Giant Ears

Img_0551_1

Review

of an Exhibit

by Tom Nielsen

Published on June 22, 2007

  • Description:

    About a year ago, I had the chance to spend an afternoon at Experimentarium, the science museum in Copenhagen, and I enjoyed the visit very much. Like many science centers, a good portion of the exhibits were variations of displays first developed elsewhere. Most or all of these were first rate—not merely copies, but careful, thoughtful adaptations. And the many exhibits I had not seen before also showed great skill and care in their development. One of these, called Giant Ears, drew my particular attention.

    Giant Ears stands centered at the edge of a mezzanine overlooking the main entry hall. You mount a stepped platform to stand at the foci of two parabolic sound reflectors. There is a mechanism to raise or lower the device to accommodate people of different heights. Another wheel is turned to tilt the dishes up and down, and the whole platform rotates, so it can be aimed in any direction. A small round mirror is mounted so that, when the height adjustment is correct, you see exactly where the dishes are aimed. And the magic of the apparatus, of course, is that you can clearly hear, with an eerie presence, whatever sounds come from that location. Pointed toward the main gallery, individual sounds can be isolated from the typically cacophonous soundspace of a busy science center. Turned round and aimed down at the front desk in the lobby, the intimate business of museum admissions can be heard transacted in crystal clarity.

    It can be unsettling to listen with such ease to private conversations, even in a public space. In our age of pervasive surveillance, I think it adds to the value of this exhibit, already a great tool to study sonics, that it helps shape discussion of the ethics of snooping by direct confrontation with the issue. Do you listen, or turn away? This beautiful, functional sculpture, so well built and so well placed, is the most intriguing exhibit I’ve ever heard.

Latest Comments (3)

Listening and listening in

by Wendy Pollock - June 27, 2007

The Exploratorium also has (or had) a parabolic microphone mounted on the mezzanine railing, as part of its Listening exhibition; I too found this a simple and compelling experience. I wonder if anyone has, well, overheard conversations about the legal and ethical aspects of snooping, around these exhibits? I wonder what the pros and cons are, of a museum calling attention to connections like this – and what the best ways would be of doing that?

great photos!

by Dave Stroud - February 24, 2010

Those photos are quite helpful. I get what the exhibit does, but the pictures of the mirror aiming device really make it clear what is going on. I have always enjoyed parabolic listening exhibits, but the aiming element is very cool.

great photos!

by Dave Stroud - February 24, 2010

Those photos are quite helpful. I get what the exhibit does, but the pictures of the mirror aiming device really make it clear what is going on. I have always enjoyed parabolic listening exhibits, but the aiming element is very cool.

Log in to post a response.