Monthly Archives: June 2012

Luvvies and Boffins

Luvvies & Boffins Night at the Museum

Guest post by Peter Barron, Director of External Relations, Google EMEA

This week saw the second gathering of Google’s Luvvies and Boffins — this time with added boffinry courtesy of the Science Museum in London.

The idea came from Eric Schmidt’s MacTaggart lecture, delivered in Edinburgh last summer, in which he said Britain needs to bring art and science back together if its creative industries are to have a successful future. Guests were handed lapel badges denoting “Luvvie”, “Boffin” or the Renaissance “Luvviboff”.

Besides great cocktails and conversation, the evening featured a stellar line-up of computing-themed activities. There were guided tours of the new Turing Exhibition, up-close demonstrations of the Babbage Engine in action, and hands-on soldering workshops to make Lumiphones.

As an added bonus, our evening coincided with Science Museum Lates, an adults only event at the museum on the last Wednesday of every month. Geek activities abounded — punk science comedy, a cockroach fancy dress tour, even an impressively silent disco.

Overall, it was a wonderful evening. Thanks to the Science Museum for being such great hosts.

See highlights from the night over on storify

Right Royal Adventure

Post written by Explainer Eli

As millions descended upon London for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee festivities, a team of valiant Science Museum knights mounted their noble steed (the outreach van) and headed to a far flung region of the Great British Isle (Cumbria). Their quest, to entertain the good folk at the 2012 Whitehaven Jubilee festival using nothing but sensational science!

Over the two days we succeeded in our mission; wowing the crowds with table top science experiments including cordial cornflour slime, courtly carbon dioxide filled bubbles and aristocratic Alka-Seltzer rockets!

We also performed a number of shows; ‘The Bubble Show’ and ‘The Greatest Hits Show’ that would have made our Majesty proud!

The London celebrations may have had a 1000 boat flotilla but Whitehaven’s Harbour was equally as splendid…

Fit for a Queen! – Whitehaven Harbour

Other highlights of the festival included performances by Katherine Jenkins, The Enemy and The Charlatans.

Our dwelling for the duration of the festival was a pleasing palace with tight security (we were given a code that opened a box, which released a key that opened another box, which in turn revealed a key code entry pad for opening the door). The hotel even came complete with a trio of terriers that could rival any corgis and to top it all there was also a patriotic parrot!

Patriot Parrot

On Saturday, after a days hard work, we decided to make the most of our northern adventure and headed for a drive over the very scary Hardknott and Wrynose pass to feast on a splendid Chinese in Windermere.

Chinese Feast

During the drive, the satellite navigation system kept telling us to “Turn around” and at one point we definitely smelt burning tyres! Many of the knights had become too accustomed with city dwelling and had never experienced such crazy roads. There were screams from Outreach Officer José of “Slow down Nate, use the engine!”

Reaching the summit of the mountain, blowing the cobwebs away after a hard day explaining science to the masses, was just what we needed.

Feeling on top of the world!

On Sunday, Explainer Dominique’s impressive ‘Bubble Show’ bought the tent’s work to an elegant end, which was no mean feat as the Red Arrows were performing lots of spectacular stunts outside.

Red Arrow flyby

People of Cumbria we salute you! Thanks for coming to see us; we all had a fantastic time!

Thank you Cumbria! The Knights before returning back to their castle

Thanks to the Samuel Lindow foundation and the National Nuclear Laboratory for inviting us! Hopefully we will be returning next year…

Explainer Fact: For more top science experiments, check out the Science Museum’s website or visit us in South Kensington, London.

Science Museum

Government Chief Scientist visits the Science Museum

By Roger Highfield

The most influential scientist in the country came to the Science Museum last night to give a unique overview of how he has advised the Prime Minister over the years.

Science Museum

As he approaches the end of his time as Government Chief Scientific Adviser, and with his successor Sir Mark Walport now waiting in the wings Professor Sir John Beddington was in a reflective mood during his lecture, given in association with the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) and our monthly Lates event.

Like his two predecessors, Sir John has had to spend an inordinate amount discussing badgers, and their role in bovine tuberculosis. The issues he has handled have stretched from shale gas and space weather to black swans. ‘It’s a mad job,” he joked.

