Experiments in Sound and Music

Conservation & Collections Management
August 13, 2019

V&A Friday Lates regularly see thousands of people flock to the museum to enjoy the free events on offer and listen to music. Music is a great way of enjoying the museum after work on the last Friday of every month, but the sound levels could be a concern for a museum worried about its objects. Sound is an exciting medium for artists to create art with, and for the V&A to enhance the museum experience, but sound is a vibration and vibrations can lead to movement … This is a challenge when the moving item could be a museum object.

Working with Jenna Mason (Friday Late Programme Curator & Coordinator) and Livia Turnbull (Assistant Curator in the Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics & Glass department), we set up a mini-experiment to test if music events are a cause for concern. The February 2019 Friday Late ‘Sonic Boom’ was selected for the experiment. Sonic Boom, organised by producer, DJ and curator Flora Yin-Wong explored sound and music: how it will be created, collected and preserved for the future.

Research studying the effects of music in heritage environments has been conducted for several years now, with organisations such as Historic Royal Palaces monitoring vibration levels during concerts. Windows have been noted to be ‘rattly’ from the vibrations created by powerful bass notes, especially from rock and pop music. We were hoping this wouldn’t be an issue for our Friday late programme.

For our mini-experiment, I fitted a motion sensor on to a Raspberry Pi and this was installed in a case above the DJ in the Grand Entrance during the Sonic Boom Friday Late. It was sensitive enough to detect a pencil being tapped next to it, and a small screen showed the real-time vibrations. We used a small GoPro camera to record the screen and the sound levels at the same time. Another sensor measured the distance to the GoPro, and this allowed us to see if the vibrations were resulting in movement, creating a mini-feedback loop. Our Visitor Services Department were also involved, taking decibel readings to record the loudness of the music periodically during the evening.

Photography by Peter Kelleher

Throughout Friday Late, the monitor showed that the music was not loud enough (averaging 80 decibels and peaking at 88) for either the motion or movement to be detected, so we are happy that our museum objects are being kept safe. We will continue to work together over the coming Friday Lates and weekend events to keep the music playing and avoid a ‘Boom Bang a Bang’.


Thanks to Peter Kelleher (photographer) and Daniel Oduntan (multimedia technician and DJ) for helping with setting up the videography and adjusting sound levels during the experiment. Thanks also to Neide Gentelini (Visitor Experience Gallery Assistant) for taking sound level reading through the Friday late and Stuart Findlay for the decibel meter.

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