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Science Museum Group

Sonic Futures

Aim

This project aimed to deliver an interactive public engagement programme involving audiences in the creation of new approaches to curating sound technologies at the National Science and Media Museum. It aimed to put sound technologies on show by testing new kinds of audible exhibits and sound-making events. Three audience listening groups worked with creative practitioners at ‘listening sessions’ to create exhibits relating to objects from the Science Museum Group collection. The groups of objects were: 1. sound postcards (postcards that contain a record that you could play at home); 2. objects used at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop where Delia Derbyshire composed the original theme tune for the BBC television programme Doctor Who; and 3. echo machines used in reggae, pop, rock music. The project aimed to bring audience listeners into the beginning of the process of exhibiting sound technologies in new ways and to understand how listening might become equal to looking in the exhibition experience. It aimed to listen with audiences as a way to understand how they experience sound in museums and to explore the potential of these understandings to constructively influence curatorial practices.

Context

Our museums tell stories about who we are and where we’ve come from. They collect objects that connect us to the past and inspire our futures. Though many museums have helped us to see and feel in new ways, few teach us to hear differently. The National Science and Media Museum has a new mission to tell the story of sound technologies.

From TV sets to radios and gramophones to synthesizers, these objects were meant to be heard. They contain evocative histories of how we used to hear and take us into the sonic atmosphere of the past. Their ingenuity can inspire us to get creative in new ways. They can help us think differently about our digital media lives, too: microphones and speakers are everywhere from our smartphones to our Alexa speakers, but we rarely stop to think about what this means. Museums have not traditionally been places for sound and their visitors do not usually arrive ready to listen. This project set out to deal with the challenge of how to create listening engagement around sound technology objects in museums.

Outcomes

  • Collaborative design and testing of prototype exhibits to be demonstrated at the National Science and Media Museum undertaken jointly by creative collaborators and audience groups
  • A public programme of events to test these exhibit prototypes
  • Enhanced public understanding of the Sound Technologies Collection at the National Science and Media Museum
  • Enhanced curatorial understanding of creative opportunities in sound technology exhibition

Outputs

Interactive exhibits

Blog posts

Videos

Project team

Name: Dr James Mansell
Job title: Associate Professor
Organisation: University of Nottingham
Project role: Principal Investigator

Name: Dr Annie Jamieson
Job title: Curator of Sound Technologies
Organisation: National Science and Media Museum
Project role: Co-Investigator

Name: Dr Alexander De Little
Job title: Research Fellow
Organisation: University of Nottingham
Project role: Researcher

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