Amanda Johnson, musician-in-residence at Buxton Museum, playing in the Peak District. Photographer: Adrian Lambert

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Amanda Johnson, 15.09.2017
Composer-in-residence schemes
Music and soundscapes in museums are not a new concept but Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has taken the additional step of working with a composer-in-residence to create music that is unique to the museum.

As the composer-in-residence, I have been at the heart of the museum redevelopment, exploring collections, recording sounds inside the museum and in the landscape.

Working individually and in collaboration with visual artist-in-residence, Richard Johnson, my work connects the museum objects with their place in the Peak District landscape.

The Hindlow Lion, for which I received the Francis Chagrin award, was inspired by Buxton’s ice age cave lion bones and ancient animal DNA. Sounds recorded from the nearby hills and caves were mixed with a recording made in Foxhole cave in the Peak District. This music will also be played by the National Trust during its cave tours.

There are several advantages of museums working with music and hosting musicians-in-residence. Music has the power to engage visitors emotionally with the people and stories behind the objects, and it can make connections for people.

Physical recordings or live performances don’t need much gallery space but can easily fill it. And music can spread far and wide through recordings, radio broadcasts, licensing, published music and public performances. This will continue long after the residency has ended.

The main challenges of this project were making sure that the music and sound enhanced the visitor experience and the availability of the music in the gallery

Live performances are a great experience for visitors, but are limited by time, space and cost. However a recording can be played through speakers in the gallery in continuous playback or at specified times, or can be played through headphones.

Buxton Museum will play a recording of the music in the gallery, with a live performance at a special opening. It will also be available on the Wonders of the Peak website.

Another challenge is deposition. Digital recordings need to be stored on archival quality discs and backed up regularly, and there is a cost to making sure this is done. Paper scores can also be published or made available online to ensure a legacy.

Finally, museums need to come to an agreement with an artist about a claim on licensing and performing. Physical and digital recordings sold through the museum can benefit musician and museum.

Amanda Johnson is the composer-in-residence at Buxton Museum