Diary (July 16, 2014–September 4, 2018)

October 13, 2014

9.00 am. There was a backlog of postgraduate administration, marking, and reading to deal with before my day’s assignments could come into focus. However well one’s time is managed (a subject about which I’ll be speaking to the second year students at the close of the afternoon), the legitimate and pressing demands of others sometimes prevail, and eat into those periods of the day set aside for equally urgent matters and projects. ‘The best laid plans of mice and men go astray’, as they say. Establishing priorities is relatively straightforward; creating a hierarchy of priorities is much harder; and deciding between equal priorities is more often a moral issue — a choice between one’s own and another’s needs and best interests.

By 12.00 pm, I was back on track and pressing on with a short introductory text about circuit bending, ostensibly for Saturday’s university Open Day but with an application to a sound art practice-based module — currently under construction — too. After lunch, I probed several circuit boards in search of fierce, edgy, and noxious noises. The endeavour requires patience, steady hands, and a great deal of optimism:

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4.30 pm. At the School, I set up the projector for my 5.10 pm lecture and helped out with some administrative chore related to postgraduate ‘dispersion’ statistics. I wouldn’t chaff at the task of assembling statistics if I thought that there’d be some tangible return in terms of an intelligible, informative, and useful application of the data. There rarely is. Bureaucracy is a hungry beast that must be fed, constantly, with numbers and pie charts, graphs and projections. The lecture appeared to go down well, and I’m sure they appreciated, if nothing else, my effort to finish the class 15 minutes before time. (A working example of ideal time management, of course.) At 5.45 pm, the desire to return home, rest, and eat overrides all academic considerations.

6.30 pm. Practice session 1.

7.00 pm. I completed and formatted the text for circuit bending project, added additional slides for tomorrow’s Art/Sound Workshop, and revised the project outline for the 11.00 MA Vocational Practice class. Delivering a class ill-prepared is still, for me, a fearful prospect:

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9.40 pm. Practice session 2.

To bed.

 

 

 



October 11, 2014

9.45 pm. The studio and the study needed a dust and a vacuum. In preparing the work environment, I’m conscious that the inner man is also being put to order. And the manner in which we acquit ourselves of ‘the trivial round and common task’ is a measure of our integrity: ‘He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much’ (Lk. 16.10). I fail the test so often:

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Electronic sound devices (of which I’ve a not inconsiderable number) emit an electro-static charge that attracts a great deal of dust. On a recent tour of the BBC radio studios at Salford, I asked how often the equipment was cleaned. ‘Everyday’!, was the reply. I cannot compete.

2.00 pm. I began setting up filter devices to effect the output from a circuit bending exercise that I hope to demonstrate at the university Open Day on the 18 October. I’ve not practiced the technique since I was 16 years old. I stumbled upon the potential by accident while attempting to fix a portable radio. (Today, it’s a sub-genre of what is called ‘noise music’.) For anyone who could not afford a synthesizer in the mid 1970s (and that was most people), the squelches, screeches, and hums produced by connecting circuits that ordinarily aren’t was the only way to achieve an engaging and usable electronic sound. The approach is not without its hazards; frequently the adapted devices short circuit permanently, or else components on the circuit board burn out.

I worked up a draft of the publicity material and icons for the demonstration:

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By 5.00 pm, I’d set-up the more sophisticated and expensive end of the rig that’ll be using in the project, and prepared a number of redundant or failing electronic devices for probing, tomorrow.

An evening with the family:

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October 10, 2014

8.45 am. I return to studio work and to several works in progress from The Bible in Translation project beginning with the ‘New Songs’, a suite of ‘soundtexts’ based upon psalms that were sung to the accompaniment of stringed instruments. (I’m intent on completing Matt. 20.23 by the close of the day too):

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The suite is still sour. The problem: there are 26 letters in the Roman alphabet but only 25 notes in two successive chromatic octaves. A single chromatic octave has 12 notes. But two successive octaves have only 25 notes, because the last note of the first octave and the first note of the last octave are shared. Consequently, the former cannot be codified in terms of the latter without compromise and, as such, there’s no possibility of reconciling the two systems. It has been a frustrating impasse.

If a problem cannot be resolved as it stands … what to do? Consider:

  • the nature of the problem, and of the impossibility it appears to present.
  • whether the true problem is, instead, one’s understanding of the apparent problem.
  • whether the apparent problem can be understood in other terms.

