Month: October 2016

October 29, 2016

He that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding (Prov. 17.28).

Yesterday, I attended to the conference paper, full on, all morning and afternoon. The ship has now moved out of dock. As I wrote, and developed PowerPoint slides in tandem, the focus of the essay was established. When this happens, many ideas (perfectly good ones) fall away, of necessity. They give way to more appropriate ideas. New ideas.

6.00 pm: Off to School to prepare for the arrival of our guests — The Aberystwyth Friendship Group. 7.00 pm: Set up:


7.15 pm: The guest began to arrive and take their seats:


7.35 pm: ‘Kick off’. I delivered, what the old Welsh preachers called, ‘stale manna’: a lecture culled from a variety of prior sources, all related to the the theme of Welsh coalminers who’d made art in the twentieth century. Living, dying, misery, struggle, inequality, and exploitation, on the one hand, and ingenuity, invention, perseverance (against the odds), and astonishing attainment (in the circumstances), on the other. It’s all there.

Saturday. 9.30 am: On return from my tour of the town and ‘shop’, I popped in to see my next door neighbour to simply listen and be. The bereaved don’t want words that’ll make them feel better. They want and need to experience and express their grief; that’s one of the ways in which they honour and remember the departed, and reckon upon and adjust to their inestimable loss. And, they want you to feel along with them. That’s the most and best one can do, sometimes.

11.30 am: Back to the conference paper:


I was now, as commentators used to say of preachers who finally got into the stride of their sermon, ‘warming to my subject’.

Lunchtime. I made a further modification to Pedalboard IV (the practise board), with the addition of a mini volume pedal, placed (contrary to common practice and all good sense) at the end of the effectors’ run. (But it works … superbly.) The board now needs a buffer upgrade:


1.30 pm: A further hour on the paper before some necessary time in the studio. One should temporarily down tools on a project knowing what you’ll do next when they’re next picked up. So, until Monday …

In the studio, I modified Pedalboard III (always a pleasure) with the addition of an equaliser, and established a channel-map between the digital mixer’s outputs and the inputs on my sound-editing software (often a pain):



Pedal boards are a happy vexation. Test. Test. Test. All systems operational. 5.20 pm: ‘Click to shut down’. 6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: An evening with my wife.

October 27, 2016

Today, in pictures:





Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • You’ll paint best what you’re most interested in. Then, you’ll be most interested in what you paint.
  • Problems look more intimating at a distance than they do close up.
  • There’s a subject that lies within the subject. Paint that … and nothing else.
  • The answer sometimes lies at your elbow. Therefore, look to your elbows often.
  • Tutor: ‘It doesn’t matter what I like about your work or where I think it should go’.
  • There’s a great danger that art education will become increasingly soft-centred.
  • When I give a student the solution to their problem, do I rob them of the opportunity to discover one for themselves, later on?

October 26, 2016

8.30 am: Forward to the Old College for a morning of MA fine art tutorials. There was one moment of illumination: a realisation so strikingly obvious that neither the student nor I had seen it before. But it had always been there, waiting for us to catch-up.


Throughout the day, I moved through a series of contrasting situations. Some students were making a modest breakthrough, others were ploughing-up fallow land, others were revisiting terrain upon which they’d walked in the past; and yet others were marking out new territory. No one of these activities should be envied above the other. Each was suited to the needs (although not necessarily the desire) of the individual. And each student will, in time, pass – phase by phase – into the experience of the others.

