Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Song Work Continues

Two good days working on music, learning so much and very pleased with the music so far, much happier with it than the first version a year ago. One key thing about this project is that I'm aiming to embody much of the music philosophy extolled in a former blog post I made about authenticity in music. So much music since about 2000 has been way over-compressed, giving it a consistently loud, regular volume which can sound great on the first listen, but only gets more annoying, if headache inducing, over time. One of my key aims is to make pop/rock music with the dynamic range and depth of classical music, well, as dramatic as I can make it. Music that is emotional for its own sake needs dramatic dynamism. We are really not used to hearing that sort of music in the pop era, unless you listen to a lot of classical music instead.

That's the hard part about any vocals; you have a mix of phonetic accuracy (the words need to be heard), pitch (in tune), and emotion. Of course, the emotion is the most important bit. Any electronic processing affects these things. Nowadays, it tends to improve the pitch accuracy (arguably the least important component) and harm the rest. I can say now I have never and will never use any automatic tuning. I'll happily use vocoders, I've loved their robotic speech since Battlestar Galactica (pedantry note: the Cylons used something called a resonator, apparently, rather than a vocoder, although a vocoder feeds the signal through several resonant band-pass filters anyway, so perhaps these are similar).

A lot of my processing work now is wrestling with the technology to make it all sound naturalistic, no digitally regular rhythms here, not even for the dance tracks. Everything will defy convention. My aim is to make music with modern technology that echoes back to the peak of music, perhaps 1981, just before digital sequencers, those killers of human feeling. Of course, I'm sequencing everything rather than using 1981 tapes, but every note and is hand crafted. This takes a long time, but sounds so much better as a result.

I feel that this music is really exciting, better in dynamism and truth than a lot of pop music out there, and I'm making it the best I can for its own sake. One thing I need though is a new band name or alter-ego because I've released a lot of music already and if you find me on Spotify or something, you'll probably be inundated with a lot of old electronic game-style music that is nothing like this, and nothing like the music I write now, which is typically piano based and classical or faux-classical, or 'avant-garde/experimental'. Everything since The Anatomy of Emotions sounds much more naturalistic. Perhaps one day I'll re-record The Love Symphony, which sounds very flat and electronic to my contemporary ears, but I still like every note, from a musical point of view (one day, I'm sure an orchestra will play it, I must hope I'm alive to hear that). Generally though I'd much rather make new things than revisit old things.

Anyway, these songs are nothing like my previous work and need a new artist. I could have split up some past albums into different genres with different band/artist names, perhaps the more classical-sounding music could have had a new name to suit my new gothic performing appearance, but the evolution there was gradual, and some of the music on, say, Tree of Keys has echoes of both that music and older electronic music. I am pleased that 'Gunstorm' and 'The End and The Beginning', my electro-pop from over a decade ago with the fantastic Tor james Faulkner on vocals, is credited to both of us because that does have a unique sound, rather like La Roux, now I think of it, like La Roux if Alison Moyet was the lead singer.

As I work, I'm enjoying re-reading How Music Works by David Byrne, confirming many of my ideas and thoughts.

In other music news, my latest album, Music of Poetic Objects has its world-wide digital release on Friday. I've done zero promotion on it but have sold 7 copies on CD so far, making it my most popular music in years. Be part of this success story and order one of the limited first-edition copies today! You can order the CD now from my website.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Song Work

Yesterday and today I've been working on music, working on the songs of The Modern Game, my first album of songs in a long time and my first 'proper' vocal performances. I had already released this music last year, but last month re-listened to it with fresh ears after many months and really felt that I needed to work hard to improve some tracks, two in particular. There was no cost in taking down the album and re-releasing it, so I thought I'd do that. I must make reasonable haste as the themes are quite of the time, most of the album is about the internet and social media age.

Yesterday I added a new string arrangement to the last epic rock song 'Coming Back To Earth'. I had written something on a similar theme, almost the same music, with the same starting words, back in 2015, but it came to a quick end rather than going anywhere (a bit like Queen's first version of The Seven Seas of Rhye). When working on The Modern Game, I revisited this, but didn't even notice until I'd nearly finished it that I had recorded it three years ago! I've been tweaking this today.

