Month: May 2017

June 1, 2017

Bank Holiday Monday

But marking deadlines and feedback reviews prevailed. During this coming fortnight, staff will make the final assault on marking, assessing, monitoring, and board meetings. Eyes down. Tuesday and Wednesday. On with marking the MA Vocational Practice report submissions and preparing of marks for the coming exam board meetings. Wednesday evening I distracted myself, periodically, with soldering and an initial consideration of a circuit-bending intervention with my original Stylophone. It’s been forty five years since I last attempted a break in. On this occasion, however, I’ll be wiring the illicit circuits to toggle switches and pushing the device to its limits (and extinction, in all likelihood). You can’t be sentimental and compassionate when it comes to circuit bending.:

Thursday. 8.30 am: Email and calendar catch-up and bag-packery before heading for School. On the way, I bumped into one of last year’s Fine Art graduates, who’s now cutting their teeth as a school teacher … and doing well by all accounts. 10.00 am: Putting things inside other things: MA feedback made ready for dispatch next week:

11.00 am: The final Fine Art exam board meeting with our new external examiner, Professor Peter Lloyd. It takes time for both the examiner and the staff to adjust to one another. No two external examiners are the same. No two art schools are either. Nevertheless, the outcome of the discussion was gratifying and illuminating. 12.45 pm: After a leisurely lunch together, I came home to pick up the threads of postgraduate admin. Gradually, I’m working my way to the stop of the School: PhD-dom.

3.30 pm. Respite. Creativity. Studiology. Circuit bending. First, I removed from the Stylophone the loudspeaker that hasn’t a volume control (bizarrely) in order to attach its output to an amplifier that has. Interrupting the normal course of an object takes time and preparation:

7.30 pm: Sounds reminiscent of strangulation, nasal congestion, and the mother-of-all sore throats dribbled out of the amplifier. There are noises, and there are useable noises. All possible nodes combinations on the circuit board will need to be tested systematically. Most connections don’t yield anything. Some, will simply shut the device down. A few, will sound like a low-fi, synthesiser in extremis — which is what was listening for. In 1973, synthesisers were inconceivably expensive, unless you built your own. A 14 year old’s pocket money, in those days, wouldn’t stretch to that project. Indeed, I could only just afford to buy the magazine that showed you how to make one. Circuit bending pushed the not-inexpensive Stylophone towards something more versatile, exotic, chaotic, and listenable. (To be honest, the original Stylophone, in it’s state of innocence, sounded more than mildly unpleasant.)

May 25, 2017

8.30 am: Off to work. This is the warmest morning of the year so far. The School was still and melancholy. I could hear the ticking of the clock in my office against the silence. It was consoling and evocative. The sound reminded me of childhood reveries I indulged in the upper-lounge of my maternal grandparents’ house at Blaina. (They’d a large mantlepiece clock; all wood and brass, with a hinged glass front and spindly hands.) Time passing, acoustically. 9.20 am: I joined Dr Forster on the studio floor to conduct a viva voce with each of the exhibiting painters. This is the final conversation that we’ll have with many of them:

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Refinement can sometimes undo a work.
  • There’s a great difference between self-centredness and self-reflection.
  • When you don’t consult the work of established and qualitative artists, it shows in your own.
  • A lack of confidence rather than a lack of facility may be your most conspicuous weakness.
  • At some juncture, you’ll have to forsake your heroes. Otherwise you’ll lose yourself in, and become a third-rate copy of, them.
  • A student whose father recorded birdsong around the moment they were born.
  • Enjoy the peace after the battle.
  • Find the palette in the process of painting.
  • There’s the painting and there’s painting. Don’t confuse them.
  • What people say about your work at the Opening is irrelevant on one level. Neither positive nor negative comments necessarily reflect justifiable value judgements or an informed opinion. They are merely the expression of enthusiasm or disgruntlement.
  • Over production can be a compensatory response to an inability to resolve a few things thoroughly.
  • Art is fundamentally a beneficent force — gentle, encouraging, and supportive.
  • The best students are often those who’re most critical of their own work.
  • Art must feed on something outside of itself in order to grow.
  • The student’s intellectual grasp of their practical work is confirmed by the quality of their Research and Process in Practice essay. These two outcomes are never contradictory.

