Month: May 2017

May 10, 2017

8.30 am: To school. ‘Look to the heavens, John!’:

9.00 am: The residue of last week’s second year painting tutorials needed my attention. The next time I meet my contingent will be at their feedback assessment tutorial. As we move towards finalisation and the period of exams, the pressure builds. It’s evident among students and staff alike. A discipline of mind, body, and emotions is required. We’ll all be taken to the teetering edge of our ability to cope. And, there’s the risk that, in all the busyness, an appreciation of the glory of the finale will be missed. One must ensure that there’s time to rejoice in the success of others.

10.00 am: A Skype tutorial with one of my PhD Fine Art tutees:

Such discussions are not a substitute for one-to-one (in the flesh) tutorials. They’re, rather, supplementary, and promote continuity of thought in-between visits. My PhD Fine Art tutees have stretched me in directions that I would not otherwise have reason to travel: archaeology, earth science, climate change, NHS policy, the still-life tradition, landscape, the sense of place, portraiture, sculpture, painting, and other topics and media beside.

11.15 am: The final year Art History dissertations had arrived in my pigeon hole. I began a preliminary examination. The best students are those that avail themselves of teaching as a matter of necessity and courtesy. 12.00 pm: A trip to the studios to survey exhibition developments. All is well. The anticipation (like the work) mounts. (‘There’s no business like show business’.):

12.20 pm: An MA Fine Art tutorial with one of our Exhibition finalists. 1.10 pm: A hurried lunch before pushing on with the afternoon’s PhD Fine Art tutorials beginning at 2.00 pm.

Pound Place: ‘But everything exposed by the light becomes visible – and everything that is illuminated becomes a light’ (Eph. 5.13):

2.00 pm: First off, an induction into Adobe Audition editing. Playing with sound can be a revelation in regard not only its own nature but also, analogically, to vision and imaging. The one teaches us about the other:

3.00 pm: To the Old College for the final tutorial of the day. At PhD level, art is always more than that.  5.00 pm: The final Vocational Practice presentation of the year. Unfortunately, I was the only audient. The talk deserved a wider hearing.

7.30 pm: An evening of marking, assessing, and postgraduate admin. My list of ‘to dos’ is getting longer by the day.

Some observations and principles derived from today’s engagements:

  • Chickens always look as though they’re mildly shocked at the world in which they find themselves.
  • Pressure may force to the surface issues, problems, and ideas that would otherwise remain out of sight and knowing.
  • Repetition need not be mindless. But change and stasis can be mindless.
  • Surrender the part in order to save the whole, where necessary.
  • ‘What is the point of making art?’ Art is the point or, properly speaking, the pivot upon which much of the rest of your life turns.

May 9, 2017

Yesterday. Postgraduate administrations of the significant kind absorbed my morning. After lunch and through to the evening, I began notating ideas for my notional Bible and sound conference, while setting up the new sound system for the performance-based dimension of ‘The Talking Bible’ project (which I’d conceived last Tuesday) and fielding student references that had to be dispatched pronto.

Today. 8.30 am: Off to School. 8.45 am: The studios have begun to transform, under Mr Garrett’s strategic management, in readiness for the undergraduate and postgraduate exhibitions in a few weeks’ time:

9.00 am: I held a residual Vocational Practice presentation assessment, followed by a Personal Tutor advisory session with one student who needed guidance about choosing their second year modules (which is, often, not as straightforward as it looks on paper).

10.00 am: The first MA Fine Art tutorial of the morning. A number of my charge are exhibiting in the next few weeks. Today’s priority was to determine which works were likely to be hung (which is, often, not as straightforward as it looks on paper, too):

10.50 am: Off to the Old College Land for a further postgraduate tutorial. The perfect light: clear, sharp, saturated:

After lunch, and another module advisory session, I held the day’s third 1-hour MA tutorial. Thereafter, it was back to Old College Land for two further tutorials until the end of the afternoon. The colour of the sea was resplendent. I sensed the ‘presence’ during the course of my tutorials: that experience whereby the tutee’s and tutor’s hearts as well as their minds commune with one another. On such occasions, the boundaries between art and life and persons are transcended. Both participants are held in the thrall of something much larger than either of them. Art is a gentle force.

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: Myriad minor postgraduate matters to settle. Admin replicates like a virus.