11.30 pm: I holed up in the Quad to catch up on the day’s emails, before taking lunch with one of my cohort. Socialising helps both the tutor and the tutee to discover the person behind the role:


2.00 pm: A change of gear (upwards), as I engaged a PhD Fine Art tutorial. It’s very stimulating to enter into a discussion at this level. Afterwards, I trekked back to the mothership for a final MA fine art tutorial, followed by a Personal Tutorial. I was empty:


Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • In the moment you realise you cannot do a thing, you’ve turned a corner in the direction of being able to do it.
  • Cubism was a discovery made in the process painting, rather than an invention, a priori.
  • Seedtime and harvest. There’s a time for ploughing, planting, watering, and waiting. And, there’s a time for reaping the fruit of your labour. You cannot enjoy the latter without having endured the former.
  • To begin, the seed grows underground and out of sight. The first shoots may not be evident for a long while. Therefore, exercise patience, and trust in the process.
  • Sometimes we have to broadcast the seed broadly, not knowing where the fertile soil lies.
  • In terms of the format or support on which you work, bigger is not better. Establishing an appropriate relationship between either the scale or size of the artwork and the artist’s intent is better.
  • Art will always remain loyal; it’ll never desert you in your time of need.
  • We see the virtue of our work only in retrospect, on occasion.
  • Teaching = empathy + intelligence + knowledge + restraint
  • People can be magnificent.

6.30 pm: Practise Session 1. 7.30 pm: The Art/Sound module needed further, clarifying documentation to cover the footnote conventions for the PowerPoint presentation. My website’s ‘News’ page required updating too. This evening, in our neighbourhood, candles were placed at windows in honour of Eifion Gwynne, and in solidarity with his wife and children:

A candle for Eifion

October 25, 2016

8.30 am: To the office, to set up and look over the day’s itinerary. Everything needs to run like clockwork (quartz) on days such as these, if I’m to fully maximise their potential:


9.00 am: The beginning of a morning and an afternoon of MA teaching. I had three tutorials before the Vocational Practice seminar at 11.10 am. Today we discussed lecturing: good and bad experiences, real-life problems and their solution, and how do deal with nerves (without medication):


Teaching, this week, will be peppered with personal tutorials, both group and individual. The academic and pastoral are wrapped up one with the other. One is teaching a person rather than an embodied mind — an individual with hopes, ambitions, anxieties, and insuperable and intractable problems (at times). Throughout the afternoon, I listened, reflected, weighed-up, looked to my own shortcomings, and only then gave answers.


5.30 pm: The final tutorial of the time comes to an end.

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: Numerous admin bits and bobs needed addressing and loose ends, either tying up or cutting off.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Speed, efficiency, and quality in equilibrium. That’s an ideal. However, one can only go so fast before the other two attributes are compromised.
  • The early stages of a particular painting’s development can sometimes indicate the future course of a student’s work in general. Therefore, be attentive to beginnings.
  • Answers often come in whispers. Therefore, still the clamour of the mind, bid the ‘demons’ of doubt desist, and listen attentively.
  • Ideally, conception and formation, form and content, thought and action ought to take place in responsive and reciprocal loops. Therefore, you don’t need an idea before you begin to make an artwork. On the contrary, ideas may derive from the process of making. Such ideas are intimately bound up with the nature of the medium and form themselves. This, too, is an ideal.

October 24, 2016


Eifion Gywnne lived next door to me. He was the proverbial gentle giant with an enormous presence in our neighbourhood and the town: a courteous, unassuming, and hardworking man, as well as a dedicated father and husband. On Saturday night, Eifion was suddenly torn away from everyone whom he’d loved and everything that he’d worked for. Some people leave an enormous hole when they’re unrooted. He is one of them. The electrician’s van bearing his name is still parked on the road. (How strange that inanimate objects should endure, when we no longer do.) About the same time, six Glaswegians were killed in a Spanish taxi accident and thirteen people died in a Californian tour bus crash. No one on this side of the divide can answer the questions: Why them?, Why there?, and Why then? I suspect that there’re answers, but, equally, that we aren’t prepared to hear them. Such ruptures highlight the tenuous nature of our connection to this world. ‘Be careful what you live for, and how you live, John!’

9.00-10.15 am: I set up the week ahead: teaching tutorials were confirmed, personal tutorials invited, lectures reviewed, and seminars prepared. Each week, I fit a quart into a pint pot. That’s the way it has to be if I’m to preserve enough energy and the space for research. I began the conference paper proper. This will be an exercise in concise expression, a sprightly pace of delivery, and a smooth transition from one idea to another, all within a narrow timeframe. In my experience, if you can get the first paragraph to accord with these ambitions, the rest will (sort of) follow suit.

