Month: March 2018

March 29, 2018

Either: The answer is in the silence. Or: The silence is the answer.

8.00 am: A communion. My last day of work before the Easter weekend. 8.45 am: Even past students generate admin: references, letters of support and encouragement, and so forth.

9.15 am: In order to implement the Habakkuk verse (‘Write up the vision … ‘) I’ve revived the concept of the ‘Pencrophone’, which I’d first deployed in 2008 . In essence, it’s a drawing tool with a contact microphone ungainly attached. The arrangement turns the pencil, in this case, into a non-pitch specific musical instrument. I’ll be recording the sound of writing using this and, in addition, a hydroponic-microphone placed under the support on which the writing surface is placed, and a conventional stereo microphone above the surface. These will capture three either separable or combinable source signals for the mix:

9.40 pm: Off to the School to pick up a digital recorder and PowerPoint remote control in readiness for my 10.30 am stint at the annual postgraduate writing school, held at IBERS on campus. The Institute has a very pleasant cafeteria. A good place, nicely situated, at which to collect one’s thoughts. A punctuated landscape:

My class comprised students from IBERS, Creative Writing, History, Geography, and Television & Film Studies. I enjoy the challenge of the mix:

The session was on ‘Presenting a Conference Paper’. I’ve held forth on the topic more times than I care to remember. Once my switch is turned on … I let rip. It’s a class that I tend to perform rather more than deliver. The students engaged well. New perspectives emerge on every occasion. We ought to offer a session on the use of social media to promote personal research, too. I’m conscious that the next generation of scholars will need to be working across far more diverse platforms of promotion and dissemination than does my own.

12.00 pm: Business done, I descended into the town to attend a farewell lunch for Helen, one of our part-time secretaries. She’ll be greatly missed. (The cheery heart of the School.):

We have too few occasions when we can meet together as staff and, on this one, more than staff – respected friends. Bonhomie among colleagues is a blessing to be treasured. It’s rare. There’re many art departments that are tearing themselves apart both politically and by virtue of the assertion of conflicting egos and visions.

2.00 pm: Back at homebase, I caught up on email, and topped and tailed the podcast of the morning’s class in readiness for upload to the student database. Although, today, I’ve had to gut the recording to remove the section when I exited the classroom, while the students were working independently, to have a pee. (I’d forgotten to switch-off the recorder.) The inclusion would have either ruined or made my career, I’m sure.

3.00 pm: Keeping up the pace, I returned to the studio to review yesterday’s work, re-shelve equipment, and attempt something new. Playtime. Free-fall. No plan. Do it!:

7.30 pm: The results, while interesting, weren’t appropriate to the suite of blind narratives. However, it may have a place in the other themes. One can only open up possibilities sometimes. Nothing is ever wasted. For the remainder of evening, I finalised updating the IOS on all my computers and solved several prevailing routing/monitoring problems.

March 28, 2018

A moderately better night’s sleep. 7.45 am: A communion. 8.30 am: I commenced writing the Easter Sunday morning’s intercessions. 9.00 am: Studiology. I set up the Fender Twin Amp and a Shure SM57 microphone to test both the operation of the revised Pedalboard III and techniques for recording, acoustically, in the studio. In the background, I battled with the resurgence of the Adobe Audition CS6 drag n’ drop problem (and a curious new instability in its general performance, as well) on one computer and the failed opening of the same, on another. Like sorrows, software problems ‘come not as single spies’. Has my trusted DAW finally lost its fight against IOS upgrades? Utterly frustrating:

In order to redeem the time, I put on a pace and completed the textual spine to the piece. It remains for me to push the composition beyond the boundaries of its predecessors. When I conceived a live-performance version of ‘Double Blind’, individual words from the texts were allocated to sampler banks, so that I’d be able to improvise around the turntablism:

The recordings were still on the device. An opportunity presented itself. A press-fest ensued, in and around necessary software updates. (Today, nothing was straightforward.) The initial draft of ‘Double Blind’ was completed by the close of the afternoon. Once all the drafts are finished, then I’ll work them up together until they’re resolved. They feel like a set. Two remain: the long ‘One Blind’  and another (to be decided).

