Month: May 2018

May 7, 2018

If I could see without my heart (Mahalakshmi, Smile of the Beyond (1974)).

Bank Holiday

6.10 am: As I powered-walked in an anti-clockwise direction, My trainers made a path through the frosted grass of the Vicarage Fields, just before the sun rose behind the National Library of Wales and raked across surface of the running tracks and cricket pitch, melting all before it:

8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Studiology. I made several more beat-tracks to mesh with those that already formed the spine of ‘Saul>Paul’. After lunch, I completed the set up for ‘Write Up the Vision’:

Instead of using a stereo condenser microphone suspended above the drawing area, I attached both the contact microphone and a Lavalier condenser microphone to a thick wooden pencil (which aided sound resonance). On the basis of an off-the-cuff remark made by a friend, I searched my basement for a large ceramic tile – one of a number that had been either chipped or cracked during the installation of a domestic bathroom some years ago. In being made of thick, dense fired clay, the sonic properties of support were tightly focussed. Far better than either MDF or hardboard, with which I’d made trial previously.

7.30 pm: I reviewed again the spine additions for ‘Saul>Paul’ (which still require tweaking), and made preparations for tomorrow’s Vocational Practice presentations.

May 5, 2018

6.00 am: My lower back was still stiff, but far less painful. A periodic auto-knuckle massage either side of the coccyx helped to release muscular tension. Running would have to wait until at this afternoon. Time to reflect and commune, as what promised to be a remarkable day presented itself gradually. (Premonition.) 7.30 pm: I eat a slice of glutenous toast and marmalade for breakfast on Saturdays, and only on this day. If I don’t eat some gluten occasionally, my body may develop a more severe allergic reaction to it. The immune system has to be trained to suffer small offences, in other words. (‘It’s not an enemy!’, I tell it.) The scarcity value of something heightens the pleasure principle. Although, on balance, I’d prefer far less ecstasy far more often.

9.00 am: Off to town for a ‘mow’ at ‘Dicky Snips’, undertake some domestic duties, and take the occasion to look beyond. I’m walking the sea’s edge more often these days. Today, it was as though she’d been awaiting my arrival. We were alone together for some time, demanding nothing of each other, other than to be present, gentle, silent, and grateful:

9.30 am: At the hairdressers: I looked inwards:

10.15 am: Into the studio to strap-up for a respiratory recording. My experience of the heart monitor at the hospital this week had made me curious about the ‘noisy body’, and how its sonic traces might be captured. I focussed upon deep breathing in relation to the heart’s beat:

The interior of our bodies is something of an ‘undiscovered country’, even though, metaphysically speaking, we (our spirit, soul, and consciousness) have inhabited it ever since we were ‘knit together in our mother’s womb’. The sounds are disturbingly intimate and, yet, at the same time, utterly otherly. The heart and the breath in unison: variously, signifiers of sexual consummation, exaltation, fear, and the final life-signs, before the body and soul are rent asunder. My adult body sounded like a womb within which a formative and precious life was evolving. (As an aside: scientific study has shown that the foetus is capable of hearing and remembering sounds from the eighteenth week of pregnancy: the mother’s internal noises, her voice, music, and language. So, at the beginning of the second trimester, he/she is already learning, acoustically.)

I returned to ‘Saul>Paul’ to micro-adjust the samples along the beat spines. Likely or not, I’ll need to generate further ‘spit and crackle’ loops to mitigate the rather blunt and bald thump of the beat tracks for sections 1, 2, and 4. 12.15 pm: I confirmed arrangements for next week’s postgraduate presentation assessments.

1.30 pm: After lunch, I took a gentle run into town, via the opticians (to book a mid afternoon appointment), and across the Promenade, towards the southern beach – the one with the pebbles. By the time I’d got there, the sun had gone behind the clouds and a chill wind was incoming from the sea.

3.15 am: I returned to the optician and put my eyes in the hands of Phil, a punctilious and thoroughly methodical optician, who made some minor adjustments to my new spectacles. It’s curious, I’ve never read the statements on the reading card; merely identified the readability of the type. There’s a metaphor in the making here:

3.50 pm: Homebase. There was correspondence and thoughts to process, work to bed, and equipment to power-down. A shower was in order … with a Radio 3 jazz programme blasting from the windowsill.

5.15 pm: A mist had followed the landward breeze. Let this be an end of things, for now.

May 4, 2018

7.15 am: A communion. My back was still insecure, so I didn’t want to risk forestalling the healing process by embarking on exercises. 8.00 am: I needed to re-read, in preparation for today’s Periodic Scheme Review, the QAA guidelines on subject benchmarks for Art and Design and for Art History, Architecture, and Design. There are, I imagine, very few art schools (perhaps the School of Art is unique in this respect) whose staff are both fine art practitioners and art historians. Many of us at the School have to be cognisant of two disciplines, knowledgeable about many subjects within each of those disciplines, and dexterous over a broad range of skills, while, at the same times, in possession of an expertise about specific areas related to both, and in respect to not only teaching and but also research. On, then, with a review of the School’s internal documentation. I’m very proud to belong to the School of Art, as well as to the tradition of art school education.

8.45 am: Off to that School to prepare for the morning’s discussion with the review team. I had my sober, thoughtful hat to the ready:

These occasions can, when allowed to diffuse outwards and inwards, as happened this morning, move beyond the jots and tittles of bureaucracy,  to touch upon the core values of the subject. It was good to have Professor Ferry (one of our faithful former external examiners) on the ‘opposing team’, but batting for us. He has a clear sense of his domain – one that emerges from experience, commitment, and conviction. We all gave a good account of ourselves.

11.30 am: Back at Homebase. Studiology. I reviewed ‘Saul>Paul’ before trying out a much more subdued sample as the beat track from the final section.  In parallel, I recorded my heartbeat using my new digital recorder, which permits me to monitor the input and, therefore, to output a signal from the recorder directly into a mixer. Last week’s problem was solved. The stethomicrophone has extraordinary sensitivity. It picked up noises from rooms several metres away in the house. My heartbeat got progressively faster. Clearly, I’d was excited at the prospect of what this device could do:

I pressed on, and began to assign sample dissections to the new spine – which was far slower in pace that any used for this, or any previous, composition in the ‘Blind’ suite.

After lunch, I continued inserting the dissections and re-introducing relevant samples from section 1. I subdivided section 3 into two. The new section 4 has the same back beat as section 1, appropriately. A bookend. ‘Saul>Paul’ deals with a very long narrative (over 8 minutes); there’s a great deal of text to set. It sounds like a mode of extended recitative. 3.30 pm: I’d got to the end of section 4. Having listened to the whole, I put it aside and moved on to review the ‘Nomine Numine’ tracks (listening for balance across the stereo field), and take stock of the ‘Write Up the Vision’ technology.

‘Nomine Numine’ is sometimes unbearable for me to listen to. There’re passages that I can’t hear other than through a veil of tears. (Lygeti for the heart, as it were.) I’m reminded of the tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice. That I can be so moved by an artefact which I’ve made is utterly perplexing to me. The composition has been a salve, comfort, catharsis, and an embodiment of a truth, which I’ve received as a gift as from the ‘Father of lights’. And only in him is my hope. If each of these four pieces were a canvas, they’d be the size of Barnet Newman’s Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950–51). Scale is integral to this work. The combined length of the works (nearly 80 minutes) gestures towards eternity.

7.30 pm: I tested a range of powered microphones – such as a condenser and the stethomicrophone together – on a variety of digital recorders. I’ll try and record myself breathing by this means, tomorrow. But unless you’ve creaky lungs, the sound of inhalation and exhalation other than through the mouth and nose is almost inaudible:

I was put in mind of Brian Eno’s ‘electric larynx’ – a device which had an intriguing beginning in a ‘culture’ outside of music. Eno explained:

It had its origins in, uh, bondage – it was actually an excuse to legitimise bondage by convincing the bondee that it was actually a musical instrument they were wearing rather than just a form of restraint. It’s a series of microphones built into a choker fed through a complex series of electronic devices to produce from the sound of human voice the high pitch of an electric guitar while still possessing the flexibility of the ‘vox humana’. The player – or the captive as we prefer to know her – is wired up from the back of her neck directly into the synthesizer. The sound, with more than one person, is fantastic, like a constant guitar solo.

It featured on ‘Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch’ from Here Come The Warm Jets (1974), which, he claims, ‘is all about pissing’. It’s an album that I’ve played often, ever since it was released.

May 3, 2018

6.15 am: I’d an ‘exercise test’ at the hospital to attend at 9.30 am. Food, tea, and physical exertion were prohibited prior to the appointment. The aim was to confirm the results of a pair of entirely normal ECG readings and a blood test, recently. It’s as well to avail oneself of all opportunities to confirm health and wellbeing. The Ego article was completed during a late-nighter. This would be ‘in the post’ to the editor before I left for the my test.

A great gate. The carpenter had acquitted themselves well, yesterday:

9.10 pm: Off to the hospital – a stone’s throw away. I was wired-up like a human pedalboard in readiness for the dreaded treadmill test. It’s a great way to exercise: motion without travelling, while staring at Welsh Tourist Board poster advertising the joys of climbing Cader Idris. Running up a moderate gradient really does push the heart hard; I was inspired to develop a Penglais Hill>Campus loop for my future morning’s excursions (sans cabling):

I say it again, Bronglais Hospital is ace: friendly, helpful, knowledgeable, co-ordinated, unfazed, and courteous staff, excellent waiting times, and impressive kit. (And, I didn’t fall unconscious at the thought, on this occasion.)

