Tag Archives: num:ScienceMuseum=1957-52

Looking closely at things

Our shipping gallery has been closed for a few weeks (for maintenance work) but I am delighted to say it’s now open again. It’s one of our oldest displays, launched in the early 1960s, but it’s wonderful and I love it.

The exhibits on show really invite you to spend time with them, to explore them and think about what they mean. And it doesn’t have to be the official story. Any detail might catch your eye and reveal a story personal to you.

Remember in an earlier post I mentioned we have a signal cannon from a Trinity House light ship that was built near where I live by the River Thames? Well, I went to take a picture and found a plaque for “Thomas Grieve & Sons, Bedford Street, North Shields“. Just across the River Tyne from where I was born and raised, in South Shields! Small world…

Signal cannon

Signal cannon

Detail of signal cannon

Detail of signal cannon

Then I took a look at the gas turbine engine nearby, used on the first jet-powered ship (see this earlier post). First I found its own maker’s plaque, but the closer I looked, the more little plates, numbers and marks I found. See some of my pics on Flickr here. Every time I thought I’d spotted all of them, I found another…

Metrovick gas turbine

Metrovick gas turbine

Metrovick gas turbine

Metrovick gas turbine

The moral of this story? It’s great fun to look really closely at, say, one exhibit in a museum near you. I mean, really closely, and over several visits, and then follow your nose to sniff out its wider story online, in libraries and in archives. Our history is embedded in the objects we’ve invented, made and used, and it’s all still there to be discovered…

Longplayer live

I spent last Saturday in the Roundhouse, London. In the 1840s and 1850s it was a locomotive storage shed for the London and Birmingham Railway, and it’s now an arts venue.

I was there for the first live performance of Jem Finer’s ‘Longplayer‘, a piece of music designed to play without repeating for 1,000 years. It’s normally computer-generated, and has been playing since 31 December 1999, but Saturday saw 1,000 minutes (nearly 17 hours) of it played live. It was remarkable (not just my view – see this FT piece).

Longplayer Live, 12 September 2009 (credit: David Rooney)

Longplayer Live, 12 September 2009 (credit: David Rooney)

Shifts of musicians followed a complex score to play 234 Tibetan singing bowls which together formed a 20-metre wide composite instrument. Elsewhere, a relay of writers, poets, scientists and other thoughtful people conducted a Longplayer Conversation for twelve hours.

We’ve developed a pretty short attention span. By thinking longer into the future than we’re used to doing, we will surely be able to solve the global, long-term problems that are facing us. Longplayer, and creative projects like it, prompt those conversations about our long future, and I love them for it.

But I am a transport curator. Must find transport connection.

OK, aside from the fact that the Roundhouse used to be a locomotive shed, how about this: if you want to hear Longplayer, and you’re near London, why not visit the main listening post. It’s at Trinity Buoy Wharf, near East India station, which used to be the site of Trinity House‘s coastal navigation workshop. We’ve got a signal cannon from one of their light ships. See? It’s all about transport, really.