New Wave one-hit wonder Thomas Dolby was blinded by science back in 1982, but a new traveling exhibit at Science Museum Oklahoma eagerly peers into “The Science of Rock 'n' Roll.”
While the playful and tuneful exhibition pays due homage to the Beatles, Blondie and the Rolling Stones, it favors framing the development of modern music through technological milestones like eight-track tapes, compact discs and iPods.
“Basically, the whole idea of the show was to try and tell the story of how we've gone from wax cylinders back in the early 19th century to now you literally have millions of songs in your pocket,” said Bryan J. Reinblatt, managing director of Elevation Productions, which produces exhibitions for museums and science centers.
While “interview totems” allow visitors to hear Canadian DJ Red Robinson's interviews with the likes of the Beatles, Ray Davies and Elvis, “decade pods” showcase the bands, fun facts and music delivery systems of each 10-year period from the 1950s to today.
“What's really, really cool is when Mom and Dad take their young ones through and they've never seen a tape deck, they've never seen a CD, they've never seen an eight-track,” Reinblatt said.
Not just history
While album covers and band T-shirts are tucked into the glass cases, Reinblatt said the exhibit goes well beyond the usual displays of mementos.
“This is not really about memorabilia that you might find at the Hard Rock Cafe or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This is a hands-on, interactive exhibition that tries to tell the story of rock 'n' roll through the lens of science and technology,” he said, adding the Experience Music Project in Seattle was another place the production team visited for inspiration.
“They've got some great memorabilia, some amazing stuff, but everyone ultimately wants to go to their jam room to play instruments. Everyone's attracted to the hands-on stuff.”
Among 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.
“Without a doubt, our most popular exhibition is the drums. This goes back to our caveman days, I'm convinced,” Reinblatt said with a grin.
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, he said.
The exhibit's composition stations are actually the Reactables electronic interfaces like Bjork sometimes play onstage. 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.
“What ends up happening is very fun and collaborative,” Reinblatt said. “You'll often see six people get around that table, and they don't know each other, and they're trying this and creating a song together.”
Visitors can get an “All Access Backstage Pass” they can use to record their musical experiences and download them from scienceofrock.com.
“Of course, in this day and age, it doesn't happen if it's not recorded, right?” Reinblatt said.
The exhibit also features a Mono vs. Dolby stereo room, mixing stations where fans can tinker with David Bowie's epic “Space Oddity” and a rock concert video room with a 20-foot video wall, light show and crowd effects.
“It relates science and technology to the arts, and we are regularly looking for those kinds of exhibits that … help people make that connection,” said Don Otto, Science Museum Oklahoma president and CEO.
“It taps into popular culture, and it begins to get people's attention about the connection to science that most people listening to music probably don't really think about. That's what appealed to us.”
Science Museum Oklahoma, which is the exhibit's third U.S. stop, will tap “The Science of Rock 'n' Roll” through May 3. Otto said the museum hopes to host local band concerts in conjunction with the show.
“We think people will see a lot of Oklahoma influence in this exhibit … and a lot of these things have influenced the Oklahoma music scene,” Otto said. “We've got such a rich musical community in Oklahoma.”