7.30 pm: While I, heart in mouth, upgraded my MacBook Pro to the most recent iOS (I will regret this), I recorded a ‘teststrip’ of an overdriven Gibson Les Paul modified by the Digitech FreqOut (feedback) effector, while playing a rather angular chordal progression that I use during my warm-up sessions:

Then, it was back to my intercessions. It’s always a slow burn and an almost futile endeavour: attempting to encapsulate – meaningfully and without merely listing – the issues of the larger and small pictures of world events and everyday practicalities of congregational members.

March 27, 2018

Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us (Ps. 61.8).

Even in good times, trusting in God is not without its difficulties. We’re beguiled by the ease of living; the way in which things work out, almost effortlessly; the surfeit of provision (‘I nothing lack’); the unsought opportunities that come into view; our rude health and brimming optimism; and the abundance of family, friends, and lovers in whom we can confide and find our deepest sense of significance and happiness. Under such conditions, we can become oblivious to the source of those benefactions and, worse still, assume (against common sense) that they’ll characterise our experience in perpetuity.

But when all these things are stripped away, as they were for Job, then trusting in God is tantamount to trying to scale Everest wearing only a pair of Flip-flops. We have to continue believing, against all evidence to the contrary, that he’s still loving and good, ‘touched with the feeling of our infirmities’, El Roi (‘the God who sees me’), fully in control of our circumstances, and able to intervene in and change them, for the better, when he sees fit (Job 42.2). In times of plenty, we should pour out our hearts in thanksgiving. In times of want, loss, loneliness, heartache, or distress, we must learn, like the psalmist, to complain, lament, spread out our troubles before him, yell in his ear, beat our breasts, and break a few plates. There’s no place for stoicism when it comes to trusting God.

8.30 am: Out of the front door and into a fog that had been borne by the sea and spread over the town. It cosily insulated us from a larger and less reassuring reality:

9.00 am: The last full day of teaching before the Easter recess. My first MA tutee had, quite rightly, returned home at the end of term. There was time for admin catch up. 9.30 am: Until 11.10 am, I held tutorials with those in either full-time or part-time mode. The former would be exhibiting in May. The pressure was on. But they are, to a woman, conscientious and ambitious. They’ll arrive at their destination. On the white board of one of the former chemistry labs at the Old College – a hand-drawn Periodic Table. The drawing (for that’s what it was) reminded me of my pedalboard schematics. Beautiful in its own way:

11.30 pm: Back at the mothership, I talked with one of Dr Forster’s charge. Teaching and being taught by someone else can be a refreshing and an illuminating experience for both participants. 12.00 pm: A Skype tutorial :

12.30 pm: I walked into town (I’ll have walked far by the end of the day) to pick up a bite to eat, before holing-up, briefly, in Starbucks to address admin. Then, onto Marks & Spencer:

It’s so much easier to shop for oneself than for others. ‘Oh! Fruit jellies’. ‘And, proper Turkish Delight!’ (‘Now come on, John!’) 1.45 pm: Back to the School (nothing is very far from anything in Aber) to prepare for the afternoon’s teaching. While waiting for a student to turn up for their appointment, I looked again at some of the gems in the exhibition that opened last evening:

2.45 pm: Back, then, to the Old College, for the final two tutorials of the day. The wind was up.

