To introduce the exhibition, the title wall features a selection of quotations from project advisors such as: “Musicality is universal, and innate. But it’s not just the universality that’s significant—it’s the remarkable diversity of musical expression.” “Whales and humans have been separated for millions of years, yet there’s a similar appeal to their songs. Do we have a common ancestor who sang?”
The exhibition features a three-part musical composition by composer and sound artist Philip Blackburn. This provides an "acoustic backbone" to what may otherwise might be perceived as disparate sounds emanating from individual exhibit components.
Visitors walk into a semi-enclosed area to play a wall-mounted xylophone. To the right of the xylophone is a painted deep-relief sculpture of a Palm cockatoo drumming on a tree with a stick held in its claws.
Visitors place tactile sonogram cards of various animals on a player and follow the picture as the animal vocalizes. To one side, an explanation of how to read a spectrogram provides information about terms such as frequency and pitch. The spectrogram shows how the frequency of the song changes over time and makes it possible for the visitor to experience sound through touch, sight, and hearing.
Visitors see scores and photographs that highlight ways in which bird song has inspired and been emulated by humans in their music. With headphones, visitors listen to excerpts of music that is associated with bird song (Mozart’s starling, Messiaen, Chinese music, F. Schuyler Mathews’ transcriptions, contemporary American composer Beth Custer.)
Visitors listen to the songs of four thrush species, slow them down to half speed and use a 3-D spectrogram to observe the distinguishing features of each. The visitor may accept a challenge to see if s/he has learned to identify these four by their songs.
Nationally-recognized expert Donald Kroodsma leads a seven-part video and auditory exploration of forest birds and the characteristics and purposes of different kinds of bird song.
Visitors use a microphone with a parabolic reflector to pick out in a soundscape faint sound recordings of a variety of birds, squirrels, toads and even a forest stream. A tactile map of the scene in front of them helps locate and identify specific sounds. A nearby kiosk introduces visitors to what an ornithologist has to say about bird song, to current research into song pattern and function, and to ways of listening to learn more about what birds are saying.
Visitors walk inside a hollow tree trunk and listen to examples of human music drawn from and influenced by a soundscape. Examples include music selections from the Bayaka in the Central African Republic, the Kaluli of Papua New Guinea, and George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
Visitors see a collection of five bird whistles from Brazil and then hear sound samples of the whistle and the bird that each whistle mimics. They also listen to music from "Carnival" in Brazil in which whistles like these have been incorporated into music.
Visitors look at and listen to sounds from a collection of instruments that have been made to look like nature. These include ocarinas, an Ojibway courting flute, and Peruvian maracas.
Visitors see a South American guiro and also a photomicrograph of a spider that makes rasping calls with its own "guiro" apparatus. Beneath the case is a guiro for visitors to play for themselves and a sample of South American wedding music in which the guiro keeps the rhythm.
For centuries, people in western Africa have used drums to communicate over long distances. Talking drums, or dondos, are variable pitch drums that can mimic the pitch and inflection of human speech. Visitors can see a drum and listen to talking drum music from Ghana.
This vitrine contains a collection of flutes – a replica of a 53,000 year old cave bear bone flute, a Japanese Shakuhachi, Peruvian panpipes, an Eastern European shepherd’s pipe, an Indonesian bamboo flute, and even a tin whistle. Visitors examine the flutes and push buttons to hear the instruments played.
Visitors use an electrolarynx to speak without using their vocal cords. They can also feed sound from the electrolarynx into four transparent, cast plastic models of a human throat and mouth pronouncing vowel sounds – OH, EE, AH, and EH. The sounds they make appear as waveforms on an oscilloscope and as a real-time spectrogram.
Visitors explore resonances of tubes that resemble a recorder. They can experiment with different tube lengths, the introduction of holes in the tube, and the effect of air flow on the tube's resonances.
