Turn It Up: The Power of Music at the Science Museum
Turn It Up: The Power of Music is a fascinating, family-friendly exploration of the art that is most intrinsically weaved into our daily lives. It has transferred to the Science Museum from Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum just in time for half term.
There’s plenty to explore. The exhibition starts with a fun array of weird and wonderful instruments, from the pyrophone (an organ powered by fire) to the ice guitar. This gets you thinking about music from a leftfield point of view, realising that there are more ways to make it and interact with it than you might imagine. For musical geeks, there are examples of instruments that changed the landscape of the art form, for instance, the venerably spooky theremin, which in 1929 became the world’s first commercially available electronic instrument. Named after its inventor, it works by the player passing their hands through two antennae, which breaks an electromagnetic field to change pitch and volume.
Tributes are paid to many musical pioneers, such as Delia Derbyshire, who arranged the Doctor Who theme that still sounds futuristic to this day, and whose music was so different she was required to invent her own form of notation, an example of which is shown here. Imogen Heap crops up a few times, as she well should, as not only is she a wonderful musician but someone who just casually invents her own instruments from time to time, like the wild MiMu gloves that she created alongside researchers to make sound from hand gestures.
Throughout the show, there is an emphasis on music being for everyone and for everyone to make if they want. The display has many examples of people who have various physical or neurological challenges and have invented their own ways of interacting with the muse. Much space is given to the less usual experience, like a painting of a synesthete’s experience of Hans Zimmer’s Cornfield.
There are installations where kids can easily make music, such as a little Lego-based beat maker and a beautiful space of glowing orbs where you can choose rhythms, melodies and harmonies to make your own songs, which is a complete joy.
The science of the sheer depth of how music affects us is explored, and a quiz demonstrates how it can actually affect our sense of taste. There are examples of its reach beyond language, in a quiz where you choose from four options what examples of songs from around the world are for, which is surprisingly easy.
There are a few tiny points that could be improved, for instance, a dancing spot only offers cheesy pop options – it would have been great to see a little wild card for the rock fan – but these are minor things. This exhibition wears its rigorous science lightly and is joyfully inspiring.
Image: The Science Museum
Turn It Up: The Power of Music is at the Science Museum until 6th May 2024. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Turn It Up: The Power of Music here: