comes the experience of enabling and support. And, because of those things, there’s great joy and thanksgiving.

10.15 am: I received a ‘wrong number’ call from a woman who had manually, rather than speed, dialled her mother. A very human error. We laughed together. I didn’t ask who she was, and she never knew my identity either. Some ‘chance’ encounters do not extend beyond the moment, while others stretch into eternity. I needed to finalise a field-trip destination for those on my Abstraction module. London is a possibility (setting out at 5.30 am and returning at 11.30 pm). Quite a hike! Cardiff is also on the horizon, and more realistic.

11.25 pm: Outwards and upwards: my return to the National Library of Wales. Evidenly, I’d arrived already:

I met again with the audio-visual technician to check over the system. (Gremlins often come at night; it’s a well-established fact.) Afterwards, I was given a ‘free lunch’ (there is such a thing) at the Library’s restaurant – a light salad. (I don’t operate well on a heavy lunch.)

1.15 pm: Kick off!:

A reasonable number had dared act upon their curiosity. I made no bones about how difficult this work would be to explain and receive. Baring a few minor muffs caused by my congestion, the delivery (orally, visually, and acoustically) went reasonably well. Public speaking is always a self-education. The more familiar you are with the context of delivery, the more proficient the dispatch. This was only my second endeavour at Y Drwm’s lectern.  I need to believe more in the audience’s willingness to accept. The informal comments I received afterwards were very encouraging. I hadn’t lost them, or mired them in tecky-talk, or frightened them witless with all my ‘sound and fury’. A number even bought the CD from ‘the little shop’ in the Library. By the close of the hour, I was spent out.

My host took me for a cup of tea (I looked the type, obviously) afterwards. She’d been so helpful throughout the process, as have all the staff involved in this project. 2.30 pm: I stayed at the restaurant to pick up, and respond to, emails, and catch up on news from beyond the building. My PhD Fine Art student had passed their viva voce with flying colours. I was everywhere … and very self conscious:

3.30 pm: Another meeting with the Royal Commission related to the dementia project. Our objective, today, was to firm up a set of project initiatives that would be the basis of our workshops on 22 November, and to look at some of the representative artefacts in the Commission’s archive:

4.30 pm: Homeward. Aberystwyth’s evenings will be at their best for the next few months:

I caught up further with the world that had taken place in my absence. 5.30 pm: To dinner. I lay down afterwards on the settee in the lounge and lost two hours – Morpheus had prevailed over me. In a dream, I heard the noise of an unbalanced and irate man outside my house railing against me for some perceived affront (undisclosed). I knew that I had to confront him, armed and prepared. Then, I awoke … feeling unusually hungry. Breakfast cereal was called for.

Late evening, I listened to my lunchtime efforts, while preparing for tomorrow’s classes. It always surprises me how many ‘muffs’ can be made while reading a verbatim script. And these are often made towards of the lecture, as one begins to ‘race’ to the finishing line in the realisation that time is running out. Maybe no one in the audience noticed; I doubt if any remembered them. There’s so much one can learn from even small and inconsequential errors. But, today, I wasn’t firing on all cylinders; the cold was still very much active.

10.30 pm: Time up!


October 31, 2017

Lucas Cranach, the elder, Martin Luther as a Monk (1546)
(courtesy of Wikicommons)

500 years ago today, a radical university professor published his theses (all 95 of them) by ‘nailing’ them to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg. (This was a performative act.) He wanted to reform his church and challenge its leaders to put their house in order, in accordance with principles and practices given in the Bible. He had a great number of disputations. But undoubtedly his chief grievance was this: that the church had developed an erroneous view of the means of salvation. Martin Luther (1483–1546) rediscovered one of the key principles of New Testament theology: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any … should boast (Ephesians 2.8–9). In other words, salvation could not be either bought, or earned, or deserved, or disposed by Church leaders. No one would ever be good enough to merit it. And, by the same token, no one would ever be so bad as to be excluded from it. Salvation was free (because Christ had paid for it with his life). But salvation wasn’t either automatic or universal. It had to be received by the individual from God, through faith (which God would also freely give to anyone who asked). 