10.00 am: Back home, and before a more than welcome late breakfast. 10.20 am: At my desk. The Ego article has been accepted for publication at the earliest opportunity. Job done! On with various administrations and responses: emails, confirmations, advice, notifications, commiserations, and uploads.

12.00 pm: Off to School. A quick check on progress in the studios before a lunchtime meeting at the Town Committee Chambers with Dr Forster:

It was useful to discuss the troops (undergraduates and postgraduates) before the Battle of Exhibition commences, and to objectify our thoughts about all and sundry. 2.00 pm: Following deliberations, Captain Forster took to the floor and marshalled the first year for an abstraction exercise:

My, normally, Thursday morning roster of third-year painting tutorials was now mapped onto the afternoon. This is our last session of the academic year. We all felt the melancholy of impending endings and departure:

The objective of the afternoon was to ensure that my company was ready for the fight, armed with work of sufficient quality and quantity, brave and confident, and fully apprised regarding the campaign strategy. Frida’s flowers. (We remembered Ophelia):

My lower back was complaining, no doubt triggered by the morning’s exercises on the tread mill. Throughout my tutorials, I was rotating my hips, Elvis like, to mobilise my sacroiliac joints.

5.20 pm: Johnny went home. A final check of the incoming mail on his phone before dinner:

7.30 pm: Admin and dairy catch-up. Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Trilogy (1972) played in the background. This is one of the albums that kept me going through some difficult years in school. Music has always been, for me, a source of energy, hope, and joy. There’s a folder on my computer called ‘Filing’, in which I rather lazily dump documents that don’t readily fit the established categories, during the year. It needed some address, as did the clutch of un-filed folders littering my desktop. Second-gear work.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • The influence of other artists’ work on our own is often subconscious; it permeates our thoughts and predilections gradually and by stealth.
  • Throw wide-open all your doors and windows to influence; Let it break-in, steal your heart and mind, and take you captive. Any artist who is worth their salt has done the same.
  • At some point, you’re going to have to prove that you’re sufficiently motivated, confident, and resourceful to make viable art outside the womb of an educational institution.
  • We should always be making a virtue of our limitations.
  • Think about one thing for a very long time.
  • Disappointment is made all the worse when it has no interpretation, rhyme, or reason.
  • It’s often when we’ve come to the end of our ability to cope with circumstances that a break through presents itself. As in art, so in life.


May 2, 2018

‘Physical training for business men:
basic rules and simple exercises for the training of the physical self’ (1917)
(courtesy of WikiCommons)

5.00 am: I awoke. It was raining and too early to exercise. Communion, then. (The training of the spiritual self.) 5.45 am: Floor exercises. I integrated several positions borrowed from the Pilates system. My regime is very eclectic … very postmodern too: some of the moves are derived from nineteenth and early twentieth century charts. Holst’s The Planets (1914–16) played in the background.

8.00 am: At my desk. I turned to my notes for the forthcoming ‘Visual Theology I’ conference paper. The project is placed on the back burner until June but, periodically, it makes sense to ensure that the pan isn’t boiling dry. 8.30 am: I waited for the carpenter to arrive and install a bespoke wooden gate in place of the rusty wrought-iron one. There was a short article for the Ego magazine that has been sitting, motionless, on my desktop for far too long. It’s about my stint at Bethel Welsh Baptist Church constructing I. Nothing Lack. last year. I re-engaged the task.

9.30 am: Off to School. It feels like November. I continued writing the article until 10.00 am, when the first of the day’s PhD Fine Art tutees arrived. The ladies in the studio looked even more disconsolate today. They’d really been through the mill:

11.10 am: The third session of the off-the-radar PhD Fine Art provision on self-reflective writing. There’s now a strong internal dynamic among the group; as such, my position is more that of a director than a leader. This is ideal. We teach and encourage one another. A willingness to be honest, vulnerable, and open is essential to the sessions’ success. 12.30 pm: On route to an MA fine art tutorial, I was nourished by the hot beverage kindly prepared by one of our secretaries. (This is beyond their call of duty. An imaginative kindness that was greatly appreciated. I felt spoilt.)

One of the glories of teaching fine art is the conversation through and around the subject and across the boundaries of the mind and soul. The students invite me over the threshold of the lives into domains which only they and their nearest and dearest have previously occupied. During the course of the day, I pass from one world to another and, on occasion, from this world to the next. In this respect, my job is unbeatable. Who needs a large salary when you can achieve fulfilment and expansion in spades on a daily basis instead?

