Monday, December 23, 2013

Iris Pictures

My major artwork of 2013 is nearing completion and today I added the thrust bearings to make the doors open more easily, and they work! Here are the first photos of the finished artwork.

That is the cabinet with the doors closed. The doors are 3mm MDF with a 6mm limewood top which has been carved, then gilded with 23.5kt gold. The whole construction was made using hand tools or hand power tools. I wanted to avoid laser cutting or computer controlled machining. Using something that was computer controlled would have made the job a lot easier, particularly cutting those curving slots which needed to be very accurate and work first time! In the end I used a jigsaw.

However, the easiest way is rarely the best, and I think that skill is an important part of what it means to be an artist because it aids self-expression, and therefore the quality of an artwork. Of all things I like learning new techniques, and I gained a lot from this, certainly my most complex creation to date.

The seven doors slide open to reveal the painting...

The Rape of Eden by Monkeys is about damage to the environment and I wanted something that was eye-catching, stunning, amazing, different, a combination of engineering and art, but at the same time an artwork that was true to itself, where the cabinet matched and complimented the painting.

Here the circular Eden and Earth, partly inspired by the globe on the outer cabinet of Hieronymous Bosche's Garden of Earthly Delights, is complimented by the golden surround of the sun.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Rape of Eden by Monkeys

My main project of the year has been my Eden iris, a large circular cabinet with doors that open like an iris diaphragm. It's nearing completion and here is the main painting contained within it. I aborted a first version of this, so this is the second version.

It's called The Rape of Eden by Monkeys, a simple overt metaphor for environmental destruction by humanity. The painting is filled with animals, hidden here and there, extant and extinct from a dodo and a quagga to a tigers, giraffe, rhino etc.

Broadly speaking it's a burning Garden of Eden. There is destruction, but the painting isn't all negative. In the distance is the tree of life, gilded with white gold. Adam and Eve gaze at the tree peacefully. A planet Earth in the sky also offers hope, this isn't Earth but a vision of one, a warning perhaps.

This painting is oil on panel, 500mm across. The cabinet, which is almost a metre across and weighs about 15kg, is still not complete, but will be soon.

I'll be developing a unique custom design of circular frame for a series of 100 extremely limited edition prints. I want each print to be framed in a custom, non moving, variation of the gold iris cabinet.

Thursday, December 05, 2013



Underground overground wandering free,
the ragged of Wimbledon Common are we.
Making the most of the things that we find.
We are the people the world left behind.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Bites of Greatness

My main task now is music and the release of my next album, Bites of Greatness. I wanted to get started on new music in October but lots of other things, the Eden Iris, the Artsfest, Future Nouveau! got in the way. I'm making time!

Less than one week ago I finalised the track listing for Bites of Greatness, many of the tracks were written earlier in the year, partly inspired by Tim Prevett on Red Shift Radio who really liked my album Stupid Computer Music. I wanted to write something similar, catchy electronic tunes, sort of like the chart single releases by Jean-Michel Jarre or Vangelis. I used to think it odd that Jarre would make one track that was obviously "the single", why not make a whole album of those good ones - I thought! I wanted Bites of Greatness to be like that.

The last track Trax was actually a distant remake of an Amiga tune I wrote in the 1990's. I'm not a fan of re-working old stuff (it's much more interesting to make something new) but this one was quite good and deserved some modern production. I completed Trax on Saturday night, Nov 30th, and for good measure finished another new tune called France TV. The original title was just "France" in my sequencer and I didn't bother thinking up a new title, so just stuck with it. Amazingly the first run through of that one sounded fine so I decided to forget about any further refinements and call it done.

In the last three days I've finalised the artwork, added a page of the album to my website, with clips, set up the products, made some new edits and, today, sent the final tracks to the distributors for submission to iTunes, Amazon and others.

For the artwork I wanted a mix of every day objects with "bites" taken out of them. Here's a metal candle holder with bit missing. It also shows the track listing...

And here's the cover. It's rather grey and steely, but I think that look will appeal to people who like that sort of music, and I liked the idea of a clock on the cover too.

Like all of my music now it's made using software I programmed myself. I designed all of the algorithms, from the sample generation and filters to the reverbs. I'm probably the only music artist in the world who has created all of the instruments and the artwork - well, there can't be that many, but I had lots of help from the unseen shoulders of giants that post helpful snippets of code and assistance on the Internet. Like anything, programming a computer is learnable.

Next task; to make some videos, I think. Then, onto the next album; Black and White. There's always a balance between creation and promotion. I probably create too much, especially as most of the albums haven't sold more than one copy and nobody's really heard most of the work! But if the iron is hot, what can we do but strike? I'd rather have too many ideas than push too few too much. I'll leave those tactics to the major record labels.

Bites of Greatness will be available from various download distributors in a few weeks, and via from December 16th 2013.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

New Painting

I'm pausing the programming after about five solid days working on it, with moderate (but not good enough) results. Instead I decided to finish this simple painting; "An Experience that isn't Shared is the Same as No Experience", oil on MDF, 420x318mm.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Soundy Stuff

I'm supposed to be recording music this week but I've got caught up with enthusiasm for sound programming, as my new music will be vocal and I'd like some vocal processing options. I write my music on my own software, which is brilliant because it's cheap AND it gives you the freedom and power to add new bits as needed. Today I wrote a vocoder, which turned out to be quite simple; it's a bank of band-pass filters that filter the voice at different frequencies, then boost a sound wave (music) in those frequencies by an amount proportional to the volume of each filter.

