Museums need mission statements, not so much as codes to be followed but as a shorthand method for self-identification, setting the tone by which a collecting institution makes decisions. As I continue to put together an article proposing a concrete plan for a Museum of Sound, its mission statement will hopefully be seen as a through-line weaving through the ideas the article will address. Here’s my first draft.
“The Museum of Sound is dedicated to the collection, preservation, and presentation of sounds as cultural objects. Employing a holistic approach to the experience of sound in diverse contexts coupled with innovative gallery design, we encourage our visitors to engage in contemplative listening that creates an awareness of sound’s importance in everyday life across historical, geographical, cultural, and natural borders.”
Jean-Luc Nancy’s exploration of the image in relationship to the sacred feels slightly uneven compared to the other two books of his I’ve read (“Listening” and “The Fall of Sleep”). Two of the nine chapters — the first, “The Image — The Distinct”, and the fifth, “Distinct Oscillation”, contain some of my favorite writing of his, while the rest of the book hits a combination of high and low notes for my tastes. One of those high notes is his critique of violence in chapter two, which becomes so impassioned that his language becomes as coarse as the violence he seeks to shun; similarly, his keen eye for compositional analysis shines in the chapter eight’s analysis of a painting of the Visitation by Pontormo. The low notes tend to come in what I can only describe as needlessly murky writing, as in the meandering exploration of visual Nazism in chapter three, “Forbidden Representation.” Continue reading →
One of the most engaging books on sound I’ve read this year, “Victorian Soundscapes” examines the changing attitudes toward sound throughout the Victorian era by concentrating on the literature of the time. While previous knowledge of the written works referred to would obviously make this book’s conclusions even clearer than they already are, prior knowledge of the texts discussed isn’t necessary. Some of the works analyzed include Dickens’ “Dombey and Son,” George Eliot’s “Daniel Deronda,” Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Voice of Science,” Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” and Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Along the way, other writings and events woven into the analysis include the writings on acoustics by Hermann von Helmhotz; the anti-immigrant cartoons of Punch magazine’s John Leech; the far-fetched theories about sound and the atmosphere put forth by father of the computer Charles Babbage; the saga of Thomas Carlyle’s attempt to design and build the first soundproof study in London; the histories of the development of the telephone, phonograph, and gramophone; and the origin of the painting “His Master’s Voice” featuring the Victor Dog. Continue reading →
I’m currently researching and writing an article, tentatively entitled Towards a Museum of Sound, wherein I will lay out a proposal for a major public institution whose mission is to collect and interpret sound and sound-related objects.
This second post eliminates an intermediate draft that did little to re-think the project. This third draft almost entirely re-organizes the displays in the permanent galleries, splitting the subject matter up into themed rooms which would build on each other if visited in the order presented here. A tour of the permanent galleries would culminate in a visit to a silent anechoic chamber, which would help visitors realize just how much sound influences their daily life experience. Continue reading →
This essay was commissioned by Cheryl Tipp, curator of sound at the British Library. Illustrated with photographs and sound clips, it was originally published 30 August 2013 on the British Library’s Sound and Vision blog. I’m reproducing it here with a few minor edits I should have caught the first time around.
Memory is at the heart of much human activity. Memory drives us to collect, to record, to create documents –”information or evidence that serves as an official record” – that we then spend a lot of time and effort preserving. Some of these documents are strictly personal and kept as family heirlooms. Others end up being judged by someone else as having a broader significance, and end up being preserved in places like museums and libraries in order that they be made accessible to a wider audience. There are countless institutions around the world whose mission statements may not explicitly express it, but which are essentially dedicated to honoring the human desire to remember. Continue reading →
I’m currently researching and writing an article, tentatively entitled Towards a Museum of Sound, wherein I will lay out a proposal for a major public institution whose mission is to collect and interpret sound and sound-related objects. I’m hoping to use Phonomnesis as a place to keep track of some of my research and try out rough drafts of bits of the article.
This first post simply contains my initial draft outline for what such an institution might, or should, contain in terms of subject matter and facilities. Continue reading →