The sound of Yesteryear on display: Evoking nostalgia through exhibition design

Bidragets oversatte titel: Udstilling af Lyden af i går: Fremkaldning af nostalgi gennem udstillingsdesign

Christian Hviid Mortensen, Jacob Westergaard Madsen

Publikation: Konferencebidrag uden forlag/tidsskriftPaperForskningpeer review


Rock music has been around long enough to gather the interest of museum curators and acquire the status of cultural heritage. Therefore several rock museums have been established around the World. Quoting Theodor Adorno British rock critic Simon Reynolds labels these rock museums as ‘mausoleums’ (Adorno, 1981; Reynolds, 2011). Because “[…] a museum – a becalmed resting place for works of art considered to have passed the test of time – is opposed to the vital energies of pop and rock” (Reynolds, 2011, p. 3). The main argument is this: Music museums only display ancillary objects not music itself, because you cannot have several sonic exhibits in the same room as they will interfere with each other. This interference is a fundamental problem when dealing with artefacts of auditive heritage (Mortensen, 2012). However, there are ways of solving this problem through technology and design.

Music is efficient in evoking emotions and memories such as nostalgia (Barrett, Grimm, Robins, Wilschut, & Sedikides, 2010; Wildschut, Sedikides, & Arndt, 2006). This is apparent in the widespread use of music for this purpose in films and commercials (Larsen, 2012; Shumway, 1999). Thus there is a potential for a form of emotional exhibition design using sound and music, where the visitor is engaged in the exhibition through its auditory appeal.

The purpose of this paper is to explore nostalgia induced through music and sound as a strategy for exhibition design at the forthcoming rock museum in Roskilde, Denmark. This implies actively developing nostalgia in the audience through curation as ‘productive remembering’ (Huyssen, 2000) and exploring the creative potential of ‘reflective nostalgia’ in designing a space for the revisit of time (Boym, 2007a) and for the ‘re-enchantment’ of our rock heritage (Davis, 1979).

The Rock Museum has the younger audience as its primary target group. Thus, a further challenge is reaching this audience and evoking nostalgia, when the audience has not experienced first decades of rock culture. This knowledge gap is an aspect that the exhibition design must address in order to make a young audience engage with their rock heritage. The exploration of this aspect will be informed by the notions of ‘vicarious nostalgia’ (Goulding, 2002) and mediated ‘postmemory’ (Hirsch, 2008).

However, evoking nostalgia as a strategy for exhibition design runs the risk of grossly fictionalizing or romanticizing the past (Gregory & Witcomb, 2007). This is not necessarily a problem in filmsand commercials, but it can become a problem when disseminating heritage in a museum. This point will be discussed further in relation to concrete examples from Danish rock history.
Bidragets oversatte titelUdstilling af Lyden af i går: Fremkaldning af nostalgi gennem udstillingsdesign
Publikationsdato30. jan. 2013
Antal sider14
StatusUdgivet - 30. jan. 2013
BegivenhedPOPID: Popular Music Heritage, Cultural Memory and Cultural Identity - Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication, Rotterdam, Holland
Varighed: 30. jan. 20131. feb. 2013


LokationErasmus School of History, Culture and Communication


  • Rock Heritage
  • museums
  • nostalgia
  • memory
  • exhibition design
  • sound in exhibitions