Many songs were fine to start with, but about half can use a few tweaks and could benefit from new vocals or, in the case of The Trees, lots of work. I love this track and its feeling, but it is challenging to work on because it had a very drifty mood-based structure that needs to grow organically, perhaps best improvised, but for things like this you need to be in exactly the right mood when doing it, perhaps playing a basic live track as an emotional template (which is an ideal way to compose). Lots of influences on the album, almost every song is influenced by another by a different band, even if I didn't realise at the time. One of my favourites is 'All The Broken Flowers', a simple romantic song that I played 'live' on the piano in one go while imagining the words, then later sang it loosely to fit, in a very organic way. Here are the words, which are vaguely in sonnet form and were written as a poem:

All the broken flowers that she gave me
as Christmas presents, as birthday gifts.
She gave what she could, but had nothing.
Oh how pitiful, the anguish.

All the broken flowers that she gave me,
lined up on the window sill waiting for entropy
to eat them away, like her bones, her hair
now grey and lost, the anguish.

Eight summers since we met, five of rain.
How being downtrodden can be addictive,
and how romantic nostalgia is
hiding the awful truth in a cloud of pink scent
of flowers.

Eight summers since we met, five of rain,
and now she is gone to heaven.
How romantic nostalgia is
like a cloak of comfort for the tears.

Perhaps if I'd loved the flowers more
she wouldn't have broken.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Fruits of War, and Art

Slow day today, woke late after a night of disturbing dreams and interrupted sleep, these long days. Cut a frame and worked today on the Cromwell painting but I'm unhappy with it. Sometimes creative ideas work instantly, sometimes they take days or weeks. In the long term it's hard to tell the difference between either, but the initial design is crucial. I rarely change anything when a painting is started. I've painted pictures twice, or three times sometimes, but never corrected. Perhaps a time limit will finish this idea. Taking months or years on one idea is never a good thing because the whole thing will be out of date.

Perhaps I need to refocus on one or two central themes; at least the cross. What essence does Cromwell have? Walnuts! Leather! Tannin! The opposite of ice cream, meringue... coconut flesh. Coconut flesh, perhaps this is the antithesis of Oliver Cromwell! If he should bite one coconut, he would explode, as I'm sure you can now see. Charles I, by comparison is very fruit based, apricotian and of peaches especially. This explains the English civil war in terms of delicate fruits alone and is worthy of an entire book on the subject, but how might this affect my painting?

The R.B.S.A. opening last night was broadly uninspiring. I felt that the work was all well done, but few items made me think that this was cutting edge art (this made me wonder: is visual art dead? Of course never! Any more than literature or drama died when the dictionary was codified). There were exceptions, but I saw few messages and a minority of emotions. It also seemed that the art that did have a concept had to be badly painted to emphasise that it was conceptual. Pretty and meaningless is fine, but if it's ugly, it must be meaningful, mustn't it? If even ugly and meaningless art is good enough then we might as well abandon judges and show everything and call all artists equally good (ironically Duchamp's famous urinal was in an exhibition with exactly those terms, but his work was still the only one that was 'rejected'!). Of course, such ideas are ridiculous because, at very least, everyone likes different things to different degrees. Call art what you like, but there will always be good and bad, and so out of context it doesn't count as art at all.

I've always liked art with a meaning, but these seem to be in a tiny minority compared to pretty paintings or art that experiments with techniques. An old idea (or no idea) with a new technique feels like a haughty cleverness, like playing J. S. Bach on a Moog Synthesizer for the first time. Artistically awful. Every innovation in technique demands an innovative message for it.

Enough rambles. I must decide whether to continue working on painting next week or switch to music. The light and weather is perfect for painting, but the music is timely and will age unless it is done. Tick tick goes the clock of life, dripping into liquid infinity.

First, a night of communal video gaming.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Scanning Paintings and Judgement

Spent yesterday on small things, including readjusting the colours on some newly scanned paintings.

I used to scan all of my artworks at 300dpi on a Canon LIDE flatbed scanner, which cost me a mere £30, that I had dismantled and modified so that I can place large paintings on top of it. This worked well enough and allowed me to scan large paintings (even the 1.7M Invisible Woman) and stitch the resulting images together very well. This scanner isn't supported beyond Windows XP (ah, the joys of technology), so this ideal arrangement only lasted a few years. I then bought a more expensive Epson, but like most scanners this has banding issues and can't be manually calibrated. This is a problem with all scanners, and it this easily fixable issue ruins the quality of just about every image I've scanned on any scanner. On the Canon, this was only fixed because I bought three and took them to bits to make them 'lab quality' in terms of cleanliness. That gave good results most, but not all, of the time.

