The Sound of the Machines

Belgium
Thibault Jacobs
Community engagement, Education
Intangible, Tangible
2019
  • Share this story:

Steam engines powering the first Industrial Revolution in Europe have had an incredible technological, economic or social impact on our society. They also defined a sound landscape, resonating through every European city, we might forget today. The exquisitely restored machines of the Wielemans Ceuppens brewery in Brussels are a unique opportunity for school children to engage with that reality. Performing the sounds of the machines allow them to figure out the way machines do work but it also helps them to take a glimpse into the life of men and women working in factories a century ago.

An imposing steam engine stands in all its glory in the middle of an isolated building along the railway. The Carrels & Frères Machines used to power one of the most prestigious brewery complexes of Brussels, beer capital of a beer country. One day, the brewery closed its doors and then followed the years of decay. The machines suffered, rust invading their components… But slowly, thanks to a dedicated team encouraged by an EU-Europa Nostra Grand Prix, empowered by a private funding, the machines regained their youthful appearance! Today the machines stand still, bright under the light shining through the large windows surrounding the hall. The voices of the visitors, the tram buzzing by outside are the only noises breaking the silence. What is the sound of that machine? And the sound of that wheel powered by a rod? And how does those noises add up to the thousand other small or big noises produced by a fully working industrial complex? Which leads us to question: what was it like to work in such a factory? What effects might it be having on the workers senses? "The sound of the machines" is a transdisciplinary project. It aims to transfer technical and historical knowledge through an artistic and playful method involving both the body and the senses of our young visitors. First, we do study the function and sound produced by each part of the machines: the steam coming in, the valves whistling, the connecting rod going back and forth, the plungers running one way and another... With their voice but also with their body movement, the young attendees can feel it: the steam engine is a fantastic rhythmic machine. The visits and workshops intend to evoke the sounds of the factory and create an industrial polyphony bringing the children closer to the men and women who worked here a century ago. In one respect, the participant becomes part of the machine, breathing new life into it.

European Dimension

These innovative visits have been conceived as the follow-up of the Wielemans Machines project. The project consisted of the restoration of the old brewery Wielemans-Ceuppens steam engine and surrounding machines. The research leading to their restoration has been awarded an Europa Nostra Grand Prix in 2013. The restoration of these machines and the related pedagogic-artistic project "The Sound of the Machines" do have a genuine European dimension. They both highlight in a lively manner the way the Industrial Revolution engulfed and reshaped the whole European continent in the 19th century. The phenomenon affected the life of millions of people on our continent, not only in their working habits, but also in their very body and senses. The consequences of the Industrial Revolution, of the machines, on the soundscape, particularly in European cities, is not the easiest phenomenon to grasp nowadays though its socio-economic effects are still noticeable. The European project is deeply rooted in this thundering 19th century and Brussels, once nicknamed “the little Manchester”, was a central hub in the booming cultural and socioeconomic networks. The Wielemans Ceuppens brewery development is directly related to the increased cross-border circulation of ideas, goods and workers.

Similar stories

9th October: European day of Prehistoric Rock Art

On October 9th, 1902, the great prehistorian Émile Cartailhac wrote a letter to Maria, the girl who had discovered the paintings of the Cave of Altamira with her father, Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, in 1878. In his writing, the French scholar recognized the mistake of the international scientific community and accepted the authenticity of Altamira and the existence of a great art of the Prehistory. On October 9th, 1902, the World discovered the existence of the first art of humankind : ROCK ART ...

Spain

Community engagement, Education, Youth oriented


Read More
Selected
Story
WHAT LIBRARIES AND LIBRARIANS CAN DO FOR EUROPE

We are a small public library and wanting to let know what happens in different places of Europe. Another of our goals is to be in touch with European libraries and giving visibility to libraries in Europe. In Madrid we have a network of Euro-Libraries, although this is helpful but it is not enough if the librarians don’t get more participation and motivation to work on it. It would be fine to create a network of public libraries around Europe and awards for European librarians for their good job.

Spain

Community engagement, Education, Youth oriented


Read More
Words by Light

Words by Light is an oral recovery memory project through old audiovisual archives of the Puerto de Sagunto Company Town (Spain). The project intents to put voice on the photographs by those who were direct or indirect protagonists of them. Among several voices, they mingle and merge into a single collective memory symphony that will be the result of the combination of memories, dreams and shared experiences in time and space by a group of individuals. This new voice will become all voices and none at the same time. The resulting story is as necessary and valuable as inaccurate and unrealistic. Beyond the description or historical-social contextualization, the goal is to influence the experiences of lost paradises or rediscovered, expectations and unfulfilled promises. An essential element of this kind of projects is the participation, since the story narrated by its own protagonists takes us away from the methods of historical analysis and values ​​the experience narrated in the first person. Furthermore, these first-person stories are a very powerful teaching tool, especially for new generations, to facilitate and complement their understanding of the recent history to face future challenges. Currently, participation and education are the key tools for the construction of the New Europe, so it must be addressed from different fields of study and reflection spaces.

Spain

Community engagement, Cross-frontier collaboration


Read More