Month: March 2017

March 13, 2017

8.45 am: I swung by the School of Art to pick up my iPad keyboard (a must for working on trains, if travelling sans laptop). Today, I was in tortoise mode, having packed everything that I needed for the next two days into a small rucksack. 9.10 am:

There were several rail strikes in progress in the north and south of the country. Other than an unexpected change of trains at Machynlleth (or ‘machine-lathe’ as my father-in-law is said to have pronounced it), the journey began without incident, advice, or warning. The water levels had risen considerably, converting streams into rivers and rivers into lakes. Thus, a familiar landscape took on a rather disconcerting strangeness – as though one were on the wrong train travelling somewhere else. (The stuff of unconsoling dreams.):

The drizzle fizzled out just before the train pulled into Newtown station (a place that I’ll forever associate with the paintings of John McAvey, who died suddenly, unexpectedly, and untimely during the second year of his PhD Fine Art studies). From Machynlleth to Wolverhampton to Stafford to London. I clicked like a field of grasshoppers on my iPad as I worked at the AberDoc nomination form. This is in support of PhD students seeking a university study award. My deadline is March 20. I’ve always found train journeys productive in this respect; an occasion to chip away at irksome admin task that would be the more so had I dealt with it in my office or study.

2.00 pm: Arrived >

Oyster card topped up, I headed for Green Park where I’d stroll until the time appointed to meet my elder son, take coffee, and travel to Pimlico. We observed the same order of events the last time I was in London. Repetition is consoling. It’s like revisiting the same experience, but in subtly different ways:

3.00 pm: On, then, to the Hockney exhibition, which was heaving with visitors. He can paint large vistas of ‘nothing’ (plain walls and open skies) like no other contemporary, figurative artist. I was reminded of the area above the dead Marat in David’s painting. I recalled seeing several of Hockey’s ‘classical’ period (for example, Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970–1) – his masterpiece, in my opinion) on an ‘A’-level trip in 1976. I was astonished at how areas, like her dress, had been handled so blandly yet effectively. He’s a consummate tonalist and colourist. In my view, some of the paintings from the 1990s are problematic. They’re not his best. Nor are the most recent works either. The Four Seasons video piece, however, is astonishing, surprising, and enrapturing; aesthetically, emotionally, technically, and intellectually satisfying. What more could one ask for? Hockney is always nothing less than decisive; clear in his vision and inventive in its execution. The history of Late Modernism in one image:

5.00 pm: Into town and on to Frith Street for an evening at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club:

I’d promised my elder son that I’d take him once he was eighteen. Tonight, years later, I finally honoured my pledge. We saw John McLaughlin and his band. He is, to my mind, the greatest living electric guitarist. One of my life’s regrets is not having been able to see a performance of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra, which he led. Tonight, he played several of that group’s compositions from the 1971 to 1974 repertoire. The pieces sounded as though they’d been composed yesterday. I was in rapture. Thus, my longing had been more than partially fulfilled. It was an evening that we’ll both remember. They performed magic:

March 10, 2017

8.30 Off to town for an early-morning aborted attempt at a mop cut. The barber shop was closed. Well, at least it got me out of the house; and I enjoy being in town as it wakes. 9.15 am: Studiology. I’m not where I want to be on The Aural Bible III project (I need a title, too). The process of extraction has proved to be slow. But first, I inspected my new, old Stylophone (c.1968). ‘Oh, dear!’:

In the late 1960s, the disgraced Antipodean fronted the manufacturer’s advertising campaign. I suspect he was chosen, in part, for his association with exotic or unusual instruments, such as the indigenous northern Australia didgeridoo. But how does one adjust the device’s volume? Having consulted the appropriate on-line forums, I discovered that the original had no volume control. How extraordinary. No wonder my parents complained.

The original Stylophone was based around a solid state circuit that produced a rudimentary, if gritty, square wave, which could be cross-modulated with a sine wave LFO to produce vibrato:

The larger biblical books — Leviticus, Chronicles, Kings, etc. — present considerable challenges to a chapter/verse word search. Often, I have had to listen to most of a long chapter before I discover which one it is. While doing so, I put together and tested further components for the notional Stylophone rig. Thus, I ping-ponged from one activity to another all morning and afternoon. Outside the studio, the day was uncomfortably still and noiseless. (‘Quiet’ summons, for me, a more reconciled and comforting absence of conspicuous sound. This it was not this.) The Stylophonic project isn’t intended to reach a conclusion. A recording or performance or both may ensue. But my commitment is, presently, to play and process.

