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Life’s soundtrack: Interactive exhibits explore biological origins of music

Whales compose. Bullfrogs chorus. Songbirds greet the dawn. And people nearly everywhere sing and dance.

The latest exhibit at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science proves how we are all connected through music.

Perry Williams and his grandsons, Stone, left, and Benjamin Williams, play with a wooden xylophone in the “Wild Music: Sounds & Songs of Life” exhibit at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science. (jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“Wild Music Sounds & Songs of Life” opened recently at the museum and runs through Jan. 1, 2018. The 4,000-square-foot traveling exhibition is a production of the Science Museum of Minnesota, the Association of Science-Technology Centers and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro School of Music.

“Wild Music” explores music through highly interactive exhibits and exceptional sound experiences, and – in the process – expands understanding of what makes music.

It is also built using environmentally green materials.

Aubrey Rice, 13, listens to the sounds of a didgeridoo at the entrance to the “Wild Music: Sounds & Songs of Life” exhibit. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal )

Margie Marino, NMMNHS executive director, says the exhibit explores evidence for the biological origins of music.

“There are over 30 stations,” she says. “I think the exhibit will resonate with the Native community, because it’s about appreciation of natural sounds.”

Marino says that the Science Museum of Minnesota is known for creating excellent exhibits, and that the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science is fortunate to have the “Wild Music” for the next six months.

She is also looking forward to hearing the sweet sounds that fill the museum.

“There’s nothing like coming out of my office and hearing the music,” she says. “When I hear the music, I know children and adults are learning more about music and how we are all connected.”

Some of the stations have areas where visitors can build soundscapes interactively.

Owen Middagh, 5, prepares to push a button so his great-aunt, Marie Middagh, can listen to a bird call at one of the exhibits. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Marino says there is an interactive map of sounds from all over the globe, or visitors can customize a soundscape using a virtual sound mixer, adjusting the volume and location of each sound source.

The exhibit also features:


Abaiden, 8, and his sister Lily Vigil, 7, check out the Electric Voice exhibit with their great-grandfather, Robert Grandert, at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

• Three “soundscapes” where you can explore sound and music that come from the ocean, the forest and the city. Learn to interpret spectrograms, or visual representations, of bird songs, learn what whale cries tell us about the animals’ life cycle, see samples of instruments from around the world, experiment with how sound travels underwater, explore how music influences memory and more.

• The Jamming Room, a soundproof practice studio where you can use prerecorded audio soundscapes, animal voices, percussion instruments and live vocals to compose your own songs.

• The Bioacoustic Lab, where visitors can experiment with how the human voice works and how it compares to those of other animals, specifically birds. Here, you can explore a model of the human larynx and the bird syrinx, use an electrolarynx to “speak” without using your voice and use a set of vibrating metal reeds to “feel” sound.

Nancy Williams with her grandkids, from left, Stone and Benjamin Williams, as they check out one of the hands-on exhibits of the Wild Music: Sounds and Songs of Life Exhibit. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

• The Power of Sound and Music Theater, where visitors can sit back, relax and experience sounds from around the world. The seven-minute, sound-driven video demonstrates – both visually and audibly – how animals use sound to identify themselves, communicate and form and nurture social groups.

As part of the exhibit, there is also a station that looks at popular music and how it is tied to the human condition.

Marino says there is also an interactive station where visitors can listen to bird calls.

And she says the exhibition is accessible to all visitors.

“The videos are narrated and captioned,” she says. “Many incorporate illustrations and volume controls. One of the best parts is that it is in English, Spanish and Braille. It’s very inclusive.”