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Music, noise and silence

For a science and technology museum, few exhibition topics have more potential appeal than music. 

This project took an innovative approach in uncovering how that appeal might best be exploited.


  1. To establish how best would a museum exhibition on the interactions of science, technology and music be planned and organised.
  2. Experiment with using a research approach to thinking through the potential ingredients and structure of a possible exhibition.


These workshops celebrated the 80th anniversary of the Science Museum’s landmark 1935 Noise Abatement exhibition.

Concentrating on the relations between music, noise and silence, they were intended as a way of addressing music in the era of industrial modernity.


Three AHRC-funded workshops took place in 2015, in which musicians and scholars from across the world discussed potential high-level narratives for a future exhibition on science, technology and music. We published an article articulating the findings and recommendations of the project in the Science Museum Group Journal: ‘Organising Sound’: How a Research Network Might Help Structure an Exhibition. Since then, the work we did in the network has informed the Science Museum Group’s sonic activity in many ways, feeding into the exhibitions, research projects and publications listed in these pages.

Silence and Music
Royal College of Music, 25–26 Feb 2015

A scene-setting session for the whole programme, this workshop proposed that silence is the ‘absolute zero’ of both music and acoustics. It explored the proposition that modern ‘quiet’ musics – including ambient and the ‘holy minimalists’ such as Arvo Pärt – are responses to industrial modernity. It also explored the role of technology in realising these musics.

Participants in the Silence and Music workshop at the Royal College of Music
Session in the Silence and Music meeting at the Royal College of Music, February 2015, Hillel Schwartz speaking.

Noise and Silence
University of Nottingham, 26–27 March 2015

A workshop that explored the sonic cultural context of industrial modernity that made noise an issue before, during and after the interwar period, and which saw the Science Museum hosting in 1935 a significant exhibition on noise abatement.

Music and Noise
The Science Museum, 23–24 April

If, categorically, the opposite of music is said to be noise, in what ways has the boundary between music and noise been policed? Is there a simple ratcheting effect in which more and more of the sonic spectrum has been included within music? How do minority, ‘popular’ noise music genres compare with the ‘classical’ avant garde? What cross-communication has there been between them? This workshop also included a summative session for the whole series.

The project led to follow-on project, Sonic Futures. A related article on Organising Sound was also published in the SMG Journal.


Our partners were the Royal College of Music and the University of Nottingham.

The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

Arts and Humanities Research Council