Some principles and observations from today’s engagements:

  • If there’s going to be a turn or deviation on the route that you’ve chosen, you’ll alight upon it in time (and at the right time). But, first, you must be sure that you’re on the right path.
  • No one has got their act together entirely. We’re all limping and blundering through life, to a greater or lesser extent.
  • The gulf between our ideal and our reality may be immense and, in some respects, unbridgeable.
  • If you can talk about a work for forty minutes solidly, it must have something going for it.
  • The question is not: ‘How can one justify engaging in creative art, but how can you justify not so doing?’ Creativity humanises.

May 5, 2017

Yesterday. From 9.00 am to 5.00 am, the MA Vocational Practice students convened for the last time in order to deliver their end-of-module assessed presentations. Wisdom finds its mouthpiece where she wills. I sat at my students’ feet on this occasion. Their honesty, generosity of spirit, commitment, and insight were always impressive and sometimes deeply moving too. These students had plumbed their depths, humbly acknowledged their unknowing, and been chastened by their perceived lack of ability. To such only will lasting and enriching success be given. There are times when we must first despair of ourselves before art extends a hand to pull us forth from the pit. During my 24-hour open studio event, somewhere between 2 am and 4 am in the morning, I reached the bottom of the barrel of ideas and possibilities. Only then did I discover that the barrel had a false bottom. Beneath it lay potentialities that I wouldn’t otherwise have discovered had I not come to the end of myself.

Today. 7.30 am:  New light:

8.15 am: I completed assigning tutorials to slots in next week’s timetable. 9.00 am: Postgraduate affairs come to the centre of my stage for the next weeks. The annual (dreaded and distressing) Research Postgraduate Monitoring process was begun. These days, there’s far too much scrutiny of the inscrutable, and too little of those dark and despicable things (in oneself and the world) that need to be brought into the light. In the background, I continued processing variants of a sound for one of my PhD Fine Art students, completing student registers, corresponding with external examiner, and mapping yet more ‘things to do’. (As always, I kept open a space in my mind for imagining my future.)

I was eager (to put in mildly) to act upon certain realisations that occurred during the 24-hour event. The urgency was as much felt through my body as it was fulminating in my mind.

10.15 am: Off to School to interview a prospective PhD Fine Art applicant. En route: the east window of Holy Trinity Church:

Following the interview, I held the final timetabled, third year Exhibition tutorial of the academic year. Jakob’s ship in a piano:

1.00 pm: The annual lunchtime meeting for the allocation of exhibition spaces to the undergraduate fine art students. The smaller contingent permitted a more generous disposal of the real estate this year. I enjoyed the banter.

2.15 pm: Back at homebase, I responded to the email generated by the morning’s engagements. 3.00 pm: I reviewed, again, the sound files that I’d produced on Monday and Tuesday. Ordinarily, one should not be swayed from a course of action once you’ve set your mind to it. A exchange with a colleague:

I began to reassemble the studio not as it was, but as it shall be for the next stage of ‘The Talking Bible’ and ‘New Song’ projects. The space was Spring-cleaned along the way.

7.30 pm: My afternoon’s studiological manoeuvres continued.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s endeavours:

  • Any mode of creative practice – however quirky, spontaneous, and instinctual – must submit to a discipline in order to have integrity.
  • Any mode of creative practice is undisciplined when the artist doesn’t know what they’re doing.
  • Any attempt to return to past ways of working, thinking, being, relationships, and ambitions is unwise. Those things were not how you remember them, in any case. Nor would they be, now, how and what they were then. One cannot rewrite the past by trying to relive it.
  • Nevertheless, there are times when the past comes towards us (of its own volition) from the future. On these occasions, we should run to meet it.
  • Like many visual art forms, the splendour of the stained-glass window is appreciable only from the inside, looking out. (Make of that metaphor what you will.)
  • It won’t always be like this.
  • I’m content with who I am, but not with what I am.

May 3, 2017

8.15 am: Emails attended. 8.30 pm: Bag packed, I was out through the door. 9.00 am: This is the last week of teaching for the academic year. I undertook the first of the last third-year painting tutorials. Now is the time of endings, conclusions, hopeful resolutions, and departures. On Friday, the studios are evacuated. Afterwards, the exhibition space will be installed.

