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:


Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound is the very first sound-focused exhibition staged by the British Library and it brings to public view material from the tremendous resource which is the British Library Sound Archive. The exhibition tells the story of sound recording since the invention of the phonograph in 1877, reflects the impact of radio in the 20th century, and the importance of sound in recording our lives and cultural heritage. It is part of a major event the British Library is conducting, Season of Sound, celebrating all aspects of the listening experience, which comprises a programme of accompanying events such as lectures, tours and workshops, all aiming at connecting people with their audio heritage.


If one of the purposes of the 21st-century museum is to facilitate and broaden the general public’s knowledge without losing depth and rigour, then Opera: passion, power and politics, the first exhibition to be staged inside the V&A’s large new underground exhibition space, ranks among the most successful temporary exhibitions I have seen lately. In fact, although opera used to be a particularly popular and exciting genre for a long time in the past, today it is music for a very restricted elite and so this exhibition stands out for bringing a comprehensible account of it to a potential wider audience.