From the design of the eight-track tape to the development of file-sharing technology, rock ’n’ roll has come a long way, baby.
The traveling exhibition “The Science of Rock ’n’ Roll” uses technology in the form of hands-on, interactive stations to let visitors experience how technology has changed popular music.
“We profile a lot of technology that has come up from the ’50s to the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s. And our move, essentially, from analog — you know, beating on a drum — to digital and all the new sounds and all the new exciting things that music was able to create is sort of the whole crux of the exhibition,” said Bryan J. Reinblatt, managing director of Elevation Productions, which produces exhibitions for museums and science centers.
“You know, (it’s) how we’ve gone from literally burning thousands of copies of wax cylinders, where an individual artist has to repeat the performance so they can record them one at a time, to now literally 6, 7 million songs in your pocket. An artist today can record a song in their basement with a few hundred dollars worth of technology and distribute that through the world.”
“The Science of Rock ’n’ Roll” closes Sunday at Science Museum Oklahoma after a three-month engagement.
“It’s one of these exhibitions where you could spend 20 minutes here or you could spend five hours here if you really want to absorb all the content,” Reinblatt said. “We really want to bring in this big, fun, sort of bright stuff.”
The showstoppers of the 10,250 square feet of rock ’n’ roll in the exhibit are stations where people can try their hand at electric guitars, keyboards and drums.
Aspiring singers can step into vocal booths and wail away, while spectators (including parents and pals) can peer through portholes or punch a button to listen in, and aspiring producers and engineers can try out mixing stations where fans can tinker with David Bowie’s epic “Space Oddity.”
Admirers of Bjork can try the Reactables composition stations the Icelandic superstar and other electronic musicians sometimes play on stage. By placing blocks called tangibles on the table’s interactive screen and interfacing with the display, aspiring composers can manipulate rhythms and riffs, hooks and harmonies to create their own songs.
While museums often discourage patrons from photographing and taking video of their experiences, Reinblatt said visitors are urged to record and share their “Science of Rock” experiences.
“Our sort of knowledge of the kids today was if you don’t record it, and you don’t share it on social media, it never happened. And we wanted to give families and kids and all sorts of people an opportunity the share their experiences at the exhibition. So we developed this Backstage Pass concept, which really separates us from other ... traveling exhibitions that, frankly, tend to stay away from technology because they’re a little afraid that things might not work, things break down. We embrace it,” Reinblatt said.
“Our mandate at Elevation Productions is to constantly reinvent the exhibition, constantly add new technology as things come in and keep the thing fresh because, I mean, you literally fall asleep on this stuff, and two years later, your exhibition’s out of date.”
Visitors can buy a Backstage Pass for the exhibit for 60 cents and use the camera mounted to the instrument stations and Reactables to record their musical endeavors. They can then scan the QR code on the Backstage Pass and type in an email address where they will receive a link to retrieve their recordings.
Don Otto, Science Museum Oklahoma president and CEO, said one of the museum’s goals is to host or create hands-on exhibits that help visitors make the connection between science and technology and the arts and culture.
“This puts music — rock music — in a historical context,” Otto said, standing among the memorabilia in the “decade pods.” “When we move into the more interactive areas, you can begin to maybe appreciate it a little more. How is sound amplified? How has it changed over time? What’s a recording studio look like or feel like? It’s all those basically technology-oriented pieces of the music industry that are invisible.”
The exhibit provides a chance for visitors to examine how technology has historically changed rock ’n’ roll and also to ponder how upcoming innovations might keep the sounds and industry evolving.
“Innovations are always, always, always happening. ... If you told someone 20 years ago that the biggest music distributor was gonna be a computer company, they might have laughed at you. How are we gonna consume music? I think the physical media days — like a CD or a tape — are long gone. So is it on a streaming service? Is it downloaded to your phone? If so, how does that look?” Reinblatt said.
“I’m not saying we give all the answers here, but we just try to present some interesting facts. I don’t care if you’re the most diehard music fan, you’ve watched every documentary on this, or if you’re kind of a casual fan, you’re gonna find something here.”
‘The Science of Rock ‘n’ Roll’
•When: Through Sunday.
•Where: Science Museum Oklahoma, 2100 NE 52.
•Tickets: $17.95 for ages 13-64 and $14.95 for ages 3-12 and 65 and older. Includes general admission to the museum. A special rate is available for school groups.
•Information: www.sciencemuseumok.com or http://scienceofrock.com.