On Monday 24 October five world-class Cambridge museums will open late and put on a one-night-only sensory display featuring live performances and sound installations alongside lighting effects, DJs and more as part of this year’s Festival of Ideas.

It's a bit like watching a film, the music should change the way the audience are viewing the space around them and what they are looking at.

Ruth Hardie

The Whipple Museum of the History of Science, the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Science, the Polar Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum will all play host during the evening’s events.

Offering audience members a unique musical experience inspired by the exhibits themselves, composers, musicians and museum staff hope to create an unforgettable experience.

“I wanted to get away from the traditional performance setting of a concert hall and the typical distinction we draw between popular music and ‘intellectual music’ or classical music,” event organizer Ruth Hardie says. “The boundaries aren't as clear cut as people make out. I think it's really important to make music accessible and live performance fun.”

An installation inspired by the modern replica of Richard of Wallingford’s 14th century astronomical clock at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science has the main chamber being transformed into the belly of an imaginary machine. “Oscar Dub and Lawrence Dun are very good at sound installations, and the complexity of the mechanics and machines that have been the inspiration for the Whipple site seemed to fit with their compositional process,” says Hardie on her decision to match the musicians with the museum. 

The sound piece is intended to be an inspired replica of the astronomical clock itself, where intricate mechanical processes are aurally unhinged and reassembled (Whipple Museum of the History of Science, 6:30-8:30pm).

Acoustically far from the modern and mechanical sounds of the clock will be the traditional notes of the Javanese gamelan - an ensemble of gongs and tuned percussion - and singers at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Science’s feature.  Robert Campion, music director of the Cambridge Gamelan, says that the performance was inspired by the unique acoustic qualities within different parts of the museum, which boasts unusual L-shaped architecture. Campion admits that he “was intrigued by the potential for hiding musicians behind exhibits and cabinets, allowing the sound of their music to rise up to the ceiling."

Campion also wants to ensure that the experience reverberates through the entire building, with groups of musicians simultaneously playing live music but in various areas and exhibits so that the audience could be immersed in the Javanese gamelan sound world. He feels a long-standing admiration for the Sedgwick: “I have always loved the Sedgwick Museum since the first occasion I took my son there ten years ago. It's a treat to have a museum on our doorsteps with such a great selection of exhibits.” The Cambridge Gamelan will be joined by members of Southbank Gamelan Players, Ensemble-in-Residence at Southbank Centre, London (Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, 6:30-9pm).

Drawing on both textual and acoustic artefacts from the Scott Polar Research Institute archives, an electric ensemble of flickers, crackles and scrapes will be diffused throughout the exhibition hall at the Polar Museum. Musician Joe Snape has composed his technologically advanced music not to retell the story of the polar explorers, he explains, but so that that the audience can “reimagine and re-feel it.”

Snape is helped in his endeavour by Sarah McKee who was specially commissioned to write an accompanying text which tells a story that, to her, is simply amazing. “These people are heroes,” she says (The Polar Museum, 6:30-9pm).

The belly of the behemoth Finback whale at the Museum of Zoology, measuring an astonishingly large 21.5 metres, will serve as the awning for a unique and exclusive club where subterranean grooves bubble up amid the skeletons of exotic beasts.  James Brady and his band are known for the jungle and tribal feel in their jazz, funk, and improvisational pieces. Pairing them with a museum filled with animals and bones seemed like an obvious choice, says Hardie.

Brady and his band along with DJs will combine primordial bass, thundering drums and roaring horns to create a unique one-off performance through improvisation and audience participation which will stimulate mind, muscle and bone. (Museum of Zoology, 8-11pm)

Filthy Lucre takes over the Fitzwilliam Museum to explore new ways of presenting and consuming live music and art. The Museum will be transformed in order to showcase Cambridge’s most exciting new music in an eclectic mix of genres and styles. Anthony Friend, one-half of Filthy Lucre along with Joe Bates, said “In such a huge space it seemed ridiculous to restrict the performance to just one area; I wanted whatever music I wrote to come from all around the room.”

Part jazz bar, part concert, part club night, Friend says that the night will be unlike any other people have experienced: “There will be a glowing 'room' in the middle of the space for people to sit down in, as well as cool lighting, a DJ, a bar and video projections. For us, this is as much about creating an engaging experience for people as it is an opportunity to have our music played” (Fitzwilliam Museum, 8-11pm).

The event is a result of wanting to showcase unique and creative approaches to performing and writing music and also desiring to highlight the amazing of the University. “It's definitely made me more interested in discovering what the museums have to offer,” says Hardie. “And I’m sure when the staff at the museums hear what the composers have come up with, they will view their collections differently.

“The performances and compositions at each site have drawn on the exhibits for inspiration,” she continues. “I hope that, as a result, while people are listening to and watching the performances the exhibits around them will intensify their reaction to the pieces and vice versa.  It's a bit like watching a film, the music should change the way the audience are viewing the space around them and what they are looking at.  Hopefully it will allow people to see the museums from a different perspective.”

 Please visit www.cam.ac.uk/festivalofideas for information and bookings.

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