Month: February 2017

February 27, 2017

8.30 am: Emails away, I set my mind to consider this week’s tasks in the light of last week’s accomplishments. On Friday afternoon and Saturday, I completed the reconfiguration of Pedalboards I & IV. They’re now each as qualitative and efficient a system as one could hope for. Inevitably, the improvements inspired ideas about upgrades to the other pedalboards, in the near future:

9.00 am: An idea (that came to me as I moved from awakening to slumber — and, once more, in a dream — last night): Could one loop the loop? That’s to say: Was it possible to feed one sampler/looper effector into another in order to effect a continuous circle of iterations?:

Here was an example where the conceptual clarity of the intention was confuted by the material reality of the electronics. The two loopers overloaded one another when connected in the following manner: input > output > input > output. The signal level was increased on each iteration, which pushed the aggregated output into distortion, alarmingly. The amp hummed too. Some things aren’t possible by all means. I held onto the idea (the ambition), and thought about how it might be implemented it by some other means. (Something for the future.) Nothing is ever wasted … not even failure. Especially not failure.

1.40 pm: After lunch, I returned to Friday morning’s analogue word search of The Talking Bible LPs. Matthew chapter 15 and verse 14 has four ‘blind’s. No other verse in the Bible has so many: ‘Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch’.

2.45 pm: Resume: ‘But what I attached a different pair of identical effectors together, in the manner of the looper/samplers?’:

While no guitar signal could penetrate this closed self-referential system, the effectors’ combined sounds were sufficiently varied and controllable to have justified the effort. But this is not a realisation of my original intent. At best, its a side-line; and not one that interests me, particularly.

3.30 pm: Off to the Hugh Owen Library to participate in an e-viva voce conducted between Aberystwyth University and University of British Columbia (Vancouver). One of my PhD Fine Art tutees was coming to the end of their journey. The Vancouver conference suite looked like a police interrogation room. Edgy. Nice. I was captivated by figures moving back and for behind the frosted glass door at the rear of the room:

Once the proceedings had begun, I and the candidate left our respective rooms so that the examiners could discuss their interrogation tactics. Like a father-to-be outside the delivery room, I sat in anticipation of a call to return, when the ‘labour’ would commence:

A successful outcome all round!

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: There were emails to compose either congratulating or thanking participants for their contribution to the afternoon’s event, before I could return my attention to matters related to the morning’s work.

February 24, 2017

9.00 am: Studiology >

In the morning, I began to record Scourby’s reading of the words ‘blind’, ‘blinded’, and ‘blindness’ on the LPs that make up The Talking Bible, beginning with the New Testament. Analogue encoding cannot be word searched; finding my quarry was, therefore, a slow and manual labour. A whine and a hum have again entered the sound system. But the set-up hasn’t changed since it was last turned off. Puzzling. A better isolation of all electrical inputs may be required. Mercifully, this extraneous noise doesn’t transfer to the digital recording. So, I continued:

‘Blind’ (Matt. 11.5)

Listening to the scriptures being read aloud provided a markedly different encounter than that experienced when silently reading them to oneself. They were animated (infused with personality); the text (quite literally) ‘spoke’ to me.

1.45 pm: A scurry to the School to retrieve a parcel of bespoke cables (courtesy of Owen Electronics), so that I could begin a rehabilitation of Pedalboard I. En route: Now, this is painting. The paint is sumptuous (like thick molten vanilla ice cream) — slow to pour but fast drying:

2.10 pm: A change of activity: the rewiring of Pedalboard I >

The system was tested after each effector was reintroduced. This ensured that the connections between components were sound, there was no noise generated, and that the tonality and amplitude was maintained at a constant. I exposed a problem with the boards initial input and a hum, caused by inserting a TS plug into TRS adapter into a TS socket. Solving such problems brings me great deal of pleasure.