Throughout the morning, I looked with each finalist under my charge at their work in the Project Room, against a neutral background. Our aim was to see the work in progress under the same conditions as those in which it’ll be hung in a few week’s time. There should be no surprises. Anticipate the problems ahead of time, whenever possible:

The seeds of our present work may have been planted a long time ago. ‘How to you judge the success of your work?’ The artist’s intent for, and the audience’s reception of, the work can be at odds. Quality, continuity, succession, and belonging: considerations in the selection and hanging of the exhibited works. Nothing is ever wasted. Who we are is in part a construction of our own making. And, what we should and can be is far far harder to frame than a aspirational selfie. We cannot change our internal self by improving our external image alone. Failed works can be godsends; they may inform the success of future works far more than our present successes. Student: ‘There’s a wonderful atmosphere in the studios among the finalists now’. Tutor: ‘Yes. It comes from everyone working hard, together, towards a common goal. With energy like this, you can build empires’. Prevarication and indolence have no place in the studios during the next few weeks. We are apt to make poor decisions when under stress. We are apt to repeat ourselves when under stress (BA Painting notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (May 3, 2017), 248).

After lunch, I attended to the second year painters. The  landscapes of Ferdinand Hodler (1853–1918) came up twice in my conversations.

‘But, what do the really want to do in your work?’ Stop drawing with paint. The representation of roads in art is always significant. ‘Do other artists’ works feed you, too?’ Passion for your subject will get you through every difficulty and discouragement that you’ll experience in the production of your work. ‘But what’s it all about?’ Don’t shrink to the size of your facility. Who we really are, as people and artists, is a progressive revelation (BA Painting notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (May 3, 2017), 249).

5.20 pm: Thus concluded second year painting tutorials for the session 2016–17. Overall, this contingent is well placed for entry into year three. I’ve great expectations.

7.30 pm: Admin catch up. Abandoning the School for two days comes at a price at this time of the year. There was postgraduate and module delivery assessment correspondence a plenty to deal with.

May 2, 2017

12.00 am: At this juncture, the desire to be reckless kicked in. There was nothing to lose. I conceived and executed ideas at a whim. Some withered immediately, while others found traction. The sounds that I generated were engaging enough, but had, presently, no significance in relation to the text. (And, I cannot abide arbitrary connections between form and content.) At 1.00 am, I hit a wall. Tiredness and the desire for bed asserted themselves. Eating and drinking, little and often, helped. But I had to keep busy. To sit in a comfy chair was out of the question. (Too tempting.) The darkness of the room, the glare from the computer screens, and the flickering lights on the equipment were soporific: a self-designed, self-imposed, torture. Periodically, I lay flat on the floor in order to recalibrate my spine after having stood upright for so long. The cold and hard surface was not conducive to sleep.

2.00 am: I was plagued by static discharges of the record player decks due, in part, to the devices having been switched on for so long and the dryness of the air in the room. (I’d had the same experience in Colorado Springs.)

I’ll not need to conduct another sound induction marathon of this type again. All that can be known about myself in relation this way of working is known, now.

Once I’d reached 4.30 am, a new energy arose. (I rallied.) I was now far more clear regarding what I didn’t want and need to do in relation to this project. The resolution would be found not in the operation of the peripherals (effectors and modulators, etc.) but, rather, in the acoustic character of the recording and medium (as was the case with the Evan Roberts’ wax cylinder). In this respect, I’d received a confirmation rather than a revelation. However, the peripherals would serve to focus and enhance the artefact’s acoustic properties. 5.00 am: Dawn turned the sky above the atrium an indanthrene blue. The light enlivened. A new day:

7.00 am: A freshen up.

7.20 am: I generated a set of rather compulsive ‘drum beat’ passages from the click and scratches at the tail end of the two ‘Revelation’ records. These really did need to be recorded.

I had to wait until 10.00 am to have a cooked breakfast. (‘How long, O Lord’!) Bacon, sausage, and eggs had never tasted so good. The most significant breakthrough of the event came just one hour before the sound system was due to be dismantled and returned to the studio. (Isn’t that always the way.) Suffice to say, it opened the possibility of a performative dimension to the project that I’d not anticipated. This was genuinely exciting.

After lunch, back at home, I slept for three hours. In principle, I respond to disruptions to my normal routine in the same manner as to jet-lag after a long-haul flight. The trick is to get back into a normal pattern for work and rest immediately.

7.00 pm: An evening of diary updates, postings, and preparations for tomorrow’s duties.

May 1, 2017

Bank Holiday. 8.00 am: The last-minute preparations: computer updates, final emails, bits and bobs packed, and so forth. 9.20 am: Mr Garrett and I packed his spacious hatchback at my home and drove to the National Library of Wales9.50 am: The Drwm. Arrival:

The process of reassembling furniture, setting up stands, and connecting power and line cables took longer than I’d anticipated. I’d set aside two hours for the task. (That’s how long it’d taken me last time I was at the Drwm.):

It took one hour longer, this time. Setting-up is, for me, the most stressful, physically demanding, and mentally taxing phase of a project like this. Would the system work as it had in studio? Careful planning, rehearsal, mapping, and testing pay dividends. All systems were ‘go’! The Tardis was ready:

1.30 pm: After a quick lunch (a delicious parsnip and potato soup), I throttled up and began testing the system with a simple proposition: the click and scratches at the tail end of two identical copies of the first side of the ‘Revelation’ record. Each filter and effector in turn processed the source signal in order not only to test their own integrity but also to understand how they might illuminated the sound. Throughout the early afternoon, I held fairly lengthy conversations with visitors. As we talked, my present thoughts about this enterprise were clarified and my former convictions about adjacent projects, confirmed. I should convene a conference on the Bible and sound. (The thought struck me forcibly.) Perhaps this should be the topic of the next book also. (I’ll need to discuss this with Bloomsbury.) I’m already committed to writing a chapter on the topic in any case.

For this 24-hour endeavour, I would concentrate on The Revelation of St John the Divine (which occupies both sides of the final record in the Scourby Bible set):

In July 1964 (when the recording was made), Britain made at nuclear test in the Nevada Desert, the first high-definition images of the Moon were received from the Ranger 7 space probe and, in the USA, race riots were breaking out in Rochester, Philadelphia, and New York. Anticipations of apocalypse, signs from the heavens, and calamities on Earth: a vision that, in some ways, wasn’t so far removed either from John’s own or the situation that the world finds itself in at present.

I wasn’t not so concerned with recording my efforts on this occasion, as I had been on the last. Instead, my attention was upon developing new strategies and skills for aural manipulation that can be developed and refined with greater care in the studio, and achieving a firmer grasp of the conceptual parameters for this project. At times, the sheer size and complexity of the source material has felt overwhelming. But there’s no better place to be than out of one’s depth.

At 5.20 pm: Mrs H. delivered half a pizza and fruit for my dinner, and a flask of milk for my tea(s). By 5.45 pm, the public were gone. Only the evening’s security contingent remained:

I ate dinner, caught up on my thoughts, and settled in for the evening’s work. I returned to the tail end sections of the records and explored their rhythmic potential when treated through a delay effector. Some of the results sound like a minor landslide of small rocks.

8.10 pm: What I’m involved with is, today, called the ‘experimental Humanities’. My aim is to break into a historical artefact (and the objectness – the physicality of the source – is crucial to my investigation) with a view to better understanding it through manipulation, dismantling, and reconstruction. 9.15 pm: After an interval for photo documentation, I considered my next move. The day’s effort was beginning to take its toll. My feet ached. A sedentary interval for writing up was the order of the hour. It was dark now. I could hear sounds in the building as the heating was turned off: chinks and creaks. There were, too, distance voices and footsteps and, then … the long silence.

I’d been given access to the Education Area’s kitchenette, where I made tea, pot noodles, and porridge throughout the night and early morning:

I considered how many ways the records could be played: backwards, at higher speed, without rotation (manually), stopping and starting, and by dropping and skidding the needle. Always, I’m seeking to discern sounds within sounds, but with the minimum of technological intervention. To do that requires, paradoxically, a good deal of technology:

11.00 pm: The security guard popped in to check on me, and wondered why I needed to undertake my goal over twenty-fours. Hours. ‘Because something will happen between 1.00 am and 4.00 am which would not otherwise take place if my waking mind was fully in gear’.

12.00 am: I entered the most testing phase of the event.