9.00 am: A quick runaround to the Post Office. (Instinctively, I still go to the former site of the company first.) 9.30 am: Back at homebase, I pushed on with the ‘Sounds of Sinai’ paper, having postponed my classes in order to preserve my voice against the onslaught of a sore throat and cough. ‘Keep warm; keep wet; keep pace, John!’

1.00 pm: Following an early lunch, I finalised the PowerPoint and began marking up my final text in a manner that’s reminiscent of the way Anglican chants, psalms, and canticles are presented in certain versions of The Book of Common Prayer: a spate of forward slashes.

Mid-afternoon, I took to the hill for the National Library of Wales:

There, I met a technician to conduct a sound and vision check at Y Drwm in preparation for tomorrow’s talk. I’m a control freak only in relation to my own work. In every other aspect of life, I’m open to negotiation and creative compromise. The only thing worse than having to deal with a ‘hum’ in my own sound systems is having to cope with one, without a hope of a cure, in someone else’s. He and I (croakily) persevered, rerouting the output from my laptop from the front of house PA to the behind screen cinema-sound system. That mitigated the gremlin considerably. I can live with it … I can live with it … I really can!:

5.30 pm: On my return, I completed the last pages of mark up, belted down an above average moussaka, showered, and returned to work. (I was still in catch-up mode.) By 7.45 pm, I was a ready as I could be to face down a backlog of emails.  (Some Beatles in the background and a little Instagram-gratification in parallel.)

At certain times in my life, I’ve longed to talk things over with my parents. But they’ve long passed beyond earshot. In their last years, I came to count each of them among my best friends. Dad was a great listener, and gave sage and eminently doable advice. Very workman-like.  Mam knew me better than I knew myself, and she knew that she did. Even when I presented her with a problem that had arisen from some calamitous decision that I’d made (and there were many), she offered sympathy and a way through the problem. I was an only child; their only and best shot at the future. They were committed to me, even when I’d behaved like an idiot. This was an example of grace, too. It was one that I vowed to follow. This was the last photograph I took of them together:






October 30, 2017

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid (The Book of Common Prayer)

Sunday. I pray this line at the beginning of every service of Holy Communion. Sometimes, to my shame, I say it too familiarly; at other times, fearfully (He sees the wrongs that I’ve concealed); but on these last few Sundays, I’ve taken hold on the text firmly, and with a clean heart. Or, rather, it has taken hold on me. How wonderfully consoling to be so completely naked and transparent before someone who cares deeply, unconditionally, and meticulously about your feelings, wants, and needs; someone who has the power to intervene and change anything that’s missing from, or out of kilter in, your life. This is God the good parent raised to the power of infinity.

Sky blue, temperate air, badly-fitting trainers: a run, nevertheless. I’ve an established path from my house, onto Llanbadarn Road, through the churchyard, taking the return road on the opposite side of the village, passed the Sports Centre, parallel to and then through the Municipal Cemetery (I always walk through it; to run seems disrespectful), back along Llanbadarn Road, and home again. Everything looked the same as it did last week; but everything felt entirely different. Today, I ran with the ‘wind’ behind me and the ‘sunlight’ before me.

Today. 7.00 am: New dawn; renewed optimism:

8.00 am: A communion. 9.00 am: Bibs and bobs of residual admin hanging over from last week needed to be squelched. I’m still on catch-up, and have a sore throat and cough developing, likely or not caught on the train back from Shrewsbury. (There ought to be ‘viral zones’, like ‘quiet zones’, on trains, in which to corral the sick and infectious.) More little Post-its under my screen. (Sounds like a line from a Max Bygraves ditty.)

10.15 am: I edged back to Saturday’s project: the completion of the script and PowerPoint for Wednesday’s talk at the National Library of Wales:

A public audience is an entirely different animal to an assembly at an academic conference. In writing a text for the former, I moderate the use of specialised words (or else take time to explain them). The density of the text is also mitigated. This isn’t a matter of dumbing-down the content; rather, ideas are given more space and explanation, and complications are unpacked and parcelled out in smaller and more immediately comprehensible pieces. My ambition is to communicate (to make intelligible) clearly a composition that’s demanding to hear and difficult to assimilate. Once a work goes public, its effect upon the listener is beyond my control. Some audients will deplore it, others will remain indifferent, and yet others will receive it enthusiastically. Very rarely, the work may act powerfully upon a person, and in ways that I’d not envisaged. (In such cases, I hazard, the work has been prepared for them, and they for the work, by a power that lies outside of both.)

1.45 pm: Post lunch and a return from town (lozenge laden), I continued with ‘The Sounds of Sinai’. The closing section needed finalising. I wanted end the talk by playing one whole scene – the ninth.

6.30 pm: Solo dinners are fast food. During the evening, I tested the integrity of the PowerPoint’s embedded sound files and rehearsed the time of the piece from beginning to end. Looking good, for now. I’ll do the same again tomorrow morning. 9.30 pm: I bathed in sonorities before bed. A hot water bottle, hot milk, and a scholarly journal were mandatory tonight. Life doesn’t get more anymore exciting than that, does it:


October 23, 2017

Don’t interrupt the sorrow (Joni Mitchell, The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975))

Sunday. I’ve entered a phase of waking from dreams with female song songwriters counselling me in my ear. Who could complain? Mitchell, at her best, was as good as Dylan at his, in my opinion. I was given a cassette-tape of her The Hissing of Summer Lawns in the year that it was released; the previous owner had hated it. Much of my teenage music education was resourced by other people’s rejects. I’m so grateful for their poor taste and limited outlook in this department of life.

Mid afternoon, between rain showers, I went for a jog to and from Llanbadarn Village, via the church. It’s one of the few Anglican churches in the area that remains open all week. A place of solace, wherein to draw breath and exhale prayer:

My return home was via the cemetery, so that I could pay my respects to Eifion Gwynne, who died a year ago this Sunday as a result of a tragic car accident. His wife bears an irrevocable loss that’s far my beyond reckoning. They were married and remained lovers to the end:

Today.  8.15 am: ‘A Letter’. ‘A Response’. Some things are far, far more important than art. From my studio window, I could discern a small patch of blue sky on the horizon, somewhere far out at sea. There’s always blue sky above the dark clouds. That’s one of the most remarkable realisations you experience on flying for the first time. The metaphors proliferate. It’s all a question of perspective – where you’re looking from. God is both above and below the cloud line. He refused to remain in the realms of pristine white, sun-soaked cumulousness. He came down, dirtied his hand, and got stuck in with us as one of us. That’s why he can ’empathize with our weaknesses’. Who’d worship a God that always kept their distance?

10.00 am: I’ve a busy week ahead. Tutorials need to be compressed into fewer days, so that I can can be ‘out of office’ from Thursday to Friday at another university, serving as an external examiner at a PhD viva. 11.30 am: I edged back into the studio and towards the Turn Table project.

1.30 pm: I tested the system: silence. ‘Useful to plug in the monitor speakers. John!’ Oh, yeah! I was off:

The objective was to create the sounds of a tumult, to suggest the overturning of the tables. I wasn’t prepared to upturn my own turntables. (But I know sound artists who are.) Mine are punishingly heavy. But I can get pretty aggressiveness with a disc and a tone arm. So, no problem. However, control is everything.

7.30 pm: Some tedious but necessary admin needed to be prepared in advance of my travels on Thursday.


A short season of diary sabbatical.




October 21, 2017

9.10 am: The great French mine artist Marcel Marceau, as part of his stage routine, (‘pretended’ is the wrong word) made one believe that he was walking against a strong wind. ‘I can do this too’, I thought, as my body pushed in the direction of town through a resistant invisible force that parted before me like a reluctant Red Sea. My appointment was with ‘Dickie Snips’ (as he’s known at the art school), the hairdresser. 10.00 am: Afterwards, I pressed down Terrace Road towards the Promenade, which was now cordoned off by the Police. The town had experienced a tidal surge overnight. High-tide had hit around 9.30 am. This was the storm at its worst. Such noise and ferocity. I and everyone else who was watching – admiringly, respectfully – had a choice, as we were buffeted and tottered on our heels. We could either turn away and seek shelter, or else face it down in the realisation that, however uncomfortable and frightening it felt to stand against the tummolt, the storm made us feel more alive:

10.15 pm: At my desk to sift through incoming mail and its implications. 10.40 am: I returned to the mix of the ‘covert’ project, and began preparing a final mixdown for upload to my sound site:

This composition will not be publicly accessible yet. For various reasons, it may never be.  On this occasion, the title came at the every end of the process of composition. I was searching for something that both reflected the referents evoked by the painting and captured an autobiographical moment. The finished work came from a place that I’d not accessed before. I suspect that’s because the door had never before been opened. Until recently, neither I nor anyone else that I’d known had the key. I’ve never made anything that so powerfully and precisely articulated a state of heart and mind. This is not, in itself, an indication of quality, but, rather, of deep, personal significance. (One ought never to confuse the two.)