Lunchtime: My amp head has returned from the repair shop for the second time. I’m perplexed. It has consistently failed for me but worked for the repairers. The only difference between my test and that of the technicians is the type of cables used to connect the head to the cabinets. I’ll test the hypothesis this evening:


Afternoon: The introductory remarks and theoretical underpinnings were established in as succinct a manner as I could muster. I’m relying on the PowerPoint slides to elaborate upon ideas in parallel with my spoken discourse. The slides need to be clear and sophisticated, but not showy; sufficient, rather than abundant in number; illuminating, rather than merely informative, whenever possible; and complementary to, rather than echoing, the spoken discourse:


6.30 pm: Practice Session 1. Before returning to work, I tested the amp head. Bravo! Both channels sung in unison again:


7.30 pm: I’ve an extra-curricula ‘gig’ on Friday evening, as the School of Art hosts the Aberystwyth Friendship Group. The PowerPoint needed a little sprucing-up and extending, and the paper, culling.

October 22, 2016

At around 11.00 am yesterday, I thought I could smell my mother’s face powder close by. She used to keep it in a tarnished gold compact on her dressing table. Its a scent that I associate mostly closely, and only, with her. How strange. An olfactory memory, perhaps:


Throughout Friday I rationalised my notes for the conference paper — bringing together divers sources and initial ruminations, developing PowerPoint slides in tandem, and scribbling further marginalia. I’m having to think out this project (and its wider implications) as a whole, while at the same time condensing that whole to a twenty-minute paper, even before its dimensions are properly discerned. Not easy. I already have more material that I can possibly incorporate into a 3,000-word script. However, the residue will provide the foundations for a more extensive discussion about sound and the Bible, which will likely be the substance of a book chapter:


In the evening I began setting up test equipment and putting together a poster for the Dialogues 4 sound project, which will be audible during the next university Open Day, on 12 November. My recent recording of the squeaky print drying rack will be the found-sound source for this collaboration:


I’d set aside today to rigorously test a variety of set-ups for the Dialogues 4 project.  I want to preserve the integrity of the found-sound while, at the same time, exploring its character by isolating, stressing, and extending or enlarging its salient sonic features. In so doing, I aim to articulate (to make comprehensible) the artefact that produced the sound. To this end, the following regulations governed my thinking:

  • Honour the object-basis of the work: the drying rack.
  • Think about the structure of the drying rack: the repetition of a grid in layers, descending and ascending.
  • Stress the reflections made by the drying rack: the reverberation is an essential characteristic of its articulated sound.

The structure of the  rack’s layered shelves were acknowledged by stacking seven versions of the source track one on top of the other on the digital audio software’s visual interface. The pitch of each track was an octave lower than the one above it. A ‘dry’ (that is to say, unmodified) version of that signal was sent to one pair of inputs on the mixer, and two ‘wet’ (that is to say, modified) versions of the same, to two other pairs. In this way, the characteristics of both the original recording and the drying rack’s sonority are preserved alongside the modulated versions of the same:


The resultant sound is reminiscent of a church organ. By the close of the afternoon I’d established three discreet signal paths: one ‘dry’ path; another, a ‘wet’ path via four Eventide modulators; and another, a ‘wet’ path via six Moogerfoogers, an OTO Biscuit bit crusher, an Sherman/Rodec Restyler, and reverb effectors. Conservation and transformation in tension. This was a more than satisfactory beginning.


October 20, 2016

8.45 am: Art/Sound set up. 10.10 am: A day of second and third year painting tutorials began:


The seasonal lurgy is still doing the rounds, laying waste to students for several days at a time. When otherwise conscientious students are absent, you know that they’re desperately disposed. There may be a pocket of space on Tuesday to perform some remedial catch up with them.

