November 12, 2014

8.30 am. Postgraduate Open Day. I’m stationed at the School to receive redirected student from the Arts Centre. 9.00 am. A pastoral tutorial. Sometimes, it’s enough to merely affirm one’s support for the student. I completed formatting the text for tomorrow’s Art/Sound lecture, before wading into administration, sorting of a general nature, and preparing a box of tricks for my colour mixing demonstration tomorrow:

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11.30 pm. I enforced my ‘zero-tolerance’ policy on absenteeism from lectures and tutorials. They aren’t many problems in this respect, but enough to keep one vigilant and issuing shepherding emails to the lost sheep. I wonder whether there are a few students who feel that it’s legitimate to be lax with their studentship because they’re now paying for it. However, if I miss a dental appointment (which I pay for) without due cause or notification, I suffer a financial penalty.

2.00 pm. I was on advisory duty at the School, awaiting potential postgraduate applicants seeking advice. The sunlight burned through the School mid afternoon:

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4.00 pm. I recalled Vermeer’s View of Delft (c.1660-1):

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As I waited for no one, I finalised the handout for tomorrow’s demonstration on colour. Thereafter, I used the last hour of the afternoon to put away files that have been lying askew for months and to clear tabletops of ‘dead’ mail. In a cupboard, I came across the class notes I wrote during my first year of teaching, in 1985-6, at Pontypool College in south Wales. They cover ‘O’- and ‘A’-level Art History, Painting, and Printmaking. I think I distilled everything I knew then into those courses, and a great deal that I didn’t too:

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6.15 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. Onto Matt. 19.11, while fielding emails, professional messaging, and uploading files to Blackboard.

9.40 pm. Practice Session 2.

November 11, 2014

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8.30 am. Having upgraded to Mac OS Maverick Yosemite, I can no longer make a Bluetooth connection between my MacBook with the external amplifier. (My prediction, last week, was correct.) No doubt the companies wishing to connect their devices thus will gets their heads together and issue an upgrade.

10.30 am. A visit to Occupational Health situated in the Human Resources offices at the university’s Science Park. I detest the term ‘human resource’; it serves only to depersonalise and commodify university employees. The offices are, similarly, impersonal and inhumane. Observations (from ‘The Black Notebook’ (Jan. 2, 2008 – , 181-3 )):

I’m sit among boxes of boxes, corrugated flat packs, and clear-plastic bags of shredded paper / old, dented filing cabinets form a partition between ‘them’ (the office workers) and me / the place feels like a cross between a Job Centre and a doctors’ surgery — doubly unsettling, in other words / I overhear one side of telephone conversations, and chit-chat. Someone says: ‘I’m a bit narked, to be honest’ / someone else asks: ‘Are we getting a bus to Conwy?’ / tame framed prints of the Welsh landscape on the walls, alongside white-boards and shelves of unkempt photocopy paper / why would anyone print on deep tangerine copy paper? / I, the visitor, sit in semi-darkness; the office workers, in the light / reason the metaphor:

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11.20 pm. An impromptu pastoral meeting followed by an invited tutorial. 2.00 pm. An MA tutorial with one of my students who is turning a corner, followed by a rescheduled BA painting tutorial at the close of the day:

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Principles and observations from the day’s teaching:

  • Some students stay in the race, persevere, and achieve academically in spite of insuperable personal or contextual difficulties. It is they, and not the most gifted, necessarily, that incite my greatest admiration.
  • A lack of self confidence is more likely to stymie our progress in the discipline than a want of technical and conceptual proficiency.
  • We habitually position ourselves along lines between two opposed/supposed opposites: abstraction – figuration; determinacy – indeterminacy; avant garde – academic; esoteric – populist; colourist – tonalist; loose – tight, and so on. What would a map that integrated those plotted polarities look like?
  • Sometimes the best you can do for an art student is to point them towards another artist.

7.30 pm. Matt. 19.10: my process-verse for the day. In the background, I played the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Birds of Fire (1973) – the album that changed my whole outlook on jazz and rock, freedom and structure, and intellect and spiritual devotion, and the possibility of their meaningful integration. The music’s fusion of ecstasy, conviction, facility, and beauty is almost unbearable.

9.45 pm. Practice session 2. 10.50 pm. ‘The night watch’: I inspected the PowerPoint and formatted the text for Thursday’s Art/Sound lecture.

