Sound in Museums: New Engagements, New Tool, New Audiences

Providing renewed access to and engagement with museum objects and spaces from an aural perspective

About the Project

Sound has become a predominant aspect of everyday culture. We constantly surround ourselves with sound, including in the museum. Sound presents alternative, bodily experienced and time-sensitive relations to objects and spaces, which the museum can use to deepen engagements with its collections.


The evolution of museums has privileged the visitor’s relation to objects through sight. Yet, sound has always been present in museums. Many collections include sonic objects such as musical instruments, auditory tools and digital assets. They also include "silent" works that require an acoustic dimension to be fully understood such as paintings of musical scenes, allegorical iconography and archival material. Visitors are sometimes frustrated at not being able to perceive the sonic dimension of these objects. They want to enhance their engagement with museum objects in a more holistic way.


This research project aims to highlight the role of sound in the museum experience and to develop activities and tools that allow this influence to benefit the museum and its current and potential visitors. It will enhance sound as an engagement device offering new perspectives for audiences. Resulting from a collaborative process involving museum staff, researchers in humanities and technical developments, as well as different types of users, the project will find concrete developments in V&A East, which includes the creation of a new museum and Collections and Research Centre.


Outcomes will include a special issue of "Curator: The Museum Journal" due Spring 2019, which will look at various aspects of "The Sonic Museum". A forthcoming book to be published in 2020 will examine the concept of "Displaying Music in the 21st Century". Artistic commissions from sound artists will interrogate the relation between objects, places and people. Seminars, co-designed workshops and internal forums will help museum staff, current and potential visitors and external consultants to develop curatorial strategies and technical tools that enliven the sonic dimension of the museum.

Project Outputs

'Resonant Bodies'

Sound artist and composer Caroline Devine creates unique site-specific sound installations that provide playful and unexpected encounters with sound and music. In 2018, Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professor Eric de Visscher commissioned Devine to create ‘Resonant Bodies’, a work which brought a new dimension to a display of musical instruments in the V&A’s South Asia Gallery during the London Design Festival. 'Resonant Bodies' facilitated new engagement with the instruments on display by enhancing their sonic dimension and offering visitors an aural perspective on the objects and the space they inhabit in the V&A.

Project updates

11 May 2018

Sound in Museums Part 3: Ten Golden Rules by Prof Eric De Visscher

As part of my tenure at VARI, two interdisciplinary workshops were held, gathering V&A staff members and practitioners from various fields. These workshops, pointing towards the concept of the multisensory museum, took place in the...
15 November 2017

SOUND IN MUSEUMS (2): What About Musical Instruments?

  Musical instruments are complex and often composite objects, both decorative and functional. They are the result of historically regimented assemblages, with conflicting properties between material and acoustic qualities. Foremost, they are relational objects, geared...
4 October 2017

SOUND IN MUSEUMS by Eric de Visscher, VARI Visiting Professor

Hearing, together with its active component, listening, is a means by which we sense the events of life, aurally visualize spatial geometry, propagate cultural symbols, stimulate emotions, communicate aural information, experience the movement of time,...

The Team

Eric de Visscher

Project Lead

Eric de Visscher has been Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professor in the V&A Research Institute since 2017. Previously Director of the Musée de la musique, France’s national collection of musical instruments, Eric initiated a radical redisplay of the muse ... Read more


V&A Friday Late: Sonic Boom - How do you listen in museums?

Senior Curator of Design & Digital Corinna Gardner, Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professor Eric de Visscher & Director of the Museum of Portable Sound John Kannenburg discussed listening to museum sounds & what we miss when we look at 'sonic objects'.

V&A Up Close: Lutes & Viols

A behind-the-scenes workshop in the V&A stores at Blythe House with Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professor Eric de Visscher including exclusive access to the Museum’s collection of 17th-century musical instruments.

Ways of Hearing: Sonic Places and Objects

Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professor, Eric De Visscher, talked about his research into sound in the museum, while sound artist Caroline Devine discussed her work 'Resonant Bodies' commissioned for London Design Festival 2018.

Liam Byrne: Partials

'Partials', by viol player & former V&A Artist in Residence Liam Byrne, was a site-specific sound installation featured in the V&A REVEAL Festival in 2017. It was a sonic illustration of musical notes in their most elemental state.