Over my lunch break, I returned to the etching room and rerecorded the drying rack‘s reverberant ache (like the plaintive scream of a banshee). I’d wager that its hinges and springs have not enjoyed a squirt of lubricant in decades. Long may they be deprived:


The sound is as much a product of the structure of the rack as of its dry and rusting articulations. The assembly looks like its sounds: a deep and cavernous scaffolding through which the grind and screeches travel and vibrate downwards, upwards, and outwards. The astonishing reverberation is created much in the same way as sonic reflections by a spring-reverb chamber in a tube amplifier for an electric guitar:


2.00 pm: Back into the fray — moving from second to third year students, as I toppled helplessly towards the end of the afternoon. These worn and frazzled brushes were my objective correlative:


6.30 pm: Practise Session 1. 7.30 pm: Uploads were posted, registers updated, and emails to absentees and outstanding correspondence, dispatched. The decks then cleared, I reviewed and edited the recording that I’d made at lunchtime. The raw sound of the rack has its own integrity. Sometimes, its difficult to break into or improve upon a source that is intrinsically complete. (It’s the same dilemma students face when attempting a painterly transcription of a too-good photograph.) The process of modulation will, therefore, need to take the source in a very different direction (one that, nevertheless, remains responsive to the source’s fundamental sonic character).

October 19, 2016

6.3o am: What happened to my wake-up call? Why can’t I turn the shower off? 7.00 am: Breakfast. I invariably succumb to hotel Frosties. I like rock music too. But I’m less keen when its jangling from the speakers at this time in the morning. Bach is better for breakfast; a cultured accompaniment to croissants. 7.30 am: A spot of email catch-up before the business of the day. There must be a name to describe the peculiar melancholy felt upon leaving hotels. (Hotelacholia, perhaps.) 8.30 am: The taxi arrived to dispatch me to the university’s Mount Pleasant campus, from which the dockland area could be seen saturated in the amber sunshine in the far distance. (Industrial Claude.):


The instructions that I’d been given regarding the venue for the viva voce were incorrect. Mercifully, a pair of postgraduates took me under their wing, and used their sense of likelihood and knowledge of past precedent to determine the true whereabouts of my port of call. I would not have got there on time without them. The viva proper followed a consultation meeting with the internal examiner and Chair. We anticipated that our interrogation would be searching and hard hitting. Which is as it should be. The discussion lasted an hour and twenty minutes. Afterwards, the internal examiner and I consulted with one another, and our decision, disclosed to the candidate. The engagement was well executed by all the participants.

12.15 pm: Lunch in Pizza Express; sustenance for the long journey ahead. I’ve a poor attitude to Swansea. The only things I like about it are my memories of what once was there – like the Wimpy restaurant. The city hasn’t recovered from the blitz, in my opinion. Many of the premises on the borders of the shopping precinct are either boarded up and abandoned or else over optimistically anticipating renewal:



1.55 pm: The journey home began. The train passed Port Talbot Steelworks. I miss the industrial landscape; it was the backdrop to my childhood, until the coal mines were closed by Thatcher:


I bashed out my final report on the candidate’s performance at the oral and addressed incoming emails. A little Starbuckery at Shrewsbury station. The notice inside the café read: ‘Thank you for choosing Starbucks’. But I had no choice; there isn’t another place for refreshments on the platform.

5.29 pm: On the Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth leg of the journey I made notes for the proposed Art/Spirit module. This will form the third part of an inter-relational trilogy of modules of which Art/Sound and Abstraction are the other two thirds. Beyond Machynlleth (the gateway to home), I ruminated upon my conference paper notes once again. On Friday, I shall begin writing it in earnest. On arrival, the train’s announcement bid the passengers farewell: ‘Thank you for travelling with Arriva Trains Wales’. But, again, I had no choice! There are no other train companies on this line!, I remonstrated (silently).

