Go back to article: ‘Organising Sound’: how a research network might help structure an exhibition

Conclusions: Networking and exhibiting

It should be admitted that the use of workshops of interested experts to fertilise display making is more a matter of degree than an absolute departure from established museum practice. Exhibitions in large museums of science are necessarily collaborative endeavours: they bring together different professional groups – of curators, content developers, audience researchers, designers, project managers, object conservators, lighting specialists, filmmakers, builders, fundraisers and the rest – and they grow in the soil of very particular institutions, with varying balances of nutrients. Certainly, it is not unusual at the Science Museum, especially in contemporary science exhibitions, to engage specialist advisors to act as sounding boards or fact checkers downstream of the conception of a show. But deliberately opening-up of the conception of an exhibition to the influence of the kinds and numbers of people who were involved in ‘music, noise and silence’ was novel.

At the end of this meditation on the applicability to a potential science and music display of insights gained from this workshop series, it makes sense to address two questions in particular: whether an exhibition on this theme would need to address the broader context of the noise of industrial modernity, the ‘peg’ for the workshop series; and whether an exhibition that could be participatory in the extended sense sketched above should be.

The answer to both lies with how we conceive of the majority audience for any proposed show. Locating the theme ‘a history of listening’ explicitly within industrial modernity implies an invitation to think of a familiar subject in a new way; this is a kind of curation that has more of an art curating flavour than the more pedagogical traditions of science exhibitions. Such a demand on the visitor might well be more welcome to an audience with an active commitment to music greater than the average. Equally, an exhibition could allude more fleetingly to the historical context of the industrial era before concentrating on a series of examples of science-technology-music interactions. The question here is whether a science museum, particularly, should emphasise this context. Certainly, to do so could be a factor in ensuring – beyond the use of particular collections – that this would be a show that really belongs in a science institution rather than, perhaps, a conservatoire or decorative art museum such as the Victoria and Albert, which also exhibits musical instruments.

Clearly, an exhibition on this theme is not required to be participatory in its production. We can hope that, armed with an understanding of the breadth of discussion at the workshops, any new exhibition on this theme will be equipped to present a genuinely original approach, and to avoid the clichés of focusing too closely on technical development at the expense of broader cultural aspects. But it may well be that the invitation to participation is particularly beneficial in how we conceive of the consumption of any music show. Here the suggestion is that both the experience of the show, with its composed soundscape, and the ‘fringe’ of well-chosen events and programming, could act to broaden the audience member’s involvement, as a simultaneous form of musicking and museuming.

Editor’s note

This paper is the result of collaboration by several people involved in the project. Aleks Kolkowski and Tim Boon did a large part of the writing, James Mansell and John Kannenberg contributed valuable material and Annie Jamieson critiqued and edited the final version. The authors would also like to thank all of those who contributed to the workshops themselves. This project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, ref: AH/M008061/1.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170814/019