The aim of the #SonicFriday project, designed in collaboration with the University of Leicester’s School of Museum Studies, was to find new ways to make people interact with objects from the Sound Technologies collection using digital platforms.
Each Friday of summer 2020, the National Science and Media Museum invited online users to share memories and stories around a particular object or theme from the collection—from cassettes, CDs and MP3s to digital sampling and lockdown sounds. Through six months of creative online engagement with sound, more than 300 memories were collected across different platforms.
These memories not only enriched collection interpretation, but also contributed to the birth of new digital narratives such as Twitter exhibitions, thematic playlists, multimedia galleries and sound maps.
The Science Museum Group’s world-class collection of Sound Technologies includes a diverse range of objects designed to contribute to different aspects of sound production, reproduction and manipulation. Because these objects were all born to be touched and played, a question arises: how to bring them alive and recreate the entire world of sounds, music and stories that surrounds them?
This question guided the #SonicFriday project, which explored new online sonic practices to express the sonic nature of objects and connect them with people’s lives. The project was designed between March and October 2020 by the PhD researcher Stefania Zardini Lacedelli in collaboration with the curatorial, digital and communication team of the museum, thanks to AHRC funding from the Midlands4Cities Doctoral Training Partnership.
While the digital dimension was already a key component of the research aims, it became even more relevant over the course of the project, when the United Kingdom was in pandemic lockdown and all museums in the country had to close their doors. The project allowed the museum to continue engaging audiences during the museum closure, but also offered the opportunity to explore a new relationship with online users, who became curators of a collaborative story on sound technologies.
#SonicFriday introduced new innovative digital formats to engage audiences with collection objects. YouTube playlists, multimedia galleries, sound maps and Twitter exhibitions became a new way to narrate the story of the objects and connect them with people’s life stories.
The project increased online engagement with the collection, both in quantitative terms—the engagement rate on #SonicFriday posts increased steadily during the museum closure—and in qualitative terms. The sharing of sounds and memories online stimulated a deep personal and emotional engagement that is usually difficult to create in physical galleries.
#SonicFriday contributed to enrich collection understanding and interpretation, thanks to the over 300 memories shared by museum volunteers and online users across different platforms. The project raised intriguing questions about the value of this type of audience’s memories and where they can be hosted, displayed and preserved for the long term.
The project also enhanced the role of volunteers, extending their contribution to digital spaces. Through dedicated online sessions, a group of volunteers shared their memories on different audio formats. These contributions were shared on social media and functioned as a touchpoint for other people’s experiences.
The curatorial team is building on the work done in the project to contribute to an enhanced online offer for two exhibitions, Sonic: Adventures in Audio and Boom: Experiments in Sound, opening in summer 2021. The communications team will continue using the hashtag on social media to connect with online audiences throughout Sound Season.
Insights from #SonicFriday will also help to inform the development of the upcoming permanent Sound and Vision galleries, where one of the key aims is to collaborate with, and involve, local audiences in exhibition content.
Video created for the GLAMi Award Competition:
Paper on the MuseWeb website: Curating Sound in a Platform World – Insights from the #SonicFriday project
Posts on the National Science and Media Museum blog:
- #SonicFriday: Join our collaborative story of sound technologies
- The Fairlight CMI: The secret composer of the music you love
- Sounds of my quarantine
- The Oberheim Synthesizer: A playlist
#SonicFriday was presented at two international conferences dedicated to Sound and Digital Technologies:
- 16 December 2020, at the Sound Instruments and Sonic Cultures conference, in the Panel session ‘Need We Say More’: Contemporary Responses to the Fairlight CMI
- 30 April 2021, at the 25th annual MuseWeb North American conference, in the panel session Digital and Sound
- Stefania Zardini Lacedelli, Project Researcher and Coordinator, University of Leicester
- Annie Jamieson, Curator of Sound Technologies, National Science and Media Museum
- John Stack, Digital Director, Science Museum Group
- Guenievre Jacobucci, Volunteer Coordinator, National Science and Media Museum
- Phil Oates, Communications Manager, National Science and Media Museum
- Katie Canning, Press and PR Manager, National Science and Media Museum
- Cathy Pilkington, Communications Officer, National Science and Media Museum
- Eleanor Mitchell, Website Manager, National Science and Media Museum
The project was designed in collaboration with the University of Leicester’s School of Museum Studies, thanks to a research placement funded by the AHRC Midlands4Cities Doctoral Training Partnership.
The project has received two GLAMi Awards: