Travel back in time to an era where image was everything and the sound of silence prevailed.  Museums of the New Age fuses rare silent film footage with a specially created score by acclaimed composer Jean-Philippe Calvin, performed live at the Museum of Science and Industry.

(Manchester Science Museum)

Museums of the New Age

Supported by Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residence Grant

The Science Museum’s first Composer in Residence, Jean-Philippe Calvin, created a new sound track for Charles T Gwynne’s 1927 silent film ‘Museums of the New Age’, filmed at four of the world’s great science museums (Science Museum London, Technical Museum Vienna, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris, and Deutsches Museum Munich).  Stimulated by the Science Museum Group’s collections of cinema technology and acoustics as much as by the history of museums, this new composition promises to bring this fascinating film to a new generation of viewers and music lovers.

A “lost” silent film that shows how Europeans in the 1920s enjoyed the four great science museums of London, Paris, Munich and Vienna is shown at the Science Museum London (02 October 2016) and Manchester Science Festival (28 October 2016) – complete with a live performance of a specially-composed new score. Museums of the New Age, as the film is now known, was first screened in the year The Jazz Singer – the first “talkie” - was released, but did not have its own soundtrack. Composer Jean-Philippe Calvin was awarded a grant from the Leverhulme Trust to take up a position of ‘Artist in Residence’ at London’s Science Museum, where he researched the new sound technologies that were developed in the 1920s to create the Museums of the New Age soundtrack.

(Science Museum London) 

Composition & Communication

Movies, in general, are designed to evoke emotion through the careful manipulation of audio and visual imagery. On its own, music carries an inherent sense of mood whose interpretation is generally left to the listener. However, in film scores, music is designed to target specific moods that enhance the intent of the director for a particular set of scenes. In documentary films however there is no plot in the commonly accepted sense of the word. The film has a definitive objet, not of the transitory kind, which relies for effect upon the audience's reactions to sensational incident or emotional crisis, but of the enduring kind, which provokes thought and reflection on sociological issues.

In this new work, rather than creating a subservient soundtrack or conventional piece of ‘film music’, where music simply underscores the narrative action, or its inversion ‘music film’ where music dominates the visual, I have created, what we can call a ‘visual music’, where the balance between audio and visual are absolutely equal with the unification of sound and image achieved through the shared foundation of mathematical harmony. I was musically able to achieve this result through historical, physical and imaginative processes of composition inspired by the subject of the film and the instruments and machines in the Museum’s collections associated with them.

Most musical scores are designed to enhance the emotional or other quality of the scenes portrayed upon the screen. In MoNA the score doesn't accompany the film but rather is "one" with the film and the tightly coordinated relationship between movement, sound, and image are used to illustrate different thematic sections of the work. Giving the audience a degree of familiarity and ease with the musical material exposed.

The transitions between piano (static, melodic and reverberant) and wind (mainly quick, staccato, kinetic and serial) colours are balanced with great care to achieve moments of audio-visual effect. Building linear forms into vertical structures comes from my technique of translating sound to score.

The score is designed to mediate between the functional discontinuity of total determinism and aurally desirable ideal sequential coherence. Here I have created dramatic music out of mathematical design, moving between co-operation to conflict and by stretching and squeezing the sense of time, using continuous and flexible serial systems, which are injected into conventional melodic structures constituting the macrostructure of the whole score and creating a sense of continuous development in a structure of fluctuating continuity.

WF Elliot remarks in his fascinating 1937 book on film sound that ‘Schopenhauer has remarked that "Music is the most agreeable of all noises". Every noise and sound has a significance of its own, and therefore, with the rhythm provided by practically every form of machine, it is not a very long step to taking some of the less agreeable noises, each invested with marked significance, and each with its individual rhythm, and orchestrating all of them into a symphony illustrative of the kaleidoscopic panorama of industrial background treated in the film.’

Jean-Philippe Calvin (Notes & Excerpts)


Hannah Black (Flute, Piccolo), Alasdair Hill (Oboe, Cor Anglais), Adrian Somogyi (Clarinet, Bass Clarinet), Julia Payne (French Horn), Isabel Muzial (Bassoon), Simon Callaghan (Piano), Oliver Butterworth (Percussion), Jean-Philippe Calvin (Conductor)