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: The School is approaching its quinquennial review. There’s a raft of documentation to complete and a good deal of organising to initiate. The sections on Research and taught postgraduates on the departmental self-evaluation form fell to me. I wanted to complete this before bed, so that I could devote tomorrow to completing the word extraction process. Into the early hours …

March 9, 2017

8.30 am: At this time in the morning, I often meet with the same people walking to wherever they’re going: grandparents taking their offspring’s offspring to school, academics and library staff beginning their climb up the hill, and dazed students waking even as they walk to a 9.00 am class. 8.45 am: Postgraduate admin et al. A stress point in developing: being defined as a conflict of deadlines and competing necessities all within a relatively narrow timeframe. ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’. The wisdom is applicable to each hour of each day too.

9.30 am: My day of second and third year painting tutorials began. ‘Seek the small wonders’, John!, the voice said. For Alan:

Avoid making explicit interpretations of your work when none are called for. Dealing with the effects stress is far harder than dealing with the causes of it. We may do our best, yet suspect that our best is not good enough. ‘Economy, austerity, awareness, deliberateness’. What we wear when we paint is not incidental. When we prepare our studio space prior to work, we are also preparing our minds. Simplicity = a lack of excess. Remember: the artwork may embody ideals and principles that could usefully permeate the rest of your life. Your practice is an index to your worldview and values. Now, that is what I mean by ‘expression’. To make art is to act in the world, with all the weight of responsibility that this implies. There are four movables, principally: subject, conception, materiality, and technique. With each successive work, change only one of them (if necessary). And, as importantly, evaluate the difference that the change has made (BA Fine Art, tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (March 9, 2017) 231–32).

1.00 pm: Full house for the morning. This isn’t unusual.

2.00 pm: Full house this afternoon too:

But what’s good about the picture?’ If one area of the work is a continuing source of frustration, then turn to another — one that you feel able to complete. ‘Are you doing the right thing in the right way?’ Learn to cut your loses. Abandoning a work can be a elegant expression of professional wisdom. Sometimes, visiting galleries to encounter other artists’ work is of greater profit than continuing to battle fruitlessly with your own. What do you see when you paint? Seeing may be either mindless or intelligent. Academic exercises are useless unless they’re applied meaningfully in the context of your work. A painting is interesting not because of the subject matter but, rather, the way it’s painted. Don’t force the work to accord with your original intention if it offers a better alternative. All you have to do is fill in the white bits. ‘See it as a structure rather than as a face’. A painting based upon, as opposed to emulating, reality (BA Fine Art, tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (March 9, 2017) 232).

3.55 pm: Mysterious semblance on the staircase:

In the School’s Cutting Edge: The British Print from Hayter to Hockney 1960 to 1980 exhibition, there’s an artwork by Keith Richardson-Jones (1925–2005), one of my undergraduate tutors. In my first year of studies, he drove me and two other students from Newport to Brighton in a rickety Peugeot to attend a conference on Constructivism and Systems art called ‘Rationale Practice’. That was a baptism of fire. But it was also one of the most formative experiences of my training. (Although, I wasn’t aware of that at the time.) Confronting ‘KRJ’, again:

4.00 pm: The final tutorial of the day was with one of our finalising PhD fine art students — one of three in this position.

7.00 pm: An evening at the Arts Centre watching the NT Live performance of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. Magnificent!

March 7, 2017

The ‘persistence of vision. I like that’ (DR, Messenger, 8.43 am, 07 03 17).

9.00 am: Postgraduate day. For the first hour, I engaged two MA Fine Art tutees at the Old College. Curiously, a number of the students whom I taught today were each, in very different ways, either experiencing a crisis, or working their way out of one. The recognition of one’s inability in the face of what’s required will persist throughout their careers (believe me).

Avoid spending too long one a single work. Be editorial; cull the body of the work, constantly. Creative works aren’t like your children;  you don’t have to love them even when they’re bad. What’s enough? Understand the concept of sufficiency in relation to your work. We all need to learn from our betters and predecessors. Other artists will always be your best teachers. Sometimes the gift seems to desert us. But it merely hides, waiting for us to rediscover it. Creativity is less about expression and more about decision making. A bad work is rarely without some virtue. Discern the good, therefore. Our metal is tested best when things go woefully wrong. ‘The ball is not the wall’. Learn not to worry about your work; it’s liberating and enabling. Anxiety paralyses. When you hit a wall, paint yourself through it. Solutions can be painfully long in coming. (This is normative.) Slow the pace of painting; be more considered. If art was easy, you’d smell a rat. If a title does not present itself to you, leave the work untitled. Don’t force the issue (MA Fine Art, tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (March 7, 2017) 228–29).

11.00 am: Back at basecamp, I held two further tutorials before lunch and another two afterwards.

It may seem uneventful, but there’s always something happening with the work. Don’t even think about it … try it; there’s no recipe for success. It’s not by chance if, afterward, you direct it to a determinate end. A lack of confidence and a lack of assurance aren’t the same psychological experience. The work may be elegant, well-wrought, and exacting but, at the same time, not you. ‘The time, and what you do with it’. Different circumstances draw from us different virtues. The older you get, the more everything you’ve done seems to consolidate. When we were younger, and everything seemed possible, our ideas were (paradoxically) rather thin on the ground. Now, much older, not only do we realise that only a few things are necessary, but also how deep and rich is the well of ideas from which we draw. Diving/happiness (MA Fine Art, tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (March 7, 2017) 229).

1.50 pm: After lunch. It made me think about a little green frog:

Brigitte’s table-top abstraction:

T S Eliot illuminated the discussion at my 2.30 pm appointment:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
(from: ‘Burnt Norton’, Four Quartets (1941–42))

3.40 pm: Back to the Old College for the final MA Fine Art tutorial of the afternoon. Rachel’s chromatic soft-sculpture (with textual additions). This is clearly a breakthrough in the student’s work:

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: Studiology. I added two regulated power supply tracks to my portable rack (the one I use in a live context), so that, now, all the equipment will be fuelled from a common source. This ensures greater safety and less chance of an earth-loop hum developing, like that heard at the performance in the Drwm on Friday. Electrocution and extraneous noise are the sound artist’s worst enemies. One must take responsibility for avoiding both.

March 6, 2017

8.30 am: Yesterday’s incoming emails dispatched, I looked the week’s workload in the eyes and took-in a deep breath. Over the weekend (inspired by Friday evening’s concert of noise), my thoughts returned to the Stylophonics project, which I’d tentatively conceived in April of last year. I also purchased an original 1970s version from eBay, in readiness for a more concerted (in every sense of that word) implementation of my plan. This was a solid state version of the current reincarnation (which I own). It permitted an impulsive and sonically iconoclastic fifteen year old to circuit bend and, thereby, create far more beguiling sounds than the instrument was designed to produce:

Overdue research admin beckoned. I’m keen to secure a date for the next 24-hour open studio event at the National Library of Wales, generate magazine interest, and secure reviews for this and my previous sonic endeavours. The unending endeavour to promote the latest CD also needs to move up a gear. ‘What more could I be doing in these respects?’, is a question that rings out constantly.

1.40 pm: After lunch, I went to the Cledwyn Building, on campus, to attend a Graduate Sub-Committee and discuss External Examiner protocols:

15.00 pm: Home. Studiology. The extraction of ‘blind’ from the New Testament discs continued, interspersed with postgraduate admin. The process of discovering the word on the disc is painfully slow and repetitive. In the analogue world, there’re rarely shortcuts. By the close of afternoon, I’d got to the end of Luke, and the beginning of the Stylophonics set-up. (This is a tentative embarkation.)

7.30 pm: Into John’s gospel and onto the table top with the Stylophone effectors:

March 3, 2017

8.30 am: I’d been looking forward to today – the inception of the NoiseProjection series (organised by Dr Roberts on this occasion), entitled Listen to the Voice of Fire: Alchemy in Sound Art, and held at the National Library of Wales. This is the first event that I’ve attended in a long time when I’m neither organising nor contributing to it. Feet up. Ears open. While I’d no particular interest in alchemy, I was fully engaged and willing to learn from the processes and technologies used by those who were.

9.30 am: Conferences enable one to not only acquire an overview of what has been done/is being done in the field but also, thereby, of what is yet done. I found myself interrogating the deliveries: What can I learn from this that would improve my own composition and ‘performance’? Although, I’m rarely in a position to perform, and not entirely comfortable with the experience. What is a performance in respect to non-musical sound work? How can one perform without both being the centre of attention and appearing pompous? This guy could, effortlessly:

Listening to others lecture as an audient is always instructive. How much am I taking in? How much will I remember? How does the presentation’s content extend my perception of things? How did the presenter engage me? I was struck by a creative (and rather idiosyncratic) text produced by one composer, and how they’d used to interpret their music from within. Perhaps there’s a possible application of the principle to the textual dimension of the PhD Fine Art:

One presenter lurched towards stand-up comedy. Wonderful! A parody of academic practice. A topic like alchemy should throw up both profundities and lunacy. Some contributors had an informality and garrulousness that warmed their audience to difficult ideas and sound-art works.

1.00 pm: The Library’s café served a more than acceptable fish and chips. Getting everyone to observe the timing of events and breaks is perhaps the conference convenor’s most stressful responsibility during the day. One needs to have a militaristic attitude – an iron grip. Concerns about the reliability of the technology come a close second. But, in the end, time and timing are not the most important considerations. Never cut short an astonishing moment. They’re too rare at conferences. But there were several throughout today.

2.00 pm: How long does a sound illustration need to last in order to serve its purpose? Unlike projected images, over which one can talk, sound requires both time and no distraction. Ideally, the presenter ought to be mildly paranoid about bringing in a paper on time. Verbatim scripts are a must for short deliveries, in my opinion. The relationship of some papers to the conference topic was more evident and considered by some presenters than by others. (I suspect that’s always the case.) It’s so difficult to encapsulate one’s own work; it’s too easy to get too embroiled in the specifics. Because, in the process creation, it’s all about specifics.

Hearing about what others do in the domain of sound art, helped me to define what I do . It’s important to know one’s patch. One should be challenged to justify a continued participation in a discipline. I was interested most in work that was least like my own. The sound performances were the most articulate expressions of the conference theme: practice as the embodiment of knowledge. Sometimes words really do fail us:

5.00 pm: The end of the afternoon. 6.00 pm: Nibbles at the Reception, and an opportunity to network. This activity is a must. Due to a technical hitch, the concert’s start was delayed. 7.30 pm: The ‘off’! The performers had their instruments strewn over the table top, coupled together with cables, and plugged into mixers, effectors, synthesisers, and amplifiers:

This was experimental noise-music: the howl of Frankenstein, the sounds of the universe, and the shriek of suffering electronics. There’s a great pleasure to be had in listening to others create in a manner that I don’t. For this type of ‘music’, one must retrain the ears, and revise expectations:

9.00 pm: Home.

March 2, 2017

8.35 am: Schoolward. Then … There are moments, of no particular importance or feature, that arrest my progress and encourage me to pause and reflect. They come without beckoning or anticipation. On the contrary, I respond to their summons. At such times, the soul converses with itself, knowing that it’s overheard.

9.00 am: Emails dripped into my inbox like rain through a leaky roof. I had half an hour to make a dent in my postgraduate admin before beginning a day of second and third year painting tutorials on site.

Drawing a dancer in motion: the act of simultaneously seeing, remembering, and rendering. Our inner world must connect with the outer world. Cézanne not only translated the world into a visual ‘language’, but also invented the ‘language’ as he did so. What you aren’t and cannot do defines you as precisely as what you are and can. Be content to be you, rather than someone else; don’t envy another artist’s gifts. Follow the example of artists you admire, but don’t ape their solutions. Mature students bring to their studies a developed capacity for hard work, a recognition of the demands of discipline, and great determination. What they struggle to achieve is freedom from the restraints of conservatism (a condition that younger students acquire effortlessly). Accuracy may be defined as the appropriateness of the means to the end (BA Fine Art, tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (March 2, 2017) 226–27).

Something is always at stake. Gains in one area of creative development risk losses in another. That’s just as true for the students ensemble as it is for them as individuals. One has always to be vigilant. ‘Strengthen what remains!’ I used my box of Oblique Strategies in teaching for the first time this morning.

But you do know that you don’t know. That’s a start. Paintings can be built in strata; therefore, don’t be afraid to either paint over or painting out a work with another one. There’s a logic within the work that you must comprehend in order to complete it. There’s also a logic between works. Move from description to reason in your auto-articulation of intent. ‘Preserving an image’ through its translation. We must articulate ourselves to ourselves in order to understand what we do. ‘Why? Why? Why?’: At some point, you must render an answer. Clothes dispossessed of their inhabitants. ‘Aphrodite Rising’. Present/presence/pre-sense/pretence (BA Fine Art, tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (March 2, 2017) 227).

1.00 pm: A lunchtime Painting Committee at the town Conference Rooms with Dr Forster. The inculcation of an attitude of seriousness — that’s the call of the day. And, there are so many other principles and pedagogical practices that should be introduced into the undergraduate curriculum. 2.00 pm: Back to pacing the studio floor.

Acacia’s washing line:

4.30 pm: At the close of the day’s teaching, I held what may be my first sound-art tutorial in art practice. The student had had an old, tired, and much played upright piano delivered. This will be their object of inquiry until the Exhibition in May. I recalled carrying the innards of a piano down Chepstow Road to my art School at Clarence Place, Newport, during my second year of undergraduate studies in 1979. It fuelled my drawing and painting for three months:

‘Learning the Piano’ (1979), pencil on paper

7.30 pm: A final mop-up of the day’s and the week’s admin, and an initial determination of next week’s teaching and admin duties. (‘Remain flexible’, John!) The aim is not only to give due time and energy to these activities but also to carve out meaningful periods for research.

