Month: February 2017

February 14, 2017

9.00 am: A day of MA fine art tutorials, for the most part, at the Old College and the School of Art:

MA Fine Art, tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (February 14, 2017, 224–25)

B+W – felt like a low-saturated painting. Reckon upon inconsistency in the work. We feel more ourselves when we make. Some paintings inspire an antipathetical response at first sight. But they get under our skin. Grisaille. Stepped development of painting. Baroque. Intuition: you know where you’re going before you get there. Exhibition 1 define your ambition; Exhibition 2 refines it. Don’t trust either your best or worst opinions about your work. Follow your obsessions. Modesty. Working in the face of public indifference — that takes courage and commitment. Discipline. Constraint. ‘Quiet confidence’. Nuance, delicacy, subtlety – how are these terms relevant to your work? Restrict your means. ‘I have a sense, but not a plan’. One painting may be the training ground for another. Restrain. ‘Quiet, whispering painting’. A painting can contain too many good things for its own good. Why do I feel so old this week? Imagine your home town as though it were a place you were visiting. ‘Where are you going, John?’ Reintroduce old elements. The fullness of allness’. The sober balance between excesses. ‘So many things to say at the same time’. The fizzing of atoms. What, for you, is drawing? Excavation as a metaphor for drawing: bringing to the surface that which is buried beneath. Reading an image from left to right is easier than from top to bottom. What is the significance of the paper?

11.30 am: Having completed two MA tutorials at the Old College, I returned (via a coffee shop) to the mothership for another tutorial, followed by a PhD fine art consultation over lunch:

2.00 pm: Back on the MA trail. 3.00 pm: I held a commissioned tutorial with a third year student from Computer Science. He’s designing a computer software for converting images in sound, and vice versa. 4.00 pm: Off, again, to the Old College for the final MA tutorial of the day. 5.20 pm: I returned home bearing Valentine cacti for my wife.

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: My iPhone had vibrated in my pocket like a recurrent thigh muscle spasm all afternoon. Today, I’d received a merciless hail of incoming emails. Few could be deleted with indifference; many required a lengthy and considered response. This would be my evening’s task. Keep on top of your correspondence, and keep sane!

10.00 am chair:

10.30 am chair:

2.00 pm chair:

4.30 pm chair:

February 13, 2017

8.30 am: I addressed mail that had come in over the weekend, responded to a postgraduate marketing questionnaire, puzzled over undergraduate student destinations, adjusted my teaching commitments (always an additive process), attended to medical updates, and readied myself for a return to the studio and admin related to the immediate project. Mindful of the vicissitudes of copyright law and permissions, I contacted the company that owns the rights to the ‘Scourby Bible’, in order to confirm whether their original permissions (given in 2012) were still valid, and to apprise them of the project’s development. On one previous occasion, a sound project had to be shelved because the record company refused me copyright. So, I always check which way the wind is blowing before setting sail with published material.

12.30 pm: These explanations and confirmations can take longer to compose than expected. Alongside my jabbering, I finalised the article on the ‘Image and Inscription’ project and sent it to the journal’s editor. While pushing forward with new projects, I’m aware of a great effort than needs to be put into publicising those that are already in the public domain. ‘Getting it out there’ is the hardest thing, particularly when you have to be your own agent and publicist.

1.00 pm: Elder son cooks lunch for parents and their Japanese guest (on her first return visit to Aberystwyth). Evocations of a sixteenth century, Netherlandish still life:

2.40 pm: Studiology. I extracted the first sample recording for The Aural Bible III project. It was taken from Matthew, Chapter 11, and is, on the face of it, a curious verse with which to begin a sonic essay on blindness. But below the surface …

I transferred the samples on the production desk so that I could hear each separately and in comparison with one another. It can take an entire afternoon to capture just a few seconds of sound:

6.40 pm: Off to the Rectory for a displaced Holy Trinity Church Committee. (My other life). The time of the interregnum has begun:

February 10, 2017

8.30 am: Adjustments, additions, advice, and advocacies: a little tidying of next week’s schedules, so that I could clear my desk in readiness for this day’s work. 9.15 am: Off to School to attend a Special Cases meeting in advance of the Examination Board Meeting. 10.45 am: Back at homebase, with a cup of tea to hand, I embraced the studio once more:

The computers and their software needed updating, cables labelling, and devices reattaching and energising. The aim, initially, was to get two sound systems up and running. They weren’t designed to operate together, but at some point they may collide. I was setting up a possibility rather than orchestrating a probability. The floor assembly (for guitar) was complete, and needed only a final test; the table-top devices would have to find one another.

I’d been fortunate enough to secure two original, identical, and complete vinyl versions of The American Bible Society Recording of the New Testament: The Talking Bible (part of the so-called ‘Scourby Bible’):

The 10-inch discs play at 16 2/3 rpm — half the speed of a standard  33 1/3-rpm record. My DJ decks have the capacity to play at 50% of the faster speed. The slower revolution enabled twice as much information to be recorded on each side. And since a solo voice only had been encoded, the quality of playback didn’t need to be high fidelity. These records are the starting point for the/a next major project.

1.40 pm: After lunch, I tested and optimised the simplest form of the system: two decks > one mixer > stereo monitors (with a digital line out to a computer, for recording purposes). There was a very faint, high-pitched whine perceivable over the speakers, although not over headphones. It shouldn’t have been there. I went through my established procedure of turning off each computer (which can often be the culprit, particularly if its attached to the sound system) in the room, before rerouting the system’s power supply a common mains filter/conditioner. The latter did the trick. Silence!

The immediate objective was to prepare a sound system suitable for the proposed 24-hour open studio workshop in the Spring. The last event of this nature took place at the National Library of Wales in September 2015. On that occasion, I composed voice-based material for the ‘Image and Inscription‘ project:

5.00 pm: Once the system was completed, I was ready to attach effectors into the mixer’s ‘send and receive’ loop. How, then, to reconcile a mono  (send) signal to a stereo (receive) signal without losing a dual output at the monitors?

5.15 pm: A simple response, using only one effector. Question answered. Problem clarified. And, what works for one effector will work for many placed in series. By 6.30 pm, all the computers were updated and installed with the same software (but not an identical IOS). Just preparing the ground for work takes a great deal of time, attention, and energy. I was, now, ready. But I’d not a clue how to proceed. Which is how it should be. No plan. No pattern. No policy. Only many possibilities.

8.00 pm: An evening making Alexander Scourby — the reader on the records — sound like Davros. The Gospel according to the Daleks.

February 9, 2017

8.30 am: I set out my stalls for next week’s teaching in advance of completing the week’s responsibilities in this area. 10.00 am: A day of second- and third-year painting tutorials:

BA Fine Art, tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (February 9, 2017, 220–21)

Challenging/limiting. ‘What are you teaching yourself?’ You can make good work without understanding it. Why do my alarm bells ring when a student says that they had ‘enjoyed’ their painting? Why have I done what I’ve done, and to what end? ‘What goes through your head when you’re making a painting?’ ‘What is the difference between intuition and instinct?’ Intuition must be trained. ‘I do what I do out of choice, not because I can’t do any other.’ Pauline Boty. Women artists written out of art history. Intellectual rather than emotional. You no more need to consider expression than you do your shadow. Calligraphy of brushwork. The place of sport in art. There are slow weeks when little happens. Think of studies as rehearsals. Studies need to be pertinent to the practice. Make your own tools. Paintings determine their own intensity. Uglo turned up twice today. Conceptual space. The problem of defining a 3D space (an absence) on a 2D plane. Japanese screens. It’s easy to have ideas; far harder to imagine the means by which they can be realised. Far fewer ideas are genuinely practical possibilities. Sometimes one must follow the route of least resistance. It’s not so much what there is to see in a thing as what you extract from the plethora of incident. Simplify the proposition. Dissect the problem. Let go. Let be.

Further photographic  monochromatisations of chromatic paintings. Some students confess to having difficulty in recognising the tone of a colour (its relation to the grey scale) independently of its chromatic value. Apparently dyspraxia can be a cause of this challenge:

A chromatic photograph of monochromatic objects:

3.30 pm: At long last, my new iMac arrived. It replaces my deceased MacBook of nine years standing/lapping:

6.30 pm: Socks and undies to separate, reconnect, and file. 7.30 pm: The final administrations for teaching were completed.