November 10, 2014

8.30 am. I broadcast emails setting up, confirming, and re-arranging tutorial times, meetings, and Skype calls. Tugging at my elbow was the imperative: ‘Make this week count!’ If that ambition is to be realised, then each day (this day) must count. And, if that ambition is to be realised, then each hour (this hour) must count. 9.30 am. Back to, and on with, The Floating Bible file processing. Matt. 19.8 was the verse of the morning. The operation is mechanistic but not mindless. One needs to be constantly vigilant about the omission and duplication of words which, when stretched, are hard to differentiate one from another, and bear no visual relationship to their source.

One of Friday’s eager painting and Art/Sound students re-emerged. We’d begun a discussion about synchronicity and synaesthesia. I reflected:

It struck me that synaesthesia could be classed as a mode or variety of synchronicity, insomuch as two normally disparate phenomena are related meaningfully. However,  the main different between the two ideas is that synaesthetics would claim a causal relationship between the two phenomena, whereas synchronics (?) would not. Perhaps it’s the difference, rather than the likeness, between those ideas that is illuminating. 

11.40 pm. Verse complete. Now … a forage in my plan (aptly called) chest  to uncover schemes and stratagems for paintings that I’d set in motion several years ago. Their progress had been postponed when I developed an acute intolerance/allergic reaction to turpentine and other petroleum-based derivatives and additives:

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Alpha-numerical texts, in Latin, Hebrew, and Greek, were awaiting conversion. Now, I have to identify all the bits and put them all together, before scaling and commissioning the supports. It’s all coming back to me:

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Mid afternoon, I began Matt.19.9 and completed the process by 5.00 pm. I ticked off words as I proceeded, like an inmate, the days of their incarceration:

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6.20 pm. Practice session 1. 7.20 pm. At the eleventh hour, I finally managed to track down an audio recording of Morris’ Box with the Sound of its Own Making. (I’ll deliver a lecture with that title tomorrow morning.) I formatted and prepared its text and PowerPoint. It’s very difficult to gauge how effective my presentations are. My enthusiasm for them waxes hot and cold. I wish they had greater gravitas. But too much material and too deep analysis is often impenetrable in a lecture context, and alienates the audience. In the end, all one can reasonably hope to do is prepare the soil for the students’ own learning (which is of far greater importance than anything I can teach them). I’m tired of myself today.

9.40 pm. Practice session 2.

November 8, 2014

9.15 am. Dispatched several tutor-tutee-type emails and began processing Matt. 19.7. I must complete at least one verse a weekday for the next three months. This is not necessarily what I want to do, but it is what the work requires me to do. 11.50 am. Verse complete. Next: into the studio to set up audio equipment for the La Mont Young project, which will, in turn, prepare the ground for my New Songs suite of compositions. (Always maximize your efforts):

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My principle, with respect to most endeavours in life, is to begin small and simple and work towards the more complex. While the pedalboards look busy, generically they’re each fairly straightforward. Pedalboard 1 (PB1) (on the right) is made up of distortion effectors, for the most part; while Pedalboard 2 (PB2) (on the left) is dedicated modulation: delay, harmonizing, reverberation etc. One step beyond, and the array’s routing gets wonderfully complex:

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The schematic of a possible floorboard and handboard arrangement:

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Make a bit; test a bit. I began with PB1, played two notes — B and F# — together on an electric guitar, sampled them, and sustained their harmony. Young’s Composition 1960 #7 was , then, ‘in performance’. This is the most fundamental expression of his idea that I can conceive. The guitar output is not treated in any way, just sonically ‘photographed’ and digitally frozen. As my ears became attuned to the drone, I found myself listening, focally, to one or other of the notes. Eventually, I became aware the harmonics, and a subtle unevenness in the volume (like a wave ebbing and flowing). The sound appeared to be changing, although, objectively, the sample is a fixed and immutable recording of a microsecond of audio material that loops (repeats) indefinitely. The experience was equivalent to looking at a static photograph that somehow shimmered. I need to get to the bottom of this phenomenon. My audio perception, too, changed, as I became more adept at close listening over time. Remarkable!

5.15 pm.  A cessation of work. 6.30 pm. Practice session 1.

7.30 pm. An evening with the family.

