Brussels instrument museum rich in sounds of music

Fri Mar 19, 2010 8:24am EDT
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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Don't go to the Brussels Museum of Musical Instruments -- affectionately known as the MIM -- unless you're prepared for constant surprises.

This isn't a typical Saturday afternoon stroll through a century of Impressionist art.

The building, distinctive in its art nouveau style and instantly visible in the Place Royale of the EU capital, opened its doors in the late 19th century in a previous life as a department store.

It houses over 7,000 musical instruments from across the globe and makes use of headphones for self-guided tours that automatically emit the music of the instruments on display.

There's something simplistically ingenious about using more than just your eyes in a museum.

The exhibits themselves, however, are so visually appealing in their lighting, placement and history that you sometimes forget about the large circled numbers on the floor guiding headphone users. That can lead to sudden and unexpected bursts of string quartet music or the skirl of Scottish bagpipes.

Gauging where the headphone signal ends is the trick here -- otherwise an earful of static is in order. The headphones emit a high-pitched whistle between tracks, with the number of whistles indicating the number track.

Each room is dimly lit with the instruments bathed in spotlights, accompanied by signs and diagrams for the more complicated and obscure instruments.

Sometimes a brief social history of the instruments and pictures of related musicians are included. The signs are only in French and Dutch, though most musical terms translate into English easily.   Continued...