The Horniman Museum in London is home to England’s largest collection of musical instruments, with over 8,000 pieces that span a collective 3,000 years of musical history. I worked with Ralph Appelbaum Associates UK to help design the new World Music Gallery, which features a single 92-foot-long case displaying 950 instruments.
Our challenge was to develop an accoustic experience that would bring the entire case to life, activating the wall with the sounds of recordings that span genres, eras and cultures from around the globe. The museum asked for an experience that brought the collection to life, activating the gallery with sounds and images that their rich complexity.
Our approach was to always make the instruments part of a listening experience, so visitors could connect the beautifully crafted objects with the music they make. By positioning three interactive tables along the length of the wall each interface could reference a corresponding part of the collection. Guests could pick an instrument from the interface, hear it play and study the physical design while learning how it produces sound.
Listening to music is best enjoyed in the company of others. We wanted to reflect that in our design, so used a combination of technologies to focus the sound around each table. Serious audiophiles were free to use the optional headphones, but we found most people prefer to listen with their friends. The more that people listened together, the more they wanted to discuss the music, ultimately spending longer browsing the collection.
The greatest achievement of this project was distilling a complicated brief into a satisfying experience that helped guests focus on the sounds while placing the instruments center stage.
The on-table interface displays a simplified representation of the collection, with photographs of each instrument laid out along a scrollable image of the wall. Illuminated push buttons control an interactive “tuning needle” that glides across the screen, highlighting instruments with musical recordings. The music automatically plays the moment a guest chooses an instrument. The table then provides notes about the performance, or visuals that explain how the instrument produces sound.
I created the concept, visual and interaction design. The process included prototyping, sourcing and coordinating with AV and software contractors. Additionally, I produced and edited videos of the instruments played by European and African performers.
The project won a Museums and Heritage Award for Excellence.
Horniman Museum, London.
Exhibit Design : Ralph Appelbaum Associates UK, London.
Interactive Producers : Romandson, London.
AV Integration : Electrosonic UK.