 

November 7, 2014

8.30 am. In my Dropbox this morning there were three sound files from my pal Dafydd. I’ll set about re-orientating one of them in the next few weeks as part of our exchange project (November 3, 2014). The first piece sounds like the skyscape above Hatton Cross. Back to The Floating Bible artwork. The procedure for assembling and resizing the page images is resolved. I must now apply it to each verse:

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An impromptu, on-line tutorial on brush cleaning for an eager painting student:

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I remade the page pieces for The Floating Bible, which I’d completed last week, deploying the new improved process — for the sake of consistency and accuracy. Very rarely do I get things absolutely (or, sometimes, even remotely) right the first time. (This principle extends to almost every other facet of my life.) Undoing and redoing has been a salutary education, always.

The eager painting student resurfaced, asking whether I used either a conventional camera or a phone camera to capture images for the dairy pages. (It’s a question others, too, have asked.) In response:

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Over lunch, I began upgrading my Mac OS software on all computers. Having done so, I’ll no doubt discover that some crucial software programme is rendered incompatible as a consequence.

2.00 pm. A different eager painting student emailed with a query, while acknowledging the singular difficulty of painting glass objects. My advice (which is easier to give than it is to act upon; teaching is far easier than being taught): ‘Treat glass objects not as transparencies but as objects comprising complex tonal areas. (Paint what your eyes see, rather than what your mind knows.)’

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6.00 pm. Practice session 1:

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7.10 pm.  I wanted to finish one more verse from The Floating Bible artwork. That done, I began to orientate myself to the La Mont Young’s Composition 1960 #7 (which I’ll be discussing in Art/Sound on Tuesday), examining the relationship between the piece’s two sustained notes: B and F# (a perfect fifth). It’s tempting to think that I know what this will sound like. But I don’t. How could I? I’ve never played or heard that harmony held ‘for a long time’ (which was Young’s only rubric for the piece.)

 

November 6, 2014

8.00 am. I set up my devices in preparation for the Art/Sound lecture, and materials in readiness for the ‘Priming Board’ demonstration:

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I’ve not presented a talk on painting techniques in over fifteen years. What could have been a rather dull and pedantic account of ‘the way to do it’, felt animated, sweetened with humour, salted with precepts, and genuinely relevant to the students’ practical needs. Today’s art students are far more receptive to this type of instruction. When I was in art school, we actively resisted or, at least, filtered, our education — perceiving it to be constraining, value-loaded, and prescriptive. Better to learn nothing by yourself than something from someone else, we told ourselves. Foolishness!

Some observations, advice, and principles derived from today’s tutorials:

  • Discover ways by which to defamiliarise the artwork at hand. Make it look strange to you or other than your own.
  • A sense of fun, enjoyment, and fulfilment are not reliable criteria by which to judge the success or otherwise of an artwork.
  • However, if there is no fun, enjoyment, and fulfilment in the doing of it, then, something is seriously amiss.
  • Resign yourself to producing a great deal of nonsense. It provides the necessary coarse aggregate of your foundations.
  • Perhaps we learn more from the mistakes of others than from our own.
  • Attend to the process and the product will take care of itself.
  • Think and act (conceptualise and practice) together; never one without the other.
  • We all have ‘demons’ who insinuate that we’re insufficient for the task. They come in many forms and whisper different lies.

1.20 pm. Lunch in the Old College Quad. The dark plaque opposite my table:

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Jones was a celebrated and successful Principal at the, then, University College of Wales Aberystwyth (1927-34), a scholar of ancient history, and a lexicographer. The Latinate inscription is, thus, peculiarly appropriate.

2.00 pm. A full afternoon and some encouraging engagements. I suspect that if a student had sufficient confidence they might be capable of anything. ‘Where is?’, indeed:

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Shades of the final scene of Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). Their ‘ghosts’ are present in the studio still: the names of some are visible on the screens and the remains of their pictures, buried beneath gesso and the efforts of current students.

Sandra’s workspace is always a joy to encounter. Sumptuous:

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5.15 pm. Closure.

7.30 pm. I uploaded and archived sound files created today and posts to the Art/Sound FaceBook site, completed module admin. and emails for the week, and otherwise cleared my desk in readiness for a return to research tomorrow. I’m considering a performance of La Mont Young’s Composition 1960#7 for electric guitar and effectors. This would form part of the ‘Making a Noise About the School of Art’ series.