March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday

8.00 am: Having addressed and dispatched last night’s incoming email, I took stock of myself and began a process of sifting that would extend throughout the period of Lent. 9.00 am: I put my new pre-amp pedal through its paces and the Fender Twin Reverb amp, the Yamaha THR100hd digital amp, and the QSC active speaker PA system. All good!

9.30 am: Back to The Aural Bible III project, and the extraction of ‘blind’ from the New Testament LPs. The discs have no track breaks between the chapters. Therefore, finding a verse is a rather hit and miss affair. In the background, I attended to some ‘hum’ problems that persisted within the turntable and mixer network, while making adjustments to today’s schedule at the School, later on:

12.45 pm: An early lunch before moving to the School to conduct a pastoral tutorial, set up a Vocational Practice class (at which Mr Ruddock (Coleg Ceredigion) was speaking about life as a further education lecturer), and meet an intending PhD Fine Art applicant. All three engagements overlapped to some degree. A bit hairy!

Our PhD Fine Art students are individuals — each an artist with a particular trajectory. However, they share what can only be described as a metaphysical turn of mind, to a greater or less degree; they assume the possibility that reality is other than that is which is strictly visible or tangible. 3.20 pm: Back at home, I continued locating ‘blind’ in the Gospel of Mark.

7.00 pm: In the wind, rain, hail, lightening and thunder, I headed for Holy Trinity Church to attend the evening Ash Wednesday service:

In the Anglican ritual, the sign of the cross is marked in ashes upon the foreheads of the congregation, and the words ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’ spoken by the cleric (Gen. 3.9). Thus, we each became a walking drawing and memento mori — a reminder to ourselves and one another of human frailty, sinfulness, the need to repent, and the object of our hope.

8.30 pm: Emergency admin beckoned.

February 28, 2017

Shrove Tuesday

9.00 am: Against the wind, under the rain, to Old College to begin my day of MA and PhD fine art tutorials. Nevyana’s orderly array of exotically labelled paints:

Discussion: Some students need to be plugged into the mains (the tutor) because they don’t run on their own batteries. Teaching a class of thirty noisy and disruptive school children is a qualitatively different experience to teaching a class of thirty quiet and orderly ones. Thus, complexity and multiplicity may be either unwieldy or settled. Allow the student to talk and listen to themselves. Develop a ‘language’ of form, but say something with it too. The worst experiences may bring out the best in us. I admire artists who do one thing exceedingly well. There’s nothing wrong with admiring your own work. (It’s not akin to looking at yourself in a mirror.) In time, your virtues will become your vices. The historical resonance of a process casts its period on the subject matter of the work. You can’t always have a good day in the studio; it wouldn’t be good for you. How will you upset the apple cart of your established practice? What did you do that you’re no longer doing? Why did you abandon it? Rehabilitate neglected interests and disciplines when you can’t see the way forward with your work. You are the magic; things don’t just happen. Rarely does a work fail totally. Therefore, diagnose its particular faults. What about all those ideas that you never returned to? Is determinacy the opposite of both indeterminacy and improvisation? Write a PhD anti-proposal outlining all the things you don’t know, can’t understand, misunderstand, fail to achieve, don’t want to do, and find irksome and dull. This is likely to be of more help to you in determining the way forward than some pie-in-the sky, idealistic, and over-ambitious manifesto. You can’t always make the best work that you’re capable of, but you must always try to be the best artist that you can be (MA and PhD Fine Art, tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (February 28, 2017) 225–26).

10.15 am: Against the wind, under the rain, to the School of Art for a tutorial with one of Dr Webster’s charge. (I enjoy my discussions with photographers.) 12.00 pm: Back to my own ‘family’ of students for a further MA fine art tutorial. Students are at their most noble when dealing with, and learning from, inevitable failure and frustration.

2.00 pm: Off to the back of the School and the Edward Davies Laboratories for a further MA tutorial (followed by another in my office):

Science may no longer be taught at the laboratories, but experimentation continues unabated. Brigitte’s non-intentional landscape:

3.00 pm: A Skype tutorial with one of our distance-learning PhD fine art students. This mode of contact isn’t has immediate and intimate as a face-to-face confrontation. But it beats a telephone call:

4.00 pm: Against the wind, under the rain, to Old College to end my day with a final and one-hour long MA tutorial:

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. I put my new Effectrode Blackbird Pre-amp to the test. Glorious. 7.30 pm. An assault on my inbox, which had been dribbling mail alarmingly throughout the day.