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12.13 Future role of computer audio-visual technology

1. Multi-media environments

In the case of poetry, technological innovations have led only to some explorations of computer generated poetry -- and to the use of wordprocessing with its advantages of direct access to dictionaries, including rhyming dictionaries. Much poetry is now available on CD, and this will soon be associated with visual information. Such a medium will permit sophisticated explorations of text, whether or not it encourages "better" poetry. Like it or not, a sign of the times is that priests can now purchase a CD-ROM disk containing a large array of sermon texts, with related hymn and liturgy proposals. By choosing a theme for the week, a busy priest can now have access to a series of relevant proposals for his weekly duties.

Music has made much more extensive use of such technology, including aids to experimental composition using libraries of sounds and melodies, combined according to previously unforeseen rules. Music can also be combined with dynamic patterns of light in usual ways. In this respect, colour and pattern manipulation has developed enormously with the use of computers, notably with the possibility of selecting and controlling literally thousands of colours.

The relevance of such technology to these arguments lie in its potential for holding complex relationships between patterns whose parts may be selectively associated with text, colour, shape and sound. Those in the computer world have not been reticent in acclaiming the value of computers as tools of the imagination and for the exploration of new patterns (Clifford A Pickover, 1990, 1991; Tom Graves, 1986)

2. Multiplicity of alternate representations

The interactive possibilities are important because of the potential for offering a multiplicity of alternative representations of the same collective work. Just as a piece of sculpture can be viewed from various angles under various lighting conditions, so too can a complex pattern of relationships between elements of text be selectively perused. This allows alternative aesthetic perspectives to be held together by relationships that obviate the need for discordant experience. Or rather the level of discordance experienced becomes a matter of choice and ability to integrate it.

3. Collective "composition"

It is possible therefore to envisage a group of poets, musicians and policy-makers, such as that envisaged above, working together on the same information structure. Each may then be "protected" from whatever degree of exposure to the "incompatible" perspectives of others is considered excessive. The software could allow them to "compose" together in unusual ways. Specifically it might:

(a) facilitate development of the underlying or fundamental pattern of the information structure, from both aesthetic and functional perspectives. Subsequent revisions could also be facilitated.

(b) provide a form of conceptual or aesthetic "scaffolding" to hold initial possibilities in tentative relationship in anticipation of definitive arrangements (Judge, 1992)

(c) permit the addition of "annotations" to different parts of the information structure. Like decorative artwork in a building, these could be made more or less visible. They might take poetic form or they might be of purely functional significance -- or one might be linked directly to the other as an illustrative metaphor.

(d) permit experimental reconfiguration of the information structure to bring into juxtaposition selected aesthetic and function features

4. Conceptual bridge-building through "morphing"

A related graphic technique of great interest is that of "morphing". This is best known through the video-clips, seen by millions, showing the transformation of one human face into a series of others, or possibly into some other form. This is a powerful visual metaphor for what could result from establishing the stages in relating a turgid policy text to one which embodies a pattern of aesthetic relationships of a much higher order.

What might be involved in such a transformation of texts? Clearly the initial stages would require the elimination of obscurantist legal jargon, and correspond to the "rewriting" which is increasingly called for -- possibly leading to a form acceptable for "public relations" purposes. But it is the subsequent stages which are really of special interest. Are there ways of experimenting with such morphing techniques to obtain computer assistance in building in aesthetic features? These might lead to a variety of alternative presentations of the original document -- possibly with associated graphics. The challenge would be to use the technology, as suggested above, so that the "original" document did not have to derive from the policy side, but rather from some intermediary stage of creative collaboration. The legalistic version would then be but one of the alternative presentations.

5. Virtual reality

Perhaps of most significance is the potential of virtual reality technology. As yet in its early crude development stage, the focus is on the display and interaction with imaginary objects of little aesthetic or policy significance. However there is little to prevent the substitution of patterns and relationships of a high order of aesthetic complexity as a means of carrying information of functional significance to policy-makers. There is every possibility that dialogue between poets, musicians and policy-makers may, in the not too distant future, take place in virtual reality spaces. For example, the possibility of virtual reality dance clubs is already envisaged. These would enable physically isolated individuals to dance "together" in a simulated space complete with audio-visual effects. Currently computer graphics are greatly independently of the music and then merged, spliced and edited into synchronization. As compositional tools become more advanced, visuals will become more intimately linked to sounds. Some artists, including poets, will work simultaneously with voice, text, music, shapes and colours.

6. Transformative moments enabled by computer

In the spirit of the metaphor of marrying Beauty and the Beast, the concern here should also be contrasted with the creative processes of each in isolation. For this purpose these might be pejoratively labelled as being characterized by "inbreeding", whether or not this derives from "immaculate conception", "incest" or a dubious programme of "eugenics". Having argued above that they are genetically compatible, despite appearances, the concern here is to achieve a richer genetic mix in the progeny.

Clearly any creative process precedes any possibility of definition. There is a "circulation" of something in ways alluded to in the language of Taoist alchemical texts. In the management world the closest is what is described as brainstorming -- although ideas are different from actual creativity. There is some form of "alternation" between opposing perspectives, again alluded to in Taoist breathing metaphors. Perhaps the closest policy equivalent is that of dialectical interaction through which perspectives are challenged and a new synthesis emerges.

More striking is the sense of a "magical moment" in which a wide variety of elements are recognized as having a consonant relationship. In musical terms there are resonances and harmonies which change the feel of the space in which they are perceived. A version of this can be understood when considering internal decoration of a room and a creative solution emerges. Such transformative moments also occasionally occur in meetings.

Such moments can really only be described through metaphor. There is a need for poetic skills to articulate understanding of such moments so that they are more readily recognized and can exert a pull on collective endeavour in meetings. What is it that gets "held" in such moments, and which the Taoists refer to as "chi"? (R G H Siu, 1974) In the policy world there is a rather desperate effort to identify these moments with "conflict resolution" and "reconciliation". But this excludes qualities of integration in which tensions are not resolved but held in a very dramatic manner well known to poets and dramatists -- hence the importance of pattern and configuration. It is perhaps that dramatic truth which needs most to be "harnessed" to collective policy-making.