It has sixteen filters. I wondered what would happen if I changed the destination frequencies but kept the source ones the same. I got some interesting results when boosting the mid range but didn't experiment further. I must try more of that one day...

My next task though is to pitch correct a vocal sample. Playing a sample at any pitch is easy so the hard part is determining the root frequency of the voice. I started by pondering (and head scratching) at Discrete Fourier Transforms for a couple of days. This bamboozling maths made sense; from what I understand it's basically that there are two ways to represent a complex waveform; as amplitude and time, and as a sum of sine and cosine waves of different frequencies. Both represent the same wave, just in two forms, the time and frequency way ("domain" mwahahahaha). This made me wonder if the universe behaves like this, as it sparked off a connection with waves and particles; odd how waves are seen as timeless and infinite but particles are discrete and finite, yet they are the same thing seen in different ways. It made me think that the Fourier transform has an important role in physics, and that any equation for the universe must be two equations, both different that say the same thing in two ways. After all, everything is one wave, the whole universe is a complex wave.

I'll leave that prediction to history and get back to my speech test. So, I need to work out the frequency of a bit of singing. I've split the sound into lots of sections. After lots of reading it seems there are several ways to identify pitch. The frequency way had appeal because I'd not done it before; that basically divides the sample into root frequencies, so a pure note would be a clear spike. The thing is the voice isn't a pure note anyway, so it's not necessarily easier than looking at the normal time-based sample.

So I think I'll start with normal sample data. Speech/singing isn't always pitched anyway, lots of hissy sounds like "sh" "tch" "sss" are white noise really and could be ignored. I'll need some A.I. to guess a good pitch, or even think that it isn't a pitch, and discard it.

Some principles mused...

A singing voice might be off but it's not going to be very off so it's more likely to be close to the desired pitch, or it's more likely to be at the previously sung pitch (rarely will a song jump up two octaves). You could go further and guess that a pitch will be musically pleasant, guessing that a tune is probably in the right key. This is the start of artificial intelligence routines...

So, I've got a few starting strategies. At best I want to determine the difference between ideals; a sine wave and white noise, and if it's a sine wave then determine the frequency. What options are there to detect either?

A sine wave flows smoothly, white noise jerks about. I thought of a fish flowing along the wave, heading up or down for the next hillock or trough. The fish can't turn as rapidly as the sound wave. If the fish stays close to the target path then it's a smooth wave, if it's always turning or miles away then it's more likely to be random noise. Perhaps the fish could be rewarded when it's close to the wave with accumulated points, but those fall away if the fish becomes sad at unable to track the wave (or rapidly turns; the pain of the anxious fish means white noise psychosis). So, a volume tracker of some sort is one strategy.

Another is to pick random points every so often... if that fish headed for waypoints every so many samples, then on a sine wave the results would still be easy going; a quantized sine wave would still appear smooth, a noisy one still random. Does that help?

And frequency. I thought I could track zero crossings, the times that the wave jumps above and below zero, then track similarity. This would be a great indicator on perfect source data; on an ideal sine wave the periods would be identical; and totally random on white noise. So a reward number for regularity would be good, together with a proposed period.

(EDIT: What if a sound wave had a good repeating pattern rather than simple repeats? I expect a few natural sounds might do that, or do they?)

Looking at different windows of samples might be a problem too, chances are there will be a few periods of pitch on there. An ideal size to analyse must be sought; one short enough to find only one sound/syllable, but long enough to give a good indicator of periodicity for low notes. Perhaps window periods that match the tempo of the song would be an idea. An idea that a musician and never a mathematician would even pick, as powers of two are best, and they're not at 120 B.P.M. (I wonder why 44,100hz was chosen as CD frequency and not 65,536hz for example? Maybe it's something to do with the laser of a compact disc, or a transistor or something.)

Well, I'll give it a go tomorrow. Please excuse my meandering thoughts but I wanted to type them out and I thought that this might be useful to other signal processing people in future. There's no conclusion to this blog post ... well, not tonight :) Happy dreams of sound fish to you!

Friday, November 01, 2013

A Big Post about Music Production and The Invisible Man

Well, my Iris is still not finished, despite days of work. Each step seems to just lead to another, but the end is in sight. I'm reminded that Fabergé didn't make his eggs, he might have designed them, and quality checked them, but he had a vast team of experts to actually do the craft work. That unskilled Carl Fabergé.

Now, speaking of Kraftwerk I'm in music mode. Yesterday I saw a call for the National Songwriting Competition and decided on the spur of the moment to enter. I'm not very keen on this contest as I suspect that it's there to leech money from the vast numbers of people eager for music success (I base this judgement on A: the fact that they've spammed every email address I have with calls for entries, and charge a lot for them, and B: I thought their critique of my last entry One Day was poor, it seemed they'd not even heard the song never mind analysed it). That aside, a deadline is fun and inspiring, and I want to write and record a new album this month, so I thought I'd record a new song in the four days until closing date. I re-wrote (the music to) a 2009 song a few days ago so I chose that.

The song is a plodding ballad that grows in power. In my head the backing was a piano, and I began with "Imagine" style chords (two then one then two etc.) this was a bit monotonous (sorry, John) so on the piano played something grand like Tchaikovsky's 1st piano concerto, but made the low notes single notes, then realised that it was similar to the Bohemian Rhapsody intro. I stuck with it, then added alternating flutes. In my head the song had the power of Calypso 3 by Jarre, a climb of mountains up and down in vast sways, and I toyed with booming slow percussion and considered a vocoded part like a titanium sound cannon at the start of each pattern.

The song is in three bits, but one interesting feature is that the chorus really should be quiet because it's about invisibility, being unnoticed. A vast chorus wouldn't fit the meaning yet songs demand a chorus that's more special than the verses. The chords in this one are pleasant, so I wanted something gentle that enhances them, like Karl Jenkins Palladio, or Vivaldi, and a harpsichord was ideal, stabbed in regular beats. It has a gentle feel (the modern ability to make it quiet is really a godsend for this wonderful instrument) and also a high narrow register that means it goes really well in songs without interfering with other instruments.

The last part was integrating the piano and harpsichord. At one point I toyed with having either, not both, but I found that the depth and richness of the piano really improved the verses, the song sounding icy spidery without it. In the chorus, alongside the harpsichord, I added high tremulating strings, ghostly. The lead in (the "I drift" lines...) was powerful, initially a large piano stab (Tchaikovsky/Grieg! again) then more subtle. I added some warm brass there, echoes of Comfortably Numb, which is a song with similar mood and themes (I experimented with an electric guitar solo in the middle too, which I might add later, but I didn't have the time and there was no real need for one; would it add to a sense of invisibility? That most famous and wonderful solo in the Pink Floyd song, does it really convey numbness? Not really, you could say that it's a wailing at the forces of malevolent emptiness, a banshee at the oppressive doctor, but it was more a showy rock part I think, an aesthetic element, than anything on an intellectual or emotional connected with the song).

I added and removed lots. At one point a large echoing stab took place on each chord change of the chorus, but it made it too dramatic when the chords alone convey enough. I played with the Strawberry Fields style flutes (more inspired by Beethoven's 6th and my Infinite Forest music, which is full of sighing alternations) but left them in because it added something to the song generally, I hummed them when I took them out so they must be worth keeping. The intro is short but was extended a bit, and some casual ambient speech added there. A wailing ambulance (a Vangellisism from Blade Runner) was toyed with but unused. The tempo changes were the last thing, a gentle slow into the chorus, so important. The deadness of tempo and volume expressiveness is the curse of modern pop. Then finally a booming piano end (ala I Don't Like Mondays).

Overall though, the whole song is all of those influences and none. If anything, the tune and mood is more like Nobody Home than Comfortably Numb on that Pink Floyd album, but with a soupcon of a power ballad by an 80's Heart, the verse with a relaxed feeling like Love Letters Straight From Your Heart...

To hear the final tune, you'll have to wait until I learn to sing it (I must learn fast!) and make at least a crude video for YouTube (though this song would benefit from some special effects - yes?)

Here, in the mean time, are the words to The Invisible Man...

No parts.
No broken clockwork heart.
No bits of hair to depart.
That's me.
That gap inside the crowd.
A snowflake inside a cloud.

I drift inside a fog all day.
I close my eyes to find out that the world won't go away.

There's no-one to believe me.
There's nothing left to leave.
My body is clear as air.
There's no eye that can see me.
I blinked and I was gone.
I woke up to find myself

Too bad.
My happy life went sad.
I've turned from obscure to mad.
I call,
but make no sound at all.
The mirror just shows the wall.

Is this what it feels like to die?
Appealing to a frozen sun inside a silent sky.

no-one to believe me.
There's nothing left to leave.
My body is clear as air.
There's no eye that can see me.
I blinked and I was gone.
I woke up to find myself

Monday, September 02, 2013

Iris Slots

The doors are now stuck on my Eden iris. The hard part was lining them up so that the exact curve on the front edge of one door matched the curve on the rear of the next one. The way I did that was to lay the outer doors out on top of the inner doors, carefully moving and shifting each bit, bit by bit, weighing down the correct ones to stop them moving. Here's two outer doors in place, showing the inner doors.

It took half a day of placing, shifting, staring, thinking, before I thought I'd done enough. It wasn't perfect, two doors were up to 2mm out, but I decided not to muse forever like Leonardo would have. That was probably as good as it would get so I lifted one door at a time, marked the area to be glued in pencil with a paper template, sanded a little to create tooth then carefully applied aliphatic resin glue to each surface, brushed it even then weighed it down as it stuck. After an hour or so I moved onto the next door. At the end of the day all seven were stuck. Here it is at that stage...

Then I opened the doors, and after a tense moment or two where one door had glued to its neighbour, they slid open...

Now each has to be opened by hand so there is a crucial job left, well, two and one is critical in that it needs to be millimetre perfect. Each door will have a metal pin coming from the top which must be in exactly the right place. It has to be pretty vertical but if it's not perfectly vertical it'll still work, but they must be on the same radius. To open the iris those pins move outwards in unison, that's basically all they need to do. The pins fit in a special slotted ring (the bezel) such that rotating it makes the pins move outwards. It's important that the pins are in the right place or they won't fit the bezel.

Here's the prototype:

I deliberately made it badly so that I knew the tolerances. Basically they were worst at this bit. The prototype struggled with opening and the result wasn't that pretty. The wobble, the difference between the size of the pins and the width of the slots needed to be minimal. If it's too large it will not only hang loose and look ugly, it will also distort the shape of the doors as they open and instead of nice seven-fold symmetry, it will sort of sag.