Since he stepped into the hot seat at the start of 2008, Sir John has given key advice to Government during a number of huge stories, such as the 2009 swine flu outbreak, the 2010 volcanic ash incident, and the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Sir John described how, as chair of Sage (Science Advisory Group in Emergencies) that feeds in to Cobra (a reference to Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, used to handle a crisis), he had to reassure Prime Minister David Cameron that, despite the more hysterical press reports, the wider radiological fallout of Fukushima was much less than Britons would encounter if they evacuated Tokyo on a flight to London.

The ability of Government to make appropriate use of science has been a central issue. He has been responsible for forming a network of those with science and engineering backgrounds within government (now around 4000 strong at the last count) and encouraging all major departments of state to recruit a Chief Scientific Adviser: he illustrated this with a PowerPoint slide of mugshots of the 18 Government Chief Scientists, including a shadowy androgynous cut-out figure in MI5.

One might quibble about the details of how well this is working but, as a Lords Select Committee recently concluded, these advisors are critical, not least because they deal with issues that cut across departments and that can outlive the lifetimes of politicians, such as securing food and energy.

Throughout 2008 and 2009 Sir John raised the concept of the “Perfect Storm” of food, energy and water security in the context of climate change, a global population that will soar by a billion in the next 13 years, and the ever-increasing proportion in vulnerable urban environments, raising this as a priority for the international community.

Sir John has led the way in producing report after report working through the consequences, notably the link between food insecurity and social unrest. And, in response to a question from the audience, he welcomed the move by the United Nations to appoint its own Chief Scientist to help deal with these huge issues.

When it came to last week’s Rio+20 summit, Sir John diplomatically avoided any explicit expression of his disappointment about the outcome, stating that he felt it was better that decisions were made than not at all. However, it was perhaps significant that the most he could find to say about his trip was how bad the weather was in Rio.

At a “Resilient Cities” event the summit Sir John made an urgent appeal for scientists to use plain language if they are to play a larger role in policymaking on climate change, notably to convey an accurate measure of the risks. One example is the use of GM crops to do away with pesticides, where the existing risks of intensive farming are often neglected in the public debate.

He adopted a high profile during the recent furore about genetically altered crops, as demonstrators gathered to protest against the planting of GM wheat in open fields at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire. Sir John argued that GM had to be part of a bigger plan to feed the world and predicted enormous increases in the demand for GM food, without which we could expect increased food prices that would harm the poorest of the poor, in particular.

When asked by Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment about the legacy of the ‘Climategate’ e-mails that were hacked from the University of East Anglia, Sir John pointed out that he thought some climate scientists had been harassed through the use of the Freedom of Information Act, but rightly stressed the need for openness and transparency, and to make data available so that research results can be tested through replication.

Sir John was surprisingly outspoken in his criticism of how poorly he feels the European Union is dealing with some issues of risk, highlighting, for instance, the problem of banning some substances purely because of their potential hazard, but failing to take into account whether the low levels of exposure actually constitute any significant risk to public health. On one point in particular, he could not hide his exasperation: “there is complete idiocy.”

I asked Sir John if the Chief Scientist should have more power to decide policy, rather than just advise? This would not be unprecedented: in monetary policy, a huge amount of power is devolved to Mervyn King and the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, presumably because politicians recognise that monetary policy is complex and should be left to the experts.

Surely the same be more true when it comes to aspects of science and engineering policy? No, came back the reply, because power corrupts. It is better to provide advice and insights and, as one example, he explained how a committee is now investigating the use of computer trading in financial markets, where avalanches of pre-programmed trading – up to a quarter of a million per second – can cause huge shifts in share price and market instability.

He also revealed his guiding principle when it comes to dealing with Government and NGOs alike, quoting Steven Chu, the Nobel prize winning physicist who is currently Energy Secretary in the United States: “People are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts”

The Spirit of Alan Turing

The tragic loss of a friend during his teenage years exerted an extraordinary influence on Turing’s life, according to Roger Highfield and David Rooney.

Alan Turing 1951

Alan Turing. Credit © NPG / SSPL

The defining moment of the remarkable life of Alan Turing, one of Britain’s most original thinkers, came much earlier than many realise. It was not while Turing cracked Nazi codes at Bletchley Park to change the course of the Second World War. Nor when he lay the mathematical foundations of modern computing. Or that instant when, during a 1951 visit to the Science Museum, he was fired up by the lifelike behaviour of a cybernetic tortoise.

The Museum’s Turing exhibition, which marked the centenary of his birth in 1912, showed that the signature moment of Turing’s life came on February 13, 1930, with the death of his classmate, Christopher Morcom, from tuberculosis. This shattering event propelled the great Turing through a remarkable career.

Morcom was Turing’s first love, a fellow, older pupil at Sherborne School, Dorset, who shared Turing’s passion for mathematics. Though Turing’s crush was not reciprocated, he was profoundly affected by the death of his friend. In a contribution towards an anthology for Morcom’s grieving mother, which is on display in the exhibition, Turing admitted that he ‘worshipped the ground he trod on’.

Morcom’s death cast a long shadow. Turing turned away from his Christian faith towards materialism, and began a lifelong quest to understand the tragedy. As he struggled to make sense of his loss, Turing pondered the nature of the human mind and whether Christopher’s was part of his dead body or somehow lived on.

Alan Turing is often portrayed as an isolated genius, even a borderline Asperger’s loner. This traditional depiction is, perhaps, a weak reflection of homophobia of recent decades. But read about his feelings for Morcom, his letters and the correspondence of those close to him and you obtain a more complete portrait. Far from being the insular genius of popular belief, Turing could be warm and gregarious, though he did not suffer fools gladly and had an original take on the way he lived his life as much as he conducted his science.

The October after the loss of his friend, Turing went up to Cambridge, where he studied mathematics. Our exhibition includes an essay, entitled “Nature of Spirit” that Turing wrote the next year, in 1932, in which he talked of his belief in the survival of the spirit after death, which appealed to the relatively recent field of quantum mechanics and reflected his yearning for his dear friend.

Around that time he encountered the Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics by the American computer pioneer, John von Neumann, and the work of Bertrand Russell on mathematical logic. These streams of thought would fuse when Turing imagined a machine that would be capable of any form of computation. Today the result – known as a universal Turing machine – still dominates our conception of computing.

Turing’s struggle to solve the codes of thought paved the way to his interest in cryptanalysis, the study of how to crack ciphers. Around the time of the Munich agreement in 1938 Turing began to help the UK government with the problem of deciphering German communication and this interest would culminate in an extraordinary effort during the Second World War when he worked for the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park.

There Turing would break the codes of society too. In 1941, Turing had proposed marriage to Joan Clarke, a fellow cryptanalyst, but decided he could not go through with the marriage after admitting his homosexuality to his fiancée, who was reportedly “unfazed” by the revelation.

Turing’s greatest challenge at Bletchley was the German enciphering machine, Enigma, three of which are on show in our exhibition (including one kindly lent by Sir Mick Jagger). He took particular responsibility for reading U-boat communications and led a team that designed the great ‘bombe’, a calculating machine that successfully decoded Germany’s wartime messages. Eventually, over 200 were built, each weighing a ton, that made the noise of a ‘thousand knitting needles’ when in full flight.

The breaking of the Enigma was vital, partly because it meant that the Allies could intercept messages to the U-boats that were attacking convoys, sinking merchant ships and threatening to isolate Britain. It’s even been claimed that, without Bletchley Park’s contribution, the war might otherwise have been lost.

At that time a ‘computer’ was not a machine but a person, often female, who did calculations by hand. Machines were used too, but only for defined jobs, such as aiming bombs or solving differential equations. Combining his ideas from mathematical logic, his experience in cryptology, and the remarkable code cracking machinery of Bletchley, Turing’s ambition was to create a computer in the modern, electronic, flexible sense.

He joined the National Physical Laboratory, NPL, in Teddington in 1945 where his detailed – and world-beating – plan for an electronic computer was accepted in March 1946. But by then his remarkable wartime achievements were a state secret and he was not taken as seriously as he deserved. Frustrated, Turing resigned in 1948 though eventually, in 1950, his ideas came to life at NPL in the form of the Pilot ACE computer, which is the star of the Museum’s Turing exhibition.

The general control console and chassis of pilot ACE.

The general control console and chassis of pilot ACE. © Science Museum / SSPL

The machine was the fastest in its day. This remarkable testament to Turing’s inventive capabilities was in huge demand. Within the exhibition we show two vivid examples of how this pioneering machine was used: to reveal how metal fatigue caused the loss of BOAC Flight 781, a de Havilland Comet jet airliner; and the Nobel prize winning work by Dorothy Hodgkin to use X rays to unravel the molecular structure of Vitamin B12.

