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

September 5, 2014

I took the 9.30 train from Aberystwyth en route for Sheffield. Having found a table and seat next to a mains socket that worked (there are number on Arriva Trains Wales that don’t; they are placebos), I prepared myself to transform my rather thin and staccato notes for the next Art/Sound lecture into coherent and cohesive thought:

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I’ve never understood why one feels inordinately hungry so soon after breakfast and so soon before lunch when travelling. Does moving at speed accelerate the body clock or metabolism? Fellow travellers are apt to breakout their sandwiches and flasks anytime after 11.30 am or at Shrewsbury station … whichever comes first. A woman who was on her way to London sat down next to me. ‘I have a reservation. Is this coach B?’ she asked. ‘The one I just came through was coach A’. Stirred from my work, I informed her: ‘No. This is coach C’. Then the guard walked past. ‘Is that coach’ (she pointed) – the one before A, I mean — coach B?’ ‘That’s coach D, madam’, he replied. The challenge of finding one’s seat on an Arriva train is only marginally less demanding than cracking the Enigma code.

Shrewsbury:

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I enjoy the automated announcements on trains and at stations: the way in which the speaker’s inflexions and stresses land in all the wrong places. On the Shrewsbury to Manchester leg of my journey the list of principal stations includes ‘Crewe’, which is spoken in a tone of bemused surprise suggestive of the sentiment: ‘Who’d want to go there?’ (But this example is preferable to the rather testy, harrying, and barely audible voice that summons (orders) patients to their GPs’ rooms at my local surgery.) At Birmingham New Street station, the announcements used to comprise place names and advice collaged from up to three distinct voices. They sounded like messages that the Beat poet Williams S Burroghs could have put together.

Stockport, and lunch (at the proper time):

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September 4, 2014

8.30 am. I dealt with various website postings, ‘messaged’, and culled my inbox before digging in for the conclusion of the current Art/Sound lecture. Periodically, I installed various analogue effectors in Pedalboard 3’s external loop provision to discern their effectiveness, and began processing files for Matt. 20.16 in the background:

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By 11.00 am, the lecture was finished. Then it was straight on to the next one, dealing with Minimalism and Conceptualism in art and music. Over my lunch hour, I documented Pedalboard 3 and packed necessities for a trip to Sheffield tomorrow. This is the third rebuild of the pedalboard in a year:

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2.00 pm. I made a prompt response to an inquiry from a very able PhD Fine Art student who’s experiencing one of those rites of passage that I think all scholars should go through at least once in their career:

Research, whether through fine art or in art history, will “do ya ‘ead in”. Reckon upon that as being an axiom woven into the fabric of the universe. One of my undergraduate teachers was the conceptualist and photographer Keith Arnatt. I went up to him on one occasion and, in a barely concealed panic, said: ‘Keith, I have a crisis’. He looked at me — with an expression that recalled the face of a scolded bloodhound — and replied: ‘It’s when you don’t have a crisis … that’s when you should be worried’. Cold comfort at the time but, in my experience subsequently, absolutely true. You have a crisis. You’re sensing that either a decision needs to be made, or you’re at a crossroads, or suddenly the road ahead has vanished into the mist. And so with all the limited empathy that I can muster, I say to you: you’re in the best place that an artist can be. I really believe that. The crisis demonstrates that your mind is probing its own boundary, and realising that it needs to extend beyond it. 

Your self-diagnosis is very mature. (No. I’m not just saying that.) In essence, your asking one important question: Do I need to know what are my intentions and subject matter before I pursue a process of investigation?  In my opinion, no. Possibly, in relation to any other PhD discipline, that answer would be very wide of the mark. But in fine art, it’s valid. Research is a search. This implies that something in the domain of your interests and curiosity is either undiscovered or lost. Your job is to uncover and retrieve it. And you can do so only responsively — in and through the process of investigation. The subject plays hide and seek. The subject is not what you think. The subject is more nuanced and surprising, and it will find you. Your task, in the meantime, is to attend to the certainties and, thereafter, believe that what is unknown will become manifest in due course. Trust your (and this isn’t a word common to the discourse of art these days) imagination — in that full-orbed sense defined by nineteenth century Romantic painters and poets.

After lunch, I collected together images, videos, and sound files for the lecture, put away equipment, and generally made ready the studio for the next project. To clean the studio is to clear my mind:

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I accidently closed my PowerPoint program without saving the working file, and erased an afternoon’s work. At least it was images and not text that vanished. Oftentimes, repeating a task, out of either choice or necessity, changes the outcome for the better. And, sometimes, in retracing our steps other and greater mistakes, of which we were oblivious, are uncovered. Therefore, I’ve learned not to remonstrate against misfortunes such as this.