In this case, I began by interrogating my rationale. Why did I want to map the alphabet (which represents a fixed component in the project’s system) onto a two octave chromatic run? For one, a sequence of notes following one after another corresponds to the like progression of letters in an alphabet. Therefore, that component in the system must also remain fixed. But, there are scales besides the chromatic. Since the mapping process does not insist upon the use of that particular scale, this component in the system is flexible.  Once I’d realized that there was room in the system to manoeuvre, an alternative solution presented itself:

E-minor pentatonic scale: E G A C D. E-Major pentatonic scale: E F# G# B C#

The E-minor pentatonic scale (consisting of five notes) fits into a 26-letter alphabet five times, with one remainder: an ‘E’; the first note of the next pentatone and the same note — five pentatones higher — as the initial note in the scalar sequence:

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Theologically, this is advantageous. The consanguinity of the concepts of first and last in biblical thought is significant. Christ referred to himself in those terms: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’ (Rev.  33.13). The appellation refers to the initial and closing letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It’s like saying, Christ is the A and Z of the Roman alphabet. So, it was important that the principle of first and last being different yet essentially the same was honoured, analogically, in the start and finish of the musical-scale sequence. Ethnomusicologists suggest that, in all likelihood, pentatonic and heptatonic scales (consisting of 6 notes) governed the composition of Hebrew music at the time the psalms were written.

So, what appeared to be an impossible problem, on closer consideration, yielded not only a solution, but one that was far more appropriate to the source material. But, as I’ve said before: ‘It’s one of life’s truisms: every solution creates its own problem’ (August 7, 2014). The full five-plus-one note pentatonic sequence exceeds the note range of a 22-fret guitar (on which ‘New Songs’ will be played). Therefore, I’ll need to use a pitch-shifting effector on the pedalboard in order to play two pentatones below the lowest ‘E’ on the instrument.

1.30 pm. Over lunch, I put away studio equipment before codifying the alphabet in relation to the pentatonic minor and major scales:

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6.15 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. I attended the opening of The Chinese Student Exchange Exhibition (organised by Paul Croft) and Impress Print Workshop, Brisbane (organised by Judy Macklin) at the School:

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It was was one of the best attended openings of the year so far.  The two shows, together, presented an extraordinary compendium of the myriad manifestations of printmaking (and other mediums beside). Art should replace politics as the engine of entente:

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9.30 pm. I didn’t fulfil my ambition to complete the sound processing of Matt. 20.23, having underestimated the time it would take and overestimated my determination. A fatal combination. Tomorrow, then.



October 9, 2014

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The thunderstorm retraced its steps, landward, during the night. Sleep was intermittent as a consequence. 8.15 am. To the School and the, now, routine set up for the Art/Sound lecture. Today, I was taken by surprise. The sound system worked a treat, but several links to images embedded in the PowerPoint presentation had broken (but were fixable in time for the delivery). I suspect that the problem was created during a synchronisation procedure via Google Drive. You’re looking for traffic coming from one direction and the vehicle hits you from the other.

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10.15 pm. The storm at the seafront was ferocious last night, the students tell me. The turbulent tide and high breakers were its only residue. The remainder of the morning and afternoon was devoted to second-year painting students, who are working on the ‘sense of place’ project. It appears to be a beguiling simple proposition, until the realisation dawns that we are asking them to paint what cannot be seen. Everyone I taught this morning is approaching a problem, semi-abstractly. (I sense in my bones that abstraction is gradually returning to the centre of visual discourse.) Some lessons, observations, and opinions:

  • Students pay inordinate attention to the judgements of their peers.
  • Students should listen to the dictates of their own hearts more often.
  • Mind maps should be outlawed. It’s one of the last vestiges of the A-level mentality that they relinquish. The method encourages prevarication and the illusion of ‘doing something’.
  • The student’s zones of confidence and comfort are congruent. To move beyond the boundary of the one is to transgress that of the other.
  • Students often want to leap from step A to step E without first working through B, C, and D. These three are the most crucial and demanding phases in the methodological process which, if engaged intelligently, will necessarily determine the outcome of step E. ‘Look after the pennies … ‘, in other words.
  • The tyranny of the ‘final work’ is great and cruel.

