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

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:


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.


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.


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.


Of all of the museums of popular music that I have ever visited, Ragnarock, the museum for pop, rock and youth culture in Roskilde, Denmark, is for sure the one I have enjoyed the most so far, not just from the aesthetical point of view but also because it is the one whose narrative best conveys contemporary knowledge about popular music, knowledge gained from both popular music studies and ethnomusicology.

The permanent exhibition displays are of an unusual contemporaneity and remarkable design, thereby creating a very attractive and bold environment. Nevertheless, for museums to rely on innovative technology to convey their narratives is becoming more and more common sense. It is therefore the narrative itself that merits my highest praise, in that it completely departs from the approaches of conventional museums as regards music. More to the point, Ragnarock’s narrative reflects the current perspectives of music studies as an endeavour that approaches music as a cultural and social practice, i.e, a practice created not only by music and musicians but also by people using it to develop themselves as individuals with an identity, to build communities, and to produce and challenge societies. Furthermore, in conceptually placing a great emphasis on audiences as consumers of popular music throughout the whole narrative, the museum is ultimately conveying the idea that people do not need to be musicians to engage with and thereby participate in the production of popular music.