1.00 pm: Off into town to purchase a light lunch. And I looked up:

1.20 pm: Back to School. And I looked down:

1.30 pm: Adminy with yoghurt and fruit. 2.00 pm: I held an extended PhD Fine Art tutorial before shuttling to the Old College via the Promenade for another. 3.20 pm: And I looked out:

7.30 pm: Admin updates, followed my a return to the morning’s article.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Art can redeem even the most tawdry source material and subject matter. It may also lift both the artist and the audience above the banality of their humdrum existence. Art is always purposeful.
  • Righteous anger may bring forth right action. All other anger is corrosive to the soul.
  • There’s a difference between being influenced by another artist’s work and recognising a reflection of one’s own vision in the same.
  • S: ‘Being an artist is the best, isn’t it!’ T: We are truly privileged, whatever the cost.
  • The ability to repeat an accident is of the essence of craftsmanship.
  • The older you get, the more appreciate that, in the end, the only things that really matter are love, family, and deep friendship. Fame, influence, and fortune too often bring with them unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and selfishness.

May 1, 2018

6.00 am: I set aside the morning to reflect upon matters that had arisen over the past few days. There are challenges ahead that I feel, not so much ill-prepared as, unworthy to face. I’ve the capacity but not the justification; the willingness but not the eligibility; the availability but not the call. ‘Weighed in the balance and found wanting’, as it were.

Before shuffling off to work, I played Tom Wait’s heartfelt and idiosyncratic rendering of Leonard Bernstein’s and Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Somewhere’, from Westside Story (1961). It’s a song that speaks of a hopeful certainty, better days, and new beginnings. Its significance for me has changed as I’ve grown older; my heart, evolved; my circumstances, changed; and my sense of self, crystallised. ‘A time and a place’: neither one without the other. And they must be coincident and congruent: neither at the right time in the wrong place nor at the wrong time in the right place. And if there is such ‘a time and a place’, then, it will surely come, when and where it’s decreed from above.

8.20 am: Off to School, picked up a light lunch in town (now very consciously looking at the architecture above shop level), and walked Plas Crug Avenue:

My 9.00 am Skype tutorial was scuppered by a defective connection both sides. We’ll try again on Friday. I’d time to walk to the rear of the window deposit rubbish in the skip. And when I looked up, I saw, and said: ‘Sometimes heaven breaks through!’:

9.50 am: A second interview with a student wishing to transfer into our second year from another institution. An impressive declaration of competence, hard work, and passion on all fronts:

11.00 am: A late MA inquirer. As I’ve no doubt said this before: the intention of these informal discussions is not to persuade the potential applicant that they ought to come to the School. I want them to go to whatever art department best serves their vision. 12.00 pm: I held a PhD fine art tutorial in my capacity as second supervisor. The endeavour on this occasion, one of the most difficult of the entire degree, was to refine the proposal (the research question) that will steer this mighty ship into harbour. In the course of the discussion, this was brought to my attention:

It’s a pencil designed for those living with challenges such as dyslexia and arthritis. However, it’s also the perfect candidate for a contact microphone attachment. (Does it come in black?)

There was too little time to return home for lunch, so I ate at my yogurt and container of fresh fruit at my desk, while picking away at emails, updating my ‘to do’ lists, and pondering a new purchase. 2.00 pm: the beginning of a full afternoon of MA Fine Art tutorials at the School and Old College:

7.30 pm: There was a glut of postgraduate admin to face down. Afterwards, I experimented with a new hand-held digital recorder and a range of external microphones. I need to obtain a better quality capture of tomorrow’s PhD Fine Art seminar.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Sometimes, we learn intuitively; but it takes awhile for the bubbles of knowing to come to the surface.
  • It’s possible to sense whether a potential student will succeed just by talking to them … just by being in their presence. Those that will, exude a sense of drive, commitment, self-awareness, and clarity of purpose, without which any achievement worth talking about would not be possible.
  • Some people appear to have lived multiple lives simultaneously. The breadth of their attainment and contribution to the betterment of others is staggering.
  • Only the best students seem to lack confidence, Poorer ones are completely oblivious to their deficits.
  • The ground work for art is life lived.
  • So often, one must tread the thin line between hopefulness and despair.
  • Avoid overburdening an artwork with too much content or significance. It’ll collapse under the strain.
  • In relation to some problems in your life, you may feel as though you’re waiting for a very long time at a red traffic light, desperate for it to move to amber.
  • Even before your finish the first step in the work, the second beckons.
  • Work that we admire by other artists may help us to see aspects of our own that would otherwise remain undisclosed.
  • Perhaps history can teach us more than geography. I’ve often found that travelling back in time (through art and books) is of greater lasting value than visiting distant places for a brief season only.
  • Knowledge worth knowing changes our awareness.
  • You may be able to get individual works ‘sing’, yet fail to make them perform as a choir.
  • A scale of soft to ultrasoft.