2.20 pm: Dr Forster and I enjoyed a meeting at the town committee rooms. (For the record, she took the minutes on this occasion.) 3.10 pm: Back at homebase, I finalised the morning’s provisional marks and began writing up feedback reports. Crows are attacking the houses’ windows from their perch on the scaffolding. (I’ve watched Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963); I know can what happen next. But have, and do, they?)

6.00 am: The Opening of Julian Ruddock’s PhD Fine Art exhibition 2A Earth Core: The Hominin Project. Mr Ruddock made an opening speech:

The ‘room of doom’:

This was now like a set from David Lynch’s latest endeavour:

What a magnificent example of Sci/Art collaboration — one in which public impact is a natural expression of the project’s essence, rather than some spurious and fatuous add-on. The public, for their part, received a respectful blow to the jaw … which they appreciated. The works are not scientific illustrations. Rather, they’re visual metaphors for a climatic calamity in the making.

7.40 pm: Back at my desk, on with report writing until then end of the evening.

May 24, 2017

8.30 am: Wait over: The Ego article will appear in the July edition of the magazine. Inbox tidying and assessment admin. 9.00 am: Studiology. On to the turntables in order to explore techniques of manipulation. The objective was to develop practical analogues for the theological concepts that I’d discerned in the text to James’s epistle:

There was some movement today (which sounds like the report of an optimistic sufferer from chronic constipation) towards an understanding of what could be achieved between the record deck, the DJ mixer, and the loopers. I just needed to keep playing. It was as simple as that. In and around my play, I dispatched seasonal admin.

I’ve been drawn to Alan Chamberlain‘s The Pedal Effect project. In my sphere, effect pedals are bought and, then, sold when redundant; I’m not sentimental about them. I don’t hoard or collect them. The pedal that I remember most fondly, however, is the first one I bought, at 14 years of age in 1973. It was a fuzz/wah pedal. The pedal was subjected to circuit-bending processes in order to eke out sounds that it wasn’t intended to produce. Through it I played a Stylophone, which was likewise mangled beyond its design parameters. I’m inclined to putatively reconstruct both (although the original pedal was consigned to the dustbin – burnt out – several years later):

1.40 pm: On returning to the text of James’s epistle, I extracted a list of keywords and their interrelations associated with concepts that will inform actions and procedures on the turntables:

4.00 pm: More play. I’ve improved with just one hour’s practise. Think what might be achieved after one day’s effort. Actually, less than one would imagine. Skill acquisition tends to be logarithmic rather than exponential. Thus, we gain new facilities more quickly earlier in the period of learning than we do later on. In the latter part, skills are, instead, grounded, matured, and refined. (This is an observation derived from my experience as a learner and teacher, rather than from any established educational theory.)

7.15 pm: I opened a space in my head to think more broadly than the affairs at hand and my current situation. For me, the past cannot remain in the past. Through diary entries, letters, and photographs, it seeps into the present. So many people I knew back then now exist only within them. For some reason, I stopped writing my diary on 9 March 1994. The last sentence read: ‘My foot is still swollen’.  The habit of writing was revived, for a brief period, on 31 December 1999.

May 23, 2017

One of our students attended the concert at the Manchester Stadium last night. They drove to Aberystwyth this morning to attend their feedback tutorial at the School. That was an impressive and eloquent expression of defiance.  The murderers can stop or impede some lives, but not all. Nevertheless, we can none of us go on as though nothing has happened. We must allow such appalling events to change us.  At the very least, they’re an invitation to pause and reflect. In an earlier age, art provided that opportunity. Images in the tradition of the vanitas or memento mori often represented either an illuminated candle that was slowly melting, to be inevitably extinguished, or, as below, one snuffed out prematurely. Sudden death, especially before due time, is always tragic. These images were made during a time when infant mortality was all too common. Mercifully, today, the death of children is far rarer. Thus, when an 8 year old and teenagers are ripped from their family, friends, and community without anticipation or preparation – callously and violently – we stagger:

Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder, Vanitas (n. d.) (Courtesy of Wiki Commons)

9.30 am: Second-year assessments for students of painting and life drawing. (Four MA Fine Art observers were in attendance.) Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Some students will be get there by stealth and hard work, rather than by virtue of an abundance of natural talent.
  • The influence of other artists’ work will add a dimension of depth and integrity to your own. Therefore, plunder their spoils for materials that you can use to construct your edifice.
  • ‘I’d like to be an artist when I graduate, but …’. Ditch the ‘but’; otherwise, the ‘but’ will ditch the artist.
  • Don’t aim to live and breath art, 24/7. Rather, aim to live life like that. Art will be the natural overflow of that passion, intensity, and commitment.
  • Being an artist is an attitude of mind and a way of apprehending the world before it’s a practice.
  • Stay visual.
  • Approach every work as though it was your last.
  • Not all the works that you make will be your greatest (by definition). But all the works you make could be the result of your best effort.
  • Wisdom is knowing when to abandon a course of action that, while intrinsically worthwhile, personally fulfilling, and appreciated by others, may yet be preventing something better from emerging.

Lunch (such as it was) was in synch with my footfall, as I moved between my office and the assessment room. 2.30 pm: Running late by half an hour, I left the School and dropped into my homebase study, 15-minutes later, to take up the plot of feedback write up. 3.00 pm: I pressed the Ego article a little further …

7.30 pm: … and a little further, to a conclusion. 9.30 pm: Done! Posted! Wait!

May 22, 2017

8.15 am: A time to take stock, recalibrate, and reaffirm. 9.00 am: Having addressed incoming mail and reviewed Saturday’s notes for the Ego article, I got back into the studio. I’d been away from there for nearly a week. If the interval between engagements is too long, things often feel strange and disconnected from me when I return. (This is a ‘crisis’ of consciousness rather than of confidence.) One must work hard to achieve a sustainable continuity in creative practice. A little often is far better than much irregularly. I began by tidying the work space. In so doing, I ordered and prepared my mind too.

Commencing, I:

  1. made system check of the project equipment with a view to further optimising the whole;
  2. replayed something that I’d recorded and knew worked very well. (This affirmed the standard that I’d be seeking throughout the day.);
  3. considered the two record decks and every way I could play them, by variously integrating, disintegrating, synchronising, de-synchronising, switching on and off, stalling and enabling, and shuffling back and fore between, the pair of discs’;
  4. considered the two options regarding the discs’ respective points of embarkation: a) the tone arms positioned at the same point on both discs; b) the tone arms positioned a different points on each disc (although within the recording of the Epistle of James);
  5. reacquainted myself with the text of the epistle.

Of all the books in the Bible, the content of James is (in parts) most congruent with the method and nature of the means of processing. (Typically, form and content inform one another in my modus operandi.) In essence, the sound system is made up of two copies of the same record played on a pair of identical decks. This permits their content to be heard either in unison (synchronically) or unison (de-synchronically) or separately. The records can be played forward, in reverse, at their normal speed, and faster. (At 16 2/3 rpm, they cannot be played more slowly unless the decks’ drive motors are disengaged and the discs rotated manually). The records can also be played either normally or interrupted by strategies such as skidding, lifting, dropping, and bouncing the tone arm, and slowing and stalling the discs’ motion by hand.

The biblical text suggests a number of analogical concepts. For example: twoness, in complementarity and contrariness: the double-minded man’ (1.8, 4.8), ‘doing and hearing’ (1.22), ‘faith and works’ (2.17-18); a common source (the tongue and the fountain) and contrasting its expressions (‘blessing and cursing’, ‘sweet water and bitter’ (3.10-11)); reversion (or mirroring): ‘a man beholding his natural face in a glass’ (1.23); various physical motions: wavering, tossing, and turning (1.6, 3.3); and contrasting auditory speeds: ‘swift to hear and slow to speak’ (1.19).

During the afternoon, emails were responded to and non-research admin kept at bay. Today was a sacred space.

7.30 pm: Power down. A little Ego centrism. The trick of writing pithy popular journalism is to be concise and to know what you don’t need to say, is essential and interesting, and the reader needs to know, above all else.

May 20, 2017

Yesterday. The postgraduates put pay to a hard week’s work; the floors of the studios and galleries were swept; the building prepared; and what was not to be seen, hidden. At some point during the morning, the new Vice Chancellor made her first visit to the department. (A good day so to do; we looked busy.) Amid all this, I headed (lunch in bag) to the Arts Centre Gallery, where Mr Ruddock was finalising the installation of his PhD Fine Art exhibition. It looked and sounded terrific — reminiscent of the set from a sci-fi film:

Photo: courtesy of Jess Rose and Julian Ruddock

5.20 pm: Closure. (I recalled Jasper Johns, Jim Dine, and Robert Ryman.):

Today. 8.30 am: Second year feedback reports poked me in the ribs. One must stay on top of these things. (Some Mahavishnu Orchestra in the background, and an afternoon to look forward to.) At a time when jobs in the HE sector are under threat, and perfectly decent art schools are being forced to close, I treasure each moment (however irksome). ‘Change and decay’ will come (as it has, ever since I took up my academic career). One’s own standing, achievements, occupation, wherewithal, determinations, resources, and opportunities are fragile and insecure at best. An end may not be in sight but, be sure, it’s travelling towards me (like an asteroid on a collision course) from afar off. All will, one day, be smashed to dust. As the novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson remarked to me, some years ago: ‘It’s all just straw and stubble in the end’. Let it go, rejoicing.

11.30 pm: By mid morning, I’d caught up on my write-ups. On, then, to further postgraduate admin until 12.30 pm. (In the background: Henry Purcell’s Funeral Music for Queen Mary (1695). I’m making a connection, mentally and emotionally, between the drumming accompaniment on his compositions and my exercises with clicks and scratches for ‘The Talking Bible’ project.) 12.30 pm: Lunch at the Crimson Rhino.

1.45 pm: I’d promised the Ego magazine a short article on my recent 24-hour stint at the National Library of Wales. Notes to that end were made.

3.00 pm: Off to the annual Opening:

The smaller show, this year, permitted more walkway space which, in turn, gave the visitors free course to move around the galleries without getting into a sweat. Murmurs of excitement and approval could be overheard. I did my round of documentary photography, tweets, and empty-cup collecting. (One ought to remain useful and mobile on these occasions.) In some ways, the show is always the same and always different — the intersection of a continuity of teaching and unique individuals.

6.30 pm: An evening with my wife.

May 18, 2017

8.30 am: To School and the official last day of hanging for the undergraduate exhibiters. 9.00 am: On the turntable this morning: late MA applications, third year Research and Process in Practice essays to assess, a late MA inquirer’s consultation, and a third year dissertation marking meeting. More ambiently: innumerable treks up and down stairs to check out the finalisation of the show. A work veiled in secrecy:

10.00 am: Further ruminations on the nature and legitimacy of sketchbooks with one of our MA Fine Art students. Me (and I was thinking of the painter’s practice particularly):

I’m critical of sketchbooks because they impose a tyranny of the ‘must do’ on students. Pollock, Bacon, Hodgkin etc, never used them. Those who work more spontaneously are hamstrung by them. Better to devise books that are about drawing or small versions of the type of work that you produce. These manifestations can be just as finished as the bigger pieces. But they don’t pretend to be preparatory.

Such books can be, also, a:

  • gymnasium in which the student ‘works out’ particular problems and ideas related to the larger enterprise;
  • greenhouse in which the seeds of later works are planted;
  • nursery in which the shoots of developing ideas grow;
  • rehearsal room in which the artist prepares before the performance.

The aim of these books is to obviate the habit of students jumping into large-scale or ambitious works unnecessarily unprepared — that is to say, without any forethought for what problems may ensue.

12.30 pm: A late MA inquiry meeting was followed by the dissertation decider discussion (or whatever). 1.45 pm: Lunch over the computer and a review of the day’s news about the Tory Manifesto. 2.15 pm: On the first floor, two big gun-paintings found their place on the walls. The show/exhibition catalogues have arrived by the box load. Things are falling into place. 4.00 pm: Phil (‘the porter’) returned to polish the floors … just like in the ‘good ol’ days!’:

Until the end of the afternoon, I advised students on their hang and operated an electric screwdriver (which was light years away from Dr Who’s sonic screwdriver) with panache.

7.30 pm: Over lunch, I managed to listen to part of an enlightening and absorbing lecture by the abstract turntablist Maria Chavez. Whatever else I was going to do this evening, I was going to listen to what she had to say to the end. Her refusal to either record her improvisations or engage with the music industry is a remarkable expression of both her integrity and her determination to remain an artist rather than be cast as a musician. The latter has been my own resolve too:

May 17, 2017

Yesterday. 8.15 pm: The starry field upon my window:

Today. 9.00 am: My second day of second-year assessments (punctuated by excursions to the studios and gallery spaces to eye the progress). The second-year of Fine Art studies is a crucial transitional period in each student’s development. From now on, they have to define the field of their studies more narrowly and get better and go deeper within it. The greatest need of the hour is commitment, which is often the fruit of confidence. And confidence will come not in the recognition that they possess enormous talent (which is the least of it) but through the hopeful anticipation that, with application, a distinctive ‘voice’ worth listening to will eventually emerge. (The student is of greater value than the gifts they possess.):

12.30 pm: Lunch was taken in and around assessments and studio monitoring. A response to a blog, written by one of our MA Fine Arts, regarding the expedience of sketchbooks, so called:

The problem with sketchbooks is the word ‘sketch’. It implies a precursory version of a finished work. More often than not, the work made in the context of these books is anything but. Think of them, rather, as a place to trial visual ideas.

Few students use sketchbooks well, some not at all (when they should), and some not at all (when they shouldn’t).

1.15 pm: Dr Forster and I conducted the final two second year painting tutorials of the day before taking divergent paths back to oversee the undergraduate and postgraduate exhibitions in progress. I got twitchy when I saw spaces that were yet to be filled. Tomorrow is the final day for hanging. There’s much yet to be begun. 3.00 pm: At the Old College, I looked in on MA students who were preparing with for exhibition or portfolio examination (all present and correct), before discussing the submission of research monitoring reports with two of my PhD Fine Art contingent. Carmen’s draw of phrases:

3.45 pm: Back at the School (Phew!), I looked in on ‘Sparky’s Magic Piano‘ — which will, I imagine, draw the curious in great numbers at the show’s opening — and the MA exhibiters in the double gallery. The postgraduate exhibition looks particularly solid this year.  5.10 pm: The day concluded. I sensed ‘the melancholy of departure’ (to summon the title of de Chirico’s painting), as our third-year students prepared for their final onslaught before leaving our family at the School of Art :

6.30 pm: After a quick dinner, I headed for the parish Rectory for a church committee meeting. (My other life.) 8.20 pm: Academic duties beckoned once again.

May 15, 2017

Saturday. I undertook a radical reconfiguration of the performance sound set up. The sampler/loopers were both placed in the decks mixer’s send and return loop and linked together in series, rather than in parallel (as they were previously). I also introduced a TC Electronic Mimiq effector into the send and return loop to improve the spread of the sonic image at the output end. Unlike the delay effector (which was removed last week), the Mimiq does not colour the signal; instead, the device subtly doubles and separates it across the stereo field:

Today. I was recovering from a poor food reaction, which I suffered yesterday; this has left me nauseous, washed out, and aching from top to toe. Sometimes, I wish my immunity could be as easily remedied as my sound system. 8.30 am: This is the first of two weeks’ assessments (which will begin tomorrow). But, this morning, medical appointments needed to be rearrange and initiated; tutorials, confirmed; and postgraduate reports, composed. ‘The spirit is willing, but the flesh is week’.

I require structure. As such, improvisation (for me) cannot be a open-ended, free-for-all free fall. Demarcations, developmental phases, directionality, resolution, and technical and methodological constraints must, together, provide a framework within which in-the-moment and responsive activity can take place. In short, spontaneity doesn’t obviate the requirement for discipline. Nor, I believe, the need to be interesting and challenging too. I’m considering a venue to trial my improvisational process: a chapel or a church.

1.40 pm: After lunch, I drifted like disembodied spirit from one exhibition area to another, making myself generally available for advice and helping hand:

For some, this is the first time that they’ve encountered a bradawl, spirit level, mirror plate, and mount. These are tools and means that they’ll be using to set up their first home. (Transferable skills, as they say.)

3.45 pm: Up the hill to meet with Mr Ruddock (who is setting up his PhD Fine Art show at the Arts Centre) and several eminent bore-sample scientists and their offspring, who were attempting to extract a 500,000 year old mud sample from a plastic sheath to prepare one of the works. Witticisms about constipation were the only things that flowed:

7.30 pm: I’m still working at 50% efficiency. Back to my reports and other assessments. Nothing like as much fun. Just keep typing and the words will trip-off the keyboard. In the background, some post-Cream Jack Bruce to ease the body, mind, and spirit. He was an exemplary upright-bass player. 9.20 pm: A profound tiredness in my arms forced me to take cover.

May 12, 2017

Yesterday. A morning spent walking through mental mud as I tried to marshal further thoughts regarding the proposed conference. My intolerances to certain foods periodically give rise to cognitive malfunctions, such that I have to be very deliberate in my reasoning and actions — which can be taxing. In the afternoon, I completed the new sound system array for the notional performable dimension of ‘The Talking Bible’ project. This system is simple and portable (relative to others that I’ve conceived over the years). But it’s still darned heavy. (I need roadies.):

In the evening, I attended the NT Live performance of Iva van Hove’s theatrical realisation of Luchino Visconti’s 1943 film Obsession. Hove is one of the most intelligent, deliberate, visual, and innovative directors in contemporary theatre.

Today. 8.30 am: Letters to write, postings to release, and schedules to resolve. 9.30 am: studiology. The system was put through its trials:

No sooner than you switch on a computer, it needs to update (sigh!). I will amplify the output through the PA system (main speakers and sub woofer) with a view to getting as close an approximation to the live sound as possible. My examination of abstract turntableist performances on YouTube (which give a less than adequate representation of the acoustic character of a live event) suggests that the amplification is often something of an afterthought. I attended a performance in Oxford given by Maria Chavez, one of the finest exponents of the art form. On that occasion, the sound was loud and confrontational, clean and dynamically well-rounded. I stood as close as I could to her during the performance, without appearing to be overbearing (I hope). Her artistry was in the small movements of the hand and disc in unison. She has a rare improvisational intelligence.

I’m anticipating the new series of Twin Peaks with great expectations. On my Facebook comments, having viewed the latest trailer, I wrote:

An artist shouldn’t give the public what they want, cannot go back or stand still, but must be true to implications of their own evolution.

11.00 am: A brief exchange with the marketing department at the National Library of Wales about the promotion of my CDs. 11.40 pm: To School and, first, to the studios to check out the show’s preparations. At show time, everyone’s a painter:

12.00 pm: Two tutorials (BA and PhD) followed. 1.00 pm: Back to the studios — where I was like fresh meat to blue bottles. 1.30 pm: At homebase, lunch was taken over a computer. (Never good.) My diary for the next few weeks was becoming ever more complex and labour intensive. Preparatory Post-its proliferate. (A good tongue-twister.):

2.15 pm: Studiology (again). First, I challenged every assumption that I’d made regarding the optimisation of the set up. Secondly, I made changes to the system for the sake of change … because, sometimes, inconceivable outcomes arise as a result. Thirdly, I extracted from the system any means of processing that was not indigenous to the record decks. (Bye, bye, delay effectors!). Fourthly, I stopped being hung-up on stereo. (This was a mono recording, after all.) And, finally, I threw tentativeness to the four wind. (Maybe, I should’ve begun with just the two winds.)

7.30 pm: I added a second sampler/looper to the system. (This provided the type of delay that the ex-effectors were designed to produce … only better.) The two aren’t synchronously linked, deliberately. Useable anomalies can, therefore, creep in. But one sampler/looper plays more loudly than the other. Why?