I’d never before realised that the statues of Messrs Thomas Edward Ellis and Henry Austin, installed at either end of the Quad, are made of plaster rather than metal. (I’m reminded of the metaphor: ‘feet of clay’.). What else in the university is counterfeit?:

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2.00 pm. An afternoon of the same. The students at the end of the day confront a tired tutor; nevertheless, they benefit from the distilled fruit of the all my earlier encounters and conversations. I encourage students to make an audio recording their tutorials. Few do, and not consistently. My instinct is that students remember very little of the discussion. Perhaps they recall only what was relevant. But, then again, perhaps they don’t recall all of only what was relevant.

The office/basecamp:

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6.00 pm. Practice session 1. In the evening session, Tuesday’s Workshop 1 material was completed and today’s Art/Sound session uploaded (in spite of an achingly slow broadband speed).

9.40 pm. Practice session 2.

 



October 8, 2014

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8.30 am. The server issues had been resolved. My website is now fully recovered and findable. Lesson: always back up. Always. The company who hosts my site does so religiously, and saved their skin on this occasion. At 9.00 am, I began a full day of MA Fine Art tutorials with my own and another colleague’s (who has been temporarily ‘posted abroad’) charge of painters. Each student has to negotiate a new beginning in their own way. Some lessons and observations:

  • A student’s past achievements should inform rather than constrain their expectations about present and future practice.
  • Often, we procrastinate in the face of too many rather than too few possible directions for development.
  • We must learn to sacrifice even our best ideas, if they are insufficiently visual in essence.
  • It is better to produce nonsense than nothing. Something sensible may emerge from nonsense. But, surely, nothing comes from nothing.
  • The painting should determine its format and scale, not the other way around.

1.00 pm. The gentle and soporific fall of autumnal rain:

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2.00 pm. An afternoon of postgraduate fine art tutorials. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Mid afternoon: a phone call to our Vancouvan PhD student who’ll be exhibiting at the School in late November. The end of their degree is now in sight. After my final tutorial, I looked to tomorrow’s Art/Sound lecture and formatted the text.

Over the course of the day I’ve disposed enough ideas for artworks and potential projects to fill several exhibitions. Few of those suggestions will be adopted. Rightly so. At postgraduate level, a tutor ought not to be too prescriptive. Ideas should, instead, serve as models of ways of thinking and approaching problems, to be followed in spirit rather than to the letter. Teaching is like parenting: it’s highest aim is to encourage independence of thought, action, and the parent.

6.30 pm. An evening spent further preparing the Workshop 1 powerpoint and handout, processing sound files, and marking up tomorrow’s lecture text. There was a thunderstorm over the horizon, moving away, and sparking in the night sky.



October 7, 2014

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8.00 am. I scanned my inbox at home and walked to the School. Autumn is a very present season, when it finally arrives. The chill air cuts beneath the surface of the skin. Another, large-scale set up for the Art/Sound module, but now in half the time it took on the first occasion. The midi-keyboard(s), programmed with a less than convincing monastic-choir setting:

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The lecture went over time by 5 minutes. So, while well within tolerable limits, it suggests that certain adjustments need to be made. The Vocational Practice group have found their voice already. In spite of the group’s size (twice that of last year’s cohort), it has an intimacy and internal coherence without which that number would otherwise seem cumbersome and unwieldy.

After lunch,  I filed away the last two week’s lesson materials, updated registers, and held two PhD tutorials. The common theme was structure. It’s undoubtedly the hardest aspect of creative practice (be that writing or image making). Together, we gained insight into the overall construction of both projects. At some point during the afternoon, my web server went down:

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The reason:

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A nightmare! But the company always inspires confidence.

In the evening, I pushed on with the PowerPoint accompaniment for the the Art/Sound workshop and processing files for Matt. 20.23.



October 6, 2014

8.30 am. I cleared the backlog of emails that had accrued during my weekend away from the desk, and worked out my timetable for engaging the first few hours on the day and dealing with those matters that were screaming for immediate attention.

Over the weekend, I’d visited the Trafford Centre, Manchester:

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This is a shopping mall overlaid by, what can only be described as, architectural pornography-cum-bling: crass, sensually vulgar, unfulfilling, exploitative, and manipulative; a mélange of Vegas, theme park and film lot. It’s what might be called, if it hasn’t already been called, Mannerist Postmodernism. Unlike authentic Postmodernism, which knowingly and purposefully alludes to and quotes from previous styles and movements, the Centre references Postmodernism itself. But it does so in an obvious, cack-handed, and trite, rather than in a clever, clever, post-Postmodern, way. Insufficiently intelligent to be either cynical or critical, the architecture is a cheat that betrays both customers and custom. Enough rant.

11.00 pm. Having begun and completed a long overdue peer review of a biblical reception article (How did I overlook that?), I organised the remainder of the working day, upgrading my ‘news’ section of the website and outlining several major research projects that need to proceed in parallel over the next year or so: The Pictorial Bible III/The Aural Bible I: The Bible in Translation exhibition; ‘An indexical-interpretive scope of sound documents at the National Screen & Sound Archive of Wales’, and the ‘Sound & Something Else’ conference. In the background, I continued processing sound files for the multi-worded Matt. 20.23:

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After lunch, I continued with the late-morning’s work before focussing upon the performance element, ‘New Songs’, of The Aural Bible II.  One’s weaker instinct would advocate marching forward with specific artworks rather than pausing to survey the field before the battle. The former sense of imperative has little to do with intelligent strategy and everything to do with an overbearing stress that sees only the on-coming enemy of deadlines through the binoculars. My approach has always been to consider, consider, consider … then, act.

6.10 pm. Practice session1. In the evening, I made final preparations to tomorrow’s Art/Sound lecture and began work on the PowerPoint of the Workshop 1 session.

Exhaustion!

 



October 2, 2014

8.00 am. Emails executed. Then — to the School, with plenty of time to set up the second Art/Sound lecture for 9.00 am. Never assume that just because the equipment worked perfectly on the first occasion, it will do so on subsequent ones. Reckon upon the principle of entropy. Anything that can can fail, inevitably will. Professional preparedness is knowing what to do when it does.

10.15 am: Off to the Old College, for a day of third-year painting tutorials, through the autumnal ‘front garden’ of the School’s grounds …

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… and across the promenade:

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The porters had locked the upper ‘Design Studio’ (as was) of the Old College, and mislaid the key (which was later rediscovered). The first tutorial — particularly with a student who I’ve not taught before — is also a quest for a key, and sometimes for a lock, and sometimes for the door. None of these are found during the initial encounter, necessarily. And rarely does the tutor ever discover them all. (Which is how it should be.)

1.00 pm. A brief jaunt into town to buy a sandwich, past an extraordinary phenomenon: transparency and reflection in equipoise:

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I returned to the echoey and sparsely furnished Quad (where overseas applicant awaited their English language proficiency test). There I ate and ruminated upon the morning’s tutorials. Several principles and observations had emerged:

  • Students tend to pre-conceptualise their work far too much. As as result, the paintings that ensue merely illustrate an idea.
  • One does not require a ‘big idea’ to begin painting, only an intent (which need be no more ambitious than getting the paint off the brush and onto the support, in the first instance).
  • It is fatal to try and envisage a painting’s end (or outcome) even before it is begun.
  • Conceptualisation should be in tandem with the act of painting, usually. (Design and making must go hand in hand, as Ruskin and Morris insisted.)
  • Painting is a dialogue between the artist and the image that they materialise on the support. Ideas arise and are negotiated somewhere between the two.

2.00 pm. I completed my last few third-year tutorials and gave an introductory tutorial to my second-year charge. Afterwards, I beat a path back to the School to meet the substitute external examiner of the MA show, and to discuss the background of, and marks given to, the students at the recent internal assessment.

7.30 pm. Uploaded materials related to this morning’s lectures and experimented with inserting a PowerPoint on Blackboard. It appears that copyright law may be sufficiently ‘soft’ and ‘woolly’ to permit the practice without legal ramifications. Unfortunately, one cannot upload or download folders (in which the illustrative videos and sound samples are stored and linked to the slides), so (I thought) it’s still not possible to represent the complete visual and sonic dimension of the lecture. Sigh! However, as I explained in an email to my students:

when I downloaded the Powerpoint, the video and sound samples were embedded with the slides. This should not happen. I suspect that the download is linking to those files stored on my computer. As such, I cannot test whether this is happening when anyone else downloads the file. Could you try, and let me know if the video and sound inserts are complete on your copy? The video pieces can be activated by placing a mouse on the image. A box with a ‘play’ arrow will open up beneath (email, 02 10 2014):

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10.30 pm. ‘The Night Watch’. One of my Art/Sound students responded immediately to my plea for confirmation and, later, sent me a helpful link explaining the difference between linked and embedded PowerPoint files. I replied:

I’d assumed that I had linked the files. But perhaps they are imbedded after all. Indeed, if you can see and hear the sound and video samples, they must be. With older versions of PP, embedding samples was impossible. But it does explain, too, why the PP file takes nearly twenty minutes to upload to Blackboard (email, 02 10 2014).



