Rockheim, Trondheim’s eagerly anticipated home of rock and roll opened its doors to the public last week. Over 4,000 visitors attended the museum’s opening, many queuing for hours to see what was hidden behind the impressive façade. Reactions have been overwhelmingly positive, and Rockheim looks set to become one of Norway’s most significant cultural establishments.
Rockheim is an institution responsible for the collection, preservation, and cultivation of Norwegian popular music. It is much more than just a museum; behind the scenes, a team of cultural historians, archivists and music experts are collating a rich archive of Norwegian rock music and pop culture, forming an invaluable resource for historians and music fans alike.
Arvid Esperø, project manager of this challenging venture, has been in charge of the centre’s development since its inception. He was, understandably, thrilled by the enthusiasm of the crowds of visitors, whose numbers exceeded all expectations.
“It was a fantastic opening”, he told me. “It was a happy crowd” and “we are very happy.”
The construction of Rockheim was plagued by a succession of major setbacks. In August 2008, the contractors went bust, and a lot of time and money was lost in finding a replacement. Then, when the museum was close to completion in October 2009, a fire broke out, destroying large parts of the main exhibition space on the 6th floor. Thursday’s opening, almost a year later than originally planned, was an achievement worthy of celebration.
Culture Minister Trond Giske from Trondheim
RockeheimFrom the moment the idea was conceived of in 2005, and before its construction could begin, Rockheim was the subject of much debate, principally concerning its location. Culture Minister Trond Giske endured a lot of criticism when the decision was made to build the museum in Trondheim, which happened to be his hometown.
Trondheim has always had a thriving music scene, best known for its danseband (dance bands) and heavy rock bands, such as the popular TNT. Esperø feels that Trondheim’s reputation as an important musical hub makes it an ideal location for the cultural institution.
Disagreements were inevitable: “everything in Norway can be regionalised and turned into a discussion of location”, he said. “That certainly happened with this question too. But now that we are finally open, I think that it will settle down and I hope that both the music community and other people will stop asking questions.”
Rockheim is housed in a stunning converted grain factory in the Trondheim harbour, with spectacular views overlooking the fjord. The old, rough style of the warehouse has largely been retained, with the addition of a modern upper level – an appropriate combination of the old and new. Its location, in the industrial area of Brattøra, is an important step towards the renewal and regeneration of the area.
The new, boxed roof, which sits on top of the warehouse, is adorned with Norwegian LP covers, 20 of which were voted for by the public. These images are painted onto a glass exterior, with 14,000 LED lights shining from behind, allowing the colour of the façade to be constantly changed.
Rockheim’s distinctive design is the creation of the American company Parallel World Labs, led by the Canadian artist and new media installation designer Stacey Spiegel. Parallel World Labs have made a reputation for themselves through their creation of ‘location-based digital spectacles’.
The company develops ‘state-of-the-art experiences for interactive exhibits, museum experiences and user-controlled public environments, creating new ways in which to enhance communication.’ Their goal is ‘to make it easier and more rewarding for us to all play, explore and work in parallel worlds.’ Spiegel, in his role as Creative Director, was responsible for the conceptualisation and design of the Rockheim experience, creating a unique, user-generated, virtual world.
An interactive museum
Benedikte Skarvik/RockheimRockheim prides itself on being a highly interactive museum, offering visitors a dynamic experience, with six floors of interactive displays. It is designed to allow visitors to choose and trigger different sounds, photo images and videos. Each visitor will therefore have a unique experience, creating his or her own personalised journey through the exhibition space. Through movement, and the use of laser pens, visitors can control their own experience, and, in Esperø’s words, “communicate with the exhibition.”
On offer is a collection of 25,000 photos, 210,000 songs and 4,000 videos. The museum’s interactive setup makes it particularly appealing for the younger generation, though it is also sure to attract an older cohort of nostalgic music lovers.
Participation and interaction are central to Rockheim’s philosophy; rather than a traditional museum, presenting an enclosed historical exhibition, Rockheim is an educational forum, encouraging understanding through direct personal involvement and experimentation.
Rockheim has established a new standard for the communication and presentation of collective cultural memory, offering an interactive alternative to the traditional methods of historical representation. Rather than teaching visitors about the past, the museum aims to allow them to experience it in virtual form. Esperø was keen to emphasise how different Rockheim is to traditional museums and galleries.
“Rockheim is a museum in which everyone is allowed to touch”, he said. “As they touch things, things will happen around them.” Visitors are encouraged to do “the opposite of what they can do in every other museum. You are supposed to touch, it is about touch, and not about ‘do not touch’, and people can have a lot of fun.”
The exhibition includes three ‘opplevelsesrom’, or ‘experience rooms’, where visitors can, amongst other things, have a virtual guitar lesson with TNT guitarist Ronnie Le Tekrø, mix hip-hop loops using professional equipment, and experience the sensation of standing on a stage playing to a crowd of thousands of fans.
The Hate Colony at Rockheim
RockheimRockheim would not be complete without its own rock venue, and features a custom designed stage with state of the art technology and equipment, and an intimate standing capacity of 350. Concerts will be linked to the exhibitions, while the space will be used for conferences at other times.
For those interested in a more academic or historical approach, Rockheim has an impressive media library, with a unique archive of information resources for the public to browse through. The collection includes books, magazines and encyclopaedias, as well as a media and video archive.
The permanent exhibition is organised as a timeline, charting the development of contemporary Norwegian music and popular culture through the decades, from 1950 to the present-day. It is a predominantly digital experience, with different visual and audio media representing the sounds and images of modern musical history.
The exhibition also includes a selection of unique items that have had an iconic presence in Norwegian rock and pop history. All of the items on display have been accumulated through private donations.
“[T]he community and our friends around the world have been very kind to us and have donated a lot of stuff to us – more than we need”, Esperø told me.
One of the most innovative elements of the Rockheim experience is Virtual Rockheim, the online component of the museum, (http://www.rockheim.no/virtuelle_rockheim/) where visitors enter as avatars into a real-time 3D world where they can interact with other avatars, explore virtual themed spaces, and create content for others to share.
Esperø considers Virtual Rockheim to be part of an ongoing experiment, and is not yet certain of the way in which it will develop.
Rockheim/Geir Mogen“[T]here has never been a popular culture museum in Norway, so we don’t know how the audience will react to it. We need to get more experienced before we lay out our next steps”, he said.
An additional project launched in tandem with the development of Rockheim is Rockipedia. Based on the model of Wikipedia, this is a partially user-generated encyclopaedia, cataloguing the history of Norwegian rock. True to its ethos of interaction, Rockheim is a forum open to everyone, encouraging new methods for the collation and dissemination of knowledge.
For more information, and to see a selection of photos from the museum, please visit www.rockheim.no
- Jess Chandler