1.40 pm: The house was punched by gusts of strong wind. The rain upon the studio’s Velux window sounded curiously like those gritty and annoying digital artefacts that can enter into a mix. At times, I wasn’t sure whether it was the weather or the composition that was causing them. Somehow, I persuaded myself that the noise emanating from my far right and above my ear line was, instead, coming out of the monitors in front of me.  (The power of self-delusion: confusing expectation with reality.) I remember, once, getting rather vexed (to put it politely) trying to locate the source of a ‘hum’ that was bugging my guitar amplifier and pedalboard rig. When I, after a fruitless hour of cable changing, pedal swapping, mains checking, and pickup pondering, turned off the gear, I could hear the drone of a vacuum cleaner that one of my son’s was wielding outside my studio door. (The source of a problem may not always be intrinsic to the field of action. A lesson for life.)

2.30 pm: Back to the Turn Table material. I’ll break into piece again on Monday. Mid afternoon. 3.45 pm: My elder son returned and a late birthday celebration began. Time out, for now.

‘Moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain’ (Roy Batty, Blade Runner (1982)):

An aside: Stories of surrender:



October 20, 2017

Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him (Job 13.15)

8.15 am: A communion. 9.00 am: I returned to the ‘covert’ project that I’d last picked up early Monday morning, as Storm Ophelia followed my train to Shrewsbury. (Compartmental leakage: I view those brooding and heavy clouds very differently now: they were a portent which, then, was inconceivable to interpret darkly, against the background of welcomed confession, openness, and mutual resolutions and commitments, come what may.) In parallel, I unpacked the Turn Table equipment that I’d deployed at Saturday’s event, and re-established the sound system on one of the studio tables:

I needed, first, to review the material that I’d produced at the event. There were some acceptable, and possibly useable, outcomes, if my memory served me.

11.00 am: The first phase of the ‘covert’ project’s composition involved converting the source (a digital image of an abstract painting) into a sound output. From this, useable material was extracted with which to develop a baseline drone. By this means, the visual artist and their work would make an direct contribution to the whole, albeit under my oversight. As such, the composition would be not only a sonic response to the painting but also a sonification of the painting. The graphic representation of the painting-as-sound generated some satisfying results too:

1.30 pm: After lunch, I continued processing the sound files, filling out their sonorities and superimposing  them, in acknowledgement of the manner in which the artist had overlaid the thin veils of pigment. Even at this early stage of conception and execution, the results were arresting – sober, moving, and reassuring, just like the painting. I endeavoured to take my tune (quite literally) from the artwork. In so doing, I was able to see it afresh, through the sound. In other words, I was now listening to the painting, rather than merely looking at it. 2.15 pm: I created a mixdown of the drone section.

I’ve determined to be very decided about this composition; once a section or layer was optimised, I’d commit to it, without revision. This was a ‘labour of love’, in the profoundest sense of that phrase (Hebrews 6.10). But it’s one that drew heavily upon my emotional reserves. Already, I can hear the yearning, the questioning, and the exhaustion. (These attributes have nothing to do with the painting’s content, and everything to do with me.) Once the sonic translations of the painting had been fully incorporated, I planned to work on the guitar parts. However, there was nothing to suggest that an additional sound source was required.

Out of curiosity, I imported a RAW file format of the drone derived from the original painting into Photoshop. Once again, the result was immediately satisfying, and contrary to expectations:

3.30 pm: ‘Quit while you’re ahead’, John. This was a good time to set aside the project for the time being, and move to the Turn Table files. There were two ‘goers’ that were worth pursuing further. Their repeat pattern had to be rationalised and regularised. The number of iterations of each loop throughout was ad hoc. Today, I’ve worked against my inner regulations; these being something like: find multiples, such as 1o, 15, 20, etc.) Instead, I’ve engaged my ear and intuition far more. Things in life have changed for me, in evident, covert, significant, and subtle ways. Art follows suit, inevitably.

