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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.

Aim

  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.

Context

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.

Outcomes

Three AHRC-funded workshops took place in 2015, in which scholars from across the world discussed potential high-level narratives for a future exhibition on science, technology and music. 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. 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.

Outputs

An article about the project has been published in Issue 08 of the Science Museum Group Journal. A full report was also produced by Aleks Kolkowski, James Mansell and John Kannenberg: Read Music, Noise and Silence: Defining Relationships between Science & Music in Modernity here

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