Month: November 2016

November 29, 2016

7.10 am: Seen through the condensation upon the window pane, the early morning appeared like a corrupted and under-exposed, glass-plate positive:


8.30 am: Into the brittle air and raking yellow light to conduct pre-day admin before the first MA tutorial kicked off. I found myself struggling against what was either a gastric or cold-based attack. Sometimes, it’s better to plough-on than to succumb. I’m monitoring my condition, as they say. 9.30 sm: One down, four more to go.

11.10 pm. In Vocational Practice, we looked at the use of social media as a mode of professional promotion.


Tutorials and advisory sessions demolished by lunch break. I can eat and teach, though. Throughout the afternoon, I completed the day’s final MA tutorial, conducted further advisory meetings, and mopped up the last of the Art/Sound one-to-one tutorials. My health was holding up … but the effort to proceed felt more pronounced.

4.50 pm: Sunset. Such closing curtains of splendour at the end of an afternoon make the early onset of darkness more bearable:


5.00 pm: I attended the opening of the John Elwyn centenary exhibition. A ‘goodly number’ of the School’s loyal supporters were present:


6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. Letters needed to be written, material uploaded to my social media sites, and the tracks for the British Landscape sound piece, uploaded and mixed down. Done!

Some principles and observations derived from today’s encounters:

  • Sometimes we produce a work that’s in advance of our apprehension of it. It will make sense later. Think of this strange thing that you’ve produced as a rehearsal for a performance that’s to come.
  • Nothing is ever wasted.
  • Your aesthetic is first and foremost a principle, a sensibility, and an attitude, before it’s a style, a way of working, and the particular manifestation in the work at hand.
  • What is normative experience as an art student?: a sense of lostness, disillusionment, and anxiety; a lack of confidence, and a feeling of being overwhelmed.
  • Sometimes we have to walk over the whole field before we can know where to pitch our tent.
  • Dissect the work, discern the parts, develop each independently, and then put them all back together again.

November 28, 2016

8.30 am: The weekly, weekly-teaching commitments confirmation exercise was undertaken, emails posted and given response, and my iMac desktop cleared of unarchived folders. One has to ‘prepare … the way’ for new projects. Sweep the granary floor clean!, as it were. 9.30 am: To proper work. In the background to today’s core business, another computer was crunching down my set of ten, 50-minute lectures for the British Landscape module to two-minutes’ length for each of year of their delivery. Rather it than me.

Once the process of admin cleansing is begun, there can be no stopping it. Today, I’m setting in motion administrations related to the SteelWork project. There are many collaborators, and they all have to be kept motivated and in the loop. In explaining to someone a project for the first time, the essence of the idea is clarified. I sometimes ask students to articulate their own projects as though to a drunk who has sidled up to them at a party to ask what they (the student) are studying. In short, how do you get rid of the nuisance sharpish? By giving a succinct, satisfactory, and easily digestible answer promptly.

Over lunch, I got physical. Soldering is therapeutic:


2.30 pm: On with SteelWork. The search for funding commences. In parallel, I conducted a little cable sourcing (these are dull but entirely necessary acquisitions); contacted my reliable and resourceful electronics repair man, Mr Martin Owen; and made inquiries regarding film archive material related to the Port Talbot Steel Works.  I’m interested in historical recordings of the site. My instinct is that they wont be included in the composition, as such; they will be, instead, provide sounds that’ll either be imitated or inform the mood of the piece. 4.15 pm: Back to note taking. The distant sounds of the fair — its reverberant pulse, pound, and holler — drifted upon the cold air northwards:


7.15 pm: I responded to my morning’s emails regarding the SteelWork project, while continuing to press down years of lectures into just a few minutes. There emerges a fascinating and quiet unexpected network of connections linking the present steel works (build upon the site of  a Cistercian Abbey) to religion, hauntings, and the history of early photography. I felt at home with the subject, already.

November 26, 2016

9.00 am: To town. Into the sun:


A brief jaunt to retrieve a parcel, check a balance, and purchase angled-metal plates for a ‘mod’ to one of my equipment stands today. (My enthusiasm and capacity for DIY doesn’t extend much further than this.) I enjoy the bleached brittle mornings of early winter.

10.20 am: After a watery farce swapping the kitchen and basement dehumidifiers, I made my initial assault on the equipment board … with a bradawl. That done, I initiated the sound session British Landscape in readiness to compose my response to the call for submissions for sound works related to the voice. Given the size of the initial track inputs, the compression and conversion of their formats will take longer than the process of composition, I anticipate. The amassed file, converted from MP3 to 192000Hz and 32-bit resolution, for just one year’s set of lectures for this module, was a whopping 45.5 GB in size.

12.30 pm: A retest of Pedalboard I revealed a ‘hum’ that wasn’t there yesterday. The culprit is likely to be the wah-wah pedal base. That’s the only thing that’s changed since I last plugged in the board. (Problems are always traceable when one adopts a methodological approach.)

12.40 pm: Off to the Food Fayre at the Arts Centre. It was a little underwhelming. In times past, this was a grander and bustling affair. Commercial Christmas is exhausted, in my opinion:


We bought from one vendor who extolled the virtues of responsible carnivorism. He breeds pigs, and sells every part of them. On the way home, I was arrested by a shadow:


Due to the intensity of the light today, it’s possible to see colours in shadows, in the matter of Impressionist painting, especially when they’re viewed against neutral and light-responsive surfaces (such as the garage door, here).

2.10 pm: Back into the studio to obliterate that ‘hum’ on the pedalboard, while my iMac compressed eight hours of lectures into two minutes, which pretty much took up all the RAM it possessed. The integration of Pedalboards I & II worked well. The Eventide modulators are now positioned at hand height and, therefore, tweakable while I’m playing the guitar. But they also need to be controllable from the floor too (via foot switches etc.). A future project:


4.50 pm: Eventide:


5.15 pm: Power down. 6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: An evening with my wife.

November 25, 2016

8.45 am: Off to Information Services to retrieve an ailing laptop. What a great computer service this university has! They’ve never let me down. Homeward, via the National Library of Wales … the town laid bare below. ‘The tree of life also in the midst of the garden’ (Gen. 2.9):


9.15 am: At St David’s Road: ‘hieroglyphs’ (sacred writing): significations; sunlight/sun-write; nature’s photography. They appear, like so many displaced souls — seeming almost sentient. So much, in this alone:


9.20 pm: Back into the studio. Today, I begin (or, rather, take up again) another sound project: SteelWork. It marks my return to an industrial theme. The theme of the day is, however, equipment and methods, and the repair and learning thereof. My rejuvenated laptop has now a much older IOS, one that is compatible with sound software that I’ve not been able to use on more more recent upgrades of Apple’s operating system. And this includes some of the company’s own software, conspicuously. I refuse to pay hundreds of pounds on new sound software just to play catch up with my computers. The process of reinstallation is always slow and tortuous.

11.00 am: As discs installed, I put Pedalboards III & IV through their paces in the effects loops of my guitar amplifier. Pedalboard II malfunctioned. But the problem was caused by the ‘kill’/buffer settings on the first and last pedal. Easily solved. Once the architecture of the loop was resolved, everything functioned. Then, everything had to be tested, one effector at a time:


3.10 pm: In that moment (the burning bush):


Evening: The two pedal boards having been made ship-shape, and software re-uploaded, I proceeded to rationalise and label cables. Pedalboard II was now in my sights. Finally, I put the revitalised computer’s sound outputs through their paces. I’ve now restored the capacity for using sound software and hardware that I’d lost when I’d upgraded to IOS 10.9 and beyond. (A bad move, in retrospect.)

November 24, 2016



A whizz of a day, bouncing back and fore between the Old College and the School of Art, taking in a lunchtime meeting, a research monitoring interview, and second year painting tutorials. In the evening, I caught up on my research databases, website, and CV — updating, amending, and adding recent events.

Today: 8.30 am: Off to School. There was a hole in the road just inside the School gates. A water pipe had burst. The supply was turned off ‘n on throughout the day, much to the consternation of those photographers who were trying to process their prints. Every hole is an archaeological dig, of sorts:


8.45 am: I set up the morning’s Art/Sound doubler and Module Evaluation Questionnaire — a first for this module. Me, I wouldn’t cross the road to hear John Harvey. (Each to their own, I guess.)

11.10 pm: Becky Backshall, one of our former BA and MA fine art students at the School of Art, shadowed Dr Forster and I on our ‘ward rounds’ today:


It was lovely to have her brightness and enthusiasm ringing through the studios once again. She was one of the most prolific and hardworking students that I’ve ever taught. And the work was suffused with quality too. Undergraduate students need to hear about the ‘after life’ of art school from the mouth of one who is ‘living the life’,  and closer to their age than are their regular tutors. (Let’s not go there!) Bex cast a very long shadow. She’ll be back, I’m sure.

What is it about this red light that fixates me? In all my time at the School, I’ve never walked through the door below it. And I don’t intend ever to do so. There should always be one door that beckons, but which is resisted:


By 5.30 pm on a Thursday I’m ‘dun-in’. 6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: Every Thursday evening, I attempt to resolve the week’s outstanding admin. Tomorrow, my mind will occupy in a different (but complementary) space, with a clear desk and conscience.

Some observations and principles derived from today’s engagements:

  • We’ll always know less than we know.
  • Don’t nail down the tent pegs too soon; allow the canvas to first catch the wind the change, and billow.
  • Practice denial in one area of life; it’ll help bring discipline to other areas.
  • Don’t be surprised by surprises. Students can shatter your expectations; they’re capable of extraordinary achievements.
  • A good teacher will make you feel as though you’re capable of anything, even if, (presently) you aren’t.

November 22, 2016

8.30 pm: Off to School. Every morning I must refocus, reaffirm compacts (divine and otherwise), take a firm and knowing grip on principal, distrust feelings, and determine to discover the good that there’s to do, duties to discharge, and fruit to harvest. 9.00 am: Perfunctory adminy stuff:


9.30 am: The first of the day’s MA fine art tutorials. Words and their reciprocations that kept coming up: empirical, scale/size, complexity/clarity, integrity/credibility, recognition/validation, disappointment/frustration, distillation/focus.

Dr Pierse has taken retirement. His room is, now, like an empty shell, a cell, and an office reminiscent of the Cabinet War Rooms. Simon and I began our tour of duty at the School in the same year:


11.10 am: Vocational Practice. We discussed the problematic of professionalism in the visual arts. 12.30 pm: An undergraduate dissertation tutorial. (Quick lunch.) 1.15 pm: A further MA Fine Art tutorial. It’s like hurtling from one planetary system to another. A cancellation in the early afternoon opened up time for more perfunctory adminy stuff and a brief encounter with one of my second year painters. 3.00 pm: A PhD fine art tutorial, in my capacity as degree co-ordinator, with one of Ms Whall’s tutees. I enjoy talking about film.

A broken branch hangs precariously over the roof of the Common Room (now temporarily closed), having been partially sheared by last Thursday’s tempest:


4.30 pm: A final MA Fine Art tutorial with one of Dr Webster’s charge.

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: Back to research declaration forms (aka ‘more perfunctory adminy stuff’).

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • When we begin life, we don’t where it will lead or why it was given to us. Thus, too, with art, we venture upon it unknowingly.
  • Art seems to assume greater importance, day by the day, at this juncture in human history.
  • Written to one of our illustrious alumni: ‘The MA was only a container; you were the contents’. Their success was of their own making, in other words.
  • Don’t do what you cannot, with a good conscience and a sound mind, countenance.