7.45 pm: I completed the Lucan rendering of the narrative of Christ cleansing the temple. The passage of overlays is now balanced, and produces a compelling texture. But at the heart of the account is an act of violent despoliation and physical ejection. These elements need to be honoured in the sonification of the text. More to be done, therefore.

I returned to the ‘covert’ project. I’d been looking forward to hearing it again since this afternoon. That’s always a good sign. On my return, I was struck by how complete the drones sounded already. A feeling or mood had been nailed. As it stood, the piece was not about the structure of the painting, as I’d planned. Rather, it referred to the image’s stasis and presence, and its evocation of something utterly remarkable. There were layers of small modulations in tone and harmony. Superficially, they seemed not to be changing. But when I gave it my full attention, I realised that they constantly moving within themselves (like Jupiter’s gyrating storm). My goodness, this piece ached. It was almost unbearable to hear, presently. A heart laid bare. The composition’s immediate predecessor were my TestDrones (2015):

So, at the close of the evening I was on the horns of a dilemma: to either hold fast to the principle of sufficiency or else press towards the original vision/audition. The present solution felt right.

11.00 pm: I made a first draft of the final mix for the composition. I did so in a darkened room. However, what I needed to do was evident, and the composition – filled with a light and yearning.

An aside: On this day:






October 19, 2017

Courtesy of Wikicommons

Compartmental leakage: There’s a storm on Jupiter known as the ‘Great Red Spot’. It was first observed in 1665 and still rages on.  The storm shows no signs of abating, because there’s no planetary surface friction to slow it down. It could go on for centuries – locked in a perpetual internal turbulent crisis that it cannot, of itself, resolve.

8.00 am: A communion with silence. 8.30 am: Preparations for the day’s teaching. This would be a long day, one that would require a herculean effort to keep in focus. 9.00 am: The beginning of my schedule of third-year painting:

A solution is rarely self-evident. Rather, it’s hard won. You’ll need to have patience among the tools in your paint box as you wait for it to arrive. Make something designedly dreadful – a ‘bad’ painting with a good intent. Rarely is a complex problem solved by a complex solution. What are you looking for? What are you not looking for? Whatever you did in the past may not necessarily be at an end. Some of the most important ideas may emerge, in a modest way, at the beginning of our training in painting, and resurface, periodically, much later. ‘Don’t despise the day of small things’. (Tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (October 19, 2017) 270-1).

11.30 am: I undertook administrations, and set up for the double Abstraction lecture at 12.10 pm. We’re now at the beginnings of Late-Modernism in the USA. There are times, and today was one, when the mind and the heart were in two entirely different places. I entered the lecture theatre as two conflicting persons, essentially. At such times, one has to descend far deeper into the well of inner resource. I’ve not been down there either very often or for a long time. From it, it’s possible to draw-forth waters of a thicker density. However, you have to pay for your drinks: a profound tiredness ensued.

2.00 pm: Lunchtime and Messenger therapy. 2.30 pm: My final two painting tutorials for the day, the last including an ‘interesting’ discussion on the visual culture of bras in art. I learned much. 3.30 pm: Various teaching administrations (succoured by a kiwi fruit): uploads, registers, emails, and so forth. 4.30 pm: A Personal Tutorial drop-in. 5.00 pm: Further administrations until 5.45 pm, when we held a meeting of the dementia project working group. This was composed of staff from the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales, health-care professionals, and postgraduate students from the School of Art:

7.20 pm: Home. 7.45 pm: Following a quick dinner and a shower, there were further administrations to do, in order to set out my teaching roster for the week to come, and clear my desk (as far as I could) for tomorrow. Studio day.

10.40 pm: Another ‘Night Watch’. Letters to write, dates to add to the diary. There’s no end to it.