November 5, 2014

8.00 am. An early start, making a final review of a draft chapter submissions for a PhD Art History thesis before my first MA tutorial of the day. I’m now working with two computer screens in my office (just as I do at home). It’s a small addition to the working environment, but one that levers considerable benefits. The arrangement facilitates multi-tasking, clearer thinking, and an unimpeded movement between tasks and projects:

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A ‘screen’ of an altogether different order: I’m so grateful that my office doesn’t look out upon another building, staring back. Instead, I have a view of the Irish Sea and the harbour lighthouse, and I hear birdsong. The robins have returned:

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10.00 am. An MA Fine Art tutorial. I stressed the necessity to:

  • document the process and outcome
  • ruminate in writing
  • explore all of the project’s implicit variables
  • take responsibility for every dimension of an artwork’s process and production
  • define, develop, and defend the discipline peculiar to the practice.
  • persist (even apparently simple propositions can make significant demands on our time, energy, and attention).

10.45 am. PhD Fine Art tutorial. Further principles emerged:

  • Do that which you alone can do
  • Do that which your life’s experience, temperament and personality, and understanding and awareness equip and prepare you to do
  • Abandon what is good for what is best
  • Respond to change when it forces itself upon you
  • ‘Remember Lot’s wife’: she looked back and became permanently immobilised

12.00 pm. I cleared a backlog of teaching and pastoral admin. I’ve considerable doubts about SAMS’s (our register system) ability to collate, compound, and interpret individual module data with any accuracy. It’s throwing up ‘sinners’ who are known ‘saints’ — perfectly reasonable attendees.

1.30 pm. Marked up a third of tomorrow’s Art/Sound lecture text and then turned to research admin. and publicity for the R B V E Ǝ T N Ƨ O A CD release and The Bible in Translation exhibition.

6.15 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. In the evening I prepared a worksheet and materials for tomorrow’s demonstration on how prime board:

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Priming is, first, a philosophical and ethical enterprise. On one level, it’s a metaphor and paradigm for, variously: laying down a solid foundation, preparedness, a sound beginning as the basis of sound progress, and care for fundamental things, and for things that ultimately no one will ever see once they are worked upon. What a person does in secret is the true measure of their integrity.

9.40 pm. Practice session 2. 10.30 pm. ‘The night watch’. I compressed two PowerPoints on colour and mixing into one magnum lecture/demonstration, which I’ll deliver to the second and third year painters in the next few weeks.

November 4, 2014

8.30 am. It would be one of those days when my feet would not touch the ground. On setting up the sound system for the Art/Sound lecture, the Bluetooth connection between the MacBook and Line6 Amplifi failed. (I understand the reason why; this issue is now resolved.) I used the scenario in the Vocational Practice class to illustrate the point that one should always have several backup plans to counter equipment failure. (I overcame the problem by deploying a physical connection — having anticipated the precarious nature of Bluetooth.)

The Vocational Practice class was focussed and illuminating. I rarely leave the class other than richer and humbler than when I went in. They’re a fine bunch of students — intelligently critical, internally committed to one another, and with complex mix of personalities and dynamic relationships.

2.00 pm. An MA inquiry. Third year students are approaching the second degree as a notional ‘fourth year’. It makes sense. An MA tutorial, thereafter. The student is turning a corner. It doesn’t surprise me. I expect it to happen when students are conscientious and self-critical. I never know when it will happen. But then again, neither do they. Art schools are very special places. You can talk about running paint, stains, and dribbles with great seriousness and enthusiasm, while the world burns.

Late afternoon, I applied myself to admin.

6.30 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. I made adjustments to Thursday’s Art/Sound lecture in the light of ideas that occurred to me today. 9.40 pm. Practice session 2.

November 3, 2014

This world of ours, and worlds unseen,
And thin the boundary between.

(Josiah Conder, 1824).

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8.30 am. In this world: the Monday morning ‘liturgy’ — the opening and dispatch of emails, an allocation of tutorials and classes, and a revision of module materials that I’ll use this week. The overarching objective is to economize on time, corral kindred activities, and release sufficient blocks of time for meaningful research.

