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

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.


The Museum of Portable Sound is a noteworthy contribution to the preservation and exhibition of sound as objects of culture. Because of its name and content, you might be expecting it to be placed on and accessed through a web page or app, but actually its sound objects are housed in an iPhone, which constitutes the physical museum itself. To visit it, one has to go to the museum’s webpage and book an in-person visit with its director, John Kannenberg. As he is based in London, the museum is primarily visited there; however, it can be visited elsewhere in the world, whenever John is travelling. The fact that the museum is accessed in such a format is clearly intentional: in fact, Kannenberg wanted the sound files to be endowed with a sense of exclusiveness and distinction by means of facilitating access to them through in person visits.


Rockheim is the Norwegian national museum for popular music, which alone is already very singular: despite the growing trend towards celebrating and exhibiting popular music in museums, few are the countries which are given a national museum specifically to take care of and address the country’s popular music. The idea for the museum emerged during a conference in 1998 focusing on the discussion of musical and sound archives, during which the delegates recognised the need to preserve Norwegian popular music as heritage. There then followed a long development process until the museum’s opening in Trondheim in 2010.


What does it mean to be immersive?

Although I have consistently maintained that there is no established and tested practice of exhibiting popular music in museums, I believe the time has come to renew this discourse, at least with regard to Western museum practice, where, indeed, popular music exhibitions have become increasingly common. While in the beginning these were displayed at some marginal or smaller culture institutions, nowadays they are flourishing in acknowledged and institutional museums, particularly in the form of tribute narratives. An example of this practice is the exhibition I saw in Paris, The Velvet Underground, New York Extravaganza, on display at the Philharmonie until 26th August 2016.