October 18, 2017

In the dream: The light bulb of a desk lamp that I’d switched on blew – like a lightening break – and shattered glass all over me and across the room. I awoke with Annie Lennox singing It’s all Right (Baby’s Coming Back) sounding in my head. Strange. I remember the song, but haven’t heard it in years. And I’ve never had any particular affection for, or association with, it.

8.00 am: A dialogue. A retrenching. A Communion. 8.45 am: Off to School. 9.00 am: The table is spread: preparations for the annual Harvey Talk on Colour with the second year painters at 10.00 am. 9.30 am: Postgraduate and other administrations. (I’m staying on top of it, for now). 10.00: ‘Colour: Make-Up, Mixing, and Matching’:

In my student days, art schools taught very little if anything in terms of curriculum. It was every man and woman for themselves. That made one very self reliant. But there was stuff that we should’ve known and could’ve been told. Stuff that wouldn’t have stifled our independence, creativity or identities in embryo. On the contrary, it would have liberated our competences and given us authority over our means. The School of Art is my ideal for an art school: it provides a space in which students can discover their own ‘voice’, while, at the same time, an education that equips them with the tools so to do: a craft and an appreciation of the traditions of which they’re apart.

11.30 am: My first MA Fine Art appointment of the day at the West Classroom, Old College. I enjoy my visits here among the postgraduates. They form a distinct community and culture within the school. The MA newbies, whom I taught afterwards, are all developing traction – moving beyond the boundaries of what they’d achieved in the BA Show. That show still exerts a tremendous gravity, one that isn’t easy to break free from. Megs and I looked for found landscapes on the studio floor:

Our ‘messiness’ often bears the same hallmarks of individuality as our paintings.

3.30 pm: My PhD Fine Art tutorial. I got into first gear. Not that I give anything but my best to the MA students. However, PhD teaching is simply more multidimensional. Theory and methodology at a high level are always in the room alongside practice during higher-research tutorials.

4.30 pm: ‘Exit Old College, stage left’, and along the promenade:

The parting light and the lowering cloud imbued the landscape with a consoling melancholy – a fitting backdrop, presently. Aberystwyth has a definite ‘magic’ about it, one that I’ve rediscovered in the past few years. Now Aber, after 35 years of living here, is my ‘home’ at last:

Folk have asked: ‘When do you compose the “asides”?’ For the most part, when moving from one place to another, on a dictaphone. Like the diary’s text in toto, they’re written in and through the day, rather than at the end of it. Ideas and reflections move out of and with me:

6.30 pm: Practise session. 7.30 pm: Teaching admin: diary configuration, viva negotiations, meeting planning, and preparations for tomorrow’s Abstraction lectures. I’m careful to ensure that none of the PowerPoint slides have gone AWOL this time. Last lecture, an image of the Tsars disappeared from its frame just as mysteriously as they had in real life.

An aside: Ruminations after the ‘storm’:






October 17, 2017

While waiting on Platform 3 at Shrewsbury station for a train, which had been delayed by nearly two hours due to problems caused by the storm, I alighted upon this plaque. I assumed that ‘here’ implied where I was standing, or thereabouts, on Platform 3. An image came into my head of the composer, see-sawing on his toes and heels with his hands clasped behind his back, either humming or whistling aloud a tune, while honing the melody and constructing the harmonies, as he himself marked time before an equally late train arrived. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be something to extend Hughes’ practice and compose further ‘hymns’, in situ, on the other platforms of the station. (I logged the idea in my mental archive of ‘possible ventures’ for the future.) The only precedent that I’m aware of a railway station being the context for sound performance is Robert Fripp’s November Suite, which was performed at Green Park Station, Bath.

9.00 am: A discussion with one of my PhD Fine Art tutees. Among other topics, we explored the issues and challenges of public engagement. How does one reach out to people with work that is difficult to comprehend immediately? How can one educate them sufficiently to apprehend the work, without appearing to be patronising. I’ve come to the conclusion that the onus is on me to extend the invitation to them, rather than expect that them to find to the work sufficiently interesting to warrant investigation. (That is a rather arrogant position.)