10.00 am. I returned to processing image files for The Floating Bible artwork while, again, endeavouring to achieve further efficiencies in respect to time and effort. Errors, anomalies (that weren’t manifest during the test phase), and lapses inevitably creep in, slowing down progress. (‘Thorns and thistles’.) Previous gains were lost, while new ones were found; new problems (unconsidered) arose and earlier ones (ill-considered), solved. Nothing is either simple or easy when it’s serious. By 11.30 am, Matt. 19.4 was completed. I needed, then, to test the lateral accumulation of stretched words for the longest verse: Matt. 20.23.

Throughout the morning, I’d dipped into my photograph album to remind myself of those painting students with whom I’d graduated in 1981. (What draws one back to a specific period in the past? Something is afoot.):

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How many of them are still practising … still in ‘this world’? The men’s names don’t yield any results on either FaceBook, Twitter, or Google. The women (some of whom will have married and changed their surname) are equally invisible. Perhaps our generation didn’t warm to social media. Ann Evans (far left) was a survivor of the Aberfan disaster in 1966. Max Palacz (far right) was a very fine painter in the mold of Serge Poliakoff. Of all of us, Max seemed most likely to break through. You can never tell.

My third year paintings were semi-abstract evocations of the post-industrial landscape around Abertillery, south Wales, where I grew up. Left: Vale No. 3 (1981), mixed media on canvas, 6′ x 6′; right: Vale No. 2 (1981) acrylic, gouache, and graphite on board, 6″x 6″:

1981-(126)-Vale-No.-3   1981-(130)-Vale-No.-2

Albert Irvin was our external examiner.

2.00 pm.  Now … a world away. An afternoon of file processing, with a view to completing the process (at least) by the close of the day. 4.00 pm. Sunlight through the rain, through the glass (the thin boundary between the interior and exterior worlds):

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6.15 pm. Practice session 1.  7.30 pm. In the evening session, I marked up tomorrow’s lecture. It’s the first time I’ve read the script since writing it; so, I find it useful to refamiliarize myself with the content and dynamics. The mouth is a very different vehicle of transmission from the keyboard.

Alongside, I completed a 2-minute sound piece derived from the noise that my flatbed scanner made when scanning the words ‘flatbed scanner’:

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The output was, then, un-synchronously superimposed and looped. I’ve neither topped and tailed the piece, nor added any modulation or effects. It’s very bald. The composition will be sent to a colleague of mine, who’s also a practising noise artist/musician. He’ll engage with the piece and transform it into something far better. He, in turn, will send me a sound sample, and I’ll endeavour to do the same. It struck me that the idea could be extended by recording the scan at different dpi settings (each of which sound would have a somewhat different speed and pitch, in all likelihood), and integrating the variations as a whole.

9.40 Practice session 2. 10.30 pm. ‘The Night Watch’. I completed the processing of word stretches for today’s verse and made a mock up of its insertion into the recto template. The completed image suggests the possibility of a much larger scale rendering of the formation, in paint. But, for me, a possibility is not credible solely on the basis of a visual potential. It needs to have, also, a coherent concept that allies form and content to persuade my resolve.

 

November 1, 2014

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9.30 am. The final page of my study notebook was reached. It’s always been at my elbow and contains reminders, reminders about reminders, lists of things to do, telephone numbers, user names, the seeds of ideas, alpha-numerical sequences, dates for appointments, registration numbers, thumbnail designs for networks of components, costings, and route plans to journeys. Collectively, these shards of information represent the signifiers of a life lived, residues of incidents and intents, and prequels to more developed thoughts, but without any connecting narrative.

10.15 am. I returned to scanning and preparing the first verse of The Floating Bible. The stretched words are prepared for composition:

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The completed visualization of Matt. 19.3b. The wraiths of words, having passed beyond the event horizon:

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They were inserted from left to right (following the direction in which a text in English is read) into a verso-format, which preserves the size, format, column height, and proportion of the outside and gutter margins of the source page. The assembly of the words was technically straightforward and reasonably swift. The project is doable.

12.45 pm. Kim’s, my younger son, baptism in Cardigan Bay. 3.30 pm. I recommenced work on the  R B V E Ǝ T N Ƨ O A  CD cover, attending to the spine. 5.00 pm. Task completed, and ready to send to the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales on Monday.

An evening with the family:

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