A reasonably scary forest

Victoria Ward, the founding director of Sparknow, has just posted this blog (A reasonably scary forest) reflecting on a recent resilience article by Carpenter et al 2009 in Ecology and Society.

Sparknow is a knowledge and communications consultancy that

‘specialises in unearthing useful truths that were almost known but not quite expressed’ and uses innovative narrative based methods to get ‘lively conversations going, conversations that allow questions – sometimes difficult ones – to be asked in new ways. Fresh, vivid conversation spaces are spaces for change’

It is no surprise in this respect that Carpenter et al spark an interest. Victoria writes,

Resilience: accounting for the non-computable is an article worth looking through, whether your interest is in ecology and the environment, or in how to assemble knowledge from many sources and use it to sharpen insight. The abstract runs:

Plans to solve complex environmental problems should always consider the role of surprise. Nevertheless, there is a tendency to emphasize known computable aspects of a problem while neglecting aspects that are unknown and failing to ask questions about them. The tendency to ignore the noncomputable can be countered by considering a wide range of perspectives, encouraging transparency with regard to conflicting viewpoints, stimulating a diversity of models, and managing for the emergence of new syntheses that reorganize fragmentary knowledge.

The article provokes this recollection and reflection from Victoria.

A friend who does really interesting work in special needs (of which more another time) is also an accomplished guitarist and composer who’s recently been invited to compose a forest to go with a Russian exhibition at the V&A. He decided not to make one from all the birdsong and leaves rustling he already had to hand and set off, very early one day, to the New Forest and crept about gathering sound. The V&A decided that the forest that he composed was too scary, which put him in a bind, because he’d been out collecting scary at the crack of dawn. Anyway, he toned it down to reasonably scary, and that’s all I’ve heard so far.

Shouldn’t his reasonably scary forest be curated too, not just dressing for something else? What’s the thing and what’s the packaging for the thing? Is the thing the experience? Or the art? Does the forest live as a separate thing, or only when wrapped together with the art at the V&A in that moment?

Same with us? What’s the thing? The soundscape, the fragments of interview and found sound that make up the soundscape? The thoughts and feelings and reactions it provokes in the individual or collective listener? The conversations that follow?

What we need, I’d venture, is a decent multi-disciplinary investigation by the competent rather than the expert, following the article from ecology and society, to help us shape a sharper collective understanding of what this might all mean.

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