February 8, 2017

Yesterday. 9.00 am. Old College:

MA and BA Fine Art, tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (February 7, 2017, 216–17)

Maturation. Precision. Deliberateness. Transition. Flexibility. Explorative. Moment-by-moment. Autodidacticism. The gentle pressure. Conflict. Motif. Mount Fuji. Mont St Victoire. Intrigue, A mirroring, Social history. Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’. A loner. ‘Why did you start painting?’ Revisitation. Relief. Restoration. Recuperation. Everything has a time. Validation. ‘It was like it was trying to find you’. Earnestness. Sobriety. Melancholy. Indulgence. To find yourself when you lose yourself in the subject. A recognition. Layering-up. Lost. Discursive. Normative practice [?]. Driving home, ‘It was dark!’ ‘You are describing a landscape’. A bigger space. Convergence of a discussion and the work. ‘You in your body, your body in a car, the car in the landscape’. Excavation. Clifford Still was a farmer. Aberfan. Cautionary prohibitions. ‘This is a view, not a judgement.’ Formidable but frail. Painters who were farmers. Millet. Sheep and motorbikes. Paint what you know best. Science student undertaking sound and visualisation. Find the source. Let it fail. Don’t be afraid to entertain doubt. If you see a path ahead, remember — someone has made and walked it before you. Head for the long grass — the untrodden ways. Teachers don’t know it all. Your heart, intuition, and instinct are fallible. Seek advice.

Today. 9.15 am. Old College:

MA Fine Art, tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (February 8, 2017, 218–19)

Tues. R. A colour that is vivid  and the key until the resolution; then, paint it out. Undoing. Begin with paint and then find the subject. Weather conditions. The burden of the landscape genre. Changeable. Extremes. Alive. Sitting contemplatively in the landscape. Stillness. Aesthetic emotion is quite distinct from other human feelings. ‘Confident joy’. Nature as consolation. Write about yourself to yourself. Feeling knowledge; mind knowledge. Think of how many disparate ideas enter your head at a given moment; a painting my exhibit the same multiplicity. Seeing and feeling. What streams flow into the river? Contradictions. Thoughts overwhelming. How do we prepare — emotionally, mentally – for painting? By what are we lead? Synchronicity. Painting may determine its own destiny. People don’t buy art for its meaning. Accept absolution and believe it. Locking out thoughts. ‘Are you sitting comfortably … ?’ Expose the fatuous. Forgiving yourself is far harder than forgiving others. Live up to your own expectations and not those of others. The facts of the past are unchangeable; your understanding of those facts is always under revision. Be wise in who you listen to. Negative people are often those who are most disappointed with themselves. Fear and anger are bedfellows.

2.00 pm: Homebase:

biblical reference: ‘blind’, ‘blindness’. Narratives centred on individual cases. blindness as spiritual metaphor. An initial determination of five pieces: ‘Blind Leading the Blind Leading’; ‘Men as Trees, Walking’; ‘Bartimaeus, Son of Timaeus’; ‘Clay and Spittle’, ‘Mist and Darkness’. Keep everything open. Begin with one narrative only. Play, play, play … without determination or expectation. Deal with corresponding gospel narratives: e.g. Mark 10.46–52 & Luke 18.35–43 (blind Bartimaeus). Use two discs/turntables, one for each text, in parallel. I’m continually drawn to historical themes.

 7.30 pm: Studiology:

Electrical test. Cable test. Table test. Monitor test. Self test.

February 6, 2017


At the morning service at Holy Trinity Church, we said farewell to the Rev. Ian Girling (and his wife, Angie), after his nine years of service as our vicar. A celebratory lunch at the Buarth Hall followed:

Today. 8.30 am: A busying of the calendar — inserting late requests for appointments, designating times for admin, arranging teaching participation, and seeking confirmations from Information Services. The article, having been largely polished on the weekend, was ready for a final look over prior to sending to the editor. But, before that, I attended a staff training tutorial on how to chair a PhD Viva Voce (which I’ve done on many occasions, previously) at the mighty Cledwyn building. One has to be seen to be trained, I was told:

12.10 pm: Back at homebase, I cleared the morning’s incoming mail and applied what I’d learned to the administrations of the School’s forthcoming PhD vivas.

1.40 pm: After lunch, I continued adminy tasks and completed inserting the final references into the article — those that linked to samples of the ‘Image and Inscription’ sound piece, which is the subject of the writing. Inserting visual illustrations into a printed text is straightforward; directing the reader to the sonic content mentioned therein takes some thought and preparation. 4.40 pm: Achieved. Back to the chores, to clear them (for today), so that I would be able to indulge a little studiology in the evening session, undistracted.

If I knew that I only had a few years to live, what influence would that knowledge have on my priorities and focus during the time that remained? [PAUSE] I don’t know. God only knows. I ‘knowest not what a day [tomorrow] may bring forth’. That’s all. Therefore, whether this day be my very last or merely one of many, I shall direct my attention and energies to that which is most upright, ennobling, essential, necessary, expedient, fulfilling, and only I can achieve.