7.30 pm: Tomorrow, I’d have a full day in the studio. This evening I wanted to clear the revised pedalboard off my desk:

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • The self-imposition of restrictions liberates rather than limits.
  • Intent and reception shouldn’t be confused: What you wish for your audience isn’t necessarily what they want for themselves.
  • Reckon upon the ambiguities and multivalence of your visual language and imagery.
  • Often, we don’t experience distinct emotions but, rather, a fusion of fugitive feelings: neither happy nor sad, neither joyous nor melancholy. Instead, our sensation is of both, felt either simultaneously or subtly and quickly shifting from one to another and back again. The interplay of opposites (as with complementary colours) gives rise to ‘neutral’ emotions. These aren’t bland, as the term might suggest. They’re indefinite, yet, nonetheless, distinct offspring of the parents from which they’re formed.
  • Covertly and effortlessly, our past experiences seep into the work. But it takes an outsider to recognise it, sometimes.
  • Walking away and not looking back is preferable to backing away and watching the object of your affection diminish as the distance between you grows ever wider.
  • Writing is another way of drawing.
  • Begin modestly, continue with moderate ambitions, incrementally increase the level of ambition, and end remarkably. Do this over a broad arc of time, while exercising patience, care, and understanding towards yourself.

March 26, 2018

An enduring silence in which hope, like Schrödinger’s cat, may be both alive and dead at the same time. 

6.00 am: Awake. A restless night. The second in a row. I’d hoped that yesterday afternoon’s run might have tired my body. My thoughts would not resolve, however. 7.45 am: A communion.

8.30 am: Ideally, one ought to do a few things exceptionally well; one ought to be known for doing something in particular. (Generalists have a hard time promoting themselves and being remembered.) In order to establish a focus for one’s identity and territory, self-knowledge of a high-order is required, along with a consummate ability to jettison much of what you can do (exceedingly well, in some cases), so that what you need to do can flourish. (It’s the principle of pruning.) As I’ve ‘matured’ as an artist, and looked back at my career, one observations that’s struck me is how few things I’ve been interested in … I mean, really interested in. These preoccupations have resurfaced again and again in different contexts (images, texts, and sounds). They constitute a core of concerns. During the next months, I want to give greater definition to them and, thereby, to myself. (What and who am I? And, as importantly, what and who am I not?)

Over the weekend, two ideas presented themselves. The first, concerned my approach to the 40 minute+ overlay of the Scourby Bible. It should be played and re-recorded in chapel interiors of different sizes. Their contrasting ambiences can them be drawn upon to inform the final composition. Allied to this, is the possibility that the composition could be presented as an acousmatic installation in a chapel (thus building on my experience at Bethel Welsh Baptist Church, last November.) The second, concerned the verse from Habakkuk that I’d been reflecting upon: ‘Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it’ (Hab. 2.2). I want to create a sound piece based upon the text, to accompany a keynote lecture that I’ve been asked to deliver at a conference on the Bible and art in October. I’ll have a captive audience.

9.40 am: I walked to the Hugh Owen Library to attend a 10.00 am meeting at the designated venue. But no one else was there. Had either the date, time, and venue been changed or the whole thing cancelled? Well, it had been a pleasant enough walk, to and fro:

10.20 pm: Back at homebase and in the studio, I reviewed ‘Double Blind’. Progress was stalled by a recurrence of the drag n’ drop facility in relation to Audition CS6. I don’t know what was the cause but, having looked at several forums, the solution was to ‘force quit’ the ‘Finder’ window and then restart the computer. In between bouts of hair pulling, I set up the deck in readiness for another bash at manipulating the sources for ‘Double Blind’. (One disc at a time, on this occasion.):

Q: What’re The Talking Bible‘s intrinsic disciplines and objectives? A: The exploration, interpretation, and adaptation of the:

  • sonorities of the medium and the recording;
  • conditions under which the recording was made: time, place, and technology;
  • identity of the narrator;
  • particularities of the specific ‘imprint’: its container, additional contents, provenance, and condition;
  • strictures and intent of the recording’s commission, and the set’s relation to the other ‘talking books’ in the series;
  • reception and use of the recording;
  • technology of my manipulation, production, and exposition of the content.

1.30 pm: over lunch, I reassigned the Digitech FreqOut effector to a different position on Pedalboard IV – post-compression and pre-distortion  – so that the faux-feedback tone would be modulated along with the ‘dry’ signal.

