Month: January 2016

January 30, 2016

8.20 am. An early morning excursion into town to run errands and receive a haircut. My stylist regaled me with stories of his celebrity clients, the price of a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, and charity dos in Cardiff. 9.00 am. Afterward, I looked heavenward:


There was a brittle, tingling, vitalising air; the harbinger of snow, perhaps. This was the day. No other. A suggestion of a promissory: something would happen; something would change … beginning with myself.

9.45 am. Conspectualisation, again. The case had to be made for a discussion of the Bible and sound to be included in the book. For me, presently, this was like falling off a log. More challenging, was devising statements of a generalising and summative nature, from a perspective far enough away from the totality of the book to perceive the whole. I stared blankly at the shelves behind my monitors:


11.00 am. Time out, and a brief review of the work undertaken on section 6, yesterday. Smashing! One should rejoice when the work has gone really well! These occasions are all too rare. The sound work has now developed sufficiently for me to recognise its conceptual, stylistic, methodological, and emotional character. I now know what is possible and what is not within this framework. In other words, the work has defined its discipline.

I took time to comment on a Facebook posting about restrictive practices that are emerging on American campuses. (So, it won’t be long before this becomes an issue for UK universities.) In order to protect the emotional well-being of young people, faculty (and, I assume, student peers too), we must exercise alarming caution lest they offend or otherwise psychologically damage the sensitive and vulnerable by speaking about controversial ideas (for which ‘crime’ the perpetrators are likely to be punished). This type of censoriousness combines infantilization with the spirit of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, in my opinion. I remarked: ‘The result is the cultivation of weak-minded, hypersensitive, thin-skinned, auto-victimising, and ineffectual students. The campus is not a care home; it’s an arena in which students and staff do battle against the forces of ignorance and injustice’.

1.40 pm. Back to it, with Aaron Copeland’s Quiet City (1939) in the ether. His compositions (together with those of Vaughan Williams) have a remarkable ability to summon a visual landscape, sonically. 2.45 pm. I added another keyboard to my study workspace:


This will serve as my productive ‘distraction‘, so that I can develop my understanding of scalar relationships further during those periods when my textual mind claps-out. By 4.45 pm, it had. But the section I’d worked on throughout the morning and afternoon was, by then, complete. Time for a further consideration of section 6 before the close of the afternoon.

5.15 pm. Press ‘Esc’. 6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. An evening with my wife.

January 29, 2016

8.45 am. I pay heavily for a night off! During the first hour of the working morning, podcasts were uploaded for students to access, tutorial appointments issued, next week’s teaching diary filled, meetings set up, and correspondence resolved. This was academic housekeeping. 9.30 am. The morning was dedicated to conspectus development. If I made reasonable progress on the project, I would allow myself back into sound studio after lunch. 10.30 am. I descended to the ground floor for some tea-lubrication:


11.00 am. My head in now in the right place now; I had searched for an opening, and have found one. Within, there’s a breadth of potential research perspectives that were not conceivable this time last week. I suspect that many of my students,, whose art practice is through writing, assume that academics can breeze through the process of conceptualisation, composition, and articulation. They don’t. Well … I don’t. My experience of writing, today, is little different to what it was when I was completed my undergraduate dissertation (lovingly-typed my dear Mam, in a day when word-processing wasn’t even conceivable):


I still find it an immensely dispiriting slog at times: ideas fail to emerge, concepts won’t coalesce, the expressions are either leaden, cumbersome, vaguely pompous (and just plain vague, sometimes), or otherwise inelegant; and, the whole process takes me far too long. But I’ve got better at it.

1.40 pm. A spot of studio clearance before returning to ‘Image & Inscription’, section 6. I slowed down the underlying pulse. (It now sounds somewhat like the ‘thumper’ in David Lynch’s Dune (1981).) The attack and decay on the static sample were increased, the sine-wave tone lengthened, and low-tone drones introduced. 3.45 pm. A review of section 5. It sounded as good as I remembered. 4.00 pm. Back at section 6 until the end of the afternoon:


7.00 pm. I had the central spine of the section resolved. The next challenge was development. This necessitated reviewing the source text and my library of recorded samples. (Gather your materials before you build!) To work with sound and noise requires an innate musicality. There’s no avoiding it. By 8.45 pm, the first part of section 6 was complete. The second part may be the dramatic centre of the whole composition: the sound of trumpets — loud and long.

January 28, 2016

8.30 am. I set up in readiness for my morning’s lecture at 11.00 am, before beginning the first of my second year painting tutorials, which would be centred on feedback tutorial follow up:


A spate of absenteeism without prior notification. Not good! ‘Begin as you mean to go on’, as the old saying goes. That advice comes from an age when duty, obligation, and responsibility were commonplace virtues, regardless of your class or background. Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • If you get on top of your obligations at the start of the semester, you’re likely to stay on top for the remainder.
  • The vision determines the work, determines the effort, determines time spent.
  • If you’re undertaking two fine art modules this semester, beware the danger of sacrificing the one for the other. Apportion your working time equally from the outset.
  • You’ll find your own subject matter only when you find yourself. They share the same ‘geographical’ location.
  • Do anything rather than nothing.
  • Make a mark (any mark), then another, then another. Look! The work has begun.
  • Painting is, essentially, the application of paint. No other delimiting conditions need apply (in my opinion).
  • How good do you want to be? How good will you allow yourself to be? What will it take to be that good?

11.10 am. The first British Landscape class. I’m back to the attendance numbers that I experienced when I began teaching this module. I suspect that this may be its last voyage. 12.00 pm. Further fine art tutorials until lunchtime.


2.10 pm. The first Art in Wales class. Now this one really takes me back. I can barely recognise myself in the text. Ultimately, one must cut loose from the moorings of old ways of thinking, enthusiasms, and subject orientation. Or, put another way, the ground needs to be scorched, in order to rid it of weeds and prepare the soil for new plants:

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 16.06.31

3.00 pm. Two further tutorials before the final session of the afternoon, which was dedicated to module and postgraduate admin.

6.30 pm. An evening off to see NT Live’s performance of Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses. 

January 27, 2016

8.30 pm. I’m endeavouring to become more aware of, and to delimit, what distracts me and what I turn to for a distraction. My proposals:

  • Close down all windows on the computer that are unrelated to the task at hand.
  • Work in silence, where possible.
  • Check and respond to emails periodically, rather than constantly.
  • Post to social media sites once only in each session of the working day.
  • Consult the Internet only when relevant to the task in hand.
  • Monitor body posture.
  • Drink less tea and more water.
  • Make time in the day to do nothing.
  • If a distraction is necessary, either read a book, or write something, or learn a scale.

In a letter written in response to a recent PhD Fine Art application, I remarked: ‘Your answer will necessarily change the nature of the question’. What we wish to do and what we do do (whether in research or life in general) are bound up with one another. As in jazz improvisation: one musician calls (raises the question), another musician responds (answers to it); the caller, in turn, responds to the answer, and makes another call, and so forth.

10.00 am. A dental appointment, and a protracted period of open-mouthedness while my upper back tooth was excavated (the filing having failed after fifteen years of service) and rebuilt. This was micro-sculpting par excellence:


11.00 am. Various administrations. 12.00 pm. I gave an introductory talk to students undertaking the BA Fine Art Exhibition 1 & 2 modules. Some principles and observations from today’s engagements:

  • Meaning is not the same as purpose. One can proceed with an artwork without knowing its meaning, but one cannot proceed without some sense of an intent.
  • The intent of a work may be, in part, to arrive at its meaning.
  • Its meaning may be discovered in the process of making.
  • The meaning of the work, thus found, may be of relevance only to the maker.