Why does any scanner manufacturer make a model that can't be calibrated and inevitably results in banding? I suspect that the reason is so that people buy another scanner every six months.

A high quality, fine art scanner should be easy to make and there is probably a lot of demand for it too. A simple, wide format, wand scanner would probably to the trick. Current wand scanners are very poor quality and seem to be aimed at rapidly scanning documents for phones and tablets. It's one of those ironic twists of technology that my first Logitech hand scanner for Amiga in the 1990s still out-performs most of today's scanners.

Now I don't use scanners at all. I have a DSLR camera rig that allows me to photograph paintings section by section. This has pros and cons. It does make it a little easier, and safer, to 'scan' large paintings. It means that I can change the lens and lighting conditions; but ideally the lighting will always be the same; a fixed, even, bright-white light that will be cast over the image at all times. All scanners also have separate lighting and capturing heads so that the image has a slight 'shadow' of the grain of any canvas, which isn't there on a photographed canvas. The Photoshop stitching process is the same but the colour adjustment often requires a lot more work because this depends on many factors. This needs doing with any scanned image, but my old Canon scanners gave an excellent match instantly (when all of its fancy filters were turned off, leaving a raw output).

Well, some of that adjusting took place yesterday. Spent today working on a behavioural simulation in Visual Basic 2013. Haven't programmed in this before and somewhat amazed to find out how bad it is compared to Visual Basic 6, which is still one of the world's most popular languages despite not being supported or updated by Microsoft in decades.

I've heard today that I've not been selected for the R.B.S.A. portrait prize, which I've entered with a diptych of my 'variations'. Perhaps this was due to the fact that it was a diptych, and perhaps they would, in the judges' banality, accepted a plain, normal, portrait and not anything too creative, because the second image was very 'unportraitlike'.

As I've painted a series, it would be better to show several variations rather than two (well, not even two variations; the original image and one variation), so entering a mere two images anywhere almost defeats the point of this artwork, yet even as a couple they make for a startling display. The fact that the frames had to be fixed together made it technically difficult to enter more here. I'm disappointed that they didn't get in, partly because I've entered this three times and the previous two entries seemed to be well received (indeed, my Self-Portrait with Black Hole was commended, although they sent me the unexpected certificate folded by mail with inadequate postage, so I had to pay the postman at the door!)

It often seems that what I think of my best work is turned away, when earlier and less accomplished work does well. This happened too with the Tiger Moving Nowhere At All, which I developed over the course of a year for the annual competition at The Tabernacle, MOMA Wales in Machynlleth, a truly lovely place. I'd entered that contest twice before, always developing something specifically for it. For this third year I thought I'd push myself only to not even get selected for the show; yet it's still one of my most popular paintings. The staff there were consoling, as they rather liked my painting and agreed that the child-like scribble of a winner was an awful embarrassment too.

We can't step back but push ahead. We know what we want, what we like and what we don't, and why. Having been a judge, I know what a random process it is - sometimes farcical, like at the Association of Animal Artists Exhibition at Castle Park, where I and my fellow team of judges carefully assessed each work over a three hour period, only to have one judge arrive just as we were leaving, run around in 10 minutes and overrule everything we've decided. Such an insult to the judges and the artists! Such are the whims of judges.

Off to the R.B.S.A. this evening for the closing event of the Prize Exhibition.

In other news; am ordering a custom fitted cavalier hat, which is essential for painting Oliver Cromwell. Let us cry 'olé!' to the spirit of Franz Hals!

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Art Videos

I spent yesterday editing and preparing the new series of art videos. I recorded eleven fairly quickly, but the editing together, addings stills at the correct times etc. makes this a long progress and it took all day to convert all of them, faster than I had expected. I wasn't happy with the Execution of King Charles video so I hope to re-do that. I've scheduled them all for gradual release on Wednesdays and Sundays at 7pm over the next few weeks, and the first, the replacement for the 'Transhumanic' video, is live now.

Many things to possibly do now. I really need to start planning the next Cirque du ArtSwarm event, as there are no acts on the list so far and there are only 2 weeks to go. Other work in progress includes a re-recording of The Modern Game music, and completing my Clown Poems. No time to waste on musing.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Filming

Recorded 11 new painting videos today. The editing and assembly of these will take the rest of the week. I always think of everything I've missed or forgotten to point out in these short talks - or even got wrong(!) but there is no wrong in the workings of the mind, each mistake, slip, word was there because our minds put it there for a good reason. I like to take all video in one take and one stream because, like a sketch or dream, every flicker of word and thought becomes more true. Art is about truth, and surrealistic art is the most true of all because it is an instantaneous representation of current thought. As such, even these videos are unique artworks, and a different and unique truth to that of the paintings that they are enlightening.

The paintings I made film about include The Migraine Tree, my first painting to use my 'symphonic' technique of using repeating patterns to form a visual theme.

Also, Emotional Blackmail. I forgot to point out, or even mention at all, the elaborate frame for this which was quite a challenge and an integral part of the work. I had to create an outer rim of wood, textured with plaster bandages, and coated with epoxy casting resin, to create a unique, ultra-high-gloss finish. One challenge when making this was hiding any screws and fixing this floating rim to the inner frame os stained pine using gold metal tubes.

The other paintings I made films for include The Joyous Birth Of The All-New Transhumanic Super Beings, a second version of this because I wanted to improve upon the sound and have a consistent look. New painting "So, How Have You Been?" is included too. This to too big for the camera, but I will use close ups. There is so much more I can say about all of the artwork and I'm torn between explaining the meaning (or at least, my thoughts about a painting, even I don't totally know the full meaning of my work, it is this fact that makes all surrealistic paintings interesting; they are always enigmatic to some extent and the viewer can see more than even the artist) and the technical aspects. I aim for a bit of both.

Two of the new ekphrastic paintings: To A Fly Trapped In Amber; and Silver; are included too, and The Persistence Of Memory, a painting about the duplication and replication of information over aeons. The title exactly reflected what the painting was about, and was not an homage to Dali (so I'll contradict and 'correct' what I said in the film!), but it did seem like a perfect title for a painting that was literally about memory and persistence, perhaps unlike Dali's.

Flesh Vase With Stone Flowers, There Is Still Hope, and Being The Elephant Man are the final paintings chosen for film treatment. I could say so much about each painting. Perhaps one day I'll make some more in-depth films which perhaps go into the creation process of the paintings, materials, my thoughts and history behind the works too. All of this, I think, adds to the artwork itself.

I'll upload the new videos on to my YouTube channel as they are completed, and probably schedule them for regular appearance.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Prices

ArtSwarm filming today. The editing, uploading etc. took all morning, which is usual.

Then I decided to revise my painting prices. I've always priced my work based on the time and materials; it seems the most logical way. I also add a quality factor because some paintings are simply 'hits', and some worth less than the work put into them. Until today I also had a separate factor for prizes, so that paintings that have won awards or commendations are more highly priced. This can make sense because these paintings must be deemed 'better' by a consensus, but it can be a bit unfair because many perfectly good paintings simply never get entered into competitions. Also, the whole judgement process is very arbitrary and hit and miss; there are so many factors in art shows that using this stochastic process to affect the pricing doesn't make much sense, so I've removed this factor today.

One problem with pricing art by time taken is that over the years we get faster at painting higher quality work, partly due to the time consuming nature of experimentation as we are learning. Some of my early paintings took an inordinate amount of time. I'm organised enough to keep a strict diary for all of my 1099 works to date and it amazes me how long some of them took, such as the 37, 8-hour days it took to compose and paint Genesis of Terror, including 12 days just to underpaint it. To account for this, and occasional technical leaps in quality, I divide my paintings into 'generations' so that every few years new paintings go up in value.

Now for some rest. I feel unusually weak, perhaps due to the long painting days. The energy of thought and concentration is very different from the energy of motion. I expect that thinking makes brain cells leap and dance up and down, performing neural jumping-jacks, hence headaches, the muscle aches of the thought workers.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Tiredness and Lavender

Exhausted after a long day's painting. I seem to get far more done in the same time than I did seven years ago, but feel much more tired at the end of each day

Finished my 60ml bottle of amber medium today. I recommend amber glass bottles for storing oil media, I get mine from a company called Baldwins, where I also purchase my Spike Lavender Oil, also known as Aspic Oil. Incidentally, normal lavender oil is also a solvent and a weak binding oil which leaves a yellow reside. Spike lavender leaves far less residue, it's more of a powerful solvent. I painted Half A Broken Heart in 2007 using drops of lavender oil in the medium (one or two drops per day, so there are only minute fragments in there).

Still to do today; the script for ArtSwarm. Filming for the Pies episode tomorrow morning.