October 18, 2016

8.30 am: I made preparations for the Vocational Practice class at 11.00 am, before commencing a rerouted MA fine art tutorial. (The last of its kind for this week.) Two others followed. Students (especially the mature contingent) commencing the MA spend a good deal of their time raking over their past during the first few weeks of the course. Nothing wrong with that. Indeed, for some, it’s a prerequisite for moving forward. The hardest obstacle that all the students have to overcome is that mountain of accrued presuppositions of what their MA artwork to come ought to look like. To face the unknown unknowingly is, to my mind, a better approach — a state of ignorant bliss out of which quite extraordinary and wholly unexpected outcomes may emerge. It takes enormous courage to jump, aware only that there’s no safety net to catch you.

11.00 am: Vocational Practice took the form of a debate within a ‘fish bowl’. The exercise is designed to fail. On this occasion it failed to fail … which was a credit to the participating students. Nevertheless, sufficient lessons were learned to justify the indulgence. The challenge for me is to keep the whole group (this large group) on the mark most of the time. I’m not there yet.

12.45 pm: Luggage in hand, I headed off to the railway station, picking up lunch on the way:


En route to Shrewsbury, I finalised my list of questions, and inserted Post-its into the thesis, in readiness for the PhD Fine Art viva voce that I’m attending in Swansea, tomorrow:


On the Shrewsbury to Swansea leg of the journey, I reviewed my conference paper notes. The train’s pre-recorded announcements were an exercise in choral speaking. The litany of stations to be called at was recited by four distinct voices with contrasting dynamics. I’m curious as to why this should be. It’s good to be heading south, again. Usually, I sit with my back to the engine. This is because, constitutionally, I tend to face where I’ve been rather than where I’m heading. Perhaps this is true of all historians.

5.25 pm: Newport. I saluted my alma mater as the train passed:


6.40 pm: Swansea. I’m staying at a South Wales standard swish hotel, close to the university campus. On my arrival, the receptionist was attempting to show a German family how to switch on their phone’s mobile-roaming facility (the on-screen instructions for which were in German).

The room:


The dinner:


8.00 pm: The admin aftermath:


October 17, 2016

8.55 am: Towards the Old College. The swollen incoming tide had washed seaweed and shale onto the promenade. The water in the children’s paddling pool was oddly placid against the turmoil of the sea behind it. The energy released as the waves beat against the walls and projections on the shoreline was invigorating and uplifting:


9.00am: Today, I’m trying to engage with those MA fine art students whom I would ordinarily teach tomorrow and Wednesday; my eternal examining duties prevail this week. The abstract painters are already throwing caution to the wind in order to generate conditions for something new to enter into the work.


11.30 am: No more takers. I headed back to the motherships, via Plas Grug Avenue (looking for all the world like one of those Parisienne boulevards beloved of the Impressionists), in a period of respite between what have been torrential showers (misnomer):


12.00 pm: A postponed BA fine art and a rerouted MA fine art tutorial were next on the cards.

Following lunch, I headed for the Old College, once again, for another PhD fine art tutorial. This was followed by a further peregrination to the mothership to attend the final PhD fine art tutorial of the day. The latter was a three-way tutorial between the student, their new second supervisor (from Earth Sciences), and me. The arrangement generated a fast-moving and clear-sighted discussion. A good deal was achieved in a short space of time. All in all, this has been a heartening day. Courage, tenacity, improvement, and vitality have been much in evidence.

Evening. The vicar came to dinner. 7.30 pm: Packing and an endless filling-in of forms — in order to prove that I’m not an illegal immigrant, it would seem — in readiness for tomorrow’s jaunt to Swansea.

Some principles and observations derived form today’s encounters:

  • The place from where an artwork derives may not necessarily to the same as the destination to which it’s heading.
  • Begin with gratitude.
  • The last thing you want is not have problems with your work. Coming up with solutions is the principal means by which we mature and move forward.
  • If you at first you don’t succeed. Try again. In all likelihood, the second attempt won’t fail so badly.
  • You don’t have to know what you’re doing in order to begin an artwork. You’ll discover that either in the process of making it or sometime after completion.