7.30 pm: An evening off. To the cinema …

February 23, 2017

8.30 am: ‘Shake, rattle, and roll’! The milder temper of Storm Doris buffeted the house, flexed the window panes, and rocked the trees, as it had done throughout the night. 8.55 am: Off to School for an MA fine art tutorial with one of Dr Webster’s students. This semester, I’m trying to see all those whom I don’t ordinarily teach, in order to get a sense of not only their individual experience but also the general tenor of this year’s MA contingent.

10.00 am: The studio lanterns shuddered as I began a day of second and third year painting tutorials. In the past, strong winds have forced us to abandon ship:

Avoid measuring yourself against artists who may possess thirty years more experience than do you. Their beginnings were faltering, just like yours. Develop a game plan (a set of rules) for painting — permissions and restrictions (what can and can’t take place). That is the nature of discipline. Depth of understanding is of far greater value than quantity of output. Don’t short-circuit the creative process; take it step-by-step. (You can’t jump the river in one leap.) The wind in the trees sounds like an incoming tide moving over the shale. ‘Chip tricks’ to attract seagulls. Don’t be intimated by the prospect of exhibiting. You’ll produce a good work, only to follow it by a dreadful one. That’s the way it goes. When do the titles occur to you? The tyranny of the best piece you’ve every made. Do you need to be concerned about what the public think? Does it help … really? The pleasure of work is our consolation (BA painting, tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (February 23, 2017), 222–23.)

1.00 pm: En route home > found object:

1.50 pm: On my return to he School of Art >

The storm had abated, but threatened still. 2.00 pm: Dr Forster had conducted a Haiku-based painting project during the morning’s painting workshop, based on the students’ experiences of the day up until that point. The exercise had, for some, opened up new possibilities and awareness:

3.00 pm: The vestigial signs of Japanese-inspired cogitation were evident throughout the life study studio. Shore/board:

5.20 pm: Job done! Ideally, I’d like to spend a whole week with everyone of my fine art tutees. That isn’t going to happen. In the old l’atelier system of training, the apprentices and the master would work alongside and observe one another in the same context. The former were educated as much by osmosis as by direct instruction. My ambition for each of my charge this week has been, to the best of my ability, to:

leave them with something good;
show them something new;
expose their bad habits;
either undo uncertainty or introduce uncertainty;
chivvy, provoke, and tease (as appropriate);
persuade them of a mystery that is greater than either of us.

7.30 pm: As is the custom, the evening of the week’s final day of teaching was set aside to register submissions, absentee chase-ups, tutorial allocations for next week, and, tonight, administrations in readiness for a PhD Fine Art e-viva voce next week. ‘Hello, Vancouver! Can you hear me?’

February 22, 2017

Seeing is not only a gift and a facility but also a determination. One must make a conscious decision to stay visual. 8.40 pm: On my doorstep:

9.00 am: A PhD fine art tutorial kicked off the day (again) — the first of three:

Avoid majoring in minors (and ‘sweating the small stuff’). Draw types and groups of like works together. The fruitful coalition between image and text. The work, not the subject matter, should be your chief concern. Silence and whiteness. A Veronica veil: a white upon a white. Live deliberately. An exhibition that meets the needs of academia and the public. Experience, suffering, survival, and perspective. This life is the smallest part of eternity. Dealing with the aftershock. Radique. Oscillation, like a shimmering mirage. You weren’t embittered by the experience. I’m sometimes overcome by the moment. The blessing of a job that allows me to engage in discussion with so many outstanding people on a daily basis … A manner of painting that is coherent with the manner of drawing. ‘Sensory archaeology’. Painting and time. The perception of time when painting. A will that defeats the will within us. Calling the bluff on an idea by implementing it. Reality is more strange and meaningful the more closely and particularly we consider it. After a tutorial, you remember only that which was important (PhD Fine Art tutorials, notes from ‘The Black Book’ (February 22, 2017) 229–31).

