Sunday, 16 March 2014

Spirit of the Wood

Digital art by early man, circa 1995

I've just finished finally getting online Spirit of the Wood, an album of American Indian flute music, with assorted electronic accompaniment. So where did that come from ?

In or about 1995 (I guess - my memory for dates is unsurpassably bad) I was working for The Santa Cruz Operation in Watford, England. Reading that Wikipedia page about SCO, I actually remember being at the mentioned Jefferson Starship concert at UCSC. I also recall the result was losing my voice ahead of the presentation I was giving the next morning as leader of the Unix device drivers group .... ah, happy days. The week before that company conference I managed to take some time to and camp and hike for a week in Yosemite National Park, where I did not get eaten by a bear. I'm not sure whether it was on that trip to California or another that I stopped off in Capitola village at a New Age emporium the name of which I have now forgotten (I think it was owned by a nice lady named Cheryl!), where I spent a lot of money on a really nice Native American cedar flute made by Stephen de Ruby, then of San Diego, and a buffalo-skin drum made by Tom White Eagle of the Oglala Sioux. I do remember that right after buying the flute I went up the coast to one of the Redwood National Parks and played it for the first time sitting under one of the giant sequoias at sunset.

This was a time when PCs were big beige towers and if you had a bit of cash you could actually have sound available by installing a Creative Soundblaster PC card and hooking up a pair of speakers. This was cutting-edge hi-tech in those days. I do seem to have been one of the first to realise that those sound-cards had inputs as well as outputs, and that meant it was suddenly possible to make high quality digital music recordings at home. Suddenly digital quality was no longer the sole preserve of big-money studios.

Accordingly, with the aid of a camcorder mic, the built in MIDI synth on the Soundblaster AWE32 soundcard, and a Korg synth, over many months of long evenings after work, I recorded the album 'Spirit of the Wood' - largely improvised along to electronic backings created using all sorts of software tricks as well as playing the keyboard. I used notation software, algorithmic composition, graphic scores and everything else I could lay my hands on to try out and played the flute over the top, lovingly hand-crafting every note in the Digital Orchestrator Pro sound editor module until it sounded (to me at least) perfect. The very wonderful Justine Hart contributed vocals. This was before the days when you could go straight to CD (at least within my budget) so I mastered the album digitally onto a DAT tape machine borrowed from sound engineer Chris Braclik (recently spotted on a documentary about Mike Oldfield & Tubular Bells!) and made some demos which went off to record companies.

Spirit of the Wood was eventually released a year later on cassette tape on the now defunct Blue Crystal Music label. It never made any money and although they made a CD master it was never actually released as a CD. When the record company deleted it I got the master back and it sat on my shelf for a long time. At some point I ran off the CD image onto my hard drive and it has lain there ever since.

Spirit of the Wood was made during several intense months of musical effort, largely 'in flow' as a meditative experience, and I always meant to do something more with it - it's not likely I'll ever have the time and energy to make another album, so it should be out there somewhere. Since it became possible to release music online, I finally decided to do something about it. No one may ever notice, but hey, I made a solo album and it's out there in the wild! Feel free to go get it.

Spirit of the Wood: American Indian flute and electronica: is available to stream and download on my website:

You can also stream it on Spotify.

Or if you'd actually like to optionally part with money, try these places - all sales will be helping to fund my MA course starting in September, so thanks in advance!

RouteNote (If you buy via RouteNote I get the money straight away, otherwise I have to wait)

Friday, 14 March 2014

Zen and the art of tempera medium

Magic potion ingredients
Why is adding a layer of egg-tempera medium over the under-painting not only a practical, but also a philosophical and spiritual experience?

... because, having taken to doing my underpaintings using Chroma Atelier interactive acrylic, to avoid the extended drying times of oil glazes in this benighted climate, (I have waxed unlyrical before about the fact that an oil glaze that took a couple of hours to dry when I was living under the Spanish sun now takes a couple of weeks in a more liberally humid mid-Wales), it is necessary to prepare the surface in a suitable way to get the final painting in oils to actually stick, without it embarrassingly parting company with the canvas at a sensitive stage of my career.

Egg-tempera medium is an emulsion, which is to say it contains both oil and water bound together precariously in a more or less stable mixture by the addition of a binder - in this case a beaten egg. I quickly brush on a quick even layer over the completed acrylic underpainting, to which it sticks nicely on account of being water based, and when it's dry it makes the perfect base on which to begin painting in oils, to which it sticks nicely on account of the varnish component, which contains resin and turpentine.

A practical measure then, for convenience's sake, but also a gateway from one realm to another. It marks a transition from the modern technological water-based world of working with acrylics to a realm of working deeply rooted in ancient traditions - the alchemical  discipline of oils and tempera.  I leave behind the modern and embrace the world of Leonardo and Michaelangelo.

Not only a gateway, but a transformational passage - the early stages of the painting are a technical and mechanical process, optically mixing glazes of primary colours masked by opaque white, carefully blalncing the textures of the different layers to create a 'monochrome' ground which is made, on closer inspection, of carefully controlled rainbow colours. At this stage I can still see distinctly and separately every constituent part of the process up to that point, like a complex technical drawing.  When the tempera medium is applied, however, it is a unifying force, binding all that has gone before into a single surface, a blank canvas that is no longer blank, ready for alchemical transformation.

From this point, anything can happen.

Recipe for egg-tempera medium (adapted from a recipe given by Ernst Fuchs):

1 egg
Dammar varnish (I use Kremer Pigmente no. 79300)
Refined linseed oil
De-ionised water

  1. Break the egg into a ramekin and with the tines of a fork, remove the amniotic sac from around the yolk.
  2. Put the egg into a small jar, screw on the lid and shake until the yolk and white are completely mixed.
  3. Add an equal quantity of dammar varnish and a few drops of linseed oil.
  4. Seal and mix again.
  5. Double the volume with distilled/deionised water.
  6. Mix for a last time.
The sealed jar will keep for up to 2 months in the regfrigerator. A slight smell of rotten eggs is nothing to worry about as the turpentine acts as a preservative. Discard if it gets too bad or if it curdles to the point where it can't be remixed to a smooth emulsion by vigorously shaking to jar.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Private View at the Mid-Wales Arts Centre - Sunday 23rd March

 What's on at the Mid-Wales Arts Centre

Invitation time!

As I start gearing up for the next project, "New Artifices", some of the work from the 2012/13 project "Synthesis" is going to be part of a 3-artist exhibition at the Mid-Wales Arts Centre near Caersws, Powys.

The show runs from sun 23rd March to Sun 27th April, and after the gallery's winter closure, they are reopening with a private view of all 3 exhibitions on Sunday 23rd March at 3PM.

You can read all about "Synthesis" (and have a look at some work in progress) on the website at The other artists showing work:

Julie Jones responds through painting to her relationship to landscape in all its forms, from the strange urban hinterlands to weather-beaten derelicts. Her studio work aims to develop approaches to painting alluding to both a feeling specific to a moment along with references to memory of an experience over time.

Daniel Roberson paints everyday in his studio located on a sheep farm perched at the top of a hill overlooking the beautiful Dyfi Valley in Machynlleth. A lifelong painter, he returned to education as a mature student in 2006, Daniel obtained a first class degree in Fine Art from Aberystwyth University, and a Masters degree with distinction. Since completing his education, as well as exhibiting widely throughout the UK, he has been teaching life drawing and oil painting at MOMA Wales. In 2011 Daniel was shortlisted for the Welsh Artist of the Year. He would describe himself as a painter who finds inspiration equally in both the people and places that surround him and the seemingly endless possibilities of colour and mark making.