Month: February 2016

February 17, 2016

9.00 am. The day began with third year fine art tutorials. All my tutees are working to the same scale. They’re the ‘poster girls’. Preparations were underway for the second of our Visiting Days. Ms Kennedy was Commanding Officer on this occasion. Ambassadors to the ready:


Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • You should not aim to be different to others, anymore than you should desire to conform to them. Be yourself.
  • One cannot over-estimate the benefit of developing a broad cognizance of artists relevant to your practice.
  • The making of art should be habitual rather than occasional.
  • Small works are not by definition minor ones. Ambition, professionalism, authenticity, uniqueness, and integrity know no scale.
  • Applicants who have acquired discipline and expertise in another department of life (for example, music or sport) are more likely to develop the same in the subject of their university studies.

The undergraduate applicants have come from as far away as Manchester and as close-by as Ebbw Vale. For me, when an interview goes well, it drifts into a tutorial. One applicant had a collection of eight guitars. And two other female interviewees played electric guitar. I discern a movement beginning. Tweet central was active again:

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3.15 pm. Back into the sound studio to put together the opening minutes of ‘Image and Inscription’, Section 7. The trumpets tones were variously paired three times, to sound like a fanfare. A good start at the heart of the composition in toto.

7.30 pm. Following a sock-pairing session in front of the TV, I returned to preparations for the ‘Ways of Working in Sound’ workshop. I needed to learn some video/audio techniques on the hoof. But one should be always growing, technically. I need, now, to begin planning the workshop from the beginning:

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February 16, 2016

8.40 am. A sharp and enlivening morning. 9.00 am. A minor amaryllis disaster had taken place. It was on the floor of my office, soil strewn about, one stem bent. How could this have happened? Had the pot had toppled in the direction of the flower bells (the weight of which may have otherwise pulled the plant over), the spill would have been on the desk only. There’s no draft in the room, and no one would have entered it after I’d left yesterday evening. This was odd.

I aimed to get my inbox to ‘0’ unread by 10.00 am, when I held an MA Fine Art tutorial:


11.00 am. The inbox had already began to fill, like a leaking boat. 11.30 am. A displaced second year fine art tutorial. 12.00 pm. An undergraduate dissertation tutorial. Some observations and principles from today’s engagements:

  • The simpler the visual proposition, the greater the responsibility each element has to contribute to the whole.
  • One’s attraction to an object is for particular reasons. Identify and paint them alone.
  • Better to write as you speak, rather than as another person writes.
  • Disassemble the problem; assemble the solution.
  • There’s a way that seems right, but which leads nowhere.
  • Mistakes are inevitable, in all departments of one’s life. Reckon on it!
  • Assume the folly of all things, then endeavour to discover the wisdom of some.
  • This little life will be too soon over. Among our greatest regrets at the end will be idle days.


2.30 pm. A PhD Fine Art tutorial for the remainder of the afternoon. She came bearing gifts:


Once of the most satisfying aspects of this job is the quality of the conversation that I’ve enjoyed with the PhD students in particular. Often the content of our exchanges ranges wide of the student’s topic. I’m staggered at their generosity of spirit. I’m made privy to aspects of their lives (which somehow always curve back towards their work) to which few others have access. In this vein, I wrote to one of my charge, yesterday:

With you, conversation seems to be a process that leads to realisation. Interestingly, the term ‘conversation’ in the 17th and 18th centuries meant far more than a discussion or engagement. It encompassed the art of living and of speaking, and one’s social associations. In the King James Version of the Bible (1611), the term also included the way we live our lives. Your ‘conversation’ seems to embrace many of those complexions; in other words, what you say is drawn from the matrix of who you are, what you believe, and what you hope for.


7.30 pm. After dinner on the town, I pushed on with my ‘Ways of Working with Sound’ workshop, with Pauline Oliveros’s Deep Listening (1989) playing in the near distance.