On Midsummer Day 1948, the first prototype general-purpose computer, a true universal Turing machine, went into action at Manchester. And it was at Manchester University, when Turing was Deputy Director of the computing laboratory, that he wrote his highly influential 1950 paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.”

Turing had pondered how intelligence could arise in a machine, from operations which were themselves routine and, in a way, mindless. Perhaps it was possible to construct an artificial consciousness from blocks of cold mathematical logic.

He had a practical suggestion: if a computer could fool people into thinking that they were interacting with another person, rather than a machine, then it could be classified as possessing artificial intelligence. This simple idea has proved hugely influential. Since 1991, an annual competition based on the ‘Turing test’ has been held by the American inventor Hugh Loebner.

Turing was still haunted by the loss of Morcom. In his 1950 paper, he referred to research, perhaps by Samuel Soal in the UK, that there was ‘overwhelming’ statistical evidence of telepathy and remarked: “Once one has accepted them it does not seem a very big step to believe in ghosts.”

The next year Turing became interested in breaking the codes of life, furnishing a chemical basis for the means by which shape, structure and function arise in living things. It is known in biology as morphogenesis and had seemed so mysterious to some that it had fostered belief in vitalism, the idea that there was an élan vital that was distinct from physical or chemical forces.

Turing posed a basic question. How does an organism marshal a chemical soup into a biological structure or turn a spherical (symmetrical) bundle of identical cells into an (asymmetrical) organism? And why are there Fibonacci numbers (where each number is the sum of the previous two) in the leaf patterns of plants such as the close-packed spirals of sunflower heads? (our sister museum, the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, has carried out a mass experiment to investigate). Turing’s ideas have since led to some impressive descriptions of pattern formation in Nature, from snail shells to snake skins.

With the help of Age UK, the Science Museum has consulted lesbian and gay people who were alive in the 1950s to understand the moral climate. What became clear was that Turing was remarkably open about his homosexuality, despite the repressive attitudes of the day. Perhaps his logic and his honesty made him feel that his orientation could never be seen as a crime. After the sheltered, liberal environments of Cambridge and Bletchley, he was in for a shock.

Homosexuality was a criminal offence at the time and in February 1952 Turing was arrested for having a sexual relationship with a man, then tried and convicted of “gross indecency”. To avoid prison, he accepted treatment with the female sex hormone oestrogen: ‘chemical castration’ intended to neutralise his libido. In 2009 Gordon Brown, the then Prime Minister, issued a public apology for his treatment.

In that era, homosexual people were considered a security risk, being open to blackmail. Turing’s security clearance was withdrawn, so that he could no longer work for GCHQ, the post-war successor to Bletchley Park. He died soon after.

The precise circumstances leading to his demise on 7 June 1954, at home in Wilmslow, Cheshire, can never be known. But Turing had himself spoken of suicide and this was the conclusion of the coroner, following an inquest.

Next to Turing’s body was an apple, partly eaten. Years before, as some biographers have pointed out, Turing had gone to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the pioneering Disney film, in Cambridge, and was particularly taken with the scene where the Wicked Witch dangled an apple into a boiling cauldron: “Dip the apple in the brew. Let the Sleeping Death seep through”. One said that Turing had decided “to invest his departure from a world that had treated him shabbily with some of the gothic, eerie, colourful brilliance of a Disney film.”

The pathologist’s post-mortem report, reproduced in our new exhibition, suggests that the reality was more prosaic. The autopsy revealed that Turing’s stomach contained four ounces of fluid that smelt of bitter almonds: a solution of a cyanide salt. His death was not accidental: there was enough poison to fill a wine glass. Turing, thought the pathologist, had taken bites from the apple to make his last drink more palatable.

More than two decades earlier, when Turing was 17, he had had a vivid premonition of Morcom’s death, at the very instant that his first love was taken ill. Turing felt that this was an omen, one that lay beyond what science was able to explain.

Throughout his life he pursued the question of mind and body, believing that Morcom’s spirit lived on. Perhaps his suicide was one last experiment. On that cold, wet Whit Monday, did Turing take his own life in the hope that they would be together once more?

David Rooney is a Curator and Roger Highfield a Director at the Science Museum Group.
Codebreaker: Alan Turing’s Life and Legacy, opened at the Science Museum on the 21 June 2012 and ran until 31 July 2013.

Mark Kendall, 2012 Laureate

The Rolex Awards

Guest post By Roger Highfield Director of External Affairs

Want to find out who is going to change our world? The answer was given last night at a dinner held in the Science Museum.

The gathering was held to celebrate the winners of the latest in a series of global biennial awards “aimed at fostering a spirit of enterprise ” funded by a philanthropic programme run by Rolex. Since the scheme was first established in 1976, there have been 120 ‘Rolex laureates‘.

The dinner was attended by luminaries from the worlds of science, medicine and the arts, such as heart surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub, physicist and tv presenter Professor Jim Al-Khalili, neuroscientist Professor Colin Blakemore and Deborah Bull, creative director of the Royal Opera House.

This year there were 3,512 applications to the 2012 Rolex Awards for Enterprise, a record number, including a higher percentage of young people than ever before. “We were thrilled,” said Rebecca Irvin, head of the Rolex Institute, Geneva.

Irvin said that five Laureates have been selected to receive Swiss Franc 100,000 and a Rolex chronometer, after an extensive selection process involving leading figures such as geneticist and populariser Steve Jones, ‘Her Deepness’ marine explorer Sylvia Earle and museum professional Mahrukh Tarapor

The five laureates who stood in turn to sustained applause at the dinner are:

Sergei Bereznuk, director of the Vladivostok-based Phoenix Fund, who has spent two decades trying to save the Siberian tiger, or Amur, which is the biggest of the tigers. Bereznuk believes that conservation depends on both anti-poaching measures and educating local people, the elements at the core of his Rolex Award-winning project.
Sergei Bereznuk, 2012 Laureate

Barbara Block, professor at Stanford University, who has pioneered the use of tagging to study large marine predators such as sharks and tuna which are critical for the delicate balance of our ocean ecosystems, but under threat from overfishing, habitat destruction and pollution. With her Rolex Award, Block will create a marine “predator cafés”, or ocean observatories, along the Californian coastline. Her ultimate goal is the creation of a marine UNESCO World Heritage site there.
Barbara Block, 2012 Laureate

Mark Kendall, professor at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, University of Queensland, Australia. With his “Nanopatch” he hopes to tackle problems linked to the traditional needle and syringe vaccination. His Rolex Award should allow Kendall to fast-track use in developing countries of the Nanopatch, which vaccinates with microscopic projections covered with dry vaccine.
Mark Kendall, 2012 Laureate

Erika Cuéllar. Known as “the biologist of the guanacos”, Erika works in the Kaa-Iya del Gran Chaco, the largest protected tropical dry forest. Cuéllar has shifted her focus to the wider Gran Chaco region, which spans Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. The award will help her train local ethnic groups such as the Guaraní, Ayoreode and Chiquitano as parabiologists to lead environmental efforts.
Erika Cuéllar, 2012 Laureate

Aggrey Otieno, Executive director of the non-profit organisation Pambazuko Mashinani, who works in Korogocho, Nairobi’s fourth-largest slum, where around 200,000 people are squeezed into only 1.5 kilometres squared. Otieno plans to build a telemedicine centre with a 24-hour, on-call doctor and van and will use his Rolex Award funds to train birth attendants and conduct health education.
Aggrey Otieno, 2012 Laureate

The setting for the celebration was appropriate. The museum, led by Ian Blatchford, is a treasure house of the ideas and the objects that have changed our world. It boasts the most extensive collection of significant objects in science and technology, not least the first practical and long lasting self-winding wristwatch, introduced by Rolex in 1931.

The event was addressed by Rebecca Irvin of the Rolex Institute, Richard de Leyser, managing director of Rolex UK, Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group, and geneticist Professor Steve Jones, who meditated on the nature and nurture of enterprise.

Observations of a new Explainer

Post written by Explainer Sarah

Hello, I’m Sarah, one of the 12 newest Explainers here at the Science Museum.
I’ve been here nearly 3 months now, and it’s true…time does fly when you’re having fun!

I can honestly say that I have spent the majority of the time smiling and laughing!
There’s a real atmosphere of FUN here and the rest of the Explainer team are great. Everyone has been a “newie” at some point and knows what it’s like, so when you’re stuck they welcome questions and are ready to help.

Science Museum Explainers

During our first week, induction week, the 12 of us were put through our paces doing things like presentations, going on a museum treasure hunt (honestly, it was hard work!), playing team-building games and acting out some of the “Sticky Moments” that can happen when faced with the public.

A highlight had to be watching a fellow “newie” pretending to be a very non-compliant 5 year old who was lost (you know who you are!), giving the Explainer the run-around. (This actually happened to me over the Easter holidays! A very upset 5 year old running up and down outside The Garden howling “Daddy, Daddy where’s my Daddy?!”. Fortunately for me, Dad was located quickly, although he was alarmingly relaxed about it all…..unlike his poor boy!).  Although every situation we looked at had us howling with laughter, there was a real sense that we were learning something really valuable.

It was impressive that over the entire week, we were tested, observed, challenged, encouraged and supported, and we felt confident that although we had a lot to learn, we wouldn’t be thrown in at the deep end. By the end of the week we felt exhausted, but armed with our red Explainer T-shirts we were ready to get stuck into the job…Bring it on!

Crushing dry ice

During our first few weeks, let loose in the museum, we shadowed experienced Explainers. My very first task was to help collect and crush dry ice for the Icy-Bodies exhibit on Launchpad. It’s hard to believe how cold that stuff is (a chilly -78°C) but stories of past Explainers accidentally nearly getting frostbite gives you the incentive to don the geeky lab-coat and specs, along with some massive mits, and treat it with the respect it deserves!

Some of the tasks have been scarier than others. Being on Launchpad schools entrance dealing with the organised chaos on a busy, fully booked day is always an eye-opener. It is a real skill being able to compassionately calm the poor harassed teacher who has battled the tube system with 30 over-excited kids (give them a medal for bravery I say!), or the teacher whose coach broke down and is now an hour late with 60 kids.

Often you feel as if you need eight arms, and eyes in the back of your head, however the experienced Explainers are a model of calm (usually!) and are full of sensible advice and tips. As each day passes and you get stuck in, it gets more instinctive.

Every time I walk into the building in the morning I can’t quite believe I work in THE Science Museum. I feel really lucky to work with such a great bunch of people and have the opportunity to help others catch the buzz for learning about science in such an exciting way.

Explainer Fact:  We use over 6 tonnes of dry ice every year!

Aleks Kolkowski records Aaron Williamson, Camberwell, 2009

Phonographies – Live Wax Cylinder Recordings

Aleks Kolkowski records Aaron Williamson, Camberwell, 2009. (© Helen Petts)

On Wednesday 30 May Sound Artist-in-residence, Aleks Kolkowski, began his series of live demonstrations of wax cylinder recording, using an original hand-cranked Edison phonograph c.1909.  Aleks was joined by the talented Jason Singh, a beatboxer and vocal sculptor, who is currently the Sound Artist-in-residence at the V&A museum. Both residencies are part of Supersonix, an Exhibition Road Cultural Group project.

Aleks gave a fascinating introduction to the process and technology used to inscribe sound onto a wax cylinder; the pressure of sound energy channelled down a large horn makes a Mica membrane flex, pressing a sharp sapphire stylus into the softened wax to literally cut a grove of the sound vibrations. This historical technology was then used to record a series of very modern beatbox performances with Jason testing his full vocal range to mimic instruments and create experimental sonic environments that were captured in the wax.

The success of a wax recording is affected by the quality of the wax and any invisible imperfections that it might hold, so there was great anticipation as the first recording was played back on an antique concert horn.  The effect was quite magical with the wax offering not so much a faithful reproduction of the performance but one that was layered and softened by the recording process.


The series continues with special guests:

Wednesday, 20 June 2012: Mick Jackson – Writer-in-Residence, Science Museum

Wednesday, 27 June 2012: Cheryl Tipp – Wildlife Sounds Curator, Sound Archive, British Library

Thursday, 28 June 2012: Nahum Mantra, Thereminist

Events are free but bookable through the Science Museum bookings line 0870 8704868 or at any sales desk inside the museum (maximum capacity 25 people) 

Aleksander Kolkowski is a composer, violinist, sound artist and researcher born and based in London. His career as a professional musician has spanned over 30 years and, over the past 12 years, Kolkowski has explored the potential of historical sound recording and reproduction technology; combining his unique collection of horned string instruments with gramophones and wax cylinder phonographs, to make contemporary mechanical-acoustic music. This work has been shown across Europe and in the USA, and broadcast by the BBC, WDR, Deutschlandradio and others.

This series is part of his major project Phonographies an archive of contemporary musicians, artists and writers recorded exclusively on wax cylinders.