By the close of the afternoon session, I’d retrieved my losses and gained new ground. After an early evening dinner and further packing, I carried on with media file-sourcing for the lecture. By the close of the session, I’d processed, mixed down, and launched Matt. 20.16.

9.40 pm Practice session 2. In the ‘night watch’, I cleared departmental admin. and mixed down another track.



September 3, 2014

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9.00 am. My MPhil Art History student and I met again to further review photographs of Welsh chapels by John Thomas (August 26, 2014). His visual repertoire is astonishing. By experiencing the images on a large scale, one can more readily enter into them. The peripheral details of the print (which were often edited out in the final crop) are made visible, and become an engaging distraction from the ostensible subject of the photograph. We saw the bowler hats of the deacons, elders, and minister lined up on the window ledge while they sit for a group portrait against an outside wall of a chapel; the chairs, drapes, and other props of studio photography stacked on the boundary of the composition waiting to be finally excised from view. The images reveal the artifice, the conventions, and the process of the genre.

Back at home, I pressed on with the Art/Sound lecture while processing sound files in the background, stopping occasionally to ponder the final resolution to Pedalboard 3.

I’ve now conceived four sound works that, together, will form a suite based on Psalms that refer to stringed musical instruments:

Psalm 33: ‘New Song’ (Loud Noise’)
Psalm 92: ‘New Song’ (Solemn Sound)
Psalm 49: ‘New Song’ (‘Dark Speech’)
Psalm 150: ‘New Song’ (‘High Sounding’)

The titles are quotes from the Psalms, and also provide indicators regarding either the mood or tenor or dynamics of the compositions’ execution. The technical apparatus for realizing the works will be the new Pedalboard 3, while the compositional process will involve the method of introducing sustained notes incrementally, explored in TestDrones 1-4 (August 30, 2014).

Over my lunch hour, I returned to the studio. ‘On the bench today’ (to quote Roland Lumby, amp repairer extraordinaire) we have Pedalboard 3 awaiting a final test and strapping and trussing — now with an external loop switch attached to accommodate external effectors in the Synth Engines’ own loop paths, should they be needed:

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After lunch, I continued with the lecture. I would love to give the fine art undergraduates a graphic score by John Cage or Toshi Ichiyanagi and ask them to make something from it. What would they do? And, more interestingly, perhaps … How would the art history undergraduates respond? Would they write about it, or begin to draw, or take up a musical instrument? And could they do so as art historians, as opposed to art historians who are also fine artists? In other words, can art-historical practice assume forms other than the strictly textual?

5.00 pm. Matt. 20.15 had been fully processed, mixed down, and launched. Only 11 more tracks to complete. After dinner, I absconded from guitar practice in order to finalise the test on Pedalboard 3 and complete the Art/Sound lecture within 500 words of its finale. (I prefer to sleep on a conclusion before committing myself to it.) Thereafter, I trussed and bound the board as tight as a Christmas turkey:

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My current book at bedtime is Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life: How We lose and Find Ourselves (2013).

 



September 2, 2014

8.30 am. I watched a video recording, made at Elstree Studios this year, of a triple-drum solo by the latest incarnation of King Crimson. Robert Fripp (the leader and only member of the group who has played in every line up since its inception in 1969) has placed the drummers in the front-line. In so doing, he has reversed the usual order in which the principal instrumentalists are situated at the front of the ensemble and the percussion section (as they are in a western orchestra, and have been in the tradition of jazz and rock n’ roll bands) at the back. Now, the drummers are positioned in the manner of percussionists in a gamalan orchestra, and perceived to be co-equals with, rather than an accompaniment to, the guitarists and saxophonist. And, its good to see grown men of my age and older still having a bash.

The new Pedalboard 3 is looking good. But one shouldn’t be beguiled by appearances. A pedalboard is only as good as it sounds. All other considerations — ergonomics, weight, the quality and cost of components, their order, and the visual aesthetic — are secondary. I ‘look’ at it, first, with my ears, then with my feet, and finally with my eyes:

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A piece of advice to an earnest, sparky, and up-and-coming young scholar of my acquaintance:

A lesson that I’ve learned: never compare yourself with anyone. Our particular blend of gifting and limitation — never the one without the other —  is the making of us (email, 02 08 14).

I began processing sound files for Matt. 20.15 in the background. At last, an end to the project is in sight:

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Over lunchtime, I made a number of minor adjustments to Pedalboard 3. I decided to introduce, temporarily, a bit crusher into the effects loop of the Synth Engines. But its texture was out of keeping with the sonorities of the other effectors. The Art/Sound lecture preoccupied me throughout the afternoon session.

4.30 pm. I saw Magritte through the skylight:

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Following practice 1, I suspended my principle of working for no more than two sessions of a day on the same project, and returned to the Art/Sound lecture, with the Pedalboard 3 trials in tandem, during the evening. (Sound files continued to be stretched in the background.) Using a combination of Audacity and Sunflower, I’m now able to capture any sound that passes through my computer.  This is a significant time saver.

9.40 pm. Practice 2.



September 1, 2014

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Having dismantled Pedalboard 3 on Sunday, today I began to ‘remantle’ only those pedals that are crucial to the production of a modulated glissando and an extended delay effect. Economy = efficiency = efficacy. During the first hour of the working week (which often sets the tone for the remainder), emails were dispatched, plans considered, and further sound files for the Matt. 20.14 track processed in the background:

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Thereafter, I began the next Art/Sound lecture. How does one sum up art and music in the USA during the 1960s and 70s in less than 300 words? Inadequately, at best. Late morning, I went to the School to tutor a student who’s completing their MA Fine Art degree. In negotiating the end of a scheme of study, a student is presented with a very different set of challenges to those encountered at the beginning. They must, now, act with the understanding that while the conclusion is always provisional it must, nevertheless, be sufficiently decisive to realise the intent that they’d declared at the outset of the final module. Ideally, this finale should be the apogee of their achievement too. However, it’s not always possible ‘to go out on a high’. Some students peak too soon. And none of us has any control over when we peak. After all, this is art and not a conjugal climax:

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The feathers of my colleagues were ruffled by an email from ‘the management’ requesting that tweets relevant to either the department or the institute should be forwarded to the latter, bi-lingually (!). This means that a good-for-nothing monoglot such as me would need to forward tweets to the translation unit (which is already straining under a heavy workload) before publication. (I suspect that they’d be able to rush the job through in about three months.) So, bang goes spontaneity. In this scenario, a tweet would consist of no more than 70 characters of English and 70 characters of Welsh … which rather frustrates the construction of communicable sense.

After practice 1, I continued to tease, plug, and reorder the latest incarnation of Pedalboard 3 in readiness for tomorrow’s trials:

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The Art/Sound lecture and sound processing demanded my attention in the evening session. Practice 2, then a ‘night watch’ dedicated to mixing down the Matt. 20.14 track and marking undergraduate resit submissions:

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To bed.

 



August 30, 2014

I woke at 8.30 am after a sound night’s sleep and a dream about shopping at a bazaar. On Saturdays, I abstain from my four-tier work ethic. Instead, I choose to work linearly, on one task at a time. Discipline must itself be subject to discipline. I began processing files for Matt. 20.14, and then transcribed another verse from Psm 32 LXX. I can do no more than one verse of the Greek in a session; the process of translation and mapping requires constant attention, and errors are inevitable (as in every other department of life):

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Into the studio. I recommenced testing the effectors before committing test drones to ‘tape’ (digits (?)). The test drones were based on an aggregate of a G6sus4 arpeggio plus E below middle C and played on a Gibson Les Paul Custom VOS 1957 guitar through Pedalboard 3 (August 8, 2014). The board is an enlarged conception of that which was used to articulate Musical Erratum (2014). The active effectors for each test drone are tabulated below:

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TestDrone1 presents a chord that had been already established incrementally before the recording was made. TestDrone2, begins on an isolated note and then cuts to the chordal resolution. TestDrone3, and TestDrone4 capture the aggregation of the arpeggio. The opening note of TestDrone4 is a homage to the first note of Robert Fripp’s and Brian Eno’s The Heavenly Music Corporation (1973). Finally, at the end of the afternoon, the four tracks were uploaded to John Harvey: Studium:

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An evening with the family.

 



August 29, 2014

It was time to press on with the score for Psalm 32: ‘New Song’:’Loud Noise’ (LXX) — the first in a notional series of music-orientated settings of the psalms. Originally, some of the Psalms were performed on stringed instruments, as indicated in verse 2 of the thirty-second Psalm:

ἐξομολογεῖσθε τῷ κυρίῳ ἐν κιθάρᾳ ἐν ψαλτηρίῳ δεκαχόρδῳ ψάλατε αὐτῷ 
[Praise the Lord with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings*].