February 15, 2016

I thought I was someone else / Someone good (Lou Reed, Perfect Day).

8.00 am. In order to move beyond rumination:


8.45 am. There’s so much to be grateful for. I haven’t awoken to the sound of bombing; I’m not being hounded from my home or country; I’ve food a plenty and fresh water, and clothes on my back; I’ve the opportunity and capacity to work; my family is safe and well; and the only enemies I face are those within and the great Adversary. Having sent out my usual Monday morning notifications and confirmation of classes, I made ready to undertake background research for ‘Image and Inscription’.

9.30 am. Where was Moses at the beginning of Exodus 20 — on or off the mount? I suspect he is off; he made his third descent at the end of the previous chapter (Exod. 19.25). Exodus, Chapter 20, verses 18 to 19 indicates that the Israelites could not only hear the Ten Commandments (ten words, or the Decalogue) being uttered by God from the mountain but also ask Moses for God to desist speaking, ‘lest we die’ (such was the fearfulness of his voice). Then, Moses ascends for the fourth time (Exod. 20.21). During this one-to-one audience, God restates the prohibition of the second commandment (which underlies the process of the sound composition). The rationale, on this occasion, was that ‘Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven’ (Exod. 20.22). In other words, God’s self-revelation was auditory rather than visual. Moreover, no sculptural artefact or icon could ever encapsulate the grandeur and sublimity of the manifestation that Moses and the Israelites had witnessed. (Which is why forging of the golden calf, later on in the narrative, was so obscene (Exod. 32.1).)

Section 7, then, will be an exposition of the whole of Exodus, chapter 20, which includes the Decalogue, the restatement of the second commandment, and a summary of God’s instruction for his proper worship. Section 8 would deal with the giving of numerous laws, the design of the Tabernacle and its appurtenances, two further ascents by Moses, and the Tables of the Law, which God wrote with his own finger (Exod. 31.18). Section 9, I anticipate, will be very dramatic and focus upon the forging of the golden calf, and the double iconoclasm of the Tables and the idol. Section 10, will conclude the composition with an account of the restoration of the Tables and the phenomenon of Moses’s shining face (Exod. 34.29).

1.40 pm. On the way to the School, I stopped off at Holy Trinity Church to drop off cups which I’d washed at home after my tea and coffee duties following the morning service last week. I appreciate being there on my own:


2.00 pm. A marketing meeting to discuss how we might better introduce ourselves to schools and engage with higher education art ‘exhibitions’ (which is the new term for ‘conventions’). 3.00 pm. Some admin: references, and all sorts.


4.00 pm. A Skype tutorial with one of my long-distance tutees. It’s a mode of conversation that I’ve too little experience of to be entirely comfortable. But I’m learning. And on this occasion, the person on the other end made it all the easier.

6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. I wrote an email following up this afternoon’s tutorial and then returned to the sound studio in order to consider the implications of this morning’s biblical study. Section 7 was begun.

February 13, 2016

8.35 am. Breakfast:


9.00 am. I cleared the dregs of admin and email correspondence so that I could distance myself from all thought of such as I entered the sound studio for the day. I’ve had to develop a rigorous switching mechanism to prevent concerns from other departments of my professional life from seeping into the work at hand. 9.30 am. First — a trip to town for provisions.

One of my second year painting informed me that some of George Stubbs’ (1724-1806) early works were a corporate endeavour. For example, the background to his Holyhock (c.1767-70) was painted by Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-89), while and the figures of the shepherd, girl, dog, and the flock of sheep were by François Boucher (1703-70). The phenomenon is not unusual. The Five Senses (1617-18) was painted by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and Jan Bruegel the Elder (1568-1625). But this practice would cause havoc in the context of student assessments. 

Back into the sound studio. I extended the trumpet passage of section 6. In my mind’s ear, I’d always conceived of the trumpets as being a chordal fanfare. The reality is a sequence of single notes played as though on different size ram horns and at various distances from the audient. Finally, I re-inserted the ‘voice of God’ passage, this time doubling the track on itself, with one version processed through a convoluted reverb and the other punched in and out in synchronisation with it:


I learned this technique from the great Teo Macero (1925-2008), producer of many of Miles Davis’ albums during his jazz-fusion period. On the track Go Ahead John from Big Fun (1974), he applies the technique to the recording of the guitar (played by John McLaughlin) and drums:


Finally, Moses descends the mount. Once that event is sonified, the section will be complete.

6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. An evening to myself.

February 11, 2016

6.15 am. Before breakfast, I put the finishing touches to the student reference that I’d begun last night. 8.00 am. The sun clipped the hilltops:


8.30 am. There was an unusual quietness (not silence) on Trinity Road, as I approached the School. The absence of sound can make itself forcibly present just as surely as a loud noise. On arrival, I prepared the scripts and technology to deliver the day’s two lectures, and made ready to deliver second year painting tutorials around them. In one of the studios: a homage to Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015):


Some principles and observations derived from today’s encounters:

  • Once the mind has understood, the eye will see, and the hand will follow.
  • Remember how much you forget. Perhaps it would be wise to record your tutorials.
  • Absence makes the art grow feebly. Therefore, make every effort to attend your tutorials.
  • That you’ve never done something doesn’t necessarily mean that you cannot do it.
  • Learn to abandon works that are heading in the wrong direction.
  • A painting should be intrinsically interesting: in the manner of its construction and inventive engagement with the medium. Interesting subject matter alone will not carry it.
  • Visual memory is like a muscle — it needs to be exercised to develop.
  • It may take one work only to manifest a turning point. And this can come at any time to those who have worked hard and consistently.
  • We may not understand our work because it is in advance of our understanding, waiting for us to catch up.

11.10 am. The British Landscape lecture, on ‘Theology and Geology’, was followed by further tutorials. A number of students are beginning, now, to make a breakthrough. All of them are those who work consistently and never miss a tutorial. These things are not incidental.

1.40 pm. In one of the studios: the work of Robert Smithson (1938-73) came to mind:


2.10 pm. Art in Wales, and a lecture on ‘Art and National Revival’, was followed by further tutorials until 4.10 pm. The final hour was set aside for module admin.

5.20 pm. Home, and an evening off to celebrate a family event.

February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday

9.00 am. The West Classroom, Old College: third-year fine art tutorials. The traces of organisation; pictorial absences; markers of boundary:


Good to see Georgina back, and in first-gear already:


10.15 am. Back at the mothership for undergraduate dissertation tutorials and an impromptu ‘conversation’ with an earnest ISP, third-year student, peppered with responses to requests for student references. In the background, preparations for a Visiting Day were underway, while Dyfed Alarms continued to execute an extensive upgrade to the security system:


1.40 pm. Reference dispatched. My anticipated afternoon in the studio. I began by making some minor, necessary adjustments to section 6, and completed the collage of the ‘voice of God’. I discerned the need of an extended and far more frightening trumpet section. This is a task for Friday.

6.30 pm. Practise session 1.  7.30 pm. A rather involved reference for a student needed to be begun. I’d received an encouraging response to my conspectus from the publisher. Now, I’m charged with looking for a co-editor. Full-steam ahead.

February 9, 2016

Shrove Tuesday

8.40 pm. After the storm; walking to School; behind me:


9.00 am. A no-show for a personal tutorial. The space gave me the opportunity to compress two MA fine art tutorials into one three-way tutorial. The dynamic is unlike that experienced in one-to-one teaching. Each student becomes the other’s peer-teacher and audience. The main tutor can cross-reference principles, applications, and critiques, so that each can observe how the same advice changes in its implications in the context of the other’s work. 10.00 am. An MA art history consultation. I’m keen to keep abreast of developments related to those students for whom I’m not the designated tutor. 10.30 am. There was postgraduate admin to review and dispatch. The sun broke loose:


Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Not understanding what you’ve done, and not knowing what you’re doing, aren’t necessarily the same dilemmas.
  • If you are planning to change your way of working, do so one element at a time, and slowly. Give yourself time to observe and measure the difference each change makes.
  • Other students’ art-project problems will always seem to you easier to solve than your own.

