Sometimes it’s soft. Sometimes it’s heavy. It certainly evolves over time.
But for the last eight decades or so, perhaps nothing has been cooler than rock ‘n’ roll. It’s downright magical – the way it sounds and, maybe more importantly, the way it makes you feel.
If there’s anything that defies explanation – and that doesn’t need it – it’s rock music.
And, yet, the Great Lakes Science Center seemingly out to ruin it with a bunch of nerdy knowledge with the just-opened exhibition “Science of Rock N’ Roll. ”
“We are here to enlighten the rock‘ n ’roll fan about the science and technology that goes into their favorite pastime,” says Claire Dorsett, GLSC associate director of strategic content, taking the tongue-in-cheek suggestion in stride.
And, to be fair, this is no stuffy academic showcase. You won’t see test tubes or fossils or microscopes.
“We invite you to be a rock‘ n ’roll star, first and foremost,” Dorsett says. “You get to experiment with the instruments you see onstage when you go to your favorite concert, whether that is drums, bass, keyboard or guitar – we even have a left-handed guitar for lefties.
“And then we look at the ingredients of rock‘ n ’roll. What makes a good song? What makes an earworm – why do we get stuff stuck in our head? ”
Well, as a display in the exhibition explains, scientists who’ve studied the issue believe sometimes “neural circuits that store a specific song in your memory get caught in a loop, usually featuring a melody of 20-30 seconds,” noting that’s the average length of short-term auditory memory. “An earworm can play in the mind over and over and over and over again – some cases are so severe that they need medication to manage.”
Other nearby panels delve into the topics of how the brain processes a compressed version of a song versus a better-sounding cut, as well as how calming music can reduce blood pressure and “coax the brain into a more restful state.”
While this all may be fascinating, this exhibit, again, is largely interested in helping you rock out – albeit in a way that hopefully won’t disturb those around you.
Some of the first stations you’ll encounter are the instrument pods, where you can lay down, for example, some sick bass grooves. You’ll do so while wearing headphones – there’s one set for the player and another for, say, the adult accompanying a child – so others experiencing the exhibit won’t witness your particular brand of musical genius. The tech used even muffles the two drum sets that get plenty of action.
“As you can see,” Dorsett says, “the children are loving it.”
Future frontmen (and women) aren’t left out, as there are booths offering a karaoke-like experience in which the guests can belt out one of three tracks. (Much as with the aforementioned bass grooves, the world, sadly, will never hear an absolutely, um, crushing rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.” Ahem.)
By the way, know that while you can’t create any recordings of your work to take home, such as an MP3 of your singing, you are encouraged to record yourself and share pics and videos via social media. Dorsett says.
A couple of other experiences that utilize high-tech to teach about music:
– the Mixing Board station where you can remix the classic David Bowie tune “Space Oddity,” adjusting and even isolating elements such as the bass and drums, strings, acoustic guitar and, of course, the lead vocals
– Two “reactibles” stations where guests can use light-throwing pucks that represent different instruments and that, when placed on a special table, turn into dials that allow for elements of a song to be reduced. One of the tables offers headphones, while the other, meant more for collaboration, has an overhead speaker.
You’ll also find overhead down-firing speakers above historical stations educating visitors on several different decades of rock. As curated playlists play, folks can read about artists of the private and it encased artifacts such as a large record player (1950s), a Beatles album (1960s), 8-track tapes (1970s) and Nirvana’s “Unplugged in New York” album (1990s).
Lastly, “Science of Rock N’ Roll ”aims to shed light on all the music industry careers that go well beyond the performers, from costume designers to lighting experts.
“(There are) so many careers that people may not know about right here in Cleveland,” Dorsett says, “whether you are setting up a concert at the Agora or Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica.”
You may naturally assume the exhibition was a collaboration between the science center and its North Coast neighbor the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but that’s not the case. However, GLSC expects to collaborate with the Rock Hall on some educational experiences and some cross-promotional opportunities in the summer months, says GLSC Communications Director Joe Yachanin.
“They will be loaning us some special artifact,” Yachanin adds. “We don’t know what it is yet, so that will be a big surprise.”
Although the science center in recent years has created more of its own exhibition, this one was created by Elevation Production, which sold it to the GLSC at the end of its run.
“We actually saw it as a really incredible opportunity for us,” Dorsett says. “Not only can we debut it (downstairs in the exhibition space) and have it as our special exhibition instead of sending money out the door on a traveling exhibit, we can also keep the favorite experiences… upstairs in our permanent floor when this closes in September. “
In addition, she says, the science center can repurpose some of the display assets for future exhibitions.
“It was a great investment,” she says.
For now, though, guests can learn as they rock and rock till they drop.
Says Dorsett, “It’s unlike anything that we’ve done before.”
‘Science of Rock N’ Roll ‘
Where: Great Lakes Science Center, 601 Erieside Ave., Cleveland.
When: Through Sept. 5.
Admission: Included with GLSC admission – $ 16.95 adult, $ 13.95 youth 2 to 12.
Info: 216-694-2000; GreatScience.com.