Celebrate Innovation Explorations Family Day at the Smithsonian Nov. 16

Sound Will Be Explored through the Stars, Music, Inventions…and Frogs?
November 12, 2013
News Release
Arts & Industries Building

Note: The original version of this news release was posted Sept. 27, 2013 and has since been modified.


Visitors to the National Museum of the American Indian can take a moment to discover the sounds around them and create a work of art with those sounds. The creation of this soundscape-art piece will be a highlight of Smithsonian family day, Saturday, Nov. 16, along with frog mating calls and recordings of oral histories and a hands-on activity that lets visitors see and feel sound vibrations.

The Innovation Explorations in Sound program, a first for the Smithsonian, explores the theme of innovation in sound around the world and around the Smithsonian. On Nov. 16, free activities from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. will take place in the Potomac Atrium of the museum.

Activities at this event will give audiences a taste of the future programming planned for the Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall, which is undergoing construction to partially renovate its interior. Currently scheduled to reopen in late 2014 as the “Smithsonian Innovation Space at the Arts and Industries Building,” this temporary use of the building will offer an interactive educational experience to inspire the next generation of inventors, entrepreneurs and creative thinkers. This effort is made possible in part by a collaboration with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office, the federal agency responsible for granting U.S. patents and registering trademarks.

Families will explore the science of sound through hands-on activities and conversations with James E. West, currently a research professor at Johns Hopkins University in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Families can ask West about his work in acoustics and his invention of the electret microphone, which accounts for 90 percent of microphones found in today’s consumer products, from cell phones to hearing aids. West will also lead activities that allow families to feel and see sound vibrations and investigate innovation.

 Children and adults can experience rhythms from Cuban, Persian, Indian and African cultures with cross-cultural percussionist Steve Bloom. Performing on Bloom’s newly created original instruments inspired by instruments from around the world, they can mix and match rhythms, invent compositions and improvise their unique set of beats. Sonic masterpieces created during the event can be recorded, or they can be integrated into a larger “sound-work” created that day.

Visitors may listen to sounds in and around the garden and create their own sounds, then record them with a specially developed mobile app. Sound artist and musician, Halsey Burgund, known for making sound installations and musical compositions sourced from people, will integrate recordings into a sound-work for the day. Sound impressions from the day may also be chosen by the artist for an ongoing project, Ghost Crowd. Visitors can talk with Burgund about his innovative process and the sound media he uses to create art, and they can share ideas with him about participating in the experiences of the day.

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, based in Panama, focuses on biological diversity. Visitors can watch a video of a female tungara frog as she selects her mate by choosing the most complex sound she hears from several male frogs. The researchers’ animal-communication studies take an integrative approach to biology, exploring aspects of behavior, brain and evolutionary history to understand how and why animal communication systems evolve.

Reach for the stars—astrophysicists working at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., detect the oscillation and vibrations of stars then artificially boost the sounds to bring them into human hearing range, from ghostly whistling, drumming and humming to bell sounds, depending on their frequencies or speeds of vibration. Visitors will be able to hear these stars and talk to staff about this fascinating research.

On Sunday, Dec. 8, the free program “Innovation: Brainstorms, Big Ideas and the Creative Future” will be held from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Smithsonian’s Ripley Center. The program’s schedule can be viewed here.

ASL interpretation will be provided. To request other accessibility services, contact the Accessibility Program at access@si.edu. For more information, visit the website, Smithsonian Innovation.

# # #

SI-403B-2013