11.10 am: The weekly MA Vocational Practice class comes around so soon. Today’s topic: ‘Delivering Lectures’. (‘Listen to what you’re saying, John. You may learn something.’) Once again, the students provided perspectives that hadn’t occurred to me. Lecturing today is not what it once was. The advent of multimedia, and our knowledge of audience attention spans and the psychology of learning, have dramatically changed the process of delivery and reception:

12.30 pm: I dispatched two re-routed tutorials before returning home for lunch. The autumn leaves really do like my pathway. After the storm – a bed made for union:

2.00 pm: The first of two MA Fine Art tutorials. 3.00 pm: I responded to student work before my final tutorial of the day, at 4.00 pm. I could do no more. Parks have always been a place of solace for me. I can’t remember the number of times that I’d circuited Roath Park, Cardiff on some mental, emotional, relational, or spiritual ‘jog’, back the early 80s. Plasgrug Avenue feels vaguely Parisienne. It’s as close to a park as you’ll get in these parts:

At the end of the path, I cut through the municipal cemetery to alight on Llanbadarn Road. The cemetery has too many occupants who died too young, many of whom are known to me personally. I held an angel in my sight, like Jacob did the ‘man’ at the Ford of Jabbok:

7.30 pm: A difficult evening lay ahead.


October 14, 2017

3.00 am. Always 3.00 am – pulling the duvet around me, cocoon like, to preserve body heat; my frame craved sleep, but my mind raced like a Morgan. I’m at a loss to know what’s the cause. Sympathetic resonance, perhaps.

7.00 am: Shower, then breakfast. I’d written a list of ‘needs’ to source before walking to the School to help with the preparations for today’s Open Day. Gaffer tape – a must. Camera – if the event isn’t documented, it may as well not have taken place. Everything is so tiresomely evidence-based these days. What do I wear? Black, of course. From tip to toe – classical-concert style. I’ll then match the colour of the rig – be just one of the components, as it were. The visual presentation of sound art is, as I’ve said elsewhere, crucial in my opinion. No gingham table cloth casually slung over a trestle and domestic-style plugboards dribbling down the sides for me. The integrity of the vision and of context of action is the beginning of sound, in my opinion.

8.45 am: Off to School. 9.15 am: The sound system was tested. A few minor glitches with the looper/sampler playback levels, but nothing inexplicable. I spent half an hour acclimatising to the gear. There’s always, to begin, a period of awkwardness, cack-handedness, and separation between the equipment and the performer. A dialogue through touch and response has to be established. By its very nature, the system requires some dexterity:

This event was not a performance; rather, it was a presentation or set of public actions – an occasion when the audience could watch me at work and interact as I did so:

I was desperate to avoid Techno/Dub connotations, which DJ equipment and the process of looping, inevitably summon. The sound that I was groping towards was far more abstract and discontinuous. Some of my sound works have been danceable, however. (I can’t dance.) But that outcome has been a bi-product of the material, rather than a decision to engage with the genre on my part:

10.30 am: I was questioned by anxious parents, obviously wondering whether their daughters and sons would be forced into a career in MCing. (BA DJ: sounds good, though!), I began, properly, by listening to and overlaying the sounds at the very beginning of the record – the scratches and static on the lead-in groove. The end-groove forms a natural loop, because the tone arm of a DJ turntable doesn’t have an automatic lift-off capacity. The stylus remains stuck in the groove. (Now, there’s a well-worn metaphor.):

The objective of the day, apart from providing an event for Open Day, was to establish various modus operandi that could be explored more concertedly in the studio. I recorded the output of the system in progress directly to the computer. The overlays of the Lucan text worked particularly well. I’ll review them all on my return from hospital, Monday. There may yet be gold among the coal:

An art gallery is conducive to working and listening. We should hold more events like this as a matter of routine. I was oblivious to the work on the wall on this occasion. Other sound artists and musicians, like Marc Ribot, in other contexts, have responded directly to an exhibition. I’ve done so only once, when I improvised a composition entitled Strictly No Admittance at Sandra Sagan’s MA Fine Art exhibition/installation called Suspension, in 2015.

3.30 pm: Show over. With the able Ms Wildig at my side, we dismantled and re-boxed the equipment. (This is about as uplifting as packing suitcases for home after a long and happy holiday.) 4.30 pm: Back at homebase, various tidy-ups, uploads, and emails formed the agenda until the close of the afternoon. 5.50 pm: ‘Press button for one seconds to turn off’.