5.20 pm: Eventide:

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: Studiology: I fitted the new programmable EQ to Pedalboard V. I’m waiting for a set of custom pancake cable patches to arrive in order to rewire Pedalboard I. Then, all five modular boards will be complete, optimized, and functional, independently and in conjunction with both one another and external amplifiers. That’s, for me, a very fulfilling outcome on the material and creative plane.

February 2, 2017

9.00 am: The first tutorials with my second year fine art painters, some of whom I’ve not taught before. The initial engagement was focussed upon ‘getting to know you/me’. If you begin by understanding the person, there’s a better chance that you’ll grasp their work. It was good to take up the story again with my third-year painters. The next four months will shape their careers, values, ambitions, and sense of identity like no other period in their education hitherto. My agenda for the morning was to ask, in the manner of GPs, ‘Where does it hurt?’ — To discern weaknesses, blind spots, inabilities, and insecurities with a view to developing a bespoke remedy for each encumbrance and student.

Once again, monochromatic photography was brought in bear as a tool for assessing the tonal character and integrity of the student’s work. On occasions, the results can reveal attributes of the painting that are actually countered by the chroma. Fascinating. Somewhat like an X-ray image:

This photograph turned up on my phone’s camera. But I’d not taken it, consciously. Fortuitously, it fits with the aesthetic of a student’s artwork, which I’d photographed deliberately just before the anomaly appeared:

Throughout the day (taking a dose of my own time-management medicine) I looked for ways in which my Thursday’s teaching could be compressed and rationalised, without compromise.

After lunch, I powered ahead at full-throttle through my list of second year painters. It was lovely to have to visiting students, one from northern California and the other from Brisbane, in the family (if only for this semester). Today, the objective was to lay the foundations for the semester ahead. 4.00 pm: At the close of teaching, I set out my day-by-day, hour-by-hour, responsibilities for the week ahead.

6.30 pm: To the Arts Centre for a National Theatre Live performance of Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus (1969):

February 1, 2017

8.50 am: Anarchy in the SoA:

9.00 am: I gave the annual ‘pep’-talk and introduction to the undergraduate Exhibition module. This module has a status and import above and beyond anything the students have undertaken so far on the course. It provides an opportunity for them to shine; to consolidate their work; to exceed their best efforts; and to ‘go public’ for the first time. I can feel the ‘rush’ already.

10.00 am: The first of three MA fine art tutorials. A black and white photograph isolates a chromatic artwork’s tonal content. To my mind, the image should be as resolved in its achromatic state as in full colour. Seeing tone alone can pinpoint imbalances in the colour distribution that aren’t immediately evident otherwise. In the realm of sound, converting a stereo composition into a monaural image can, similarly, identify inadequacies in the equalisations, distinctions, prominences, and emphases of both volume and tone:

It’s also revealing to take an artwork out of its habitual environment (the studio) and see the thing breathe in another context — for example, the gallery in which it’ll be hung eventually:

By the time a student reaches postgraduate level, they are apt to experience ‘points of return’. That’s to say, a revisitation of, variously, forms, preoccupations, ways of working, and stylistic modes which they’d encountered several years earlier. The motif of their development as artists tends to be rotational rather than linear. As they proceed along an outward-going spiral, they’ll pass the same point time and time again. However, with each return they are further away from both the point of departure and the last point of return. In other words, the returns are never repeats. Rather, they are fly-pasts over the same point, but at a higher altitude each time:

10.30 pm: I undertook two further MA Fine Art tutorials before making ready for the first Professional Practice lecture of the semester, on ‘Time Management’. This is a very important number for the second year fine art students to know:

After lunch, I caught up with the morning’s incoming emails and admin, uploaded podcasts and PowerPoint presentations related to the lectures, and continued my negotiations with the National Library of Wales. In September 2015, I held a 24-hour open studio event on the concourse of the Drwm in order to develop sections of the ‘Image and Inscription’ composition. I’m planning a second such event in the Spring, to initiate the third release in The Aural Bible series. 4.00 pm: Back to the article’s references. 6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: Back to the article’s references. 9.30: Practise session 2.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Don’t put a cap on your capability. Presently, you don’t know what heights you may be able to reach.
  • The progress of your work is likely to follow the same pattern as that of your life: from up to down, good to mediocre, and interesting to indifferent. In other words, reckon on inconsistency.
  • You can’t run your life like a business. Therefore, be flexible, adaptable, responsive, patient, and forgiving.