2.00 pm. The first third year fine art tutorials of the semester. Together, we worked through the comments on the recent feedback form. 3.00 pm. A cancellation gave me an opportunity to return home and attend to tutor/tutee admin and module uploads. My high-end guitar cable had arrived from the USA, costing a good deal of money for a great deal of quality. But it doesn’t get any better than this:


6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.15 pm. I returned to the conspectus and small admin tasks (in tandem). The succession of appallingly poor nights’ sleep over the past few days slowed my progress and tested my attentiveness. I punctuated my writing with reading. Academics disconnect these activities at their peril.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 20.32.28

January 26, 2016

8.40 am. Into the squall, desperate to preserve the integrity of my umbrella:

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 10.17.45

9.00 am. My first MA Fine Art tutorial of the semester. A cancellation, thereafter, opened up time for me to process postgraduate applications and read through PhD Fine Art course-work submissions in readiness for forthcoming tutorials:


Some principles and observations derived from today’s encounters:

  • Very often, we’re in one of the following positions: We don’t know what to do. We don’t do what we know. We do what we don’t know.  We do know what we don’t know. We don’t know what we don’t know. We do what we do.
  • We need the perspective and insight of others who can see beyond the boundaries of our own perception and comprehension of a matter.
  • If you cannot choose between options, then don’t; consolidate them instead.
  • You cannot not be influenced anymore that you cannot not eat and expect to grow.
  • Sometimes, the only thing we know for sure is that we want things to be different. That’s a good start.
  • It’s no bad thing to be blind to one’s own virtues while acutely aware of one’s conspicuous shortcomings.

11.00 am. The remainder of the morning was set apart for a series of discussions with pairs of students from the MA Vocational Practice module. They’re in the midst of developing a small-group workshop for undergraduate students, which they’ll deliver before the Easter vacation, and of preparing to hold two one-to-one tutorials with the undergraduates.

2.00 pm. The first of two MA inquirers discussions.


3.00 pm. Then, the second. The purpose of these meetings is to permit the inquirer and staff member to negotiate each other’s respective expectations. The School has no house style. It insists, rather, upon integrity, quality, ambition, and enthusiasm only. Everything else is up for grabs. Our intent is to enable the student to find their own ‘voice’ (which is not the same as a ‘unique style’ (whatever that means)), and to be able to ‘speak’ with clarity, sense, and persuasion.

4.00 pm. A PhD Fine Art tutorial. It was an invigorating end to the day at the School.

6.15 pm. Practise session 1. 7.15 pm. Following a little lesson preparation in advance of tomorrow, I pressed on with the conspectus, revising what had already been written. Sentences needed to be decluttered and sharpened, and meanings, teased apart. The likes of Thomas Tallis and William Byrd were my accompanists. A little emaillory and diarism to close the working day.

January 25, 2016

8.05 am. From the study window:


The promise of the first light failed within the next half an hour. Never put your trust in signs; the distance between expectation and realisation can be considerable. 9.00 am. Two references to write, the weekend’s incoming email to deal with, further slots in my diary to fill, and postgraduates to contact.

10.00 am. On with the conspectus. Once writing had begun, the notes coalesced and spawned further ideas and connections. By 11.00 am, some of the early morning’s prospect had edged its way through previously impenetrable grey ceiling over the landscape, only to be edged out again an hour later. Like foul and fair weather, good and bad providence, sanity and distemper, clarity and confusion, success and failure, and esteem and shame, come and go — inconstant, unsummoned, and unreliable:


1.40 pm. A little adjustment to equipment in the studio before settling again to the conspectus. The more one does the less there is to do. A momentum gathered; parts fell into place and a sense of perspective emerged (distance, depth, and breadth in reciprocity). A shape, a logic, and sense of progression pressed towards me.



6.15 pm. Practise session 1. 7.15 pm. Into the studio to make a tentative start on section 6. Perhaps this is the section that begins with aerial static … of the fiercest sort. John: ‘Let the sound become something that you’d not anticipated!’, he urged, testily. A static loop ensued — crackling and menacing, like a cable that had broken loose from an overhead pylon. A bass pulse and a sustained sine wave were added and, then, something began to stir. (Note to self: the pulse is racing ahead; it must be slowed down.) This was a good point at which to break off. When I return to the composition, I’ll have something positive to review, and know where to take up.

8.40 pm. I returned to the conspectus, and developed notes towards the next section of the account, to which I’ll return tomorrow evening.

January 23, 2016

8.15 am. A lazy wake. 9.00 am. The conspectus project beckoned, mercilessly. A return to reading and the thorny issues surrounding visual culture’s content and field of competence, and also its threat to traditional art-historical values. More mundanely, a recent courier delivery arrived with damage to the container and, thereby, to the content. The base was damp, ripped away in part (because the cardboard had become sodden), and had a gash traversing its width, which had penetrated through to the underside interior:


I threw the problem back in the direction of the supplier: ‘You sort it out!’. Meanwhile, back at the meatier matters of the Bible [& whatever] … progress was slow and not encouraging. A change of focus beckoned.

1.40 pm. I reviewed section 5, and inserted an extracted central channel from the voice tracks in order to generate a mid-point monaural signal. 2.00 pm. Back into the pit of conspection. If you strain hard and long enough at a problem, something will always yield (including oneself, of course).


If your own ideas fail to emerge, immerse yourself in those of others. Scholarship is there to nourish, as well as to inform and enlighten. To close the afternoon — a little Internet link filing and foldering. When the ‘pending’ folder got too long, I just had to:

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 17.04.15

5.00 pm. Save and close. 6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. An evening with my wife.

January 22, 2016

Art is made by those who consider themselves to have failed at whatever isn’t art (Howard Jacobson).

8.30 am. Once emails had received my attention, I made final notes on my response to the MPhil thesis, which I’d be examining this afternoon, while developing a range of interrogative questions and final recommendations:


10.10 am. Back to the conspectus via a detour past email requests and notifications regarding modules and tutorials, as well as posts and messages to chivvy, encourage, and express concern. This dairy/blog must have an endpoint, otherwise it’ll go on for as long as I do. (As of yesterday, I’ve published 400 posts.) More importantly, this mode of writing soon will have achieved its unstated aim, being: to narrate a personal perspective on academic life in the twenty-first century. Moreover, there may be other modes of disclosure and mapping that cannot emerge from this present form. One must always make provision for evolution; old and established structures rarely accommodate new and progressive ideas without rupturing both.

11.30 am. I desperately tried to conceive of a definition for art and visual culture that, first, permits them to either fit together or else inside one another (Which is the dominant? Which is the sub-discipline?) and, secondly, intelligently subsume sound art and art-music. Simultaneously, I engaged in a brief exchange of ideas on Facebook messenger. The correspondent was one of our alumni, who’s currently on teaching practice as part of their teacher-training course. The subject was the joys, pitfalls, and content of art teaching in primary and secondary schools. I wrote:

School students need to grasp the fundamentals of structure and depth-of-thought. There are simply too few teachers who are sufficiently sophisticated to convey that knowledge … and with passion and imagination … .

Learning to teach (and you never stop) requires a period wherein teaching is the sole focus of your attention. The trick is, thereafter, integrating your own needs with it … In teaching others, you teach yourself. (Teaching is way of talking to yourself) … 

The older the school students get, the more constrained they become by the conventions and expectations about ‘art’ that they’ve absorbed, by osmosis, unconsciously. If you substitute the concept of ‘play’ for ‘art’, then the students have no problem in letting-go and letting-be. That’s where creativity begins — even at my age.

12.20 pm. Off to School to discuss arrangements for the viva with the Chair and await the arrival of the External Examiner. I love the winter sunshine; my amaryllis loves the winter sunshine; we both love the winter sunshine:


1.00 pm. A lunchtime meeting the external examiner, Dr Anne Price-Owen (Swansea). 2.00 pm. Then, onto the viva voce proper. A good outcome. By 4.30 pm, the fairly extensive documentation of our interrogation, response, and recommendations was written-up, printed-out, and signed:


5.20 pm. Homeward:



6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 6.30 pm. Two sessions on text-based activities needed to be balanced by one session on sound-based activity. (For my sanity’s sake, at least.) Thus, on with section 5. Having introduced several parametric curves to one track, and a touch of reverb to the termination point of another, the composition fell into place. Thus the solution to the irresolution was to unify the shape of the gradations across all tracks. Thereafter, I paired away one track (Why have three when two are sufficient?) and listened to the composition closely over headphones. This stage of production is always very instructive. It’s like listening through a stethoscope. A substrata of sounds is revealed — subtle things that can be hardly heard on the monitors, and yet which are noticeably absent when they’re removed.

January 21, 2016

8.30 pm. An early morning kerfuffle concerning a planned viva voce this afternoon, which has had to be postponed until tomorrow. Round and round the problem travelled from one email correspondent to another — forwarded, copied, resent, and replied — and from phone to phone. It took two hours and much goodwill to resolve. At such times, I remind myself that I’m being paid for this. 11.00 am. I had three quarters of an hour before a pre-semester tutorial. I returned to the sound studio and familiarised myself with the narrative movements for section 6. In the source text, there’s much movement on the part of both Moses and God — ascending and descending — and a great deal of loud noise. First, however, the counterpoise of a serene and solemn interlude (section 5) required resolution.

11.45 am. Off to the School. My amaryllis is prospering. The office is as hot as a greenhouse during the winter and spring (I cannot turn off the radiator because the regulating tap has been painted over and seized up), so I’m exploiting the environment by introducing pot plants:


1.40 pm. Further administrative preparations for the rescheduled viva were required. 2.00 pm. Drones and voice samples for section 5 were manufactured. I needed to maximise a sense of quiet constancy and stasis while, at the same time, maintain an intensity and tension. The voice in my head said: ‘Make the composition uneventful, but fulsome; chaste, but yearning; short in length, but wide in scope’.


6.30 pm. Practise session 1: an exploration of tones using a heavy compression. 7.30 pm. I reviewed the afternoon’s work on section 5. ‘Pair it down; strip each sound of its excess of frequencies; find the pattern in the drone, and stress it; discover and define the undergirding logic; work with and against that logic; two things are enough, when one isn’t’; one thing is enough, when nothing isn’t’; make less do more’, the inner-teacher insisted. (I’m as much his victim as my students are.)


January 20, 2016

9.00 am. A little module admin, as replies to yesterday’s out going correspondence drip into my inbox. An elevating light seeps through the window’s condensation. (I prayed for the metaphorical equivalent permeate my mind.) On with the conspectus, with Gavin Bryars’ On Photography (2005), dedicated to the memory of Susan Sontag, playing in the background:


My penny’s worth towards the protest against the progressive downgrading a very significant role in the operations of the Arts Centre:

This is a curatorial position, one that requires the exercise of creative intelligence and judgement, an informed awareness of the contemporary art scene, and the ability to network and negotiate with artists from all over the world. The concept of ‘technician’ undermines all those attributes; a lower salary devalues both the profession and the post.

In small ways, bit by bit, it’s possible to relinquish everything. Which is why we need to fight the many minor battles, one by one. I experienced a slower rate of progress on the conspectus, which was to be expected: the more ideas one objectifies, the fewer remain to be conceived. (The have to be eked out the mind like seafood from the shell.)

11.45 am. I made a trip to the School, in the brittle and invigorating air, to finalise mark submissions, retrieve papers, discuss student attainment, and check mail:


1.40 pm. A little postgraduate module admin, a little re-routing of cables and switching boxes, a little equipment review and sourcing, before cranking up the sound studio for an afternoon on ‘Image and Inscription’, section 5. But, first, I reviewed the previous four sections. This was the equivalent of stepping back from the canvas to see the whole before addressing the part. Small adjustments to homogenise the overall loudness of the quartet were made. Section 5 begins in silence, and then, perhaps, with the sound of static electricity in the air once again. Time and ear will tell. The schematic of the composition was updated to the reflect my current position in the narrative:


6.15 pm. Practise session 1. 7.15 pm. I cleared incoming emails and returned to section 5 and the sound of electricity in the air. This section (Exod. 19.14-15) provides a short interlude —  of calm, reflection, and preparation — before the tumultuousness of section 6, which the core of the composition — when all heaven breaks loose. The scene in these two verses is about sanctification and purification, principally. At the close of the evening, I read further into Exodus, from Chapters 20 through to 22.