In my arrangement, the compositions will be played on an electric guitar and effectors. The source text is taken from the Septuagint (the Kione Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures). The Greek alphabet has 24 letters. Each letter is given a numerical value and assigned to one of 25 notes that make up a two-octave chromatic scale:

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I chose the Septuagint translation because the number of letters in the Greek alphabet has the closest approximation to the number of notes in a two-octave chromatic scale. (Hebrew has 22 letters, Latin, 23, English, 26, and Welsh, 28.) In my Studio Notebook, I wrote down some initial thoughts speculating upon how one might count a double octave in terms of 26 notes. This is problematic. There are 26 notes in two separate octaves, but only 25 notes in two consecutive octaves, because the last note of the first octave and the first note of the second octave are shared:

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However, one could map the English alphabet onto two octaves, if they were separated by a further octave. In the background, I processed the remaining sound files for Matt. 20.13:

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By 12.15 pm, I’d completed the transcription of Psm 32.15 LXX and mixed down and uploaded Matt. 20.13 to The Floating Bible album.

Back into the studio. For the purposes of my practice, it’s a studio in two senses of the word: a visual artist’s atelier (Fr: ‘workshop’) and a sound artist’s rehearsal and recording room. It’s a place where the visual and sonorous cohabit unselfconsciously.

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After lunch, I explored the parameters of Pedalboard 3, adjusting each effector separately and in turn, while noting their optimum settings. It’s difficult to maintain ‘unity gain’ throughout such a complex rig due to the combination of analogue and digital effectors, each with a different capacitance and resistance rating on their respective input and output. I’ll make a number of recordings of test drones tomorrow:

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Evening. Dinner with the family and friends old and new.

* The quotation is from Psalm 33.2 (King James Version). The numbering of the Psalms in the Septuagint differs from that found in psalters and bibles translated from the Hebrew.

 



August 28, 2014

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‘The quality of mercy’ was unrestrained this morning.* I ‘umbrella-ed’ and took a short walk to the local hospital for a consultation. Long live Bronglais General Hospital. And, God bless the NHS. For all it’s shortcomings (which are largely the result of underfunding by successive governments of all colours), it’s still the best health care system in the world:

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Back at the School of Art, Dr Webster and I  exchanged our enthusiasm for Peter Capaldi’s assured performance as the new Doctor. We hoped the series would continue to darken in tone. It would be a brave and intelligent move on the part of the producers. In the days of William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, the BBC made no concession to the sensibilities and needs of a younger audience. (If you wanted children’s television, you watched (‘with mother’) Andy Pandy and The Woodentops.) We were given original, imaginative drama with more talking than action, some of the most disturbing alien villains ever conceived in science fiction, and loved it. That’s why the children of my (and Peter Capaldi’s) generation are still loyal.

The remainder of the morning was set aside for, what turned out to be, a productive PhD Fine Art tutorial. Sometimes, a student discovers themselves before they determine the subject and method of the research. At other times, they find themselves along the way, or else retrospectively. But find themselves they must. In between teaching tasks, I made a list of all the research initiatives that were ‘revealed’ to me in the ‘vision’ (August 20, 2014).

Afternoon. A second, and anticipatory, PhD Fine Art tutorial with a prospective student followed by an interview for the MA Fine Art scheme. Both applicants will be joining the School in September. Beginning a new course, at any level is daunting. Often even the very best students start off with too many ideas with too loose a connection one with the other. It takes time to construct a conceptual filter through which only the few most relevant concerns can pass.

Through the evening and into the ‘night watch’, I finalised the current lecture for Art/Sound, taking time out to watch part of the recent BBC documentary on Kate Bush — an extraordinary artiste:

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* The Merchant of Venice

 

 



August 27, 2014

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I had a fitful night’s sleep. My ’24-hour ambulatory blood-pressure monitor’ — the cuff of which, when inflated, has the grip of a grizzly bear — woke me on the hour, every hour until I rose. During the monitoring session, the patient must keep an activity diary for every 30 minutes of the day. (Let’s hope that universities UK don’t catch on to this idea as a means to ‘help’ academics rationalise their personal timetable.) It’s a sort of salami sliced and desperately un-nuanced autobiography, wherein one’s life can be described only in terms of : ‘working’, ‘walking’, ‘eating’, ‘sleeping’, ‘relaxing’, ‘travelling’, ‘driving’, ‘exercise’, ‘housework’, and ‘watching TV’. (It would appear that this latter state of being is quantifiably different from ‘relaxing’.)