10.10 am: To →

I met with one of the staff at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (which has been relocated to the National Library of Wales). We discussed the possibility of a series of student/public orientated events, to be held in November, based upon the Commission’s archive and the theme of memory. There appeared to be a great deal of potential in the idea. My provisional title: ‘Remembering, Recording, Collecting, and Ordering’. To be continued  …

12.10: Back at the School, I presented the second of my contributions to the Professional Practice module, on the topic of digital media and its uses in promoting the young artist’s professional presence and profile:

2.05 am: (Five minutes late) I began my second PhD fine art tutorial of the day, at ‘Old Coll.’ (a name that sounds like a traditional and pungent tobacco smoked by seasoned fishermen). Carmen’s ‘skin’:

3.00 pm: The final, and necessarily extended, PhD fine art tutorial of the day. The best you can do as a teacher is to present the student with a mirror — a set of mutually determined and agreed principles, observations, opinions, and deductions that reflect who they are as creative practitioners. There are times (rare, but intensely memorable) when something arises from within the tutorial itself and beckons to both participants simultaneously. Neither has any choice other than to submit to it. In that moment, the tutor and the taught (the distinction is rendered irrelevant) become utterly transparent, open, and receptive to one another. Heart searches the heart. Soul reaches to soul. Mind teaches the mind.

It has rained throughout the day. 6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: A bitty evening of uploading teaching material, making reply to the day’s incoming correspondence, reviewing a PhD proposal, sourcing equipment, and re-centring myself.

February 21, 2017

8.50 am: The Promenade (for Caspar):

Aberystwyth enjoyed one its ‘Bermuda Triangle’ mornings. This is what meteorologists call a haar — a sea fog. When it arrives in the Summertime, it feels unnaturally cold. The fog can be at a standstill for days. There’s a peculiar melancholy and quieting associated with it; people, cars, and, indeed, the whole landscape seem to move more slowly:

9.00 am: A morning of MA fine art tutorials at the Old College:

Landscape and time. A scene in slow motion. Optimum viewing distance. A disciplined palette. A landscape based upon the colours of a single rock found within it. Complexity masking as simplicity. Remain sane. A change of scene may help. Many tributaries converge on an artist’s practice. Art: variously an anchor, and a way of coming to terms with ourselves, with the world, and with ourselves in the world. We must suffer, and lose all direction, determination, and desire, if we are to find anything of value. Pity the happy painter. There must be times of reckoning with ourselves, the work, and ourselves in the work. (MA Fine Art tutorials, ‘The Black Notebook’ (February 21, 2017), 228–29).

For Claire: Landscape with Distant Rainfall (2017):

12.10 pm: A brisk walk through the drizzle and the town to the School of Art for a second-supervisor PhD fine art tutorial.

2.00 pm: After lunch, I caught up on the day’s incoming emails (and their implications), phoned a PhD Fine Art student who’s preparing for their e-viva voce next week, reviewed a proposal with an intending PhD Fine Art applicant (I have four of these on the go at present), and Skyped one of our PhD Fine art students, who’s currently on maternity leave:

5.20 pm: Homeward. The mist persists.

6.15 pm: Practise session 1. 7.15 pm: Adminology, before I returned to concordance work on the words ‘blind’, ‘blinded’, and ‘blindness’ in the Old and New Testaments (King James Version). I examined their location, distribution, clusters, and recurrence. It struck me that the principal themes of my work, for over a quarter of a century, across fine art, sound art, and their histories, have been invisibility and the unseeable: visions, apparitions, the Calvinist prohibition of images, images as sound, and, now, the inability to see. What draws me to the antithesis of visuality?

February 20, 2017

8.42 am: Now:

Yesterday evening I watched a Storyville film, Notes on Blindness, about the theologian John Hull’s gradual and total loss of sight. Hull kept an aural dairy documenting his blindness, the transcripts of which were turned into a book called Touching the Rock (1990). In his review of the publication, Oliver Sacks wrote: ‘There has never been, to my knowledge, so minute and fascinating (and frightening) an account of how not only the outer eye, but the ‘inner eye’, gradually vanishes with blindness; of the steady loss of visual memory, visual imagery, visual orientation, visual concepts … of the steady advance or journey … into the state which he calls “deep blindness”‘. I, too, was struck by how the loss of visual sight effected a corresponding deterioration in his visual memory. It suggests that the latter needed to be constantly replenished or refurnished by optical sensations derived from present experiences.