Over Easter, I’m going to begin an analysis of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, that will concentrate upon identifying representations and functions of sound in the text. Reading for hearing, as it were:

The information will be deposited into an old-fashioned analogue, card-based ‘database’. I’m curious to discover whether this pre-digital mode of indexing will condition me to think about the relationships between facts, concepts, and their organisation in a different way; (one which will be familiar to be from my past).

By the close of the afternoon, I’d made significant progress in distributing samples from the ‘Double Blind’ sources along the spinal beat of the composition.

7.15 pm: I attended the School’s ‘A Place for Art: The Davies Gift’ exhibition opening as guest both of the School and the county’s High Sheriff, Sue Balsom. Both she and Professor Meyrick addressed the gathering:

On leaving, my mind inclined to thoughts about endings: an era drawing to a close; transitions; abrupt terminations; distancing; adjustments; alternatives; and new beginnings.

March 23, 2018

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? (Matt. 6.27).

The figurative meaning of the New Testament Greek word for ‘worrying’ (μεριμνάω) means ‘to be pulled apart in all directions’ or, as we would say in contemporary parlance, ‘to go to pieces’. Which is as close as you get to describing the psychological experience of excessive anxiety. We can’t think straight, and are distracted, and divided within ourselves. It only takes one worry of sufficient magnitude to put our whole life in disarray. Our phrase ‘What’s the use of worrying?’ is a distillation of the biblical text, in some respects. Worrying is unproductive. It’s not going to make you live any longer. Indeed, if anything, it’ll shorten your life. The context of Christ’s rather acerbic challenge is a sermon about God’s provision, given to those who were learning to rely on him for everything and in every situation. He’ll put food in your stomach and clothes on your back; he’ll cover all of life’s basic exigencies (and, by extension, provide much more besides), Christ assured. Why? Because God is fully aware of your needs, and values you above everything else that he’s made. As such, and for those who were only now beginning to grasp the full implications of faith in thought and action, worrying was not only absurd but also wrong, because it betrayed a fundamental lack of trust.

7.45 am: A communion. 9.00 am: Studiology.  I’m committed to completing The Talking Bible album by the end of the Summer vacation. Conceivably, this could be another double CD. The decision rests upon my ability to resolve the 40 minute+ composition, which compounds the sound of every disc in the Scourby Bible set. This will be a significant challenge. Back at ‘Men as Trees, Walking’, I jiggled samples in order to obtain a more precise fit in, on, and around the beat. Some samples fell into place like jig-saw pieces, others needed a fair bit of kerning and encouraging:

11.15 am: I could hear it no longer. Next on the screen was ‘Bartimaeus’ –  a composition with attitude. Eminently danceable. (And I do sometimes dance, when no one’s looking.) I’m tempted not to tinker too much with this one. The vocal text has an entirely uncoordinated relationship with the beat. But it works like a dream. The ear connects the two in a beguilingly irregular manner.

1.30 pm: Having been unable to fix a software problem that prevented the drag n’ drop of files, I reinstalled Adobe Audition CS6 and uploaded the ‘Double Blind’ material. This composition isn’t going anywhere, presently. First, I carved up the recordings into sections corresponding to discrete statements or phrases. These, then, would serve as mobile building blocks with which to construct the narrative sequence. The texts are both taken from Matthew’s gospel, and relate two stories about a pair of blind men and their encounter with, and subsequent healing by, Christ (Matt. 9.27–31; 20.30–34). The earlier account takes place in Galilee, the latter, after he had left Jericho (where Bartimaeus’ eyes had been opened). The two accounts are identical in some respects, but distinct in others. 4.00 pm: Construction began. When you don’t know what to do next, then, do what you’ve done before … and gradually advance it into new territory.

