Go back to article: Towards a more sonically inclusive museum practice: a new definition of the ‘sound object’

Resonance, wonder and authenticity

One of the primary means through which museums engage with the attentions of their audiences is through what is referred to by Stephen Greenblatt as a sort of feedback loop of resonance – ‘the power of the displayed object to reach out beyond its formal boundaries to a larger world, to evoke in the viewer the complex, dynamic cultural forces from which it has emerged and for which it may be taken by a viewer to stand’ – and wonder – ‘the power of the displayed object to stop the viewer in his or her tracks…to evoke an exalted attention’ (Greenblatt, 1991, p 42). These heightened powers over the resonance and wonder experienced by audiences thought to be held by museum objects are derived from the aura of authenticity that surrounds them (Benjamin, 2007, p 221). Audiences feel in awe of museum objects because of their acceptance of the museum’s authority as an arbiter of the truth – without that, the viewer’s questions regarding an object’s origin, provenance and acquisition would counteract the resonance of the experience (Greenblatt, 1991, p 45).

These notions were, of course, developed based solely upon the visual experience of objects of material culture. While the ever-elusive definitive definition of the term ‘object’ has long been a contentious exercise across multiple disciplines including philosophy (Adorno, 1997; Mallarmé quoted in Badiou, 2014), art history (Clark, 1998; Gell, 1998), and museology (Pearce, 1993; Gurian 2005; Conn, 2010; Dudley, 2010; Dziekan, 2012), to come to any conclusions about a single, universally accepted definition is beyond the scope of this article.

As discussed in The multisensory roots of the museum above, the collection and display of objects of material culture appear to be defining elements of the museum. I would suggest that these visual, tangible objects are not the only objects capable of functioning within the resonances generated by museum displays, particularly considering the initiative to preserve the world’s intangible cultural heritage established by UNESCO in 2003 that museums have been grappling with ever since (Alivizatou, 2016).

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170805/003