A visual memory:

While lying on the bed settee … I recalled Sunday afternoons at home, between the ages of sixteen and eighteen years of age, listening to records in the front room while Mam vacuumed upstairs. I recalled the walk that I took, during the Summers, up [my parents’] terrace and Portland Street to Blaenau Gwent to attend the evening services. The low light – warm and ochre – cast long shadows across the mountainside above Tillery Street, and upon the tips of the Baptist church’s gravestones (Diary > February 18, 1990).

Blaenau Gwent Baptist Church, mosaic, Abertillery (March 18, 2008)

9.00 am: There were emails to compose and consider before I could turn the corner of my study and into the studio to pick up from where I’d left off on Friday evening. To begin, I made a thorough test of the sound system thus far, before finalising the arrangement of effectors on the ‘through’ and ‘A’-loop routes. Inevitably, the longer one works with a system, the more likely that its defects and limitation will become apparent. How does one exclude a ‘dry’ (unprocessed) signal in the final, effected (‘wet’) mix? The record decks’ mixer combines ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ signals (50/50%). That’s what it’s designed to do.

2.00 pm: After lunch, I began the set up for ‘B’ loop:

Thereafter, I trawled through a number of malfunctions that, it turned out, were programming errors (rather than failures) related to the two sampler units. Once diagnosed, the problems were easily solved. The mixer’s ‘wet’/’dry’ limitation (mentioned earlier) couldn’t be overcome with the present equipment. I would need a more sophisticated unit capable of filtering out the ‘dry’ signal, so to do. My instinct was to honour and work with this restriction, rather than overcome it by acquiring new and expensive technology. I have incapacities, so why shouldn’t my equipment too. 5.15 pm: Enough routing and looping for one day:

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: There was postgraduate teaching prep and admin to catch-up with before I could return to the more ‘scholarly’ aspect of The Aural Bible III’s research.

February 18, 2017

8.45 am: Visiting Day 2. One applicant and his mother were waiting at the School’s entrance even as I arrived. Keen! Saturday ‘VD’s are somewhat slower than the weekday event. That’s fine. The course of the interviews can be more leisurely, and there’s more occasion for staff/student interaction:

Before each interview with the applicant, I engage in an empathetic mind game. I try to imagine what I felt like when – as a naïve and hapless seventeen year old from an undistinguished, backwater comprehensive school in South Wales – I made first contact with ‘proper’ art education. That was in March 1977. I turned up at the Emlyn Street annex of the Faculty of Art and Design, Gwent College of Higher Education, Newport to sit an all-day entrance examination for the Foundation Studies course. The morning was taken up with a three-hour life drawing test. I’d neither drawn the figure (let alone a seventy year old nude woman) nor on an easel before. Edna was the model. Earlier in her life, she’d posed for several distinguished London artists. Her repertoire of bodily positions was extensive and challenging. She really new her craft. After lunch, I wrote an essay in response to questions about art history. Proving one’s worthiness shouldn’t be a push over. Having to jump over those hurdles made me value my place on the course all the more:

The former Emlyn Street annex, Faculty of Art and Design, Gwent College of Higher Education, Newport, Gwent (August 13, 2004)

Today’s applicants are so much more together than was I, then. The best secondary school teachers have taken time to prepare their pupils for the interview, write an illuminating reference, and guide them in the composition of their personal statements. And the applicants and their parents or carers have done their research too. Such assistance is an enormous help to us, the adjudicators. I don’t know what applicants expect when they enter my room for ‘the interrogation’. What they experience is an open and informal discussion about themselves, the work that they’re submitting, and their educational profile. In short, the conversation aims to discern whether ‘we were meant for one another’, as they say in pulp-romantic fiction. In other words, we seek to come to an agreement about whether the School of Art is best suited to their aspirations, needs, and abilities:

What the applicants aren’t shown on the tour: the padded cell, where distressed staff are sent in order to come to their senses:

High on the parental agenda are questions about the cost of accommodation (which can be a deal breaker for some families). Aberystwyth University is good value for money. I know that because I’ve visited many halls of residence, offered by other institutions, on Open Day tours with my own children. In 1982-3, when I was a first year MA Visual Art student, I lived in room 37, H block, Cwrt Mawr, on the main campus. (Non-Welsh students pronounced the hall’s name ‘Kurt Moore’ — which sounded like an American B-movie actor.) There was no such thing as ensuite bathrooms in those days. But I was within two-minutes walk of the library, the hall’s social and amenity hub, and the supermarket. What was not to like?:

Cwrt Mawr, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth (March 1983)

Choices. As staff, we choose who’ll be appropriate for the degree schemes. But the applicants have a much more difficult task: deciding which of their A-level paths to pursue. Some applicants could succeed at anything they put their minds to. My advice to them: consult many counsellors (parents, teachers, and people who know you well); and don’t just go with your strengths – follow your heart and proceed with your passion too. You are likely to do best in the subject that you most love.

4.20 pm: Over and out.

February 17, 2017

9.00 am: Emails addressed and appointments approved, I headed for the studio to ‘finalise’ (in that provisional sense of the word, which only creative people understand) the equipment set-up for The Aural Bible III project:

Task 1:  Strip down the system and begin from square one, again.
Principle 1: Don’t presume that a good idea is the best idea, or that the best idea is the most appropriate one.
Principle 2: Work from the simple to the complex.
Principle 3: Ensure that the complex is a multiplicity of simplicities, rather than an excess of redundancies.
Principle 4: Honour efficiency as a manifestation of beauty.
Principle 5: Be suspicious of principles: a good principle may not always lead to a sound practice.
Principle 6: Therefore, let practice dictate principle when appropriate.
Task 2: Rethink. Reorganise. Rebuild.

11.00 am: I was compelled to clear the studio floor of the guitar-based equipment. It wasn’t getting in my way, physically, but it was encumbering my thinking unnecessarily. Keep the arena of creative endeavour clear of distractions, orderly, safe, and comfortable to work in. This is the second discipline.

11.15 am: Intruder alert!:

1.40 pm: After a surprise and delicious white bait lunch, I set about trialling the functionality of a sampler/looper. Problem: When attached to the ‘mains’ out of the mixer, the effector’s effect cannot be captured by the Digital Audio Workstation. The device had, therefore, to be placed first in the mixer’s ‘send/return’ circuit. A barely perceptible whine over the monitors surfaced once again (as it had at the beginning of the week), when the mixer’s loop was active. I inserted two ISO units on the ‘return’ path. Silence was restored:

3.00 pm: I introduced another loop (2 x ‘send’/’receive’) into the circuit. One loop (‘A’) is dedicated to the Moog effectors and the OTO Biscuit (bit-crusher) unit, and the other (‘B’), to the Korg Kaoss pads and Roland sampler (which will pick up fragments of the post-effect sounds). The ‘through’ path from the mixer’s ‘send’ output passes through the loop unit and onto the Sherman/Rodec Restyler and Eventide units, before entering’s the mixer’s ‘return’ input. In this configuration, there are three separate pathways of modulation. This prevents an accretion of effectors and resistance. It also enables the effector pathways to be run either separately or in parallel (rather than in series). Optimise the sound system for quality, functionality, and controllability. This is the third discipline:

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: Further modifications were made to the ‘through’ route and ‘A’ loop:

Principle 7: If a solution is good, remember — there may yet be a better one.
Principle 8: You cannot always anticipate the impact of a change to one part of the system on the whole. Therefore, make changes experimentally in order to perceive their outcome experientially.
Principle 9: Don’t celebrate a solution too soon; the same problem may turn up again somewhere else in the system.
Task 3: Reroute. Rewire. Retire.

