As a full-time science student and part-time musician, I spend a great deal of time trying to explain to people why it is possible – and even helpful – to love both at once. Fortunately, the new exhibition at the Science and Industry Museum does a far better job showing this than I ever could.
Turn It Up: The power of music presents a compelling account of the intersection between science and music. It is one of the headline events of the Manchester Science Festival, running for ten days from Friday 21st to Sunday 30th October.
Turn It Up aims to explore both technological advancements that have transformed the capabilities of sound and the psychological reasons we respond to music in the way we do.
As one of the curators, Dr Steven Leech, told me, “everyone is musical”, explaining many people develop a belief that music is not for them. This exhibition seeks to change that by combining new innovative musical developments with examples of how music sneaks its way into our everyday life.
“I hope that people leave the exhibition having had fun, feeling uplifted, and having reflected on their own personal relationship with music.” – Dr Stephen Leech.
When you enter the exhibition, you are met with a wall of familiar music players, designed to remind people of the memories they associate with different songs and albums. Maybe your grandad always played that old blues record on his 1940s record player, or you listened to the same ABBA album through your ancient CD player until you knew the harmonies by heart. Turn It Up aims to show that music likely has a bigger impact on you than you realise.
From there, you move to the first part of the exhibition, displaying the history of technological developments in musical instruments and music-making. Many of the ancient instruments described, such as an organ powered by flaming gas, can obviously no longer be played, so they are presented alongside videos of modern musicians playing instruments of their own invention.
Engineering and innovation have always gone hand in hand, and the objects included do a fantastic job of telling this story. Particular favourites of mine included the MiMu gloves, which use hand movements to create various instrumental tones, and Haile the musical robot, created to improvise jazz with the best of them.
Haile also serves as a fantastic introduction to the complicated questions posed by new technological frontiers, also explored here. Can AI create art? Can we tell if music has been created by a real person?
Alongside the exhibits is a fantastic musical playground, where everyone – no matter how old – can enjoy creating their own piece of music together. This is done via the specially designed Lego set, which allows you to build up beats, bass lines and melodies!
The second part of the exhibition aims to help you understand your own responses to music. Why does some music calm us, or persuade us to buy different groceries than normal? Can we create the perfect soundtrack to sleep?
Particularly moving are the accounts of recent psychological research into how music can transform the lives of disabled and seriously ill people, including those with dementia and chronic illness. The exhibition also explores the research carried out during COVID, that seeks to involve people with music remotely, from the comfort of their own homes.
As I left, I paused to sit in the final room, which is filled with the sound of beautiful acapella singers. Music has always played a large role in my life and my emotional well-being. Turn It Up had served its purpose – helping me understand why.
Turn It Up: The power of music opens on Friday 21st October at the Science and Industry Museum, and will continue until 21st May 2023, when it leaves for its international tour.
Tickets for this event, and the whole science festival, can be found here.