Listening Tables for the Horniman Museum

The Horniman Museum in South London possesses one of the most important collections of musical instruments in the UK. Since 2002 the instruments have been housed in the World Music Gallery designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates. As part of the original gallery design rom and son collaborated with Appelbaum in designing and implementing the software for an interactive music installation which could make sense of the collection and, most importantly, allow visitors to hear the sounds of the instruments.

The installation has run continuously since it was installed and has proved very popular with visitors. In 2008, as part of a major gallery upgrade, rom and son were again commissioned by the museum to rewrite the software. The 2008 version includes higher resolution imagery and a content management system allowing museum staff to edit and update the tables content in house.

950 instruments are mounted on a 28 metre long installation wall. In front of this there are 3 interactive scanning tables, each with a map of the adjacent wall projected down onto it. The visitor can spatially correlate an instrument on the wall with its animated image on the table. Visitors navigate left and right by activating control buttons set into the tabletop, selecting instruments, and listening to their sounds while reading about the people and cultures who invented and played them. The interaction is simple and intuitive. It gives the instruments a voice, connecting the sounds they make with the history of their makers.