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Musical playback devices in Turn It Up The power of music - © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum Group

Turn It Up: The power of music opens at Manchester’s SIM

Right after last year’s successful exhibition Use Hearing Protection: the early days of Factory Records, this fall Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum is opening Turn It Up: The power of music, a world first immersive exhibition that puts music at the centre of the stage one more time.

Opened on October 21st 2022, Turn It Up: The power of music explores the science of music’s mysterious hold over us and how it drives us to create, perform, feel and share. Taking visitors on a hands-on, immersive journey in our musical nature, featuring playful interactive experiences, unconventional musical instruments by pioneering artists, first-hand accounts from renowned musicians and precious keepsakes that bring to life the role music plays in our lives thanks to personal stories from the public. From gramophones to iPhones, the exhibition showcases the history of our relationship with music through technology, with items on display ranging from an 1895 music box to the latest listening devices.

Alongside objects from the Science Museum Group’s permanent collection, including 19th and 20th century phonographs, gramophones and early radios, the Science and Industry Museum asked the public to dust off their disc players, unearth their iPods and resurrect their radios to help tell the story of how technology may have changed along the way, but our connections with music have not.

Together with guest curator Dr Emily Scott-Dearing, the museum’s Curator of Exhibitions, Dr Steven Leech is the mind behind Turn It Up: The power of music, that will open its doors to visitors on October 21st 2022.

Dr Leech talked to MAG_BTM, sharing some of his favourite stories from the exhibition and discussing his view of exhibitions into the future.

  1. HMV gramophone from the Gramophone company – 1897

    This story comes from Billy Lockett, an established musician who described himself as a piano man, singer and songwriter.

    Billy has a gramophone that his dad kept and was passed on by his grandfather. Billy’s father was a fine artist, and Billy shared this really wholesome memory of sitting in his father’s studio and watching him paint at the canvas, rolling cigarettes, with the sound of the gramophone and its lovely texture underneath. He remembers vividly the kind of music that his father would play, like old Frank Sinatra and Elvis records. We thought that displaying the gramophone evoked that smoky room atmosphere in Billy’s memory. Unfortunately, Billy’s own gramophone was slightly too big for the cases we’ve built for the show, but we have one which is almost identical at the museum, so we’re connecting that beautiful memory to an identical object from our collections.

    HMV Gramophone from the Gramophone company (1897), Courtesy of The Science & Industry Museum

  2. Mini disc player Sony MZ-R50 – 1998

    We wanted a mini disc player because it represents a nice niche in terms of audio playback devices. The mini disc got popular just when MP3s were about to take off, so it is somehow the last big, tangible object-related device that comes near to the CD.

    David got in touch with us and told us that he had a mini disc player, and two stories attached to it. He bought it at a time when he was going through a big breakup, and a few weeks after he went on a skiing trip with some friends, so he remembers being in the mountains on his own for 8 hours a day with his mini disc He had a playlist called “Up and Down”, with tracks to lift him up as well as songs that allowed him to wallow in his own sadness and the grief of this relationship. He remembers that as a cathartic experience.

    Then, the same mini disc got brought into a new relationship. David fell in love with another person, and they travelled Europe together on motorbikes for two months. They had very little space to pack anything, so he obviously took this mini disc player with him, some portable speakers and all the mini discs he could squeeze into his trunk. The device comes with all these layers of songs that he can still hear now, which trigger these memories of travel and romance..

    It’s interesting how music travels with you in this case: since this is a portable technology, you can curate your own personal soundtrack and connect to a whole range of emotions.

    Mini Disc Player Sony MZ-R50 (1998), Courtesy of The Science & Industry Museum

  3. Portable CD player Panasonic SL-S200 XBS – 1998

    Joe got in touch with us to tell us about his CD player and what it means to him. The CD player represents a time when he was not completely inundated with music and he had his own personal music library of CDs that he would play back-to-back on repeat.

    Joe’s story allowed us to highlight the very specific relationship with a full album of music that most people had at a time. You would have a selection of the few CDs you could fit in your bag – we are talking about music being portable here – and you would listen to them constantly.  In Joe’s case, those would be the Doors, the Gorillaz or Madness, and he had several greatest hits albums that he would play all the time.

    I also liked Joe’s use of language and expressions like “smashing your collection back-to-back”. That was really fun and it also reflects how today that kind of practice is not the norm anymore, because of streaming platforms. Lots of people put music on shuffle now or listen to singles or create playlists across a whole range of music… and it does feel extremely overwhelming sometimes! We thought this was an interesting story to include to reflect how people feel about the changing landscape of music consumption.

    Portable CD Player Panasonic SL-S200 XB (1998), Courtesy of The Science & Industry Museum

  4. The Boom box, Sharp WQ-274 , 1980s

    This items’ story is mostly about aspirational consumption and being a teenager. Its owner talked about desiring this object, and how she would see this beautiful, big, red, shiny Boom Box that she couldn’t have… just sitting there in a shop window. So, she would go look at it every weekend, saving all of her pocket money – she couldn’t wait to buy it. Once she finally bought it, it was her prized possession as a teenager.

    This item also tells us about the practice of recording music from the radio charts on a cassette player, when it was all about having to wait until the speaking stopped to click it off and negotiating the announcements and the DJs talking on the radio. There are also personal memories attached to this object, such as remembering how she would spend her Sunday nights making mixtapes for her friends, or how she would get in trouble from her parents for being late for dinner because she had to wait for the show to finish.

    Boom box Sharp WQ-274 (1980s), Courtesy of The Science & Industry Museum

  5. The Sony Walkman, WM-EX49, 1991

    One of the curators at the Science and Industry Museum,Jan Hicks, had a Sony Walkman that she kept for 31 years.

    This was her very first listening device, and she talked about how it gave her a way of creating her own world through music, which I thought was really relatable. Thanks to her Walkman she could create that space to be on her own with music, whether she was on a car journey, or walking home from school, or on a bus into the city centre. The Walkman became that device for most people because it allowed you to take music with you for the very first time. The object also has a sentimental value to Jan, because her brother bought it for her for 18th birthday and she has obviously kept it for so long because it represents the connection they have.

    Sony Walkman WM-EX49 (1991), Courtesy of The Science & Industry Museum