Sunday, 5 December 2010

Making the Familiar Strange and the Art of Noisy Futures

I have become a mean, lean, snow clearing machine. For four days last week I had to get up early and clear the drive in order we could get the cars out. It was hard work, especially at 5am in the morning, with a full day’s work still to come. Yesterday the snow was replaced by rain which has frozen overnight making it treacherous underfoot this morning. However, the snow and cold weather gave rise to some fantastic photos capturing the big freeze. I liked this one from the front page of Thursday’s Times newspaper.

This week I stayed overnight in the V+A for a two day College Executive Retreat.  Now many regular readers of this blog will know that the V+A is not my favourite hotel in the world - somehow, the V+A never really presses my buttons. This time the experience was different, for once the ambiance of the hotel faded into the background. I was taken up by the conversations and for me the two days were a kind of Unconditional Positive Regard meets Uncomplicated Transactional Relationships. If this description of the two days sounds a little hard, cold and unappetizing, in real life this was not the case.

We were there to consider, as a College what our future might look like. Some aspects of our future were known, (for example reductions in commissions, the need to grow our research base and so on) whereas at other times we appeared to be missing important bits of information, so our discussions were self limiting. I found myself living out the theoretical constructs I so often write, speak and publish about. I was at the edges of knowledge, and knowing in that place of not knowing. I haven’t been there for a while and it was both an exciting place and also slightly frightening.

As a School, the world we have inhabited for so long has changed, and there is much we now don’t know. Albert Einstein said that the ‘most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious’ – and the only certain thing about our future is the degree of uncertainty we face, but where we go is entirely up to us as individuals and collectively as a School and College. Some may see the future as being filled with problems; I see it as being filled with challenges and opportunities.

It is clear to me, that as a School, alongside the great work that is going on developing the best new nursing degree programme possible for September 2011, we need to think about our futures in other directions. We have some good, very attractive and relevant programmes in our portfolio. So for example, whilst we might not be unable to provide these to overseas students as currently approved, there are  opportunities to think about how these programmes could be facilitated using new and different approaches.

Doing this won’t be easy. During the two days of conversations and interactions, I was reminded of the work of Luigi Russolo. He was the world’s first noise artist. In 1913 he wrote, L'Arte dei Rumori, translated as the Art of Noises. This work explored how the changes made possible by the industrial revolution had given rise to the opportunity to move away from the confines of traditional music to something more complex, something new yet still familiar.

Russolo designed and constructed a number of noise-generating devices and assembled a noise orchestra to perform with them. However, in his early days these performances were met with outcry and even violence from critics and audiences alike. Others saw his work as seminal and influential. One of my favorite groups of the early eighties took his work as the name for their group. The Art of Noise was an avant-garde electronic group who mastered the use of digital sampling, an approach which eventually gave rise to the hugely important dance music scene.

Sampling is the act of taking a portion, or sample of one sound recording (often very familiar and well known lyric or piece of music) and reusing it over and over again, but in slightly different ways to the original in order to create new music. This approach is exactly what we need to do with our programmes, not only in the School, but across the College. But like Russolo, I think this might be a more difficult task to achieve than describe.