October 1, 2014

8.30 am. I returned to my teaching timetable, filling in available slots for the next few weeks. 9.45 am. The six-monthly visit to the dentists. I was commended on my disciplined tooth-brushing technique. Nevertheless, calculus (neither the differential nor integral type) is almost inevitable, and has to be removed manually with fierce and intricate tools by the hygienist. But that can wait. Back at the School, I completed my timetable, emailed appointments, and issued updates on lists and schedules published over the last week. Time invested in efficient administration is time gained for research and teaching — an enabling chore.

11.40 pm. A trip to the IBERS building (with its small cafe) on campus to attend a mandatory NSS discussion meeting:

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I’ve never met anyone who trusts either the statistical significance of the responses, or the framework of questions, or the percipients’ ability to make fully considered and informed responses to it. Every university in the UK is locked into this popularity contest; and no one can afford to opt out.

2.15 pm. I took a late lunch at home before adding a section to tomorrow’s Art/Sound lecture. I’d made a pact with myself that each lecture would be only finalised on the day before its delivery. In this way, each lecture can respond to fresh ideas arising from within its predecessors.

6.00 pm. Practice session 1.  In the evening session, I wrote text to accompany images to be posted to the School’s website, set my mind to consider the second and third year painting tutorials tomorrow, responded to an academic ‘head-hunter’, and commenced processing sound files for Matt. 20.23 — which is the longest verse of the set. It’ll take three days to complete, I wager.

An earlier night is in order. Tomorrow will be a demanding day. My current bedtime reading is Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (1852).

 



September 30, 2014

8.15 am. I arrived at Lecture Theatre 312 to conduct a sound check for the first Art/Sound lecture; this meant ensuring that anything that should make a noise did, and loudly. There was no need to test the acoustics of the room; they are always lousy. The painted walls and the apse formation at the rear of theatre reflect and magnify sound like a vast reverberation chamber. It’s relatively simple to improve the optical facilities of an auditorium: just upgrade the projector to a 3,000 ANSI lumens model. But to make a space acoustically dead requires the application of bass baffles and foam lagging over every surface. Nevertheless, the equipment held up during the course of the presentation, as the School took its first step in teaching the art history of sound:

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10.00 pm. Having dismantled and reboxed ‘the gear’, I returned to the on-going departmental saga of the Central Printing Services. No one, other than the secretaries, can successfully send files to the printer/photocopier in the office. Having had their desktop printers confiscated following a managerial directive from above (on the pretext of economising (August 26, 2014)), academic staff, now, have no back up provision and must send all their printing requests through the already overstretched secretaries. I mean …

10.15 pm. I conducted an introductory seminar with painters studying the MA Portfolio, followed by the first Vocational Practice workshop and hour later. This is the largest cohort I’ve ever had to teach on this module. This year, for the first time, the art historians have joined ranks with the art practitioners:

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They’re a fine bunch, and well able to defend themselves against my designedly sardonic and interrogatory style of seminar leadership. Today, we looked at the elements of HE teaching and the nature of one-to-one tutorials, about which they and I had very decided opinions.

2.15 pm. Post lunch, and after a further wrangle with the printer/photocopier (which — adding insult to injury — now refused to recognise my password), two colleagues and I walked the postgraduate sector of the School and allocated studio and study spaces to the new MA intake. They are a tidy fit. The second and final version of the Erratum Musical video was delivered, scrutinized, and judged fit for publication:

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For the remainder of the afternoon, I caught up on course admin.

6.10 pm. Practice session1. 9.40 pm. Practice session 2. During the evening and ‘The Night Watch’, I made adjustments to the second Art/Sound PowerPoint, uploaded material to Blackboard, and searched for information on Oscar Fischinger.



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