8.30 am: I re-engaged the Art/Sound lecture (while processing Matt. 20.13 sound files in the background) before ‘walking’ to the School of Art, where I conducted an MA application interview (which I categorized as a mode of ‘working’):

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Thereafter, I resumed ‘walking’ (or was it ‘travelling, or, perhaps, ‘exercising’ — given the hill’s steep gradient?) and made my way to the GP surgery to be unshackled from the blood-pressure monitor and relieved of a phial of blood:

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On my return home, I carried on with the Art/Sound lecture and sound-file processing (the first and quaternary tasks of the day). I’m ‘digging’ Swing music, as they’d say in the 1940s. I continued in this vein throughout the afternoon, moving forward in music history from Boogie-Woogie to Bebop and Free Jazz.

A piece of my ephemera has become eternal. The New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide, second edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014) has a reference to one of my Facebook posts:

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It’s included to exemplify a standard method for citing this type of publication in an academic text. My post is preceded by an illustration showing the convention for podcast referencing (using one of Grayson Perry’s Reith Lecture as an example), and another instance of a ‘Facebook post/update’, from Barack Obama’s page. I doubt whether I’ll ever again be mentioned on the same page as the President of the United States of America:

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6.10 pm: guitar practice 1.  7.30 pm: Studio work. The secondary and tertiary tasks of the day were: dismantling Handboards 1-3 (August 25, 2014) while setting up Pedalboard 2 for a thorough workout over the next few days; and putting equipment back into storage. You must be not only your own technician but also a roadie and studio manager. Discipline always proceeds outwards — from soul to mind to body to instrument to effectors to mixer to amplifier to recorder to studio, and onto the world. By the end of the evening session, Pedalboard 2 was installed and ready for operational tests on Friday:

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9.30 pm: Guitar practice 2. By 11.00 pm, I was ready to search for the sleep that I’d lost last night.

 



August 26, 2014

I’m back at my desk in the School of Art, sans the personal desktop printer. This has now been impounded/confiscated/seized (at least, that’s the way it feels) by the authorities to force me, and every other academic in possession of the same contraband, to use the university’s central printer services. The policy will save the university money, I’m told. However, I have a supply of expensive toner cartridges that will now go to waste. Could I not have surrendered the printer when the consumables had been expended? No!:

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A day of MPhil and PhD Art History and Fine Art tutorials. It began with a review of photographs of chapels in Wales by the nineteenth century Welsh photographer John Thomas (1838-1905). My tutee and I reverse-engineered the images to ascertain Thomas’s intent (which appears to have been multi-faceted), use of pictorial conventions, and unique contribution to architectural photography. He had such a good eye for formality and austerity — very much in keeping with the spirit of chapel architecture. (A Calvinistic Methodist ‘style’ or sensibility, perhaps.) Some of the compositions transcend whatever ambitions he had in mind. The pictures are portraits of buildings, reminiscent of  Lowry’s linear drawing of Salford churches, chapels, and bystanders.

I made a prompt departure from the department and took a speedy walk to my doctor’s surgery to have a blood-pressure monitor fitted. On my return, I switched channels and gear for a tutorial on Schleiermacher, Otto, and the visualisation of transcendency. There’s a time when an art history thesis finds its own ‘voice’ — a tone that is appropriate to the subject, method, and author. For this student, now is that time.

I had an hour after lunch to catch up with my teaching administration and loose ends — deleting insignificant, unread emails, like I was swatting flies:

The trivial round, the common task,
Will furnish all we ought to ask.

(John Keble, 1835)

Mid Afternoon. I phoned our external PhD Fine Art student, who’s studying from abroad:

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One of the richest aspects of teaching fine art, at any level, is its holistic nature. Tutorial discussions often range wide of art practice  — touching upon the imponderable complexities of a person’s humanity and experience and the state of the wider world of ideas, history, and events — and yet still remain entirely relevant. In this respect, my students teach me far more than they would realise.

During my second tutorial of the afternoon,  the sun shone between the slats in the blind, contouring the room. In that moment, I became aware of another, unspecified place and time — quite possibly associated with my childhood — filled with a feeling of sweetness and melancholy. Perhaps such moments are, instead, anticipatory — foreshadowing a future state. These experiences come more often as I get older and closer to the border of that far country:

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7.00 pm: Back to the Art/Sound lecture, and to Matt.20.13 file processing in the background. A thoroughly rewarding evening session searching for illustrations of jazz music and abstract painting in America in the 1920s.

My current book at bedtime is Alister McGrath’s The Intellectual World of C S Lewis (2013).

 

 



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