Visitors explore how humans produce sounds by operating an interactive larynx model, pulling the vocal folds into an air stream until they make a lower – and then a higher – sound. A video monitor shows endoscopic and animated views of the vocal apparatus in action.
Visitors explore how birds make sound by operating a syrinx model to show how parts of the birds’ bronchial tubes vibrate to make sounds. A video monitor shows endoscopic and animated views of the vocal apparatus in action.
Visitors use a set of tactile, vibrating metal reeds to investigate the richness of the sound mix of musical instrument tones, animal sounds, and their own voice.
Visitors examine a didgeridoo, an Australian instrument made from a hollowed out eucalyptus log, and hear a sound sample of this ancient instrument.
Visitors sit down at a video recording station to record their memories of music. They are given the choice to listen to a familiar song and then describe the memory it evokes, to talk about a song that has strong personal memory, or talk about the strongest experience they’ve had with music. Visitors may choose to leave their videos to be seen by other visitors and to participate in a research study carried out by the Music Research Institute at the University of North Carolina.
Visitors sit down at a bench to listen in to a variety of city soundscapes recorded by long-time collector Tony Schwartz. These include the sounds of markets, street cars, buskers, street vendors, and outdoor cafes.
The rhythms of work give rise to song. Visitors listen to songs inspired by physical activities such as hauling nets, moving logs, and pounding grain that require a number of people to move in unison.
Improvised lyrics relieve monotony and allow for self-expression. For slaves, prisoners and other forced labor, making music restores their dignity. Songs may contain “code” language, letting workers communicate without the bosses catching on.
Visitors enter a soundproof practice room to play and compose songs using pre-recorded audio soundscapes, touch-pad activated MIDI instruments and animal voices, acoustic percussion instruments, and live vocals.
Visitors engage in a computer-facilitated experiment in which they learn that we’re all born with music-listening skills. The interactive challenges visitors to listen to three different pairs of melodies, and three different pairs of rhythmic examples, to see if they can detect changes between the original and the subsequent recordings. Babies, born musical, do very well at this task.
Visitors can raise and lower a hydrophone into a large tank filled with water and listen through headphones as they activate mechanisms such as a bubbler, trolling motor, and a ratchet to explore how sound is transmitted under water.
Visitors listen to the surprisingly diverse sounds of animals that live in the sea as well as the sounds of underwater earthquakes and cracking ice.
Visitors follow a long tactile sonogram as they listen to the song of a humpback whale.
Visitors use sonograms and sound recordings to explore the songs of humpback whales, learning that these animals compose their songs out of units grouped into repeating phrases and themes.
Visitors press buttons near bas-relief sculptures to hear a whale's cry or song, learn about the whale's life cycle, food source, and habitat, and compare one with another.
Visitors listen to examples of human music drawn from and influenced by water soundscapes, including pieces by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, Chinese composer Gao Hong, and Tuvan throat singer Anatoli Kuular.
These touchable shells (and sound sample) come from the ocean and have been used by cultures that live near the ocean for trumpeting communications.
What is Music? consists of two listening stations and a collage of images and photos. The first listening station poses the question "What is music, anyway?” and contains excerpts of audio interviews with environmental sound artist Philip Blackburn, biologist Steve Nowicki, Yup'ik artist Chuna MacIntyre, and ethnomusicologist Elizabeth Tolbert.
The second listening station poses the question "How are animal sounds like music?” and contains audio interviews with biologist Steve Nowicki, Yup'ik artist Chuna MacIntyre, neuroscientist Mark Tramo, and ethnomusicologist Elizabeth Tolbert.
Visitors enter a partially enclosed, surround-sound music theater to watch a seven-minute sound and video loop. The first section, Me, shows how animals use sound and music to advertise their presence; Me and You gives examples of call and response; Us shows how animals use sound and music to form and nurture social groups.
A cart provides a work surface for demonstrations and activities, a place for visitors to gather around for conversations, and storage for props and materials.