7.15 pm: I was eager to complete the narrative sequence before the close of the evening:

I reviewed my index for the historical period during which Alexander Scourby undertook to record the whole Bible, orally. The project was begun and completed in July 1964. The significant events associated with that month were:

2 July: The Civil Rights Act was enacted in the USA;
17 July: Great Britain conducted a nuclear test in the USA;
18 July: The Race riots in Haarlem, USA, spread;
19 July: The USSR conducted a nuclear test;
21 July: Race riots in Singapore break out;
24 July: Race riots in Rochester, USA;
28 July: The Ranger 7 space probe is launched towards the Moon by the USA;
31 July: The Ranger 7 space probe takes 4,316 pictures before crashing on the Moon.

So, together with blindness, there are the themes of racial conflict, nuclear conflict, and technology need to be integrated into what will prove to be a heady mix.

March 22, 2018

8.00 am: A communion. 9.00 am: The final day of third year painting tutorials for the term. Much had to be decided and resolved today. In the background and double gallery, the PhD Fine Art students were setting up a show of works made in response to artefacts in the collection. I’d be giving nothing away:

We are entering the most critical phase of the undergraduate fine art students’ development. They will be asking more of themselves than at any point in their career to date. Their metal will be tested in the furnace of endurance. From now and until the middle of May, the rest of their life must be put on hold. The prospect of letting themselves down is, for some, one of the major motivators. (Dignity and integrity always begin and end with ourselves.) I’m persuaded that my team of painters maturely appreciate the issues that are at stake. This exhibition will be their last and best shot. Each is intent on surpassing themselves … which is all that one could ask of anyone. I’ve no truck with contemporary notions of ‘excellence’. Hubris! Few things excel; that’s to say, push beyond the established bounds of the highest achievement. The term should be used sparingly and modestly, therefore.

12.40 pm: A lunchtime, research consultation with Dr Roberts. We discussed the recent Experimental Music Improvisation event, which he organised, and the problems of performance. I prefer to work, publicly, in galleries or non-auditorium contexts that don’t either give rise to expectations associated with entertainment or involve a stationary reception of the work in progress. Ideally, I prefer people to listen for as long as they wish, and to feel unselfconscious about removing themselves when things get too much. Neither do I expect them to be there at the beginning or at the end of my activity, necessarily. And, I don’t except the public to part with their hard-earned money for the privilege of so doing (if such it is). (Throughout our conversation, I had an image in my head of ‘performing’ with a small suitcase, or a briefcase, packed tightly with a well-organised array of sound equipment: a travelling sound-art bag, as it were. Neat, simple, portable. What would I put in it? The bare essentials of my practice? What are they? A mind-game had begun.)

2.00 pm: After lunch, I undertook the last of the day’s painting students and had an open-door drop-in session for Personal Tutorials. It’s more than rewarding to hear from students who’ve achieved far beyond their own and other people’s expectations. NEVER RIGHT-OFF ANYONE! I’ve yet to encounter a hopeless case. It’s most often those with the greatest potential, gifting, and opportunities who disappoint. We overcome our limitations, dump our baggage, and change our attitudes with the help of those whose opinions we trust; those who exhibit tact, empathy, and compassion; those with the practical wherewithal to make a difference. If you’ve been wounded in life, seek an advisor who isn’t a stranger to calamity, disappointment, loss, or heartache. (The doctor who’s never had a day’s ill health in their life is to be avoided.)

6.30 pm: After dinner, I caught up on admin and correspondence, made preparations for a postgraduate meeting on Monday, entered appointments for the week ahead into my diary, investigated hardware/software issues, and cleared by desk in readiness for a return to the studio tomorrow.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • You cannot describe in words what has not yet happened on the canvas. However, you can discuss anticipated outcomes of a general nature.
  • To my mind, a painting cannot express feelings. But it can be the product of feelings.
  • Problems come to everyone. It’s your ability to deal with them maturely that’s the measure of, and distinguishes, you.
  • Keeping a diary is a way of taking account of yourself.
  • Be audacious. Be impressive. Be brilliant. But remain modest.
  • Challenge yourself to undertake what’s presently impossible for you to perform.
  • Do five fully-resolved works rather than ten that aren’t representative of your best efforts.
  • S: ‘Trash can. Trash cannot’.
  • Confidence sinks as anxiety surfaces.
  • Conceding defeat is not an option.

March 21, 2018

7.00 am: I showered and ate breakfast at a sprint in order to secure time to orientate myself to the day’s agenda and peruse my inbox. (Over the last few days, I’d put pay to correspondence as soon as it landed. So there wasn’t much to consider.)

9.00 am: A routine dental appointment. Some old fillings are either crumbling at the edges or splitting down the middle. (Synecdoche.) They’ll be expensive to repair, of course. But, then again, I’ve recently had a surgical procedure that cost ‘nothing’, but which would have otherwise set me back thousands of pounds were it not for our wonderful NHS. I can’t complain, therefore. 9.30 am: A little Starbuckery for the purposes of emailing.

10.00 am: The first of two PhD Fine Art tutorials. In both cases, the students were pushing ahead into unchartered territory. This will require the acquisition of new skills, competences, and knowledge. The experience really should be normative at this level of study. And both my tutees are warming to it. ‘Live beyond the comfort zone!’. Carmen’s wall:

1.30 pm: Following a lunch on the trot, I made my way to the School for the annual undergraduate exhibition preparation talk, which Mr Garrett ably manages:

The occasion is a green light for the countdown to conclusion. The end of an era for some, and marker of transition between BA and MA study for others. So much has to be finalised from hereon in. My task was to amplify several principles and provide the ‘pep’ talk. Afterwards, the class completed their Module Evaluation Questionnaire for the Exhibition module. (A captive audience.) The afternoon ended with my talk to those third year students who’re considering proceeding to MA level. To my mind, the degree signals a commitment to professionalism. It will set them apart from the herd too. I’m very confident about the School’s Masters provision. The curriculum stretches the students in all directions, and provides as good a preparation for survival as artists in the outside world as they’re likely to receive.

3.30 pm: Homeward to update files and conclude admin for the day’s engagements.

7.00 pm: Resourcing: vocal synthesis and analogue/digital interfaces.

March 20, 2018

9.30 am: I walked passed the ‘Pollock shop’, as I call it, to drop-off a suitcase at my son’s flat. 10.30 am: Following an abortive attempt to see a photography exhibition at the Hayward Gallery (which is closed on Tuesdays, surprisingly), I headed for the National Gallery to reacquaint myself with some old ‘friends’ and, as yesterday, to encourage my sensibility to extend beyond the domain of its established predilections. (Beware of the ‘safe-zone’!):

In particular, I wanted to attend Tacita Dean’s curated show, Still Life. She had situated her own work in this genre alongside examples drawn from the Gallery’s collection. No textual explanations for her choices were given. Words sometimes get in the way, as the exhibition board explained. True. Words can also supply the want of a persuasive or sufficiently evident curatorial rationale, on occasion. Dean’s decisions were, however, decisive, convincing, and enigmatic in equal measure. She trusted in the power of visuality to defend its own cause. I was drawn to a beguiling simple arrangement of mushrooms on a plate by William Nicholson. (Ben’s dad.) I began to think about food. (‘The depths of your superficiality know no bounds, John!’)

12.30 pm: Respite, and lunch at yet another Japanese restaurant close by. A bowl of chicken Ramen on this occasion. As is the case with much Japanese food, the enjoyment was as much in the looking as in the eating. Meal as still life:

1.15 pm: On, then, to the National Portrait Gallery. Portraiture has never been ‘my thing’. Which is why I visited, in part. Since I was an undergraduate art student, I’ve been fascinated by the occasional series of self-portraits that Rembrandt painted at various intervals throughout his life, beginning in his early 20s. His last work was completed in the year that he died, at the age of 64.  It’s to the later paintings that I tend to look, these days.  Perhaps, as artists, we ought to represent ourselves to ourselves at significant intervals over the course of maturation. For him, the works were self-reflections: both in an mirror and internally. The bravura and openness of brush work evident in the late paintings never fails to astonish me. In those violent and assured movements of the brush (he was rightly angry at this time of his life), Rembrandt laid the foundations for Turner, Abstract Expressionism, and varieties of painterly mode up to the present day. I’m in the habit of saying ‘Thank you for daring to open a window’ to him, under my breath, when I’m in their presence.

2.00 pm: There was an exhibition entitled Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound, held as part of British Library’s ‘Season of Sound’. I knew a good deal about the subject from my own studies. But is was heartening to see that the Library was, for the first time, making a noise (quite literally) about it’s extensive sound archive and – as we’re already doing in Wales at the National Library and with the Royal Commission – putting on performances of contemporary sound practice. There was, also, this glorious wonder: a Nagra SN miniature tape recorder (1970).  What precision craftsmanship! ‘I’m in love’:

4.53 pm: The journey home from Euston:

I caught up on my diary and reflected, internally, on the patterns, lessons, blessings, and implications of the past few days.

March 19, 2018

The view from my hotel window:

10.30 am: I’d been eager to revisit the Tower of London. The journey took me passed HMS Belfast (a ship I really would like to explore), which was oddly camouflaged against the grey patterned blocks of the cityscape:

My mother took me to the Tower of London in the late 1970s and, with my father, in 1968. Only the Crown Jewels were memorable on those occasions. Today, I wanted to look more closely (and knowingly) at the White Tower (built in the 1080s) and the Church of St Peter ad Vincula (built c.1520). The former contains the Romanesque chapel of St John. It’s a world within a world; a military fortress with a religious heart:

I’ve no particular interest in this period of history, which is one reason for engaging it. The downside of academic specialisation is a consequent narrowing of the field of vision. Thus I make an effort to consciously look to my left and right, and at what’s behind me, just in case I miss something of interest and worthwhile.

St Peter’s is the resting place of Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey. Many, many others are buried, invisibly, in the interior’s north wall. It’s, for all intents and purposes, a vertical cemetery. I recalled Walter de la Maria’s Vertical Earth Kilometre (1977) – a brass rod that extends that distance into the earth. Only a 5 cm-diameter circle is visible on the surface. The rest has to be imagined. Other than brass memorial plaques identifying some of the remains, the wall’s grizzly cladding is, likewise, a conceptual reality.

In cells, there were the poignant ‘remains’ of inmates who carved their hopes, despair, and names on the walls as a witness to the future:

Much of the Tower and its fittings have been either added to, overlaid, removed, or reconfigured in the thousand and more years since it was built. Therefore, what one’s sees is all times and no time in particular or isolation: a version of reality that’s the end product of a long, cumulative, evolutionary, mutable, and adaptive process.

5.30 pm: I met my elder son on Frith Street. We patronised the Dog and Duck before sitting down for dinner at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. He and I had visited the venue almost a year to the day to hear John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension. Tonight, the Lee Konitz Quartet was on the stage:

Konitz had, most notably, played alto saxophone on Miles Davis’ landmark album Birth of the Cool (1957). He’s now 90 years old. That’s remarkable enough. But his playing, while constrained by the limits of his stamina, remained controlled, imaginative, superbly articulated, and from the heart. (The eternal soul of the artist ever remains young.) How wonderful to be still be doing what you’re most passionate about in your ninth decade.

Many of the other players in the quartet and supporting act were in their 30s and 40s, performing music that’d been written as many years before they’d been born. Yet, clearly, it was still relevant to them, and sufficiently vital and flexible to receive new spirits and ideas into its framework. One does not need to be boundary breaker or innovator in an art form. Pushing from within the bounds of established modes and traditions has its merits too. The older languages of jazz are by no means played out. And that, in part, is what makes them great.

We’ve young painting students at the School who’re engaging with types of abstract painting that were prevalent in the 1950s and 60s. They’re not being either anachronistic or backward looking. (One must always go back in order to go forward, in any case.) On the contrary, these nascent artists are learning to ‘speak’ a historical visual language in order say something about themselves and their own times. Like the Tower, in their hands abstract painting will be be added to, subtracted from, and adapted a contemporary context. Like 50s jazz played today, it’s the same but different.

March 18, 2018

Sunday. A restless, spiritually feverish, night. Turbulent, long, and heartfelt prayers, large and unresolved questions, but much gratitude. Where do the answers lie? In what ways will they manifest themselves?  (Will it be, as it has always been for me, in the slow and steady fall of a settled conviction over time?) How does one escape the prejudicial perspectives of strong emotion and desire? Can feelings and intuition be as certain an expression of the truth, and indication of the right course of action, as thoughts, and reason? I woke at 1.30 am. No snow … yet. Ideas about sound works and performance scenarios proliferated in my head. (‘How do you switch this darned thing off?’) Most would be forgotten by the morning. On waking – a light snow had fallen; was still falling – I remembered a dream in which I’d explained the metaphorical significance of on-screen deletion to a friend. (‘Honestly, John!’)

For months, I’ve sensed that ‘something is up’ – a matter of import, but without definition presently. There’re changes to come. (Whether to endure or to enjoy, I don’t know.) It’s as though the fabric of my existence is altering, subtlety. This, for me, is an unprecedented experience. I’m seeing something for the first time; something hidden or previously unfocussed: a truth about myself that has always been there and, perhaps, obvious to others. Ideas and opportunities are consolidating. A confidence arises. In the realms of my practice and research, I’m able to grasp things with greater clarity. My mind is being reconfigured and readied. My heart and soul have been tilled, ploughed, and winnowed already. These are the fruits of a long and painful labour.

9.30 am: The trains to Birmingham were unaffected by the moderate downturn in the weather. At Machynlleth, there was what must have been 2 inches of unimpacted snow:

Welshpool: snow – like airborne talcum powder.

My policy is not to do academic work on a Sunday, if possible. (I’m not a Sabbatarian, but I do believe in the wisdom of taking a God-given day of rest.) Nevertheless, this was an ideal opportunity to review student submissions and cull my inbox. My weakness arrived. I succumbed too readily. (‘Oh! Buddy’).

I can’t be the only train traveller who’s paranoid about the security of the ‘door lock’ on automatic toilets. The journey was without delay or drama. 2.15 pm: London. From Euston to Brixton and my stable for the next few nights:

The room is identical in orientation and design (down to the appalling pictures) to the one I’d left behind in Sheffield, two weeks ago:

Having unpacked, I explored the town and located the memorial to David Bowie, which was painted a few days after he’d died, in 2016. It’s a form of socially-sanctioned graffiti. Woe betide any council that would seek to expunge it:

3.30 pm: On, via Oxford Street, to The Tate Modern to see the Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy exhibition with my elder son. From the Millennium Bridge, the city looked like a monochrome Monet through the snow fall:

I’d written my undergraduate dissertation on Picasso. I admire rather than love his work. I appreciate rather than learn from it. He was a consummate artist. But Braque was a better painter, and Matisse — a more accomplished colourist, in my opinion.

Nevertheless, what Picasso achieved in one year, 1932, was quite astonishing. I counted several masterpieces on the walls, among works that were mediocre, failed, but all moving towards something of gravitas and significance. That twelve month was a preparatory workout for his tour de force, Guernica (1937). The exhibition highlighted his extra-marital relationship with Marie-Therese Walter. She was his lover and muse – the source of erotic and aesthetic energy that drove him through one of the most productive a critical periods of his artistic career.

To close the evening, we ate a Japanese restaurant near Covent Garden. I chose a Chicken Teriyaki Bento: a modular, kit meal: