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Sound Installation Brings Historic Dioramas to Life at the Academy

July 03, 2012

Moose diorama in the Academy's North American Hall
Dioramas such as this moose in the Academy's North American Hall are usually silent.

An odd harmony of animal sounds fills the natural history museum’s North American Hall, where, normally, the moose reigns majestically and the grizzly bear ogles its fresh kill—in dead silence.

A new art installation that opened this week at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University brings the historic dioramas to life with roaring, braying, running, calling, chirping and all manner of lively sounds animals make and use to communicate. The “music to the ears” of visitors as they enter the hall filled with bears, deer, birds, and other animals is actual recordings of animals in the wild.

Just as it is impossible to see all these animals in such close proximity to one another in nature, visitors are given another exceptional opportunity as they are immersed in the sounds of these animals simultaneously. About 16 minutes long, Unfrozen in Time: Collective Voices of North American Hall was created for the Academy’s yearlong Bicentennial and represents various life moments of the animals in North American Hall.

“If they could all talk to one another, I imagine the conversation starting very quietly, building to many voices speaking simultaneously until smaller, calmer voices prevail,” said Lydia Hunn, the artist who created the project.

While visitors will be able to identify some familiar calls, they also will hear some unfamiliar, new sounds. “Voices” featured in this work include bobcats, pronghorn antelope, crows, Kodiak brown bears, sheep, muskrats, bison, and many more. Detailed information about the animal sounds can be accessed by scanning a QR code on signage in the museum.

Hunn has taught performance (four-dimensional design) at Drexel’s Antoinette Westphal Collegeof Media Arts & Design since 1979. She collaborated on the project with local musician John Avarese, winner of the 2006 Pennsylvania Council of the Arts Fellowship in Music, who also teaches at Drexel.

All of the animal sounds are taken from descriptions listed in A Notebook for the Dioramas of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, compiled by Academy scientists and housed in the Academy’s Ewell Sale Stewart Library.

Academy President and CEO George W. Gephart, Jr. said the “music to the ears” piece is another way the nation’s oldest natural history museum is enhancing the visitor experience as it celebrates its 200th anniversary. 

“We are delighted to provide our guests with yet another unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the museum,” Gephart said. “These artists have done a fantastic job of bringing these historic dioramas to life.” 


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