So those slots need to be just a tiny bit bigger than the pins. Here are the slots on the full size version...

I drew them with a beam compass and cut them with a jigsaw, with a plan to sand them to size. The problem is that sanding inside a long thin curvy slot like that is a nightmare. My first thought was to use a spindle with sandpaper on, but it would have to be on a pedestal so that the slots remain vertical (a Dremel tool would be a no-no). The spikey giant bezel made doing anything on the pedestal drill awkward and dangerous, and I had to make the sanding spindle thing because they don't make them that thin. It barely worked, and naturally produced a lumpy result, sanding a long thing slot with a tiny cylinder...

Ideally I'd have a gently curving sander, perhaps a belt that bent at the perfect angle (well I say ideally, ideally I'd use a computer controlled machine to cut the thing in the first place, but I'll ignore that option for now, but keep it in mind, just in case). Anyway I thought that the jigsaw worked quite well... so what if I attached a sander to the jigsaw... so my plan is to take a metal plate and bend it to the correct curve...

Then glue sandpaper to it, then glue it to a jigsaw blade to make an electric sander that works at just the right curve and at a right angle to the surface. I'd have to make a second concave blade for the inner curve.

When that's done I can check the measurements with a paper template, then check the position of the pins on the doors. Once they're in there's no going back, no adjusting the doors, no shifting and sanding. Any gaps will remain gaps. Putting the pins in will be a make or break moment...

If in doubt though I'll stick the pins based on the correct measure. It's easier to make a new bezel than make everything else again. I hope to have all of the engineering bits done within two weeks, then the painting can begin, and the decoration.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


One of the difficult tasks on my Eden iris today, fixing the pivots. These 20mm diameter tubes need to be exactly in the middle and exactly vertical, so how to do it?

At first I thought I'd drill an 18mm hole then sand around the rim, gently expanding the hole until I got a perfect tight fit. I used a blade drill, here:

I quickly discovered that these wobble and shake the wood horribly. The nice bore type thing (I think it's called a Forstner bit) was much better but I didn't have an 18mm one. Anyway, I realised that I could stop much of the vibration by drilling a big pilot hole first with the biggest drill I could find, that cleared away most of the actual solid wood, making it less effort for the blade to cut a hole.

So, I had an 18mm hole that wasn't quite in the centre (never would be it's impossible to get these things perfect). I took a cylindrical file/rasp and started to finish off the edge. After about 10 mins of mashing the chewy M.D.F. I realised that this was going to take a long time AND probably not work, the wood texture was not ideal for rasping in this way. The end result would almost certainly not be clean or vertical.

I decided a sanding drum would be better, but I didn't have one that was tall enough, so I made one from metal tubes, glueing some sanding drum bits to it...

It was good enough to work, it still rather mashed the edge a bit but was relatively clean. When I'd cleaned out the hole to make it 20mm I found that it was a worse fit than drilling a 20mm hole from the outset!

So there seemed to be no perfect way. I decided to drill a 20mm hole directly instead. There was a gap and wobble, but thought that I could glue the pivot with epoxy resin (or clay) and set it perfectly that way. But how to make sure it was vertical and central?

For centralness (is that a word) I drew rings around the 20mm guide (22mm) and used that as a guide where to place the tube. For verticality I screwed a metal collar to the pipe...

It's deep enough so that the edge of that should be at a right angle to the pipe, so I then fixed that into the hole, clamping the collar to the wood...

And there we are, one pipe that's about as vertical and central as I could get, I think. Time is short so rather than consider infinite possibilities of getting it perfect I went for the best I could think of at the time. Now I'll glue the other six. It will probably take me all day just to attach these seven tubes!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Somewhere Out There

Not a productive day, one of slow steady toil. These past few weeks have been notable for lonely periods, which are good for creativity. The time for more painting is to come. Tonight, a poem came to me.

Somewhere Out There

Somewhere out there is a world, to touch.
Close and ubiquitous.
Humming with people,
emotions, an engine of activity and love.

Somewhere there is a place,
of warmth and comfort.
A web of answers, thoughts,
and liquid perceptions.
Silent peace.
The tears of sleep.

There is something more than surfaces,
and objects,
and temperatures,
and rigid data.
More than words.
More than mere words.
I know it is there,

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Great Being

I'm back to reading philosophy and the discussions about consciousness being an "emergent" property, something that naturally lies above the hum-drum of cellular interactions, like a face inherently "emerges" from patterns of paint in a portrait, inspired me to wonder about the implications.

As a human being we think of ourselves as one being. What is oneness? A feeling of control and influence and feedback. Oneness is communication, and self-awareness. We know what constitutes us by our influence and feedback, control and sense, of our bodies. Our clothes become us when we wear them, without even thinking about it. Our hair doesn't have any feeling to it, not much, but it's still us, if less us than something we can totally feel and control.

Of course, we are not one life-form but a collection of cells and bacteria, each a life-form in itself performing a task and co-operating with its neighbours with differing degrees of dependence and independence. Do you think that our cells are aware of us? That any individual cell knows that it forms one big being with an independent self-awareness?

We don't command our cells directly, for the notion of us itself, a control centre, is illusory, a factor that emerges from the interactions of the cells. Like a living city, cells are partly independent, and partly responsive to their neighbours, the rules, chemicals and signals from those "higher up" in the control chain. Our bodies function like a country, a world in itself with the commanding brain cells as government, capable of some wilful doctrine or law, but largely independent of the lives of the populace. The cells of our bodies live perfectly well when we are unconscious, after all. But we can't do as much when unconscious. Together we are stronger, just as one cell alone can't achieve most of what one human can. No cell will ever play the piano, never mind compose a Bach fugue, but a collection of them can and did!

