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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.


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.


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.


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.



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.



Listening to sounds from around the world


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…


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!


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.



(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.


Peace Memorial Museum, Hiroshima

I recently spent two weeks travelling around Japan. We hopped from Tokyo to Kyoto, Sapporo, Koyasan and Hiroshima. Japan is full of exciting things to do –  food, Shinto shrines, vending machines, digital loos, anime, bullet trains, gardens, capsule hotels – to name just a few. However, Museums were top of the list for me and I managed to drag my traveling companions to one pretty much every other day.

My overall impression of Japanese museums was excellent. They’re well-funded, carefully conceived with clear missions, provocative design, and great objects. I plan to write them all up, but for now want to talk about the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

The Museum was established in 1955 (and renovated in 1991) to tell the story of the atomic bomb that destroyed the city of Hiroshima on 6th August, 1945.  The bomb, dropped by US troops, killed over 100,000 people. The Museum serves as both a memorial to the victims and a promoter of Peace.

To get to the Museum, you walk through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. It houses several memorial too including the A-Bomb dome. It all seems so…calm. So pretty.

The building itself looks a bit like a war-bunker on stilts. The entrance is clinical and simple. There’s nothing about the content in the ticket hall or cafe. The East Wing was under renovation when we visited so the below is only about the West wing. The East will deal with Hiroshima the city before the bomb dropped and the lead up to nuclear war.

The West Wing details the effects of the atomic bomb on both the city and people. I’ve kept my description very brief as I can’t really do it justice here. You have to see it yourself. Think of this as a taster and a motivator to visit.

The museum is horrific. By horrific, I mean a graphic exploration of all the effects of dropping a nuclear bomb. I’m not going to write a history lesson about Hiroshima, or give you all the gory details. If you don’t know, read about it

Walking into the West Gallery, you’re immediately thrust into the midst of that day. They don’t hold back with the design, the objects or the text.  Setworks depict the immediate aftermath of the bomb hitting. The design structures are functionally grey, the objects numerous and powerful and the text simple and punchy.

The first major installation is a large map of Hiroshima. It shows  where the bomb dropped and the scale of devastation it wreaked. Interpretation around the map gives you the key facts and figures – how many died, how many children … Each fact hits home.


Map of Hiroshima. The red ball shows where the bomb hit.

The narrative then follows the physical effects of the bomb – on humans and the city – over space and time. I haven’t posted some of the more gruesome pictures for obvious reasons. The majority of the objects are personal possession from the victims.

I noticed there was no music or soundscape at all. I thought a brave choice by the exhibition team and very effective. With no sound to comfort the visitor or cushion the experience, it was raw and hard.

The poignant and famous story of Sadako Sasaki is prominent. A toddler when the bomb dropped, she suffered radioactive poisoning. Years later, she had leukemia, but fought every day to live. She heard about a legend that said she would be granted a wish if she folded a thousand paper cranes. Planning to wish for her life she set about folding. Sadly, her wish was not granted and she passed away age 12.  Today she is one of the the most widely known hibakusha — a Japanese term meaning “bomb-affected person”. Children continue to make paper cranes and leave them at the Children’s Peace Monument  in the park.

The second half of the museum focussed largely on the science of nuclear warfare. It was a little odd after such powerfully human stories, but I think deliberately done to help you cope.

I was impressed with how they handled the potential political messaging. There was no blame or hate towards American troops. Instead, the focus was purely on the innocent victims of the bombing and reminders of the devastation of war.


Cementing Peace

Into the Deep- London Aquarium

I’ve started a new project at work – a temporary exhibition focusing on ocean ecosystems (no more details for now). It’s that really exciting time where you’re reading all about the topic and visiting other sites to see how they’ve approached similar content.

First stop: London Sea-Life Aquarium. I have to confess – I didn’t even know it existed so really didn’t have any expectations. What struck me most about my visit was just how BIG the place is. There’s loads to see – took us well over 3 hours to get through, despite racing through so we could get back to the office.

The entrance area is a bit gawdy, with over-the-top characters and some garish graphics. As soon as you get through it though, there’s a lovely moment where you walk over a glass floor covering a large tank full of sea-life, your first glimpse of some of the creatures you’re going to encounter . We had to wind ourselves around a group of toddlers who were absolutely glued to the floor.

Many of the exhibits consisted of beautiful tanks, filled with all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures. The panels next to each tank gave a really nice amount of information which we really enjoyed. I do wonder how much they’re read though considering they’re competing with live animals. Also, a few of the digital panels weren’t working which was a shame.

The design was very nautical throughout which I wasn’t a huge fan of – it would have been nice to feel as if we’d travelled further than a few feet off the coast. It always felt as if they were telling the story of humans’ relationships than delving into habitats and ecosystems we normally never get to see.

The main message was definitely conservation. Everywhere you turned it was all doom and gloom about hunting sea-life and dwindling populations of different species. I agree it’s an important message, but honestly it was so overdone that I became a bit numb to it. Also, they didn’t go into detail about WHY this was important. I think they’ve tried to overcompensate for the controversies that surround zoos and aquariums.

Some more pictures:

Penguins: really cute but a bit depressing to see them so cooped up.


Their main big tank with a reconstructed whale fall and giant turtle!


I didn’t’ really understand the Easter island statues…

Reading back over that, I think I’ve ended up being quite negative. I really did enjoy the trip to the aquarium. There were some amazing things to see and some wonderful examples of interpretation.

Location: South bank

Price: £19.50 (online)