Talking Shop: Behind the Scenes of Making Music, Our Upcoming Exhibition

May 18, 2023

Deep in the bowels of The Lawrence Hall of Science is a place where few visitors have set foot. As you approach our loading dock, the sounds of power tools grow louder and building materials become more plentiful. This is our Production Studio, where expert builders and engineers design, build, and test new activities and exhibits for the museum floor. The team is hard at work constructing elements for our brand-new exhibition: Making Music: Math and Science Out Loud!

Premiering this summer, Making Music will explore mathematical and scientific phenomena related to musical melodies, beats, harmonies, and more. Visitors of all ages and musical skill levels will nurture their inner musicians by exploring sound and experimenting with a variety of specialty instruments and music-making tools. Just like anyone can be a scientist, anyone can play and create music. And the best part is that the exhibition was developed and constructed from start to finish by our dedicated and inventive team right here at The Lawrence!

“We are excited about Making Music not only because we enjoy bringing to life one-of-a-kind exhibitions of our own making, but also because of the ongoing collaborative effort among The Lawrence staff and community who participate in our creative and iterative design process,” said John Ito, Production Studio Interim Director.

Amidst the tool-laden carts and piles of spare parts of the exhibit shop, prototypes and elements from the upcoming exhibit can be seen taking shape. First, there are the Tone Tubes, a series of rearrangeable PVC pipe instruments that will have visitors doing their best Blue Man Group impression. Tucked away on the freight elevator is a full-scale mock-up of the Virtual Harp, an augmented reality experience where visitors can pluck digital strings to make music. Off in the corner is an exhibit that lets young musicians measure their heart rates, then layer drums, cymbals, and other sounds to create a beat perfectly in time with the rhythm of their life.

Perched on a table is a cardboard prototype, with three big red buttons and a string of colorful lights dangling off the side. This exhibit, tentatively titled The Harmonizer, was designed and built by Sofia Ospina, her first-ever creation for an exhibit at The Lawrence. The Harmonizer was inspired by an electronic musical instrument called a Theremin, which you’ve probably heard if you’ve ever seen classic horror or science fiction movies. A sensor tracks the distance of your hand from The Harmonizer and plays different musical notes depending on how close you get. An attached device called an oscilloscope shows the sound waves being created, allowing visitors to experiment and see how their movements change the speed and shape of the sound waves.

Four men and one woman, the Production Studio team at The Lawrence, stand in front of the entrance to the exhibit shop.

“I’m excited for my first exhibit to make it to the museum floor,” said Sofia Ospina, Lab Mechanician at The Lawrence. “This whole exhibition has truly been a team effort and I’m so impressed by my incredibly talented coworkers.”

Making Music has been in the works at The Lawrence for nearly two years. When deciding what idea to pursue for the development of our next exhibition, our team wanted to hone in on the sweet spot at the intersection of math and science concepts, community, and social justice.

“After our Well Played exhibition, we began to think about what other parts of everyday life could be examined through a math and science lens,” said Michelle Rodriguez, Public Experience Design Lead at The Lawrence. “The math and science of music seemed like a perfect opportunity to engage our community, and there was instantly a lot of energy and excitement around the idea.”

The exhibition will feature video interviews with local Bay Area musicians, who will discuss the role of math and science in their work and what music means to them. Visitors who joined us for our President’s Day concerts featuring Alphabet Rockers will recognize Oakland’s own Tommy Soulati Shepherd from the band. Tommy will talk about his powerful songs and how he uses math and geometry to teach kids about music and how to make a beat.

In addition to the exciting activities and hands-on elements of the exhibit, The Lawrence will further explore the math of music and the science of sound with a series of special events throughout the entire 18-month-long run of Making Music. We’re excited to partner with community organizations like mak’amham/Cafe Ohlone, the Berkeley Youth Orchestra, and many more for exciting events for both young scientists and adult visitors alike.

This is a sneak preview of what we have planned for this exciting summer (and beyond) of math, science, and music. We can’t wait to jam out together with scientists and musicians of all ages when the exhibit opens on June 24. Stay tuned for more information!

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