Animals, Art, Science and Sound is an exhibition focussing how animals have been represented and described through words, visuals, and recorded sounds. The exhibition features more than 100 artworks, manuscripts, sound recordings and books, many on display for the first time. Items on exhibition span 2.000 years and are divided into four sections, namely darkness, water, land and air.

The exhibition follows the same visual style as other exhibitions I have seen at the British Library. Although the visual presentation is not particularly impressive or engaging, the documents and manuscripts on display are truly remarkable and often breathtaking. It’s impossible not to be captivated by the age and authenticity of these items, as well as the wonder of their images, paper quality, and exquisite finishes. I was somewhat disappointed with the exhibition due to the small number of animal sound recordings featured. Considering that the British Library Sound archive is one of the largest collections of recorded sound in the world, with over six million items, I was expecting a more extensive display of animal sounds. There are, nonetheless, noteworthy sound-related aspects and exhibits worth highlighting.

One thing is how the exhibition stresses how the invention of recorded sound allowed naturalists to document the sonic dimensions of animal life, to discover new species and unravel the meanings behind their songs and calls, stimulate creativity and give pleasure to listeners, and how these recordings served a wide range of purposes from scientific research to artistic endeavour. There are, nonetheless, noteworthy sound-related aspects and exhibits worth highlighting:

● A 1965 issue of the Stamp and Coin Collector magazine containing the first commercially released sound recordings of birds of paradise who are known to produce a variety of vocalisations;

● An encyclopaedia including what is probably the earliest use of musical notation to represent the songs and calls of birds in a printed work;

● The first gramophone commercially released recording on an animal which proved to be an instant hit with listeners—engineers from the Gramophone company in Germany wanted to see whether it was possible to record birdsong, their experiments were successful and resulted in the release of eight records of nightingale song in 1910;

● The first audio identification guide for British birds released in 1938 containing recordings made by the pioneering wild life sound recordist Ludwig Kock—people could learn by recognise the songs and calls of common British birds from the comfort of their homes;

● A field recordist’s handbook to help the amateurs enthusiasts which has become an essential guide for any new recordist, offering advice on equipment, field craft and cataloguing;

● A tape containing the song of the last Kaua’i oo. Habitat destruction and predation from invasive species, introduced to the Hawailan island of Kaua’i over the last hundred years, reduced the once thriving population to a single pair. In 1982, the female died during a hurricane, leaving behind her male partner. It is his solitary sonf that can be heard in the tape. The species was declared extinct in 2000;

● Finally, there is sound recording equipment often used in the 1970s and 1980s to record animals in the wild. It comprises a parabolic microphone, with a concave dish to amplify the song or call of the animal being recorded. The sound was then recorded onto tape using the Uher Report Monitor — a portable equipment that would still be incredibly cumbersome by today’s standards.

Animals, Art, Science and Sound presents a unique opportunity to witness exhibits that showcase the significance of sound in enhancing our understanding of animal life and enriching our experience of the world.

British Library in London

Until 28th August 2023

The exhibition Paris-Londres, Music Migrations (1962-1989) is currently on display at the Musée National de L’Histoire de L’Immigration in Paris. In terms of contents, it draws a parallel between how Paris and London were reshaped into multicultural capitals in the late 20th century as a result of post-colonial immigration. In order to reveal a great deal about the issues brought about by the migration, dislocation and acculturation of generations of post-colonial immigrants to these countries, curators have used the lens of popular music specifically by illustrating how migrants have used music to express their joys, hopes and aspirations, and to fight against racism. Overall, the exhibition illustrates how genres of popular music have intersected and developed to build up the multicultural musical expression we know today, thereby depicting popular music as a contextually situated platform for cultural exchange. (more…)

Play it Loud is an exhibition dedicated to the musical instruments which have been the hallmark of Rock & Roll and to the iconic musicians that have used them throughout the history of Rock and Roll music. It is being staged at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (colloquially The Met), a museum known for collecting and presenting works of art ranging from classical antiquity and Ancient Egypt to great Masters from all around the world. At first glance, a museum like The Met showing artifacts related to musical practices deemed rebellious might appear surprising and controversial. Such an exhibition, nonetheless, is in continuity with The Met’s approach, in that the museum has long been developing encyclopaedic collections of musical instruments, costumes and accessories from musical practices around the world. At the same time, the fact that The Met is holding this exhibition is not surprising in that, given every year there appears an exhibition around such a topic almost everywhere, it has become remarkable in recent times for a museum to stage an exhibition about popular music.


If one had to be brief, one might say that Electro: from Kraftwerk to Daft Punkis an exhibition tracing 30 years of electronic music and experimentalism at the Philharmonie de Paris until the 11th of August 2019. A standard review would then follow, highlighting the uniqueness and singularity of some of the objects on display and drawing readers’ attention to the artists involved in the project and to the work of the sound designer and of the scenographer. None of this would be wrong, for sure. However, this exhibition, Electro, is, at least in museological terms, much more than this: in short, it is an event that has much to offer on how to effectively build experiential exhibitions, based on the landmark assumption of museum studies that an exhibition should facilitate dialogic rather than linear communication. In fact, several aspects are particularly worth mentioning as they closely align with a contemporary museum framework, as I would like to demonstrate:


After the great success achieved by the recent trend in commissioning exhibitions about pop-rock music and its leading figures1and, above all, after these exhibitions have proved to be particularly effective in sending shivers down one’s spine as they exhibit music, a bold new experiment seems to be emerging, namely equipping virtually any sort of exhibition with a sonic layer – in other words, commissioning a team of sound designers to compose a soundtrack specifically for an exhibition. Examples of this trend seem to have effectively grabbed the attention of both museum-goers and practitioners. Among these could be mentioned Robots at the Science Museum, London (2017), with sound design by Coda to Coda, and Video Games at the V&A in London (2018), also with sound design by Coda to Coda, the sound layer of which is really interesting and compelling. Anyway, from all the exhibitions on this theme that I have seen so far, the one that has made the strongest impression on me was Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, which was on exhibition at the V&A until 18thNovember, with sound design by Ben and Max Ringham. I found its soundtrack really did set the right atmosphere for its contents.

Although it is in itself already very suggestive, the fact that the exhibition was presenting, for the first time outside Mexico, an extraordinary collection of personal artefacts and clothing belonging to the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (which has been locked away for the 50 years since her death), I cannot avoid marking it out for its soundtrack’s effectiveness in setting an affective pattern for the exhibition. In fact, I furthermore believe that the majority of the museum-goers left the exhibition without noticing its soundtrack, which is similar to what happens with soundtracks for movies most of the time, but I am sure that the extent to which they enjoyed the exhibition was in a great part set by the sound design.

This points to a wider theoretical discussion regarding communicating in museum exhibitions. In fact, the knowledge delivered by the social sciences about how humans manage to organise their lives and relationships for the purpose of maintaining the species has reached the point of an extraordinary complexity and value which cannot be comprehensibly encoded solely by the written word. Alongside this, many changes in the wider social and cultural orders have occurred: knowledge is no longer fixed, authority in communication is increasingly being rejected, and there is a quest for the semiotic power to reach a broader number of people. Within this backdrop, the representational and communication power of a sound layer has been receiving more and more attention from both practitioners and scholars. Whereas the written word alone cannot do justice to non-discursive information (such as that of the dynamic nature of the phenomena and the expressive and impressive dimensions that are present in the communication processes), museum exhibitions do have a lot to offer in this regard, for they can easily call upon other modes such as images and sound to convey those dimensions; ultimately, in providing the exhibition with a soundtrack, the curators are offering further layered narratives.

Hence, to rely on sound to communicate within museum exhibitions is not an option but rather an urge for the exhibition’s subjects to be written down.



1 David Bowie Is, V&A (2013), Bjork, MoMA (2015), You Say you Want a Revolution, V&A (2016), Velvet Underground: New York Extravaganza, Philharmonie de Paris (2016), Exhibitionism: The Rolling Stones, Saatchi Gallery London (2016), Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains, V&A (2017), Michael Jackson: On the Wall, National Portrait Gallery, London (2018), and many more.

The Soundtracks exhibition was held at the SFMoMA from July 2017 to January 1st, 2018. I do not usually choose to comment on an exhibition after it has closed, but this time I only had the opportunity to visit it at the very end. I was actually staying in San Francisco for the last 15 days of the exhibition to conduct interviews about how museum-goers received the work The Visitors, which was part of the Soundtracks’exhibition but, of course, I took the opportunity to have a look at the other exhibits for myself.