Sunday, 5 September 2010

Good vibrations?

I played at the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts earlier today, a building designed by Sir Norman Foster on the UEA campus to house the Sainsbury art collection. The jazz/klezmer trio of which I am a part is not especially loud but we do amplify ourselves. And I remember playing here in a nine-piece salsa band some years ago which certainly packed a punch.

It occurred to me that future generations may be shocked at the damage our noise has done to the molecular structures of the works on display, some of which are thousands of years old. I completed an archaeology degree at a time when the practice of leaving parts of a site untouched (so that scholars as yet unborn could one day apply techniques that would make ours appear crude by comparison) was still a recent development. It was symptomatic of a new humility in science: the idea that although we may be at the cutting edge of knowledge we may not yet be the finished article.

I love playing at SCVA but will do so henceforth with a slight feeling of unease. But I notice the venue never seems to hire any operatic sopranos so maybe they're way ahead of me on this. Should I ask to see their risk assessment paperwork or keep schtum and be grateful for the gig?


  1. Keep stum and be grateful. We can only act according to our beliefs and the current state of our knowledge.

    It's possible that if you play loudly you will damage some precious artifacts. But when you last rode your bike you ran over a caterpillar.

    You cannot live a day without harming something

  2. How did you know about the caterpillar? Please don't tell my kids. But true: the world is for living in and has plenty to worry about already without inventing things. Even so - it occurred to me so I thought I'd share.

  3. Fair comment.... I gave it some more thought and decided I should also mention that it's really the museum curators' call, their responsibility, which we hope they exercise with due diligence.

  4. I guess the original post was only half serious. What we know now about contamination of evidence - DNA, radio-carbon etc - suggests there is more to learn. Perhaps the idea that we can learn anything from subtley vibrating molecules is a little far-fetched but the kind of thing I would raise at a meeting make others feel uncommfortable. And once the thought occurs it can't be unthought.

    Ultimately the exhibits need a public and occasional music events help draw that public. But I still think the failure of the curators to tempt Iron Maiden to perform in the gallery is a blessing in disguise.