Our society functions in a similar way too. We interact and socialise depending on rules and needs, interactions. Together we achieve more than we could alone. Nobody invented the electronic computer, or put a man into space; those things were collective efforts. Many activities of society are now essentially collective, with no one person capable of doing them. This applies even to vital public services. The individual has grown less and less important as civilisation has advanced.

We respond to rules as complex as those that our cells respond to. We purge the world of vermin in the same way that cells attack bacteria. Societies go to war when threatened, like an attacked body battles an infection. Our memory is made up from the collective memories of our brain cells, but so to does society form and store memories in libraries and archives, memories greater than any one person can have. Could it be that we form a new being, one collective consciousness with a united independent thought, as detached from us as one cell is from our minds? This poses a question; what is the difference between our waking conscious selves and when we are asleep and unconscious?

On a cellular level there is probably no difference. When awake we can move about though, talk, and interact, and do things... that's the key difference between being conscious and unconscious! How can a society, a country, a planet, express that it is self-aware? And to whom? Without an entity for our society to interact with then perhaps it can't be called conscious. Perhaps we seek life on other planets because the great being that is all life on Earth feels alone.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Tick tick. SO many things in progress at the moment. My main art task is the construction of the Eden cabinet, a new art project that has already pushed the boundaries of doing something intensive and expensive that 99.99% of other artists wouldn't bother with!

However last night I went to the première of a short promotional video that I wrote the music for, so here it is. It's for a charity ball in Nantwich in November, so if you know anyone in the vicinity who'd like to come then please let them know and/or spread the video. I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tick Tick

SO much to report, I've barely got time to stop and breathe. These days are busy. I'm working now on three cabinet type artworks, the first The Monstrance Of Life is the simplest...

It's an oak cabinet with nine paintings inside that will be wall or floor standing. The work is about joy and life and contentment, almost like Beethoven's 6th Symphony in art. The idea came to me while watching a quiet Swedish film and a moment of happiness and perfect contentment. Unlike much of my work it's quite simple, no deep symbolic meaning, and more in the Brahms tradition than my Wagnerian romanticism. The general look and feel with be light wood and gold.

The second work is a sister work called The Monstrance of Death, a darker mirror. Little is done yet.

And finally Eden, another circular cabinet work about environmental destruction which is unrelated to the other two. This is an ambitious engineering project that will be a suitable challenge, a large wall mounted work that will look like the sun and open to reveal a detailed painting.

But calloo! callay! My next days are full of the daily patter and rush of tidal forces, pushing me onwards, through the barrage of life!

Tomorrow: Friday 12th July: I'm setting up Masquerade and Celebrating The Diversity, the annual exhibition at The Cubby Hole in Crewe. The night will conclude with a masked ball. Here is my mask:

Saturday 13th July: I'm promoting the Art Up Close group on Nantwich square.

14th: To the R.B.S.A. Gallery in Birmingham with me to deliver one of my newest works, Love is Dead, to their Portrait Prize competition.

Monday: To Warrington and delivery of An Octopus Finally Killing A Lighthouse Which Is Assumpted Into An Angel to the Python arts festival, a major event spanning four galleries across the North of England.

Tuesday: A planned trip to the Visual Arts Cheshire Gallery in Northwich to meet the team there.

And then Wednesday and I can continue working on art for a short short SHORT few days. Oh for more time to make art. But soon, the summer will end and I'll stop visual art and the strains and strings on music will enforce themself upon me once more, for I can't wait to write my Death Symphony, which changes in my mind with each consideration, but now must be like Beethoven's Ninth in reverse, for it is now the symphony that is dead. I want Mark Elder to conduct it. Musically I'm listening to Bruckner for the first time, and Berlioz' Requiem. I rather like Berlioz. My next plan is to listen to more Elgar, who I suspect is much better than I suspected.


Monday, July 01, 2013


My clock design "Waiting" is finished. The ropes were a tad bent and limp at first. I used brass wire, but no matter how taut you stretch it it'll still be the wrong length! Something stretchy was needed so I solved the problem by using elastic. here's the finished clock.

Elastic will probably rot over time, so it was also important to make the chains replaceable, if needed, so these hoops were embedded into the clock and the ropes tied to them.

I glued a tiny chain link onto the hoops that go around the gold plated man.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Human Powered Engine

Second Oomazing tee-shirt design...

Here's the link to the page RedBubble...

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Well, last weekend a friend said that I should try some tee-shirt designs, so a week later and I've got some. I instantly thought of flat bright screen-prints like I used to wear about 30 years ago, and actually I rather enjoyed coming up with a range. I decided to include text only reluctantly because I wanted something that even people who didn't speak English could enjoy, but found it did improve the message and that the text augmented the image without being necessary to understand it.

Here's the first design:

It's on sale here:

This is so different from my normal art that I decided to use a new brand name, so thought up "Oomazing". I decided to add the Oomazing text to each design too; that was a close decision because a logo can detract from a design, and its tiny details might not print brilliantly, but the logo is attractive and these designs are quite simple so a brand that provides consistent quality will improve their value, and it makes it easier to see and remember who made the design and where to get more like it.

I will release new ones over the coming days/weeks. Who knows if/how they'll be popular, but I hope people like wearing them as much as I enjoyed designing them.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Life and the Attenuation of Information Loss

I've been thinking about information for some time, the philosophy behind information storage and existence, why the idea that entropy always increases with time seems at odds with life's ability to get better at storing and processing information. Well I had a thought last night that its because life exists exactly because its good at preserving information so I thought I'd write it down for posterity, in case some distant philosopher of the future finds it useful and stumbles upon it, so here it is.

Over time information is lost. At best information can be retained as it is copied, but never improved. Over time errors or disruption are inevitable, and each error will degrade the information, eventually destroying it. A vinyl record will accumulate scratches, a whisper will be remembered slightly differently, a rock carved with letters will be subject to the rain, the dust, sun, degradation, but lost information cannot be restored; the letters on a rotted gravestone could be carved again, but never to a state beyond their original state, even if the words were restored the character of the lines and so some information about the original carving would be lost, malformed. Information loss is inevitable.

This applies to all things, even the universe itself. The true end of the universe will be at the point of information death, when all things have deteriorated to a point where none of the information present in the universe survives or can be recovered; a state of even "greyness", a random and inherently unpredictable babble that can neither store nor contain any information.

It appears though that life seems to defy this, that over time civilisation has grown to find more secure ways to store and retain information, from stone age speech, to written words, to the digital age we seem to be more adept than ever at preserving information in better ways. Why is this? And what is life, what is it's purpose and why did it evolve at all?

Although information will degrade over time, the universe can occasionally stumble across ways to preserve information, to attenuate its loss. A liquid river bed can preserve the shape of a dead animal, a fossil, like a plaster cast memory of the shape of the animal. In that way the river bed has acted to preserve some information about the animal. A crater on the moon has preserved some information about the asteroid that created it. There are other events in the universe that are not preserved; an asteroid might have fallen into a black hole and been lost and forgotten, and all of the information about the asteroid would be lost. However, just as loss of information is inevitable, it's also inevitable that systems able to preserve information will survive in a way that systems that aren't able to preserve information cannot. The moon crater might persist or might not, but once a system that destroys information, like the black hole, is unable to preserve information it can never again gain the ability to preserve information. That fact acts as a selector, and the selector acts as a driving force of evolution; the universe evolves systems that are able to preserve information, preferring systems that best attenuate information loss.

Life can store information, recording aspects of its environment in its behaviour and its structure, and later its memory, through genetic memory across generations. Advanced life uses sounds to communicate, and memory to preserve and transmit information, and humans have evolved to be able to study the external universe, note it and record information about it, and write, and store information digitally. I postulate that life exists principally to attenuate information loss, and that life came into existence because the universe naturally prefers systems that best slow down the loss of information.

Let's go further. As humans we are curious about the universe, and like to remember things, make notes and communicate. These all help prevent information loss. All life has those properties, and all life stores, records and communicates information better than non-living systems.

Even within societies and nature this can be said to be true. Communication is the transmission of information from one system to another, and this evolved between cells and animals, becoming more sophisticated over time. The ability to detect aspects of the world, sight; then in humans, intelligence, mathematics, writing and technology, all of these things give us a greater ability to detect and preserve information. The ability to obtain, communicate and preserve information is the principle marker of evolution from the earliest life to now, and now our civilisation is more able to obtain and store information than any system ever discovered in the universe.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013


In Buddhism emotional pain is caused by wanting something. Desire can be controlled, and therefore pain can be mitigated by the cancellation of want. Even Buddha failed in this respect because after his "enlightenment" he decided not to kill himself because he wanted to tell others about his findings. It's not possible to want nothing except by dying. As dying is non-existence then the existence of want should be accepted. All you have to decide is what you want.

Control over your wants and discipline over yourself is more important that not wanting. Wanting might cause frustration and pain, but knowing what you want is the important thing, with the acknowledgement that you might not ever get it. This is enlightenment.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Painter Paint

Painter paint! Paint while you have time ! Paint while you have life! Paint ideas that nobody has thought of before! Paint objects that nobody has painted before! In places nobody has seen before! Time is short and there is so much to see! To express! To do! To show! To reveal! To be painted!

As you can see, I'm full of ideas at the moment! Must paint more.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

What Do Artists Do All Day

Let's try a blog post for a change. So much to do that I'll forgo my normal Facebook visits!

I'm mainly working on two portraits, a miniature for the R.B.S.A. Portrait Prize called There Is No Love. It's in three parts. Here is the frame:

It's rather shallow resin of some sort so I need to bulk it up to ensure that it can take mirror plates and D-Rings etc. that a gallery would want. So today I marked some wood and cut it. I'll carve it to a close match, cut out the holes and stick it. The three paintings will be a tube of paint, a portrait of silent film star Alice Joyce, and a skull. The frame itself will be decorated too with entwined rose vines.