November 21, 2016

8.30 am: Into the dark, dank day. The on-coming pedestrians looked grim and determined, as though readied for the onslaught of a hard winter. 9.00 am: The beginning of a day of one-to-one tutorials related to the presentation project for the Art/Sound module:


The aim of this meetings ensure that students are on the right track (so to speak), doing what is doable by the deadline, and producing a submission of sufficient academic rigour. In the intervals, I put together an expenses claim and started considering my response to a call for sound art submissions, of 2-minutes length, related to the voice:


An idea came to me, intact, when I was tossing and turning in bed last night. The source material will be all the podcasts that I’d recorded of the (late) British Landscape art history module lectures. Each academic year’s recordings will be laid end to end, as a continuous sound stream. This’ll produce a track of about 14-hours duration. The track will then be compressed to the length of two minutes. The full set of years will be treated in the same way, and layered, from the most recent to the earliest recording, on top of one another, by a process of superimposition. In so doing, the process of creative development will be analogous to the processes of compression and stratification in geological development. The outcome could be awful. But you have to try.

Nice socks! In my day, odd socks were a sign of radical dissent from social norms:


12.30 pm: After 9-years service my office MacBook died. RIP. We’d shared some lovely times together. 2.00 pm: An afternoon of the same. On the whole, the group’s progress is for this juncture in the presentation’s development. But in every case, there’s everything to play for.

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: For the next two evenings, I’ll be updating my research profile. No fun. Necessary stocktaking and discloser, though.

Principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • A module ought to stretch your intellect, challenge your assumptions, broaden your horizons, and present and opportunity for you to apply and improve a range of relevant skills. If that’s not been your experience, then something has gone woefully wrong.
  • Student: ‘This is hard!’ Tutor: ‘That’s right!’
  • Address a question to which you really want to discover an answer. Don’t treat the essay project as either module or mark fodder. It can be a window onto an adventure.
  • Content before style. Always.
  • If it sounds daft, then it probably is.

November 19, 2016

9.20 am: Goodbye Premier Inn, Leicester City Centre!:


10.00 am: I took a delayed train to Birmingham. 10.15 am: It was a Saturday on the approach to Christmas. Grand Central was bustling with shoppers. Proof of presence. (‘Lighten-up, John!’):


I’d not an opportunity to tour the new station before now; that’s why I was there, principally. Shopping isn’t for me, unless under duress. The complex feels more like an airport terminal than a train station. It’s ‘interesting’ (the conference buzz-word), but not entirely enjoyable:


Fewer people and more space were preferred. The platform interface is confusing. It’s quite possible to see the number of the one that you’re heading towards, without being able to discern the route. My progress was aggravated by glass barriers. Grand Central, New York, is so much better, in every respect. 12.30 pm: I sat down, indulged a smoothie, and caught up with my email and diary.

2.25 pm: On the train for Aberystwyth. But was I in the right half? The advice on the notice boards was contrary to logic and past experience over many years (which I submitted to, and proved to be correct). IPad on charge, I got down to writing and reading.

5.20 pm: Arrival. 6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: An evening with my wife.

November 18, 2016

8.30 am: Shades of Scheeler:


9.00 am: Into the sun and towards the University of Leicester’s Media Studies department. I’ve not visited to the city since 1979, when I served as the UK arts representative on the National Executive of an organisation which supported Christian Unions in British colleges and universities. My recollection of Leicester, then, is of one of a pronounced monochromacy, wetness, and dark looming clouds. But today is different:


9.40 am: Having walked up the wrong road, I alighted upon the conference venue just on time. Having negotiated the high-security protocols, I found the seminar room (this was a smallish affair), where registration was underway. I scanned the lecturing facilities, in readiness for my own contribution. No lectern or reading light. (I’d brought the latter with me.) I could improvise a lectern using an upturned box. (I shall buy either a portable desk stand or a small music stand for future exigencies.) Conference lecturing is getting less formal, it seems to me. Presenters stand with their script in one hand. (It looks, and probably feels, awkward.) Most of the contributors didn’t turn off the room’s lights, because they needed sufficient illumination to read their script. As a result, the projection screen was bathed in white halogen, making their slide presentations hard to discern.