11.00 am. Mr Baldwin took charge of the MA group — instructing them on how to take professional photographs of their work. I, in turn, took on one of Ms Whall’s entourage, to look over an MA fine art personal statement under construction.

1.00 pm. Home for lunch. The chance conjunction of two identical reds:


2.00 pm. Mr Blackburn paid a visit. He’s intending to recommence PhD Fine Art studies in September. Wonderful prospect! We talked the rounds of John Cage, chance procedure, intentionality, cybernetics, oblique strategies, and my cousin-in-law — the pianist Margaret Leng Tan, who was Cage’s muse. 3.40 pm. Homeward to engage a postgraduate admin that must now go away. The skies closed-up once again:


6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. On with postgraduate admin. If I can clear my desk by the close of this night, I can open a space for studio work tomorrow.

9.30 pm. My wife made an astonishing oven-bake pancake to commemorate the day:


February 8, 2016

Chinese New Year

8.30 am. The buffeting of the wind and rain, like the sound of shale, against the windows, stirred me often throughout the night:


I completed some further tutorial arrangements for the weeks ahead before returning to the sound studio. Too long away. There’s always a measure of discomfort on returning — as when one leaves off either playing an instrument or drawing for too long. The first part of the morning had been set aside for tidying the room, and ensuring that all the equipment was operational; this was in readiness for the lunchtime meeting of a sub-division of the Institute’s new sound group, which was established before Christmas.

10.45 am. Off to School for an examination board meeting. The amaryllis is in full bloom now:


12.40 pm. The ‘gang’ arrive for lunch at my home. The objective, at present (as far as I’m concerned), is to understand how each other thinks, what we each really want to do (as opposed to what we think ought to do), and how we might go about doing it, in principle. To begin:

  • Work with a few committed people only.
  • Determine the objective precisely.
  • Communicate the same clearly.
  • Keep the process simple.
  • Assess the outcome often.
  • Rethink the process always.

3.15 pm. The university had issued an edict cancelling all classes after 5.00 pm today, due to the weather — which took out my final appointment for the day. I came home to catch up on admin and return to the sound studio.

3.45 pm. Very often, my immediate response to a review of my sound pieces is to compress the composition further. Having not heard section 6 for over a week, I identified a certain excess of duration — not great, but significant. The temporal compression gave the first stage of this section a greater punch. 4.00 pm. Conversely, the initial trumpet blast needed to be sustained for much longer.

5.30 pm. A celebratory Chinese takeaway for New Year. The fortune cookie said:


I recalled the fortune cookie motto that I’d received in San Francisco (the home of the biscuit) in 2013:


6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. I continued to construct the sound of the trumpet that blew long and louder, and introduced a variant of the descent motif (one octave lower) to suggest God coming down upon the mountain top (Exod. 19.18-19). Thereafter, I worked on an extended version of the ‘voice of God’.

February 6, 2016

8.30 am. Following my Saturday morning special — scrambled eggs — I was back on the job: pointing the stone work of my conspectus while laying the foundations of a postgraduate research training workshop on:

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This may turn out to be my in-road towards a practice-based module for the School of Art. Having conceived the graphic design of the title page and slides, I knew where I was, what I must do, and how it should be done. The image dictated the attitude. 11.20 pm. A final shave and polish of the conspectus. 12.00 pm. I continued with my draft concepts for the workshop:

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What might be called ‘audiography’ (the use of a sound recording device as though it were a camera) is nothing like as prevalent as video or still photography. Even though smartphones, iPads, and cameras commonly have the capacity to capture sound at the press of a button, few people use them to this end. I understand some of the reasons for this. For example, unlike still-photographs, sound recordings can’t be reviewed quickly. They have to made and played in time. Moreover, it’s not yet possible to embed a sound file in a webpage, blog, or social media site other than as a hyperlink to a file that is stored on a deposit account elsewhere.

In 1985, I began keeping an occasional aural diary. This was, in part, motivated by the development of the Sony Walkman cassette-corder, which was an eminently portable and often exquisitely designed piece of analogue technology. The Sony Walkman Professional WM D6C (1984-2002) — a portmanteau of a device — was the finest cassette-tape recorder ever made. I carried it with me like a camera, everywhere I went:


I felt like John Constable stepping out with his own mobile technology — the tube of oil paint. Invented in 1841, it permitted him and, later, the Impressionists to paint plein air. This small, discrete, and eminently mobile type of sound recorder gave anyone with the money the opportunity to become an amateur field recorder in any environment. I captured sound events experienced on holidays and research trips, in the domestic context, and around my town and place of work:

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The Aural Diary was maintained from 1985 to 1988, 2002 to 2006, and 2013 to 2015. Subsequently, a number of these recordings provided the source material for my sound art and art-music compositions. During the periods when the recordings were made, I listened to the world far more attentively. The recordings are vividly ‘visual’. In contrast to a photographic print (analogue or otherwise), the sonic ‘picture’ isn’t flat; sound expresses a breadth and depth of field far more profoundly. The recordings were the closest that I’ve ever got to achieving my ideal of creating an invisible image. The following is an announcement made at the Amtrak Station, Philadelphia at 9.55 am on Tuesday, November 22, 2005. Fortuitously, the last words uttered are those of the train number, ’56’, which is also length of the recording in seconds.

3.10 pm. The conspectus was ready for delivery to the publisher. I carried on making notes for my sound workshop until the close of the afternoon. 5.15 pm. Unplugged! 6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. An evening with my wife.

February 5, 2016

Nothing that you can make that can’t be made … Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time … It’s easy … All you need is love (The Beatles).

8.30 am. A little inbox pruning, tutorial and class notification, and social media account admin before beginning the final lap of the conspectus preparation. (This must be off to the publisher by the close of tomorrow’s business). 9.30 am. Down to it!:

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On the margins of my focal activity, thoughts began to converge around the idea of a new art history module in the field of religion, art, and visual culture. This would be an immediate and natural pedological outworking of my work on the proposed book. But would there be a sufficient take up by the students to make the effort worthwhile? Some Miles Davis to keep the air electric: Guinevere (1970) and Circle in the Round (1967). As part of my parental responsibilities, I seek to open the ears of my children to these wonders. I wrote to my elder son:

MD’s Circle in the Round (1967). This is in effect the conclusion of the second quintet and the bridge to In a Silent Way, two years later. Its the first time MD includes an electric instrument (the guitar) in performance. If you wanted to know why Tony Williams was one of the best ever drummers, you only need to listen to this track. MD’s chime playing is a revelation too. At 26 minutes long, this is a remarkable arc of compositional time for the period, one which anticipates the long stretches on ‘Bitches’ Brew’.

Davis was great, in part because he was open to influence. His genius was nurtured on the creativity of others. Being original and influenced are not mutually exclusive.

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1.40 pm. Onward — filling-in gaps, sharpening expressions, clarifying intent, and pressing the argument. Like completing a jigsaw, progress in writing speeds up as you reach the end of the puzzle. 3.30 pm. A tea-tonic and cheese-cheering treat!:


I scoured the text in order to discern what themes and approaches were either missing or misplaced. I’m eager to get back to ‘Image and Inscription’. Presently, and of necessity, I’ve had to live with an imbalance in my activities.

6.15 pm. Practise session 1. 7.20 pm. Further revisions:


There comes a point when one is not so much improving as reinventing what was written. That is the point at which the composition should be concluded, and the finer points of editing and proof reading attended to.