Next, a self-portrait for a Sky Arts thing. This is a bit of an annoyance. At first I thought that I'd have no time to enter it, then I thought I could enter my Self-Portrait as Philosopher, but it's hardly got any of my face in it and not indicative of my style either so I ignored that. Then I thought it would be a fun challenge to paint something new in 4 weeks instead of 4 months so that inspired me. I came up with a zillion ideas on Sunday and mocked many up. My main focus was an old idea, an inside-out self portrait which was very surreal, and therefore typical of my style... however I worried that it was too surreal and not enough like a portrait, and also I noted that the Sky pictures much be submitted unframed which was also disastrous as the frame was part of the work, as most of my work is these days. I compromised and chose a "normal" portrait, but then ached to add something more to it. At first I wanted a butterfly with gold leaf edging but I didn't have any good butterfly photos to hand (I needed to compose it in one day, it's a tight schedule). Suddenly it came to me, the idea of a black hole, the lack of an idea but also behind it the sun, in gold. A simple design or rings within rings. There would be a simultaneous "gold eye" effect which would also reflect the theme of "portrait of an artist" - one idea element being that it was painted finely like a Flemish painting, which I paint like, in my head. I drew the outlines on Monday and today shaded a copy to check the likeness. Here is a glimpse, and no more...

Today I also applied the gold leaf. The panel was cut an primed on Tuesday. The gold stuck in some places and not others in a peppering effect. The has happened before and it annoying, I think it's due to lack of adhesion of the oil because it's absorbed by the panel. I'll try an acrylic sealer first next time (the traditional use of shellac is an option although its brittle nature makes it more risky). There are many other options; PVA plus wetting (akin to the medieval way of wetting sized gesso) ... well lots of options!

Then I transferred the drawing. Tomorrow I'll paint the first layer of the tiny R.B.S.A. picture.

Oh, one last update is that I also scanned a new painting today for a competition with the theme of Labyrinth. Here is Ariadne Unlocking The Minotaur For Theseus. It's about unleashing emotions, my own of course, but used here as a metaphor for Ariadne and her desire for Theseus, the release of the Minotaur and her heartbreak when he chose her sister instead.

There is a description on my website. Here is a poem I wrote about the myth.

Ariadne And Theseus

Theseus, take this black thread
through twisted thoughts of golden wit.
Traverse the passion and the dread
and overcome the heart of it.
Take this soft key and it will fit
my love, for Daedalus is cold.
Let my dark words by your lips lit
defeat the bull these tight walls hold.

Now in this heart, this iron soul,
I watch the sad beast mourn his breath.
I cast away his sleeping chains,
his fear of life, his fear of death.

The deed is done. I emerge above.
Ariadne thank, but her sister love.

Finally I heard today that my painting "Two Roman Legionaries Discovering the God-King Albion Turned into Stone" in the Grosvenor Museum has now been published by the Public Catalogue Foundation in the book Oil Paintings in Public Ownership in Cheshire. The book will be official launched at Tabley House on Wednesday 1 May. I'd be excited to attend that. It's a bit off the beaten track so I will need to locate a lift.

Assuming I have time. Well that's today.

So far... lots still to do!

Monday, March 04, 2013

Liquid Love

When I'm lonely I like to write poetry. And work, generally. This happens often. The productivity gives me a sense of achievement, and one of the great benefits of being alone is having time to do things. Time that vanishes when being social. Time that is so very precious, as precious as good health - the two most precious qualities of life, appreciated by so few people. Here is a poem I wrote tonight. I decided to make the structure approximately palindromic.

Liquid Love

In this liquid velvet dark
can I see a spark of love?

Can I sup some yellow warmness,
gulp that honey, sense that burning on my cold clay skin?

Can I prick my finger on a tiny blade of love
if I stroke this icy air?

Is there any thing there?

Yes, it is here.

Warm and sweetly boiling clear,
dancing like a silver crystal flame of love.

A fresh mint beauty churning deep within.
A flowing river
kissed from every distant memory mountain.

In this liquid velvet dark
my love cascades in flowing fountain.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Male and Female Art

Is there a difference between male and female art; art made by male artists and female artists? I think there is. There are certainly some types of art that seem to be fixed more firmly in one gender or the other, with more "serious" oil paintings by men and more textile art by women for example. I wondered why.

I thought about nature and how in a animals the female can display something pretty to attract a male (of course, this happens in humans!) and the males have to somehow compete or prove to the female their worthiness (from a hoverfly's display of skill, to charging musk oxen). In art men can be keen to push the idea behind the work and prove their skill and intelligence in some way, and women seem to reluctant to even consider such rudeness, instead inviting others to judge and examine their creation. I've spoken to many female artists who just don't have an answer when asked "What is it about?" and when there is an answer it tends to be an examination of some aspect of society or technique, rather than a philosophical statement. To state something like that certainly seems to be a male trait. Thus spoke Zarathustra! Maybe that's why women make better writers ("show don't tell" is so important in writing because you must engage with the reader, interact, while occupying only one side of a conversation).

Of course, no person is wholly male or wholly female, I think, so there is great variation and always exceptions, but, if such differences exist I think it's important to consider and understand them, especially for those who must judge or critique art. Such a belief can suddenly add a meaning to art that would otherwise appear "meaningless". Next time I think "What does it mean?!" I might consider that it's the existence and creation of the art that conveys the meaning, not any message.

Now, is it ironic that this blog post is a statement of my idea?

I hope not tee hee.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Cat With Human Eyes

My blog posts are haphazard recently. I must find the ideal way for each type of online media! The days seem to be flying past and this feels more and more like a memory problem... but how can that be tested with something as subjective as "feeling" like the days are flying past. Hmm...

Anyway, I thought I'd post the words to a silly song I wrote today, but one that is, at least, the first in over a year so that's something to be celebrated.

The Cat With Human Eyes

Look at my paws!
Look at my tail!
You won't see a surprise.
Then look at my face for what's out of place.
I'm the cat with human eyes.

Look at my smile!
My broken ears!
Look at my tears so wise!
Then look at my mind and the soul behind.
I'm the cat with human eyes.

Look at my hair,
the way I care
and love the things I do.
Then look at the way that I watch the day
and the way that I look at you.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Observation and Truth: A Philosophical Entropy

I've been reading and re-reading a lot of philosophy recently via the excellent medium of Modern Philosophy by Roger Scruton.

A large lump of philosophy is concerned with two aspects of truth; the difference between what we observe as being true and what is "really" true, out there, beyond our thoughts and senses.

This gap runs through all aspects philosophy. How do we know that a scientific theory is true for example? Only by application to the world. Application to one person's senses might not indicate truth, a theory that polar bears are blue might be true to a mad explorer who thinks polar bears are blue but that doesn't mean it's a valid scientific theory... does it?

Is there a difference between what is reasoned or calculated and what is observed? Reason or calculation needs data to work on and that comes from observation, or a previous calculation. Ultimately all reason or calculation must stem from a previous observation. The information from observation might be manipulated, or it might be lost or distorted, but the resulting reason or calculation can never create something "more true" that the observation. All calculation takes inputs, malforms them and produces an output, and here the input is that which is observed (or the result of something else which was ultimately observed).

This is a crucial point because it implies that if there is a "reality" beyond what we cab observe then it cannot ever be grasped, even theoretically, even by guesswork or insight. Nothing can be more true than observation, only as true or less true.

It may sound like an implication that only our personal view of the world is true. This is a lonely view, like that of Descartes. He is sadly no longer thinking, but when he was, he was it. Could truth have a social aspect?

This is a communication problem. Observation communicates data to us, it is manipulated and produces ideas, calculations, reasons etc. The data can be degraded in quality or lost but never made more pure. The original observation is as good as it will ever get. Information can also come from prior ideas, calculations etc. but when taking data again, some information may be lost or degraded.

Now, ideas or observations can also come from other people and these may be more true than your personal observation. Remember the mad explorer? One thousand other people may attest that polar bears are white rather than blue, if they observe them as white. If polar bears are truly white then then best that an observation can get is that people see them as white. Errors can creep in; someone with bad eyes might see them as pink, or yellow, or even blue. A distant memory or madness might degrade the information too, someone who originally thought one white might change his mind later. All of this shows that any initial truth can be lost but never gained.

What then if a person who saw the bear as yellow, later by chance recalled it as white? By chance they perhaps reached a truth, but their recollection of whiteness is no more valid than if they had recalled it as any colour because the change happened by chance. What if they saw more polar bears and later concluded that they were white after all, or if more people convinced them of the bear's whiteness? Then a truth had been reached, but it would only be as true as the truth of their other observations or the truth of the other people's observations, it would never be more true than an observed truth. Nothing closer to truth beyond a personal observation would have been created.

As data can be lost at observation and whenever it is communicated or used then the total pool of observations by all people who can communicate with each other defines the best truth that there can ever be. Any truth beyond what can be observed will remain forever out of reach. Any scientific theory that proposes to apply to the "real world" will apply only to the collective observations of those who observe and nothing beyond that.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Minotaur

I've been developing an awful lot of picture ideas recently for a competition with the theme of labyrinth. All are based on the Minoan Labyrinth and the myth of the Minotaur. It was a struggle and it took many ideas because I found one that I was happy with on a visual, intellectual, emotional and perhaps more important that all practical level. I thought I'd share a few...

Peace, after the Minotaur. A simple abstracto-surreal (I've just invented that term!) idea. Rejected because it was too simple, yet I still rather like it.

Ariadne, a woman made from a maze. Difficult to stage... it would certainly need a model.

Theseus fighting the Minotaur. Difficult to stage although not impossible. Perhaps difficult to convey the sweeping lines and vaporous form in a full painting.

A complex painting about overcoming the emotions, which was my interpretation of the Minotaur myth. This was appealing in its complexity and intellectual and psychological gravitas, although it is difficult to stage. The figure is holding a hand over a statue of Theseus fighting the Minotaur, a statue built from maze. Frighteningly complex and with a wow factor, but in the the end I judged this too complicated to both stage and comprehend for too many ordinary art viewers.

The Minotaur. If anything this shows a loss of control. I liked this picture but its relationship to the myth was clear only really when seeing other images in the series, and it was rather too sad.

Theseus fighting the Minotaur. One of the first ideas. This seemed too similar to other paintings of mine so I turned it down for that reason.

The Minotaur. More different now, a more abstracted idea about fear of "the inner beast" and sexuality. The female figure at the front is afraid (her expression not apparent from this sketch!) This reminded me of a crucifixion and then Bacon's Three Figures painting, then remarkably so! I like this idea for its originality, simplicity and power and might well paint it. It demands a large canvas though, and no opportunity to show it... so why bother!? I don't think it would win a competition, even though it may deserve to. My judgement of judges and "popular public" taste tells me that much.

Daedalus Supervising the Construction of the Labyrinth. A painting about creative power, this is a complex idea related to earlier paintings of mine (specifically Two Parents Looking at a Very Isolated Child). Here the tiny Daedalus figure is standing on a tower, watching the labyrinth being built by slaves in a cave under the towering castle (shaped like a bull's head). A complex idea which I have decided to paint, but I think too complex for the competition.

The deadline is the end of February and it will take all of that time for me to meet it. Onward!