The morning began in seminar mode. (I’ve not participated in one, other than a leader, since I was a student. All the participants had to get smart quick.) ‘What is music?’ (Ah! The easy questions first.) Anna, the conference conveyor, provided a clear steer:


11.00 am: Refreshments! Welcome. Then, on with individual contributions. Some fascinating material was presented. The papers on Pop music and advertising, wordless comics that are accompanied by sound, the voice as materiality, consonance and dissonance in image/sound relationships, musical structure v narrative structure, sonic logos, sound signification in film, and a sound art encapsulation of the life, death, and consumption of a pig, were particularly memorable.

1.15 pm: Over lunch I talked with a delegate from China. She’s in the UK on a year-long sabbatical, taking in anything and doing everything that she finds interesting, and taking it back home. We discussed our respective culture’s contrasting concepts of education and the process of learning. There’s much to be gained from these exchanges, on both sides.

I took to the floor at 2.30 pm. When talking about my own work, I consciously don’t make claims regarding its quality. All that I seek to do is situate the creative endeavour within the matrix of its broader contexts. The question time that followed my delivery was intelligent and searching. I gained insight from this:


5.30 pm. By the close of the day, we were all ‘conferenced-out’. This had been like undertaking a 10-credit art history module in seven hours. After a chill out back at the hotel, I took in some late evening ‘bargain-basement’ shopping before dinner. (It wasn’t easy to find a table without prior booking on a Friday night.)

Shades of a shade (being also a term once used to describe a ghost):


On the way home, I spied Leicester’s Christmas bling and kitsch. Dreadfulness and gloriousness in harmony:


Shades of Turrell:


November 17, 2016


9.00 am: Art/Sound ventured into the realms of the paranormal, as we explored the contribution of photography and audiography in the detection and recording of anomalous phenomena. 10.00 am: On the studio floor, I began second year painting tutorials. Around 10.30 am, I sensed something approach. It began as a distance rumble – not like thunder and not like the noise of heavy vehicles – and arrived light a Pentecostal wind: immensely powerful, irresistible, and troubling. The studio’s gallery lights shook; the building reverberated. I’d not experienced the like. My tutee and I needed to see this; this was special. Outside, trees bent southwards at an alarming angle, and shook cruelly. Leaves were raised and swirled in the air. This was a hurricane force storm (94+ mph) that had come out of nowhere. I imagined the whole School uprooted and blown to Oz, like Dorothy’s house:


The remainder of the morning was uneventful by comparison. Reports of tree fall and structural damage in the Aberystwyth area emerged on Facebook.

1.10 pm: I made my way to the railway station to begin my trip to Leicester. A tree, which had fallen on the line, delayed the incoming train by 20 minutes. En route, I completed my mark up of the conference paper and caught up with email correspondence. The university was closed for business this afternoon. That stemmed the flow of incoming mail nicely:


I returned to my conspicuous for the Art/Spirit art history module. This needs to be wrapped up soon. Journeys have been the only occasion to work on this, lately. I’m endeavouring to create a cluster of perspectives around supernaturalist, religion, the Bible, and art that will at one and the same time offer diversity and focus around key themes. It ain’t happening yet.

6.10 pm: Arrived at Leicester and headed for my stable for the night:


Unpacked, I headed for a recommended local restaurant for dinner: a local and highly-recommended Indian:


Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • The problem seems greatest when seen at a distance.
  • You need to be lost and much as you to need to find direction. You cannot discover the latter without enduring the former.
  • We draw not what we understand but in order to understand that which we draw.
  • You draw an object, but that object has first drawn you.
  • We use other artists solutions to solve our own problems.
  • A camera has no brain behind its eye to discern, discriminate, and select or choose, and no heart to feel and respond. So don’t behave as though you, too, were merely a machine.