Waltzing in Vienna

I visited the Haus der Musik in Vienna recently. We stumbled across it while on a city break that was mostly about chocolate, wine  and schnitzel. It was quite a find. Highly interactive, playful and scientific, it focussed on humans’ relationship with sound and music.

The museum starts strong. A musical staircase, with a full octave for you to run up and down. We quickly abandoned all pretence of being serious adults and leaped around making up tunes. Great fun.

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Piano staircase. Each step was a note on the octave.

Following that, there are four floors, each with their own broad theme: the Viennese Philharmonic Orchestra, the Sonosphere, the Great Composers and the VirtolStage.

The first floor, the Viennese Philharmonic Orchestra, was the weakest. Text. so much text.  On top of that, each panel is translated into several languages. In principle, that’s great, but in practice means you end up with overwhelming blocks of the dreaded black and white stuff. I watched for 20 minutes and not one person stopped to read a word.

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SO MUCH text

 

They were all drawn instead to a lovely little interactive. It involved rolling a dice to select a different musical phrase (all waltzes). It was a two-person interactive, one did the tenor clef, then other the bass.  At the end, the speakers played back your composition. There was also a simulated theatre where you could watch film of the Viennese Philharmonic Orchestra playing. We skipped the text and enjoyed the music.

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Write your own waltz

The second floor, the Sonosphere, was awesome. The first room the lights are down and a large spherical screen in the centre shows an image of a living fetus. Text on the screen explains the sounds you’re hearing are the same ones a fetus hears in the room. It’s an appropriate beginning for a gallery that explores how humans interpret, interact with and use sound.

The design of the Sonosphere section is very futuristic and sci-fi, and full of different interactive stations, each of which teaches a little fact about sound or music. For example I spent some time learning about musical tempos with the below interactive. You controlled the speed of the dancers with a little dial under the screen. Eventually, their clapping and stomping became a single note. The last screens explained how sound waves work. Another looked at pitch, others at white noise, how your hear your own voice and so on.

 

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There was a real sense of fun throughout the floor, with guests experimenting and playing with the displays. I definitely felt more at ease than I normally do in a situation focussed on classical music. There was also a room that played classical music but re-mixed as dance music.

 

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Listening to sounds from around the world

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Surround sound

The Great Composers floor was, for us, less interesting in content, but I have to comment on the beautiful design. Each composer, Mozart, Beethoven, Handel etc. had their own themed-room full of information about their lives and compositions. Beautifully and sumptuously designed it was lovely to walk through. Sadly my pictures haven’t come out very well and don’t do it justice. The ones below are from the Museum website…

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At the end of this section you could have a go at conducting an orchestra. On screen an orchestra was playing a famous piece, such as the can-can. As you moved the baton, the players matched your tempo…you could go incredibly slowly, but if you went too fast they started to complain!

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Maestro at work

The final section was the VirtolStage, where you could compose and direct your very own opera, simply by dancing in front of an interactive screen. After three hours of playing with sound and music we had lost all inhibitions and went for it. Also a great access tool for those with difficulty reading or hearing.

 

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(Image from HausderMusik website)

Highly recommend Hausdermusik. Once you’re past the overly dense and dull first room (I cannot remember a THING from it), it’s a wonderful, fun way to spend an afternoon, and learn a lot too. They did a really great job of fascinating the hard-core classical music enthusiasts, while encouraging everyone to have fun and enjoy music.

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