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John Kannenberg

Published date
22 May 2019

Listening to Museums: Sound as an object of curatorial care

College: London College of Communication
Supervisors: Dr John Wynne, Dr Lucy Steeds, Professor David Toop


This practice-based research project investigates the sonic experience of museums while laying the foundation for a more sonically inclusive museology. Beginning with fieldwork involving mapping and field recording contemporary museum soundscapes, this project has produced an experimental curatorial project, The Museum of Portable Sound, an institution dedicated to collecting, preserving, and displaying sound as an object of culture and human agency.

Context and background

The Museum itself is portable, with its galleries existing as digital audio files on a non-networked mobile phone. Visitors to the Museum must make an appointment using the Museum’s website to meet one-on-one for a private guided tour, similar to the way visits were conducted to the 17th Century cabinets of curiosity that eventually evolved into the modern museum. In short, the Museum of Portable Sound is not an app – it’s an experience.

As an artist’s museum, The Museum of Portable Sound primarily displays one person’s experience of the culture of sound. The Museum’s Permanent Collection Galleries present field recordings from around the world that present sounds as objects connected with human and non-human culture. A series of temporary exhibitions of sound art also allow the Museum to exhibit sounds related to other artists’ perspectives, presenting solo exhibitions by an expanding roster of international practitioners.

Its highly interdisciplinary approach has allowed the project to explore a variety of issues within contemporary museology and sound studies. The research spans questions related to power dynamics within contemporary museum/audience relationships; the relationship between form and content in contemporary field recording practice; notions of dematerialisation and rematerialisation of cultural institutions and objects; multisensory museum experience; museological resonance as both metaphor and literal incident; curatorial strategy as a nostalgic echo of the mixtape; and the meaning of museums in a post-internet era.