February 16, 2017

8.30 am: Adminy things. 9.00 am: A PhD fine art tutorial at the beginning of the day is a fine way of getting into top gear for the remainder. 10.00 am: The start of a day of second and third year painting tutorials. The interests of the vast majority of the students that I teach don’t mesh with my own. However, I’m not disinterested in their work. On the contrary, their endeavours open up possibilities and approaches that positively extend my own awareness of art. In any case, one teaches principles, and many of those principles are common to varieties of practice. The hardest thing to impart to students is neither method nor technique nor understanding but, rather, a love for the subject. Art is too difficult to do, too painful to endure, without it. We can each fall out of love with art. But the best of art students stick with it through hot and cold, passion and betrayal, because their relationship is based primarily on commitment rather than on feeling.

BA Fine Art, tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (February 16, 2017) 227

A case study. ‘How objective can you be?’ Self-interrogation. Standing apart from oneself. Linus’ blanket. The number 7: no symmetry. Depression is the longest of the seven phases of grief. Method acting. The objective correlative. If it’s all hard graft, without any emotional return or sense of self-fulfilment, you’ll give up making art. Flat paint is not anti-paint. Seeing Mondrian ‘in the flesh’ for the first time — astonishing! So painterly. Fresnel lens. If you’ve something significant to say, say it clearly, singularly, and economically. Finding the right scale of work is so hard — scale has as much to do with your own body size as it does the needs of the subject. Sometimes, you find the edge of the table only as you fall off it. When is a memory not a memory? Repeat the principle rather than the practice. Do we remember movement? Utopian feminism. Visual mages are astonishingly unable to say anything specific. Elusive and allusive: what’s the difference? Coherence of theme. 

10.30 am: A black hole — so dark that I couldn’t discern whether it was either a black obstruction behind the aperture or a recessive, lightless space beyond it:

4.30 pm: A sizeable group of students undertaking the same module will exhibit a variety of successes and attainments and failures and frustrations. Those that are steaming ahead one week may be lagging behind the next, and vice versa. Progress and improvement are never linear or consistent. They proceed in fits and starts … like life.

5.15 pm: Done! Done in! 7.30 pm: My Thursday evening teaching diary in-fill session, related correspondence, and register updates. The students get packed in like passengers on a Japanese commuter train. My journey today: 7-stages of progression > hard-edged abstraction > images of memories > equine genre > utopian feminism > figure/ground/space > farm forms > natural forms >  bust by an oval window > Borth at night > second hand piano from eBay.

February 15, 2017

8.15 am: The owners of the ‘Scourby Bible’ have revalidated permission to use their recordings in my forthcoming project. They’ve gone the second mile too, and offered support in several other ways. What a good example to all copyright holders. 9.00 am: At the School, the first Visiting Day was booted up. Our Ambassadors moved about the concourse like chess pieces on a board, awaiting the arrival of applicants:

One has always to consider the applicant apart from their place of education. Some come from well-heeled, well-resourced schools with passionate teachers. A few others struggle against the odds. It’s the applicant’s attitude, determination, and sense of self, along with their capacity to learn and work very hard, that’s of pre-eminent importance. They can’t be held responsible, and are certainly not penalised, for their background and upbringing. We assess them on the basis of their own merits entirely.

Many volunteer their impressions of the School: ‘Everyone is so friendly; they can’t do enough you’, one applicant remarked. But, clearly, they weren’t extended the same welcome and generosity at some other university art departments that they’d visited. It’s strange how, often, mature applicants are far more adventurous with their work than the younger ones. Perhaps age brings with it a greater measure of confidence and abandon.

By 3.30 pm, the ‘day’ was over. School life quickly returned to normal. The remainder of my afternoon was absorbed with postgraduate admin.

6.30 pm: Practise session 1: an investigation of my new programmable EQ effector. 7.30 pm: Studiology. I’ve now got a toe in the water. At the beginning of each project, there’s always a period of considered playfulness. Tonight, I attached one effector to another and observed the outcome, pondered the potential, and refused to be beguiled by the sound (however, striking it was) until it yielded a meaningful significance in relation to the input (Matthew, chapters 1 to 15, in this case). I was interested in interpretative or illuminating sonifications only. This was the first discipline: