Sonic Museum

The Auckland War Memorial Museum is one of my favourite places in the world. It’s an amazing building full of everything you’d like a museum to be. Interesting and engaging, but at the same time hushed, marbled and reverent.

And while it’s appropriately austere, it’s also forward-looking. They’ve recently had a major refurbishment, introduced some really clever digital and interactive features, but without turning it into some sort of crass, multimedia theme park.

As far as I’m concerned, they’ve pretty much struck the balance about right – and the last time I was back in NZ, I was delighted to be able to go to whole new sections of the museum in their new extension.

But the reason I’m talking about this here on New Music Strategies is that they’ve done something really clever that I’d love to see replicated in other ways elsewhere. Perhaps you agree.

My museum
Image courtesy Auckland War Memorial Museum

Now, of course – I have a special affinity for this place. To a large extent, it’s my own culture and heritage in that building. Before we moved to the UK, I lived just a couple of minutes walk away, and I used to cycle past this site every day as I rode with my son Jake to his primary school.

But even if you don’t have the same connection, there’s a lesson here.

Auckland Museum have collaborated with some New Zealand musicians to create a series of soundtracks for the different sections of the museum, and called it Sonic Museum.

Music for spaces
Popular dub artist Tiki Taane has brilliantly mixed contemporary and ancient themes for the Maori Court; electronic jazzer Nathan Haines evokes the undersea experience for the Oceans Gallery; songwriter Don McGlashan‘s soundscape for the Origins Gallery is beautiful; Rachel Shearer‘s Journey from the Centre of the Earth is an amazing and brain-altering piece of sonic art; and Phil Dadson is, as ever, a marvel.

And so on.

It’s clever stuff – a beautiful record. But it’s designed to be listened to on headphones as a part of the experience of the museum itself.

Now, of course, this is not the only museum in the world. Nor are museums the only sort of public spaces that would work well with this kind of treatment. You may be able to think of ways to connect with something meaningful in your own town.

But go have a look, and if you’re inclined – download and have a listen. It’s really brilliant stuff.

Maybe it’ll inspire you to think of other uses and other avenues for the music that you make.